Acts 12:1-11-Herod Agrippa had some of the Christians arrested and mistreated...and, he had James (brother of John) put to death by the sword (the first of the 12 Apostles to be martyred). This is a fulfillment of what Jesus predicted in Mark 10:39. Jewish law dictated death by the sword for the crimes of murder, or apostasy.
Herod Agrippa I (10 B.C.-A.D. 44), grandson of Herod the Great (Lk 1:5) and nephew of Herod the Tetrarch (Lk 3:19; 13:31; 23:7-12), spent his childhood and some of his adult life in the highest imperial circles in Rome. He had recently returned to Palestine to rule over territory that by A.D. 41 extended as far as his grandfather's kingdom (see Schurer 1973:442-54 for a complete description). Committed to maintaining the Pax Romana by supporting the Jewish majority in Palestine, he was both a pious observer of Jewish practices and a ruthless suppressor of minorities when they became disruptive (Longenecker 1981:407-8).
(IVP New Testament Commentary,
He saw that this pleased the Jewish leaders so he arrested Peter. During the night an angel appeared to Peter. The angel instructed him to get up and follow him. The chains fell off of his hands and he followed the angel out of the jail…walking right past the guards. The main gate of the city opened by itself. Peter thought that he was seeing a vision. When they entered the city they proceeded down a street and then suddenly the angel disappeared. At that moment Peter realized that God had rescued him.
Acts 12:12-17-He then went to the house of Mary (mother of John Mark). There were many people gathered there and praying. When he knocked on the gate a servant-girl named Rhoda answered. She became so excited when she saw him that she ran to tell the others, but forgot to let him in. The others did not believe her, but said that it was an angel. Finally, they let him in. Peter tells them what had happened, instructs them to tell “James and the brethren,” then left and went to another place.
James the half-brother of Jesus had some form of administrative leadership with the apostles by the mid-thirties (Gal 1:19; 2:9), presided at the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 49 (Acts 15:13) and by the late fifties was head of the Jerusalem church (21:18; Longenecker 1981:410-11; Bruce [1988:239] sees him in a position of undisputed leadership at this point). This is the first reference to him in Acts and may be another indicator of Luke's interest in presenting orderly transitions in the life of the Jerusalem church, showing its continuity even in the face of persecution (8:1; 9:31). Even though Peter must pass off the scene to another place, the church leadership is still in the capable hands of James and the brothers. Though Haenchen (1971:385) thinks brothers simply means "fellow Christians," it is better understood as a reference to church leaders or elders (compare E. F. Harrison 1986:205).
(IVP New Testament Commentary,
Acts 12:18-19-The next day, when they could not find Peter in the jail, Herod ordered the execution of the guards. He then went to Caesarea.
Acts 12:20-23-Herod was upset with the people of Tyre and Sidon. The area where their cities were located could not produce adequate agricultural supplies to feed them. This made it necessary for them to import grain from Galilee, which was under the jurisdiction of Herod. So, they came to ask for peace. Herod met them in his royal attire. In an effort to gain his favor, the people began to speak of him as "god". Herod craved the attention and idolization. When he did not give glory to God...God struck him and he was eaten by worms and died (Ryrie-Josephus states that Herod was struck down while delivering his oration, after five days of suffering, he died, A.D. 44)
Acts 12:24-25-People continued to be saved. Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch when they had completed their mission in Jerusalem (cf. 11:30). They had John Mark with them.
Prayer: Lord, about the only time we talk of angels these days is in context of their ministry in the Bible, and in Heaven. We speak little of them being active in our lives. Please give us insight and understanding of what their role is in the church, and in the world, today. If we are ever missing out on some aspect of Your work please reveal it to us. And Lord, please don't let us be limited to what appears to be possible humanly...as the disciples did when they were praying for Peter. Or for that matter, even Peter, himself. Help us to anticipate seeing Your hand at work doing what only You can do...and to give You all of the praise and glory.