1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 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. 4 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.
Chapter twelve begins by relating a divine intervention (12:1-19) and ends with further growth of the church (ָActs 12:20-25). This chapter is also the last narrative in Acts that exclusively attends to the apostles and the Jerusalem church.
Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.
Chapter twelve begins with Herod’s persecution of the church. It was about the same time as the famine in the previous chapter, where the Antioch church sent relief to Judea. Persecution of the church now moved from religious leaders to that of government.
Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
There are five different men called “James” in the New Testament. The James of this verse was an early disciple of Jesus Christ. He and his brother John were career fishermen before they joined Jesus. The second James of our passage was the half-brother of Jesus (Mt 13:55; Ga 1:19). Mary was not a perpetual virgin. James, the Lord’s brother, replaced him as an apostle after his death.
Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great and son of Aristobulus) singled out apostles for persecution. He executed the apostle James by beheading the brother of the apostle John with the sword of the state about A.D. 44. James was one of the twelve apostles (Acts 1:13). He was the first apostle martyred. As a part Jew of Hasmonean descent, Agrippa did everything feasible to curry favor with the Jews. He ruled over all Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and the Decapolis.
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.
Since the execution of James pleased the Jews, Herod proceeded to put the apostle Peter in jail during the Festival of Unleavened Bread, a feast of seven days in the spring. His motivation was to placate the Jews, not justice. Unleavened Bread was one of three feasts of the Jews. Jailing Peter was another step in Agrippa’s attempt to appease the Jews by jailing the leader of the church. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, said that Agrippa did everything in his power to please the Jews.
So when he [Herod] had arrested him [Peter], 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.
When Herod arrested Peter, he put him under heavy guard with four squads of four soldiers. Herod wanted to put Peter on trial before the Passover, an eight-day feast that preceded the Feast of unleavened bread. The Passover was the celebration of the exodus from Egypt. The squads of soldiers were made up of four soldiers each.
Satan uses political governance for his own ends.
Satan has a sphere of control over governments (Lu 4:6; 22:53). Jesus warned against his power in this regard (Lu 12:11-12; 21:12-19). However, God sovereignly and directly intervenes in governmental affairs. He limits the ability of the state toward His ends. In part, He does this in answer to prayer.