It was around that time that Herod took it upon himself to violently seize some of the assembly. He had James, the brother of John murdered, out to the sword. And seeing that had gratified the Jews, he went further, taking Peter into custody. Such were these days of Unleavened Bread. And having apprehended him, he had him put in prison, under the supervision of four squads of soldiers guarding him, intending to put him on public display to the people after the Passover. And that's how Peter was detained in prison; meanwhile the assembly was engaged in earnest prayer to God for him. (Acts 12:1-5/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne)


BEHEADED: James, the brother of John, was executed on the orders of Herod Agrippa. PICTURE: Alfonso Romero/

James, son of Zebedee, was killed by Herod Agrippa; Peter also was arrested.


Now that Luke has told us about the death of James, we realise that up until this point he has been silent about the civil authorities in the regions where the earliest Christian mission was active. It is now also apparent that what he has been describing in the first 12 chapters took place over a period of 10 to 15 years. This is important for how we read his book because, as you know, a lot can happen in that time. And sometimes our understanding gets confused when we can't see the connection between events.

It was a needless execution of James, the brother of John, and cousin of Jesus, by Agrippa. And so we can say that the cordon sanitaire "protection" of the Twelve - a Sanhedrin ruse that had been devised in order to "divide and conquer" - no longer applied. 

Luke assumes his readers knew some of the political history. The Emperor Caligula (otherwise known as Gaius) had ordered his military commander Petronius to erect a statue of himself in the temple at Jerusalem. This occurred around 40 AD. Caligula was not a happy chappy, particularly with the arrangement Tiberius had made by which sacrifices could be offered daily in the temple on behalf of the Roman Emperor. Caligula wanted those sacrifices to be to him not for him. Hence the statue. 

Petronius knew this would be disastrous. The letters that went to and fro between this officer and his commander-in-chief make interesting reading. But before Caligula's demands could be carried out he was dead - assassinated and so under Claudius, Judaea was ruled by a Jewish King. 

Herod Agrippa was the grandson of Herod the Great, the butcher of the baby boys in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Grandad had built the temple. An uncle, Herod Antipas, had murdered John the Baptist. Within the courts of Agrippa there was little sympathy for those giving allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth. And so, in time, the murder of one of the sons of Zebedee was arranged. This would please the Jews - Luke is probably referring to the Herodian political group about whom Jesus had perceptively warned his disciples (see Mark 6:33-46). Luke calls them "Jews"; they saw an advantage in this killing. Agrippa, ever the opportunist, arrested Peter the leader and imprisoned him as well. 

Was this blood-letting king contemplating a show trial? Probably, but it was Passover time, a season rich in meaning for Jews, as well as the growing company of those believing that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the promised lamb of God who had taken away the sins of the world. Peter was detained in prison. Or at least Agrippa thought that was what he was doing. In the Psalms we sing how God in heaven laughs at the foolishness of men. Agrippa's days were numbered and he knew it not.