Acts 12:1-4 reads, “Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover” (NKJV). In our meditations on this passage we will consider the three men that the Spirit of God puts before us: Herod, James and Peter.

Herod is the third king mentioned in Scripture with this name. All three Herods were ungodly men guilty of murdering God’s people. The first Herod is seen in Matthew 2 where in verse 16 we read that he “slew all the male children in Bethlehem and all its vicinity,” hoping to destroy the Christ child. In Matthew 14:1-13 we have the account of the second Herod beheading John the Baptist. In our portion we see the third Herod guilty of the same sin, for he had the apostle James beheaded with a sword.

James is the well-known brother of the beloved apostle John. These two brothers, along with the apostle Peter, were part of Christ’s “inner circle” during His public ministry. We see them together with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9, in the house of Jairus when Christ raised his daughter from the dead in Mark 5:37-42, and in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:36-46. The question naturally arises, “Why did God allow James, who was such a faithful witness for Christ, to die a gruesome death at such a young age?” You may recall that the Lord had predicted that James would suffer martyrdom for his faith in Christ. In Matthew 20:18-19 the Lord Jesus had announced His impending death and then in verse 22 He asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” and they responded “We are able” (NASB).   Jesus went on to say in verse 23My cup you shall drink”, and in Acts 12:2 we see the fulfillment of this prediction. James was called upon by God’s will to “seal his testimony in blood” and thus he did indeed drink the same cup, of suffering and death, as his blessed Lord.

Peter, on the other hand, lived to see another day, though if Herod had had his way he would have experienced the same fate as James the moment Herod captured him. Instead Herod had him imprisoned, choosing to wait until the Jewish feast of Passover was over to have him killed to avoid offending the Jews during their religious holiday. But if we were to read verses 5-11 we would see that the church at Jerusalem prayed earnestly for Peter’s release and God granted them their request with a miraculous deliverance. Why did God choose to spare Peter and not James? I don’t know if we can answer that question with our limited understanding, but we do know that eventually Peter too suffered martyrdom from the hands of his enemies. As with James, the Lord had also announced to Peter that he would lay down his life for his faith. Jesus said in John 21:18, “When you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go” (NASB). History records that Peter was indeed taken and crucified by his enemies. James was the first apostle killed and he was young; Peter was allowed to “grow old” before his death. We know that before he died he was inspired to write 1 and 2 Peter and he labored tirelessly to the very end. So, can we not say that God will take each of His servants home WHEN THEIR WORK IS DONE? One has said, “A believer is immortal until his work for God is done.” Our enemies can’t touch us until then! James finished his work at a rather young age; Peter when he was old. Let us be encouraged by this blessed truth dear brothers and sisters. And let us be, like James and Peter, faithful until our work is done.  (176.7)  (DO)