The Herod of chapter 12 is Herod Agrippa I. He was the grandson of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the young male children around Bethlehem, in his effort to kill Jesus. He feared the newborn king would contend for his throne. Agrippa I was also the nephew of Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist. Agrippa I ruled a fourth of the area of Palestine. The Herod family was a ruthless family tree of twisted limbs and spoiled fruit. Afraid you cannot get your way? Kill enough people to make it happen. That was the Herod way. In stark contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of hope, life, unity, and peace. The gospel accomplishes the salvation of lost souls and ensures the reign of Christ by means of the gospel truth and moral persuasion (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and the church is not a political machine.
As outsiders who ruled the Jewish land, the Herods sought to curry favor with them. James was executed at Agrippa’s command. Since this made the unbelieving Jews happy, he thought to do the same with Peter. These events took place around ten years after the death of Jesus. Luke dates this episode around the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in connection with the Passover. If your Bible translation reads “Easter” in the passage, this is an inexcusable error. No such word occurs in any Greek New Testament, and men had not designated such a holiday until much later. No translation is perfect, but improvement has been made.
Though Peter was arrested and in great danger, God still had plans for him. Prayers were offered for him. Chains, guards, and bars could not hold back the gospel of Christ. Much to Peter’s surprise, he was released by an angel (messenger) of God and escorted to safety. Verse 11 is classic. Peter says, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”
Peter proceeded to a home known for gatherings of Jesus’ disciples, the home of Mary, aunt of Barnabas and mother of John Mark (Col. 4:10). While the disciples still prayed for Peter, he showed up at the door. The servant who answered the door for Peter was so overjoyed that she left him at the door while she ran to tell the rest. Peter instructed those at Mary’s house to tell James (the Lord’s brother) and the rest that he had been freed. On another note, Agrippa had the guards executed. They had been responsible for keeping Peter and paid with their lives. Worldly ways. Bloody rulers with no regard for human life.
The narrative of Agrippa’s death has fascinated generations. Caesarea was used as a capital by Agrippa and he met there with leaders from Tyre and Sidon. These seacoast cities were dependent on Agrippa for grain. When the vain Agrippa was called a god by the desperate people, he did not deny it. He died for failing to give glory to the true God. The historian Josephus records that he died five days later, a victim of intestinal parasites. In contrast to Agrippa’s reign, the kingdom of God continued to spread and flourish.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.