“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1-2).
This James was very probably the one who, with Peter and John, enjoyed such close and intimate fellowship with the Lord on various occasions.
We recall that after the death of Judas, Peter said that one must be “ordained to be a witness with us” of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:15-26). That is ,it was necessary for one to be selected to take the place of Judas, bringing the number back to the original “twelve.”
The inquiring student will naturally ask—Why was it not necessary to appoint one to take the place of James, whom Herod killed with the sword? Why was it not just as important to replace James as it was to replace Judas and thereby keep the number of apostles “twelve,” the same as the twelve tribes of Israel? We offer the following suggestion as an answer to this logical question.
The “twelve apostles of the Lamb” are linked with the “twelve gates,” the “twelve angels,” the “twelve tribes,” and the “twelve foundations” in the holy city, “the bride” of Christ (Revelation 21:9-14); but they are nowhere spoken of as being a part of the body of Christ. These twelve received the following promise from the lips of the Savior—”Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations. And I appointed unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me; that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:2830); but they are nowhere given the hope of a part in the catching up of the church, which is the body of Christ.
It seems clear that the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” belong with Israel and the bride in connection with kingdom hopes. We are admonished to “approve the things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10). In the original language, this quotation reads—”Distinguish between the things that are different.” We must distinguish between the things that differ in order to rightly divide the Word of truth.
After careful and prayerful study brings us to a clear distinction between things that differ, “let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (I Cor. 7:20). Why should we, as members of the body of Christ, try to link ourselves with Peter and “the eleven” in the hope and calling which God has offered in connection with the kingdom? Let us be satisfied with the place which our heavenly Father has given to us in the body of His dear Son and rejoice in Him, “our hope of glory.”
When Judas died there was no “apostle to the Gentiles.” There was, at that time, no revelation concerning the “my gospel” of Paul, or the “mystery” of Romans 16:25. The only hope of the believer, at the time of Judas’ death, was the kingdom hope of Luke 22:28-30.
By the time that James was killed, something entirely new was beginning to show up on the unfolding pages of the inspired Word. Paul began to preach and write concerning the “dispensation of the grace of God” which was made known to him by special revelation. Notice his suggestion concerning that which was entirely new in the following quotations—
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Cor. 2:7-8).
“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).
By the time of the death of James, God was ready to let the work of the twelve begin to fade into the background and to bring the ministry of the apostle Paul and his co-workers into the forefront. In other words, the time was near for the setting aside of Israel as a nation, with her kingdom hopes, and for the calling out of the church, which is the body of Christ, whose hope is Christ in the believer “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:25-27).
It seems clear that this is the primary reason that God did not select one to take the place of James and keep the twelve apostles of the Lamb intact for an earthly ministry at that particular time.
Herod and Peter
After Herod had killed James with the sword and observed that his wicked deed “pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also.” He would have had him killed immediately if it had not been for the fact that “then were the days of unleavened bread.” And when he had apprehended Peter, “he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him: intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people” (Acts 12:3-4).
“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. But he, beckoning unto them with his hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place” (Acts 12:5-17).
We call attention to only a few of the important teachings in above quotation. Peter was “sleeping” (Acts 12:6). He undoubtedly knew something of the truth that God later gave through Paul in Philippians 4:6-7—”Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” If Peter had not been resting in the Lord, he would very probably have been kept awake because of anxiety and fear. Oh that we might learn this lesson in these trying days of worldwide strife and confusion. We are privileged to be close enough to Him to rest and not worry.
In verses 13 to 16, we have evidence that the church which was meeting in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, had very little confidence in their own unceasing prayers. One might well wonder why people who prayed without ceasing would be astonished if their prayers were answered. Perhaps, they should have been resting in the Word of God spoken by the Lord himself, and recorded in John 21:18-19, where Peter was told that he was going to be privileged to glorify God through his death. In reality, the church should have taken the attitude of praising the Lord if the time had come for Peter to glorify God through a martyr’s death. It may be that they were like many others, praying without much thought as to whether or not they were asking according to God’s will.
Now let us see what took place among the worldlings the next day after Peter’s deliverance. “Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode” (Acts 12:18-19).
“And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country. And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. But the Word of God grew and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:20-25).
The smiting of the angel of the Lord meant Peter’s deliverance (Acts 12:7); but it brought death to Herod (Acts 12:23). The words of Herod were soon forgotten; but the Word of God grew and multiplied (Acts 12:24).