When we look at the Book of Acts and the formation of the early church, we are struck by two things. The first involved a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit as God moved in signs, miracles and gifts.
But what often gets downplayed is the significant role that angels played in the early church. Angels broke Peter out of jail twice, and an angel led Philip to evangelize the Ethiopian Eunuch and directed Cornelius to contact Peter resulting in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of gentiles meeting at Cornelius’ home.
But we also see angels actively involved in protecting the early believers from severe persecution by government officials.
Perhaps the most significant of these was recorded in Acts 12 where we are told that an Angel of the Lord struck down Herod Agrippa who was considered the King of Judea:
Herod Agrippa was the grandson of Herod the Great who ruled Judea during the birth of Christ.
Agrippa only ruled Judea for three years between 41 Ad to 44 AD.
But in the lead up to Agrippa’s death, we are told how he was becoming quite aggressive in persecuting the church. He had ordered the arrest of several Christians including Peter. The verse specifically says that these arrests were violent:
Herod was aggressively coming down hard on the Church. Undoubtedly these arrests involved significant torture, and we are told in the next verse that Herod had James the brother of John put to death by the sword, which probably suggests he was beheaded.
And when Herod saw that these action pleased the Jewish leaders, he ordered the arrest of the Apostle Peter. Without the intervention of an angel, it was very likely having just executed James that Herod was also planning to kill Peter.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus, who actually liked Agrippa, provides more detail on what happened and you can read the full account at the end of this article.
The incident took place at Caesarea during a festival honoring the Roman emperor Claudius shortly after the Jewish Passover celebration in 44 AD. And there are several similarities between the Biblical account and Josephus’ record:
- There is a focus on Agrippa’s attire.
- People called Agrippa a god, which Agrippa initially didn’t reject.
- Agrippa was speaking when he was dramatically struck down.
According to Josephus, as part of his royal attire, Herod also wore pure silver armor that apparently caught the sun’s rays causing several men who were part of Agrippa’s entourage to shout that Agrippa was a god.
And as they were doing this, Agrippa was struck down by a severe pain and collapsed to the ground:
According to Josephus, Herod was carried back to the palace and died after five days of excruciating pain in both his heart and stomach.
Though some historians believe he was poisoned with a few suggesting that Herod’s personal attendant, Blastus, also mentioned in Acts 12:20, played a role, the Bible unreservedly states an Angel of the Lord was behind this.
Though he was removed for accepting worship as a god, I suspect this was also the last straw for Herod who was ramping up his persecution of the early church and could have clearly interrupted what God was doing.
And we can see that in one of the final verses in this chapter, as Luke records with the death of Herod Agrippa, “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24).
When God begins to move by His Holy Spirit, I believe angels are mobilized as well.
Josephus’ description of the death of Herod from his book called “Antiquities”:
“Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea he came to the city Caesarea, which was formerly called Strato’s Tower; and there he exhibited spectacles in honor of Caesar, for whose well-being he’d been informed that a certain festival was being celebrated.
“At this festival a great number were gathered together of the principal persons of dignity of his province. On the second day of the spectacles he put on a garment made wholly of silver, of a truly wonderful texture, and came into the theater early in the morning. There the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays, shone out in a wonderful manner, and was so resplendent as to spread awe over those that looked intently upon him.
Presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good) that he was a god; and they added, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.”
Upon this the king neither rebuked them nor rejected their impious flattery. But he shortly afterward looked up and saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, just as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow.
A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.”
When he had said this, his pain became violent.
Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad everywhere that he would certainly die soon. The multitude sat in sackcloth, men, women and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king’s recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground he could not keep himself from weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age and in the seventh year of his reign.
He ruled four years under Caius Caesar, three of them were over Philip’s tetrarchy only, and on the fourth that of Herod was added to it; and he reigned, besides those, three years under Claudius Caesar, during which time he had Judea added to his lands, as well as Samaria and Cesarea. The revenues that he received out of them were very great, no less than twelve millions of drachmae.
But he borrowed great sums from others, for he was so very liberal that his expenses exceeded his incomes, and his generosity was boundless.”Josephus, Antiquities Source: Wikipedia