It is an amazing thing that Christianity exists today. In the first century, the deck was stacked, so to speak, against the Church. There were the Jews who thought of the first Christians as deserters of the faith and some, like Saul of Tarsus sought to get rid of them. Then there were political leaders who thought that Christians were a threat to their rule, and so exercised their authority in any way possible to limit their evangelistic efforts and even execute their leaders. An example of the later was Herod Agrippa I. He was the grandson of Herod the Great and brother to Herodias, who was the subject of John the Baptists’ ire (Mark 6:19). Herod Agrippa had a number of qualities that may have advanced his career as a politician, but brought him and early and painful death.
The first mention of this man is found in Acts 12 where he has the Apostle James executed. No reason is given for the execution but possibly it may have resulted from the preaching of James. With his brother, John, they were known as the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17) and just maybe he preached a message that offended the king. His action is consistent with his family history. When his grandfather heard that there was a rightful king of the Jews that had come into the world, he sought to eliminate the contender by having every baby born in the area of Bethlehem executed. He even executed those who may have been born earlier than time frame that was reported to him of the Messiah’s birth (Matthew 2:16).
Seeing that it pleased the Jews to have James executed, Herod Agrippa proceeded to seek to take Peter’s life. But God provided a miraculous release for Peter and when the morning came for Peter to be executed and he was not there, he had the guards executed. Some might say that this was the normal course of action for guards who were negligent in their responsibilities of keeping a prisoner (and it was) but the guards did nothing wrong. You would think that if they were negligent in their responsibilities, they would have conjured up a more believable story than we have no idea how he escaped. This shows that Herod was not interested in knowing truth and exacting justice, but only in promoting himself.
After this incident we find Herod having a problem with the people of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:20-25). Apparently there was a trade agreement between Herod and the people of Syria which was displeasing to Herod. But the Syrians found a friend on the king’s staff and between him and the flattering of the king when he had given a speech, they averted retributive actions. But both they and the king went too far. They said that when the king spoke, it was the voice, not of a man, but of God. That was bad, but even worse was that Herod accepted it as true. This was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Herod was stricken by God which Luke records as being “eaten of worms.” The Jewish historian, Josephus, records that within five days Herod died exactly of what Dr. Luke states in Acts.
The amazing part of this story is found in Acts 12:24 which states that despite all that Herod sought to do to limit, if not eliminate the spread of Christianity, “the word of God grew and multiplied.” Herod’s death did not keep other Herods from coming along and filling his shoes. There have been and always will be those who seek to silence the voice of God through his servants. And against all odds, Christianity has never been wiped out, nor will it. The promise of the Lord is that the gates of hell will never prevail against it. While the promise of Jesus concerns the Church corporately, it has individual application. The child of God may lose their life for faithfully proclaiming the Word of God as did James. But I would rather lose my life for proclaiming truth than save my life by remaining silent. Why? Because I know that against all odds, the Word of God will always accomplish God’s purposes (Isaiah 55:11).