(Photo courtesy of: www.alexander-ministries.blogspot.com)

[Those of you who have read my articles the past twelve years know that I write my own commentaries. Anytime I borrow from another writer, I always give the credit to the originator. A few years ago I ran across a few paperbacks and bought them to aid me in my own studies. It is a series written by Girard and Richards entitled The Smart Guide to the Bible series. I liked the studies as they share a lot of details that we don't ordinarily get in reading the Scriptures alone. I don't know how many books of the Bible are printed, but if anyone is interested, Thomas Nelson publishing house prints them and here is a Web address for more info (www.thomasnelson.com)].

Acts 12 King of Hot Air and Maggots

Lets Get Started:

Jesus didn't sugarcoat anything. He never hid the facts that people who linked up with Him would suffer the same rejection and persecution he did...which finally got him killed. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If they persecuted Me they will also persecute you. These things have I spoken to you, that you should be made to stumble. The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them” (John 15:18, 20; 16:1-4 NIV).

Secular authorities mostly ignored the Jesus movement as just another Jewish internal squabble, and of no concern to the Roman occupation government-- the real government. Ridiculing disciples in Antioch as “Christians” (Acts 11:26) was the church's worst trouble from the secular world.

Secular government's hands-off policy ended with events reported in Acts 12. Religious and civil authorities began to combine their efforts to stop the Jesus movement. The first foray of government into the anti-Christian cause was also short-lived. It did some damage. But in the long run its greatest accomplishment was to affirm the principle that though believers suffer and die in the battle for God's kingdom, the ultimate outcome is assured. Victories are won through the prayers of God's people. The proud and powerful anti-God-players are brought down. In the process God's truth captures more territory and captivates more minds and hearts.

Here a Herod, There a Herod, Everywhere a Herod

Acts 12:1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.

This is the first mention in Acts of the New Testament's notorious succession of puppet rulers bearing the title “Herod”. Here's the whole Herod dynasty* in the order of their appearance in the New Testament:

  • Herod the Great –King of Judea from 37 to 4 BC. Rebuilt the Temple. Slaughtered the babies of Bethlehem in an attempt to destroy the baby Messiah, Jesus.

  • Herod Antipas—Tetrarch* of Galilee and Perea, 4 BC-AD 39. Beheaded John the Baptist. Jesus stood trial before him on his way to crucifixion.

  • Herod ArchelausEthnarch* of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, 4 BC-AD 6. So cruel, ineffective, and universally hated, the Romans replaced him with a governor.

  • Herod Philip ---Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, 4 BC—AD 34. Founder of Caesarea-Philippi, where Jesus spent some time.

  • Herod Agrippa I —King of Judea, AD 37-44. “King Herod” of Acts 12. Grandson of Herod the Great by his Jewish queen Mariamne.

  • King Herod Agrippa II ---Son of Agrippa I (Acts 25-26).

Get Agrippa Yourself, Man!

Herod Agrippa I was a “puppet” king answerable to Rome. He was a savvy politician and realized the effectiveness of his reign depended on maintaining a good relationship with the Jewish leaders. The fact that his grandmother was a Jew helped. Many Jews liked him because he kept the Jewish law and all the Jewish holy days. His attack against the church was pure politics.

Political Correctness Turned Deadly

Acts 12:2 Then he (Herod Agrippa I) killed James the brother of John with the sword. (NKJV)

Earlier Christian leaders were held in such high esteem by the people, it had been unwise to attack them directly (Acts 5:26). By Acts 12, public opinion (always fickle) had turned against them. Agrippa, reading the political winds. Decided his popularity in the polls would get an upward kick with an attack against the church—especially targeting its high-profile leaders. So he arrested several Christians, including the apostle James. The recorded details of James' martyrdom are scant. He was hacked to death with the sword (beheaded), the first apostle martyred for his faith in Jesus. Several New Testament characters have the name James. This one is James, son of Zebedee, the brother of John. Jesus nicknamed him and his brother “Sons of Thunder”. He was one of Jesus inner circle of confidants. Jesus once predicted that James would drink the same cup of suffering and experience the same “baptism” as he. Thanks to Herod, he did.

James was martyred with the sword. Another prominent New Testament character, Paul, would face the same fate in Rome. In modern times, Christians are killed for their faith in the same way. China is one such place. In 1934 John and Betty Stam of China Inland Mission were put to death with the sword by Chinese communists. In 1966-1976, the Chinese Cultural Revolution forced religious activity underground, destroyed most Bibles, looted Christians' homes, and imprisoned or executed many Christians.

What Others Say:

Samuel Rutherford

Through many afflictions we must enter the kingdom of God...It is folly to think to steal to heaven with a whole skin.

Billy Graham

It is never easy to be a Christian. The Christian life can still bring its own loneliness, unpopularity, and problems. It is human nature to dislike, resent, or regard with suspicion anyone who is “different”. To suffer for the faith is not a penalty; it is a privilege. In doing so, we share in the very work and ministry of Christ. If we are united with Christ and his sufferings, we shall also be united with Christ in his resurrection.

Pastor Moser

As you readers can see, we have gained a lot of background information, and have only covered two verses of chapter 12 of the Book of Acts! I hope you have enjoyed this preview of a great study aid. I like the touch of humor the authors lend to the details. It makes for a more interesting read, rather than a dry listing of facts, dates, and figures. If any of you are Sunday School teachers for youth or adult classes, or teach a Bible study, you may want to check out a Smart Guide to the Bible online or at your local Bible Books Store.

May God Bless You All,

Pastor Moser

March, 2012

*dynasty-succession of rulers from one family line.

*Tetrarch-ruler of a minor province.

*Ethnarch-ruler of a country.