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Bible Gemz 1593 - Look How Luke Starts Peter's Prison Story (Acts 12:1-3)

February 19, 2019


About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 

He had the apostle James (John's brother) killed with a sword

When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. 

(This took place during the Passover celebration.) (Acts 12:1-3)


That is an interesting way Luke starts the story of Peter in prison. He could have started the story simply by saying “About that time King Herod Agrippa had Peter arrested.” That is essentially all that needed to be said and then Luke could continue with the story. Isn’t that the point of the story - to simply tell what happened?  Doesn’t Luke want to tell us about the miracle of Peter escaping from prison? No it seems the point of including this story is to tell us far more than the events of what happened with Peter’s arrest. This segment is very strongly linked to the waves of persecution following the believers everywhere they go. Luke doesn't even tell us that the place of the action has changed from Antioch to Jerusalem. It is all part of bringing the story back to Jerusalem again in describing the phases of the movement out from Jerusalem to the outer most parts. Luke described to us the unfolding of events for the Gospel to reach Antioch and for the believers there to be established. Now Luke takes us back to Jerusalem again. This account of the events surrounding Peter’s arrest and imprisonment did not take place in Antioch but Jerusalem. However Luke gives no indication of that. 


What Luke does do is go back not only to Jerusalem but also back to focusing on the persecution that was following this Good News everywhere it went. Not only that, it was on-going and unrelenting everywhere the Gospel went. Let’s now take time to examine who this person Herod Agrippa actually was. 

Again I have clipped the information for you from the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia in E-Sword.  


Two members of the Herodian family are named Agrippa. They are of the line of Aristobulus, who through Mariamne, grand-daughter of Hyrcanus, carried down the line of the Asmonean blood. 


Herod Agrippa I, called Agrippa by Josephus, was the son of Aristobulus and Bernice and the grandson of Herod the Great and Mariamne. Educated at Rome with Claudius (Ant., XVIII, vi, 1, 4), he was possessed of great shrewdness and tact. Returning to Judea for a little while, he came back to Rome in 37 ad. He hated his uncle Antipas and left no stone unturned to hurt his cause. His mind was far-seeing, and he cultivated, as his grandfather had done, every means that might lead to his own promotion. He, therefore, made fast friends with Caius Caligula, heir presumptive to the Roman throne, and his rather outspoken advocacy of the latter's claims led to his imprisonment by Tiberius. This proved the making of his fortune, for Caligula did not forget him, but immediately on his accession to the throne, liberated Agrippa and bestowed on him, who up to that time had been merely a private citizen, the “tetrarchies” of Philip, his uncle, and of Lysanias, with the title of king, although he did not come into the possession of the latter till two more years had gone by (Ant., XVIII, vi, 10). The foolish ambition of Herod Antipas led to his undoing, and the emperor, who had heeded the accusation of Agrippa against his uncle, bestowed on him the additional territory of Galilee and Peraea in 39 ad. Agrippa kept in close touch with the imperial government, and when, on the assassination of Caligula, the imperial crown was offered to the indifferent Claudius, it fell to the lot of Agrippa to lead the latter to accept the proffered honor. This led to further imperial favors and further extension of his territory, Judea and Samaria being added to his domain, 40 ad. The fondest dreams of Agrippa had now been realized, his father's fate was avenged and the old Herodian power had been restored to its original extent. He ruled with great munificence and was very tactful in his contact with the Jews. With this end in view, several years before, he had moved Caligula to recall the command of erecting an imperial statue in the city of Jerusalem; and when he was forced to take sides in the struggle between Judaism and the nascent Christian sect, he did not hesitate a moment, but assumed the role of its bitter persecutor, slaying James the apostle with the sword and harrying the church whenever possible (Acts 12.). He died, in the full flush of his power, of a death, which, in its harrowing details reminds us of the fate of his grandfather (Act_12:20-23; Ant, XIX, viii, 2). Of the four children he left (BJ, II, xi, 6), three are known to history - Herod Agrippa II, king of Calchis, Bernice of immoral celebrity, who consorted with her own brother in defiance of human and Divine law, and became a byword even among the heathen (Juv. Sat. vi. 156-60), and Drusilla, the wife of the Roman governor Felix (Act_24:24). According to tradition the latter perished in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 ad, together with her son Agrippa. With Herod Agrippa I, the Herodian power had virtually run its course.


Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I and Cypros. When his father died in 44 ad he was a youth of only 17 years and considered too young to assume the government of Judea. Claudius therefore placed the country under the care of a procurator. Agrippa had received a royal education in the palace of the emperor himself (Ant., XIX, ix, 2). But he had not wholly forgotten his people, as is proven by his intercession in behalf of the Jews, when they asked to be permitted to have the custody of the official highpriestly robes, till then in the hands of the Romans and to be used only on stated occasions (Ant., XX, i, 1). On the death of his uncle, Herod of Calchis, Claudius made Agrippa II “tetrarch” of the territory, 48 ad (BJ, II, xii, 1; XIV, iv; Ant, XX, v, 2). As Josephus tells us, he espoused the cause of the Jews whenever he could (Ant., XX, vi, 3). Four years later (52 ad), Claudius extended the dominion of Agrippa by giving him the old “tetrarchies” of Philip and Lysanias. Even at Calchis they had called him king; now it became his official title (Ant., XX, vii, 1). Still later (55 ad), Nero added some Galilean and Perean cities to his domain. His whole career indicates the predominating influence of the Asmonean blood, which had shown itself in his father's career also. If the Herodian taste for architecture reveals itself here and there (Ant., XX, viii, 11; IX, iv), there is a total absence of the cold disdain wherewith the Herods in general treated their subjects. The Agrippas are Jews.

Herod Agrippa II figures in the New Testament in Act_25:13; Act_26:32. Paul there calls him “king” and appeals to him as to one knowing the Scriptures. As the brother-in-law of Felix he was a favored guest on this occasion. His relation to Bernice his sister was a scandal among Jews and Gentiles alike (Ant., XX, vii, 3). In the fall of the Jewish nation, Herod Agrippa's kingdom went down. Knowing the futility of resistance, Agrippa warned the Jews not to rebel against Rome, but in vain (BJ, II, xvi, 2-5; XVII, iv; XVIII, ix; XIX, iii). When the war began he boldly sided with Rome and fought under its banners, getting wounded by a sling-stone in the siege of Gamala (BJ, IV, i, 3). The oration by which he sought to persuade the Jews against the rebellion is a masterpiece of its kind and became historical (BJ, II, xvi). When the inevitable came and when with the Jewish nation also the kingdom of Herod Agrippa II had been destroyed, the Romans remembered his loyalty. With Bernice his sister he removed to Rome, where he became a praetor and died in the year 100 ad, at the age of 70 years, in the beginning of Trajan's reign.

Up until now Luke has focused on the persecution that comes to the believers at the hands of the Jews themselves. Mostly the persecution comes from the Pharisees and Sadducees, the High Priest and the members of the Sanhedrin. But on occasions the Jewish people are caught up in the persecution as well as the religious leaders cleverly manipulate the masses to achieve their own ends. Here with the persecution of James and Peter, its Herod Agrippa the First involved. But notice also Luke tells us Agrippa began to persecute believers in the church. But most of the believers have fled Jerusalem. It seems the believers readily available to him there were the leaders or apostles. The ones chosen are James and Peter. The word persecute is more than that. The words in the Greek text are "laid violent hands on” or seized them in order to mistreat them. There was more to it that just arresting them. One would assume with an arrest there would be a fair trial. Don’t expect a fair trial from these people. The way Luke has begun this story he paints the scene of wilful, violent persecution on the followers of the Way.


In these three simple, short sentences Luke tells us Herod began his plan of persecution and death for the disciples. He firstly takes James, the brother of John, one of the sons of thunder, and has him killed with the sword. Oh it wasn’t Herod Agrippa I himself who carried it out. He would have called for the executioner and had him behead James in front of him. Don’t let the simplicity of the words hide the violent intentions of this man Herod Agrippa I. Then Luke tells us, when Herod Agrippa I saw how much this pleased the Jews he had Peter arrested. You and I both know what is in store for Peter. Agrippa was not going to simply stop with the arrest. There was no question of arresting Peter, holding a trial and then whipping him and letting him go. That had happened before. Go back and look at Acts chapters 4 and 5. The disciples are arrested three times. Once they are let go with a warning, the second time they are arrested and they escape, the third time they are flogged (Acts 5:40) and told not to speak in This Name again. What are Peter and James doing now? Doing the same thing. You can’t shut these disciples up. I told you in an earlier Gemz that the focus in terms of the spread of the Gospel was put on Peter, Phillip and then Saul, but the inference is that all of the disciples were doing the same thing. The Jewish authorities had a major problem on their hands. After Stephen’s martyrdom the persecution breaks out on all the believers and they scatter. Now we find ourselves back in Jerusalem again and Herod Agrippa I has taken on the role of spearheading the persecution. He finds James and Peter in Jerusalem and has James arrested. Then he has James beheaded and he is delighted with the fact that this pleased the Jews. Now Peter is next. So he arrests Peter too, AT PASSOVER TIME.   


I will leave you with two simple questions: 

  1. Who were the Jews pleased by Herod Agrippa’s act of having James beheaded?

  2. What is going to happen to Peter?  


When you refuse to forgive, you are insisting on setting your standards higher than God’s. T D Jakes


But Peter and John replied, "Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than Him? 

We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) 


There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction. John F Kennedy


God will never let you go.  Your efforts to win his affection are unnecessary. Your fears of losing his affection are needless. Max Lucado




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