Acts 12

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THIS CHAPTER HAS somewhat the nature of a parenthesis. We are again carried back to Jerusalem, to hear of Herod’s persecution of the saints, and of how God dealt with him. James the brother of John fell a victim. He was one of the three specially favored on the mount of Transfiguration, in Gethsemane, and on other occasions, Why the Lord did not interfere on his behalf, as He did for Peter, who can tell? But He did not, and the first of the Apostolic band fell. Herod was cultivating the favor of the Jews, just as Pilate was when he crucified the Lord; and, seeing that the Jews were pleased, he proceeded to arrest Peter. So again we find the Jew playing the part which has brought upon them “wrath... to the uttermost,” (1 Thess. 2:1616Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. (1 Thessalonians 2:16)) according to 1 Thess. 2:14-1614For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: 15Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: 16Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. (1 Thessalonians 2:14‑16).
Peter’s arrest sent the church to its knees. Their appeal was to God and not to man. The last twelve words of verse 5 set forth in a remarkable way the essentials of effectual prayer. It was “to God,” and therefore real prayer. It was “of the church,” and therefore united prayer. It was “for him,” and therefore definite—not wandering away over a hundred and one requests, but concentrated on a special object. It was “without ceasing,” (ch. 12:5) and therefore fervent and importunate—the kind of prayer that obtains answers, according to Luke 18:11And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; (Luke 18:1) and James 5:1616Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16). The prayer of the church brought an angel from heaven to deliver.
Herod had his prisoner in the hands of sixteen soldiers, in chains and behind bars and bolts: rumors as to previous deliverances had possibly reached his ears. All these things were as nothing before the angel, and Peter was conducted forth to freedom. Many were still praying in the house of Mary, mother of Mark and sister of Barnabas. Thither Peter betook himself. While they were still beseeching God for Peter’s deliverance the delivered man knocked at the door. Lo! the answer to their prayer was there. They could hardly credit it, and in this they were very like to ourselves. God’s answer went beyond their faith.
The Jews were disappointed and Herod was baulked of his prey. The only people who died the next day were the unfortunate soldiers responsible for Peter’s safe keeping.
But God had not finished with Herod, though Herod was finished with Peter. The wretched king glorified himself before the people of Tyre and Sidon with the throne and apparel of royalty and a public oration. It was a huge diplomatic success, and the people accorded to him, and he accepted, honors due to “a god.” At that moment the angel of the Lord smote him. He, a mere mortal, accepted honors that were due to God. Today powerful, yet mortal, men are coming very near to doing the same thing, and we may yet see them also disappear in miserable fashion from the stage of life.
Twice in this chapter do we get the angel of the Lord smiting. He “smote Peter on the side,” (ch. 12:7) and in result he “raised him up.” He smote Herod, and instantly laid him low; for “he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (ch. 12:23). Human flesh has often been eaten of worms after death, but in Herod’s case it was before death. A more horrible end could hardly be conceived. With James, Herod was allowed to have his fling; with Peter, he was foiled; and then God made a fool of him, requiring his soul amid scenes of indescribable misery and anguish.
Verse 24 supplies us with a striking contrast. As the worms grew and multiplied in Herod’s wretched body so did the Word of God grow and multiply in the hearts of many. When it pleases God to overthrow an adversary He need not exert Himself: a few worms will suffice to accomplish His end. The Word of God is that which accomplishes His end of blessing in the souls of men.
Verse 25 picks up the thread from the last verse of the previous chapter. Barnabas and Saul had gone to Jerusalem with the gift from the Antioch saints, and having fulfilled this service they returned, taking Mark with them. As we open the next chapter, our thoughts are centered once more on Antioch and the work there.
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