Summary: The world will always fail in its endeavours to destroy Christianity.
HEROD’S PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM
Baruch the son of Neriah was given a prophecy by Jeremiah which contains a very personal message for ourselves:
"Thus says the LORD: I am going to break down what I have built, and pluck up what I have planted-- that is, the whole land. And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the LORD; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go" (Jeremiah 45:4-5).
The path to greatness in God's kingdom is not via the great things which the world seeks after. When we have loosened our grip upon the things of this world, then we can really get down to the serious business of self-denying service. This is what gives true church leaders real authority amongst the people of God!
The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus and asked that her two sons might sit, one at His right hand and one at His left, in His kingdom. But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father" (Matthew 20:20-23).
The first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ was the Apostle James, son of Zebedee. Sometimes this is the cost of forsaking all and following Christ. So when we say we are willing to die, that we are able to partake of the sufferings of Christ, we better mean it!
Luke places his description of Herod Agrippa's persecution of the church in Jerusalem in the middle of his account of Barnabas and Saul's humanitarian mission to the church in Judea (Acts 11:27-30, Acts 12:25).
The contrast could not be sharper. On the one hand, we have the church in Antioch sending famine relief to the mother church in Jerusalem. On the other, we have Herod Agrippa following the example of his grandfather Herod the Great and his uncle Herod Antipas in seeking to extinguish the light of the gospel. Some families are like that, passing down a hatred of all things holy from one generation to the next.
About that time, we are told, King Herod (to give him the title which the emperor Caligula gave him – Luke is always spot on with these kind of details) laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) The intention was to bring Peter out before the people after the Passover (Acts 12:1-4).
What was being proposed was a show-trial. Herod was very conscious that the Jews hated him for his Edomite ancestry and Roman ways. So by eliminating Christianity he hoped both to appease the Jews, and to preserve the Roman peace against an irritating minority. Trials were not allowed during the festival, so he would hold Peter until afterwards.
Or so he thought! Back at the home of Mary, mother of John Mark, constant, earnest, fervent prayer was being made by the church on Peter's behalf. The intensity of prayer was equivalent to the prayers of Jesus in Gethsemane, for it is the same adjective which is being used here. Unremitting prayer, which you would expect to expect an answer.
Peter was thrust into the equivalent of a maximum security prison in Jerusalem. Instead of being handcuffed to one guard, he was bound with two chains between two soldiers, and guarded by four squads of soldiers. Perhaps Herod had heard how Peter had escaped after being imprisoned by the Sanhedrin on a previous occasion. Herod no doubt imagined that his more efficient arrangements would prevent God from delivering His servant. The fact is that Satan always oversteps his mark, and nothing, but nothing, shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!
For his part, Peter was sleeping. Paul and Silas would later sing hymns in prison, but Peter just slept. The composure of these Christians in the midst of such fierce trials is remarkable!
What happened next was nothing less than a divine visitation. The room was filled with light, and an angel appeared to Peter. Not just a human messenger, then, for no mere man irradiates light in this way. And step by step the sleepy Peter, who perhaps thought he was still sleeping, was led out of captivity.