Martyrdom, Deliverance & Judgment (12:1-25)

Bible Passage: Acts 12

In this chapter we are given accounts of what happened to three individuals – two of them disciples of Jesus and one who opposed God’s kingdom. Both disciples were arrested, but only one (Peter) experienced supernatural deliverance whilst the other (James) was martyred. The third individual was King Herod, who had already orchestrated the persecution of James and Peter, and eventually sees himself in place of God and is struck down in judgment.

Martyrdom – James (v1-2): The chapter begins with a simple account of James’ arrest and death. He is not the first Christian to die for the faith (we have already seen the account of Stephen) but he is the first of the twelve disciples to be martyred. The incident makes us take seriously the persecution that Christians often face and challenges our own readiness to follow Jesus even when it is costly. This incident shows that though God always could intervene, sometimes he doesn’t and for many Christians the call to take up the cross is a literal one. In verses like Rev 6:9 we see the high honour that is given in heaven to the martyrs.

Deliverance – Peter (v6-19): Initially, Peter’s circumstances seem the same as those of James, as he too is arrested. This time though God does intervene and sends an angel to lead Peter out of the prison and deliver him to the other believers. It is interesting to see these accounts side by side. It would be wrong to conclude that God loved Peter more than James or that he is more important, but we do learn that God sometimes delivers his people from hardship and persecution and sometimes he leaves them in it, and in both cases he is glorified through their faithful obedience. These verses should remind us of what God can do and encourage us to pray for deliverance for ourselves and others who are persecuted for the faith.

Judgment – Herod (v20-23): Herod was a local ruler who worked under the Romans and had a track record for persecuting God’s people. It was Herod who ordered the death of John the Baptist, who held a mock trial for Jesus before sending him back to Pilate, and who had James killed and Peter arrested. He received the praise of the people as though he was a god, and because of this arrogance was struck down in judgment. This echoes what has already happened to Ananias and Sapphira, and shows that God’s judgment is real and should be taken seriously. It also contrasts with the death of James already seen in this chapter. One died as a result of his worship of God at the hands of earthly power. The other died at the hands of a higher power as a result of his receiving worship as a god.

Potential Applications:

  • Many Christians today are suffering and dying for their faith. You could spend some time praying for persecuted believers around the world.
  • When Peter was arrested we see the church praying for his deliverance even though James has just been killed. Has disappointment in one situations caused us to give up on prayer? Challenge people to pray with fresh faith for deliverance in their own situations.