Lesson 23 | Sabbath, 9 June 2018
“Herod’s heart had grown still harder; and when he heard that Christ had risen, he was not much troubled. He took the life of James, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews, he took Peter also, intending to put him to death. But God had a work for Peter to do, and sent His angel to deliver him. Herod was visited with the judgments of God. While exalting himself in the presence of a great multitude, he was smitten by the angel of the Lord, and died a most horrible death.” –Early Writings, pp. 185, 186.
Persecution against the church for political gain
1. What persecution against the early Christian church was carried out by Herod Agrippa I, nephew of Herod the Great and King of Judea? What did he do to the apostle James, John’s brother?
Acts 12:1, 2 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. 2And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
“The government of Judea was then in the hands of Herod Agrippa, subject to Claudius, the Roman emperor. Herod also held the position of tetrarch of Galilee. He was professedly a proselyte to the Jewish faith, and apparently very zealous in carrying out the ceremonies of the Jewish law. Desirous of obtaining the favor of the Jews, hoping thus to make secure his offices and honors, he proceeded to carry out their desires by persecuting the church of Christ, spoiling the houses and goods of the believers, and imprisoning the leading members of the church. He cast James, the brother of John, into prison, and sent an executioner to kill him with the sword, as another Herod had caused the prophet John to be beheaded.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 143.
2. Whom did this king put in prison next, placing a heavy guard around him as he awaited execution? What did the church do without ceasing while the apostle was in prison?
Acts 12:3-5 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread). 4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. 5Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
“Seeing that the Jews were well pleased with these efforts, he imprisoned Peter also.
“It was during the Passover that these cruelties were practiced. While the Jews were celebrating their deliverance from Egypt and pretending great zeal for the law of God, they were at the same time transgressing every principle of that law by persecuting and murdering the believers in Christ.
“The death of James caused great grief and consternation among the believers. When Peter also was imprisoned, the entire church engaged in fasting and prayer….
“While, upon various pretexts, the execution of Peter was being delayed until after the Passover, the members of the church had time for deep searching of heart and earnest prayer. They prayed without ceasing for Peter, for they felt that he could not be spared from the cause. They realized that they had reached a place where, without the special help of God, the church of Christ would be destroyed.” –The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 143-145.
Evil men’s plans opposed by an angel
3. What happened the night before the apostle was supposed to be executed in a public spectacle at Herod’s command? How difficult was it for the angel to free the apostle from his chains?
Acts 12:6-8 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. 7And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. 8And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
“The day of Peter’s execution was at last appointed, but still the prayers of the believers ascended to heaven; and while all their energies and sympathies were called out in fervent appeals for help, angels of God were watching over the imprisoned apostle….
“It is the last night before the proposed execution. A mighty angel is sent from heaven to rescue Peter. The strong gates that shut in the saint of God open without the aid of human hands. The angel of the Most High passes through, and the gates close noiselessly behind him. He enters the cell, and there lies Peter, sleeping the peaceful sleep of perfect trust.
“The light that surrounds the angel fills the cell, but does not rouse the apostle. Not until he feels the touch of the angel’s hand and hears a voice saying, ‘Arise up quickly,’ does he awaken sufficiently to see his cell illuminated by the light of heaven, and an angel of great glory standing before him. Mechanically he obeys the word spoken to him, and as in rising he lifts his hands he is dimly conscious that the chains have fallen from his wrists.” –The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 145-147.
4. How far did the angel lead Peter? Where was he when the angel left him? What had the Lord released him from, besides prison?
Acts 12:9-12 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. 10When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. 11And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. 12And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
“The heavenly light faded away, and Peter felt himself to be in profound darkness; but as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, it gradually seemed to lessen, and he found himself alone in the silent street, with the cool night air blowing upon his brow. He now realized that he was free, in a familiar part of the city; he recognized the place as one that he had often frequented and had expected to pass on the morrow for the last time.
“He tried to recall the events of the past few moments. He remembered falling asleep, bound between two soldiers, with his sandals and outer garments removed. He examined his person and found himself fully dressed and girded. His wrists, swollen from wearing the cruel irons, were free from the manacles. He realized that his freedom was no delusion, no dream or vision, but a blessed reality. On the morrow he was to have been led forth to die; but, lo, an angel had delivered him from prison and from death.” –The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 147, 148.
5. Although the entire church was praying for Peter’s deliverance, what was their first reaction to the apostle’s miraculous deliverance? What could the believers truly understand when they saw that their prayers had been literally answered and the apostle was free?
Acts 12:13-17 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. 14And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. 15And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. 16But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished. 17But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go show these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
“The apostle made his way at once to the house where his brethren were assembled and where they were at that moment engaged in earnest prayer for him…. Joy and praise filled the hearts of the believers, because God had heard and answered their prayers and had delivered Peter from the hands of Herod.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 148.
“We are just so. We do not realize the thousand dangers that our heavenly Father has kept us from. We do not realize the great blessing that He has bestowed upon us in giving us food and raiment, in preserving our lives by sending the guardian angels to watch over us. Every day we should be thankful for this. We ought to have gratitude stirring in our hearts and come to God with a gratitude offering every day. We ought to gather around the family altar every day and praise Him for His watchcare over us. The children of Israel had lost sight that God was protecting them from the venomous beasts. But when He withdrew His hand, their sting was upon them.” –Faith and Works, p. 69.
Herod’s unreasoning cruelty and horrible end
6. What did the soldiers face the next morning when Herod commanded that Peter be brought for the execution? Did Herod acknowledge God’s hand in the deliverance of the prisoner? Not being able to do anything to Peter, on whom did the king vent his rage?
Acts 12:18, 19 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. 19And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death.
“In the morning a large concourse of people gathered to witness the execution of the apostle. Herod sent officers to the prison for Peter, who was to be brought with a great display of arms and guards in order not only to ensure against his escape, but to intimidate all sympathizers and to show the power of the king.
“When the keepers before the door found that Peter had escaped, they were seized with terror. It had been expressly stated that their lives would be required for the life of their charge, and because of this they had been especially vigilant. When the officers came for Peter, the soldiers were still at the door of the prison, the bolts and bars were still fast, the chains were still secured to the wrists of the two soldiers; but the prisoner was gone.
“When the report of Peter’s escape was brought to Herod, he was exasperated and enraged. Charging the prison guard with unfaithfulness, he ordered them to be put to death. Herod knew that no human power had rescued Peter, but he was determined not to acknowledge that a divine power had frustrated his design, and he set himself in bold defiance against God.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 149.
7. What final circumstance halted this king’s selfish, boundless ambition and defiance against God? How did his life end, having indulged his lust for glory instead of carrying out the will of God and honoring Him?
Acts 12:21-23 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. 22And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. 23And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
“… Wild with enthusiasm they [the people] showered adulation upon him, declaring that no mortal could present such an appearance or command such startling eloquence. They further declared that while they had ever respected him as a ruler, henceforth they should worship him as a god….
“Herod knew that he deserved none of the praise and homage offered him, yet he accepted the idolatry of the people as his due. His heart bounded with triumph, and a glow of gratified pride overspread his countenance as he heard the shout ascend, ‘It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.’
“But suddenly a terrible change came over him. His face became pallid as death and distorted with agony. Great drops of sweat started from his pores. He stood for a moment as if transfixed with pain and terror; then turning his blanched and livid face to his horror-stricken friends, he cried in hollow, despairing tones, He whom you have exalted as a god is stricken with death.” –The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 150, 151.
Thus he who was sentenced to death, lived; and he who thought to live, died. “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.” Proverbs 26:27.
For additional study
“This demonstration of divine justice had a powerful influence upon the people. The tidings that the apostle of Christ had been miraculously delivered from prison and death, while his persecutor had been stricken down by the curse of God, were borne to all lands and became the means of leading many to a belief in Christ.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 152.
“It was Herod Antipas who took part in the trial of Christ, and Herod Agrippa I who put James to death. Agrippa was nephew and brother-in-law of Antipas. Through intrigue he secured the throne of Antipas for himself, and on coming to power pursued the same course toward the Christians that Antipas had followed. In the Herodian dynasty there were six persons who bore the name of Herod. It thus served in a measure as a general title, the individuals being designated by other names, as Antipas, Philip, Agrippa, etc. So we might say czar Nicholas, czar Alexander, etc. In the present instance this use of the term becomes more natural and appropriate inasmuch as Agrippa, when he put James to death, occupied the throne of Antipas, who a little before had been concerned in the trial of Christ; and he manifested the same character. It was the same Herodian spirit, only in another personality, as ‘the dragon’ of Revelation 12:17 is the same as the dragon of verse 3, the real inspiring power in each being the dragon of verse 9. In the one case he works through pagan Rome; in the other, through our own government.” –Early Writings, p. 185 (editors’ note).