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Summary: If the apostles remained largely untouched by the persecution that followed Stephen’s death, the situation radically changed when Herod Agrippa assumed rule over Judea. The apostles then became the specific targets of the king’s efforts to suppress the...

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June 5, 2014

By: Tom Lowe

Lesson: III.F.1: James Put to Death. (12:1, 2)

Scripture (Acts 12:1, 2; KJV)

1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.

2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword;

Introduction

After the brief glimpse of the Antioch church that we had in chapter 11, attention focused once more on Jerusalem in chapter 12. If the apostles remained largely untouched by the persecution that followed Stephen’s death, the situation radically changed when Herod Agrippa assumed rule over Judea. The apostles then became the specific targets of the king’s efforts to suppress the Christians. James was beheaded and Peter was put in prison in anticipation of the same fate. But not even the king was able to stem the tide when God was behind it. Indeed, the king found himself fighting against God and suffered the consequences. [“But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:39). “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17).]

Commentary

1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.

The story begins with a vague time reference. It was “about this time.” Evidently Luke meant about the time the Antioch church was preparing its relief offering for the Jerusalem church. [“Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Ag'abus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius. And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-30).] Considering the history of Herod Agrippa I, the Herod of this story, the time most likely would have been the Spring of a.d. 42 or 43. The Greek of verse 1 is quite vivid: Herod “laid violent hands” on some of the Christians. To understand why he would do this, it is necessary to understand something of Herod Agrippa I and his relationship to the Jews.

In 1 Peter 3:12, we read, “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous . . .” God watched and noted what Herod Agrippa I was doing to His people. This evil man was the grandson of Herod the Great, who ordered the Bethlehem children to be murdered, and the nephew of Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded. His father Aristobulus, had been executed in 7 b.c. by his grandfather for fear that he might usurp his throne. After his father’s death, while still a child, Agrippa was sent to Rome with his mother, where he was reared and educated along with the children of Roman aristocracy. These childhood friendships eventually led to his ruling over a Jewish kingdom nearly the extent of that of his grandfather. In a.d. 37 the emperor Caligula gave him the title of king and more territory to rule. He was truly “king of the Jews” now, ruling over all of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and the Decapolis. A scheming and murderous family, the Herods were despised by the Jews, who resented having Edomites ruling over them [Herod Agrippa I was in reality partially Jewish, being of Hasmonean descent.]. Of course, Herod knew this, so he persecuted the church to convince the Jewish people of his loyalty to the traditions of the fathers. Now that the Gentiles were openly part of the Church, Herod’s plan was even more agreeable to the nationalistic Jews who had no place for “pagans.”


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