ACTS 12 highlights the political king of Judea in AD 44, a positive or negative ruler depending on one’s perspective. In a peak moment of blasphemous popularity, he is struck down by the hand of God. And he saw it coming. ◊
Herod Agrippa I, born in 11 BC, was the grandson of Herod the Great who tried to have the newborn Jesus killed in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2)
It was his the elder’s son Herod Antipas.who ruled during the ministry of John the Baptist (and had him killed) and who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus.
But the grandson, Herod Agrippa 1, is the king introduced to us at the beginning of Acts 12:
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
So Peter was kept in prison: but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (Acts 12:1-4)
King Herod was a Jewish puppet king for Rome whose primary role in Judea was to keep the peace. Peter, the disciples, and the rest of the growing Christians in and around Jerusalem, were upsetting fellow Jews more than their Roman occupiers.
Herod Agrippa, trying to please the Jewish leaders, is therefore against the early Christians and has killed James, one of Jesus’ disciples, and has captured the apparent leader, Peter.
The year is approximately AD 44.
God’s Double Intervention
Through 12 chapters in ACTS, we are seeing Luke’s historical accounting of the early years of the booming Christian church. To be clear, as a follow-up narrative of the entire Old Testament and four New Testament gospel accounts of the life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we are reading the actions of disciples and the very real supernatural interaction of God.
And the God of all creation, the God of the Bible, is nothing if not supernatural.
Yes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and David, humanly manifested in Jesus, the Christ, who was sacrificed and raised from death, is now manifested as the Holy Spirit with power over all peoples, beyond only Israel; that is, the Church of Christ believers,
And now we see a very clear miracle in Acts 12 with Peter’s rescue and deliverance from prison and the hand of Herod.
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.” (Acts 12:6-11)
But God was not done.
When Herod found out that Peter had escaped, the furious king had the prison sentries guarding Peter put to death. He then left for Caesarea. There he conducted state business with the cities of Tyre and Sidon.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:20-23)
Eaten by Worms? Really?
Luke is very terse in his accounting of the death of Herod. The Jewish historian, Josephus, relates the same story but in more gruesome detail, including an omen Herod had seen only that very morning.1
As noted by Josephus, Herod’s mistake was that the king neither rebuked them nor rejected their impious flattery.
But he shortly afterward looked up and saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, just as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow.
A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death.2
After being struck down, Herod Agrippa died 5 days later in AD 44.
By the way, Herod the Great, Agrippa’s evil grandfather, died from a combination of chronic kidney disease and a rare infection that causes gangrene of the genitalia, Another evil ruler over the Jews, Antiochus Epiphanes IV died from an infestation of worms in the bowels. (2 Maccabees 9:5-9)
Do you believe that God intervenes in human affairs to accomplish His purposes?
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish. – Acts 12:23
1 Reign and Death, Herod Agrippa, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Agrippa, from Josephus, Antiquities 19.8.2 343-361