Summary: A powerful story in Acts 12, where we see the death of James.
APR 7 2013PM Prayer Power
Tonight we come to a powerful story in Acts 12, where we see the death of James. READ Acts 12:1-2. There’s not a whole lot of space devoted to this story, but I’m sure that this was a great loss to the early church. I’m sure that the death of one of the original apostles was a great tragedy to the early church. James and John were the brothers that Jesus had affectionately called, "The Sons of Thunder." I’m sure that all of the apostles were in mourning—especially James’ brother, John.
The larger story is that persecution has broken out again. There had been a time of persecution back in chapters 8 & 9 that was led by Saul. But, Saul got saved in Acts 9 and Acts 9:31 tells us that the church then enjoyed a time of peace.
But now persecution is back and it’s being led by King Herod. This Herod is Agrippa I, the grandson of King Herod the Great who had John-the-Baptist beheaded. It’s now 44 AD; or 11 years after the crucifixion of Christ. The persecution of the church in connection with the death of Stephen was about 7 years prior to this. The church had that time of persecution, then a time of peace, and now persecution is back.
Now Herod Agrippa had James put to death with the sword. The thing that makes this more heinous is that verse 3 says that Herod saw that putting James to death pleased the Jews and so he was going after Peter next. James’ death was a public relations coo for King Herod. So, I’m sure that even though there is not much space given to this, James’ death was a big blow to the early church. It gets worse.
READ Acts 12:3-4. Seeing that murdering James made the Jews happy, Herod arrested Peter. They arrested Peter during a Jewish holiday. The Jews are celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Herod arrests Peter to try to win more points with the Jews.
After arresting Peter, Herod had him thrown into prison. Peter is in prison and his cell is being guarded. He’s being guarded by 4 squadrons of 4 soldiers each; that’s sixteen soldiers guarding Peter. There are two guards actually chained to Peter and two guards in two different positions outside the cell. So there was 1 of the 4 squadrons with Peter at all times. Each squad probably had a six hour shift.
Why such security measures for Peter? Surely Peter wasn’t that much of a threat to society or King Herod. Well, in Herod’s mind there could have been such a threat, when we stop to think about the history of Peter’s criminal record.
This is Peter’s third arrest. The first time in Acts 4, Peter was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. They threatened him and warned him about speaking anymore about Jesus. But Peter stood right there in the court room and told them that he would not obey them. READ Acts 4:18-20.
The second time Peter was arrested was in Acts 5. In Acts 5, the Sanhedrin arrested Peter a second time and this time an angel got Peter out. The officers didn’t find Peter there although they found the jail securely locked and the guards were still standing at the door. The angel told Peter to go right back out into the temple courts and start preaching again. I’m sure that was a slap in the face to the Sanhedrin. When they found out that he was out there again, they arrested him again and beat him and commanded him not to speak in the name of Jesus again.
And so considering Peter’s history in jails and the court room, we can see why Herod would go to such great lengths this time with Peter. Herod thought the Passover celebration would be a great time to put Peter on trial. The Jews would all be there to observe the Passover and Herod wanted to have a public trial immediately after it was over. Herod thought this would help his relationship with the Jews. Not to mention this would probably be a strong reminder that Christ was arrested and crucified shortly after the Passover celebration on a previous year. But God has other plans.
READ Acts 12:6-11. Sure enough, we see that Herod was right in thinking they should take great measures to keep Peter in custody. 4 squadrons of four soldiers charged with keeping Peter in custody at the risk of their own life. Roman soldiers were under the threat of death if a prisoner escaped their custody as we find out in verse 19 that this is exactly what happened.
Herod ordered the guards to be executed because Peter had escaped their custody. Peter is sleeping chained in a cell between two Roman soldiers, with two soldiers outside the cell—but then comes an angel of God. An angel appeared in the cell along with a great light. The angel poked Peter in the side and told him to get up and get dressed. When the angel poked Peter, the chains that had bound him to the soldiers fell off. Peter had no idea that what was happening was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. The angel led Peter past both guards outside his cell and to the great iron gate leading to the city. And then the angel disappeared.