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James Killed and Peter Imprisoned


About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

Peter Delivered from Prison

6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.

18 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

The Death of Herod

20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. 22The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!” 23And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

24 But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. 25Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.


1. Here followeth new persecution raised by Herod. We see that the Church had some short truce, that it might, as it were, by a short breathing, recover some courage against the time to come, and that it might then fight afresh. So at this day there is no cause why the faithful, having borne the brunts of one or two conflicts, should promise themselves rest, 748748     “Perpetuam. quietem,” perpetual rest. or should desire such a calling 749749     “Vacationem,” discharge. as old overworn soldiers use to have. Let this suffice them if the Lord grant them some time wherein they may recover their strength. This Herod was Agrippa the greater, [elder,] the son of Aristobulus, whom his father slew. Josephus doth no where call him Herod, it may be, because he had a brother who was king of Chalcis, whose name was Herod. This man was incensed to afflict the Church not so much for any love he had to religion, as that by this means he might flatter the common people which did otherwise not greatly favor him; or rather, he was moved hereunto with tyrannical cruelty, because he was afraid of innovation, which tyrants do always fear, lest it trouble the quiet estate of their dominion. Yet it is likely that he did shed innocent blood, that, according to the common craft of kings, he might gratify a furious people; because St. Luke will shortly after declare that Peter the apostle was put into prison that he might be a pleasant spectacle.

He killed James. Undoubtedly the cruelty of this mad man was restrained and bridled by the secret power of God. For assuredly he would never have been content with one or two murders, and so have abstained from persecuting the rest, but he would rather have piled up martyrs upon heaps, unless God had set his hand against him, and defended his flock. So when we see that the enemies of godliness, being full of fury, do not commit horrible slaughters, that they may mix and imbrue all things with blood, let us know that we need not thank their moderation and clemency for this; but because, when the Lord doth spare his sheep, he doth not suffer them to do so much hurt as they would. This Herod was not so courteous, that he would stick to win peace or the people’s favor with the punishment of an hundred men or more.

Wherefore, we must think with ourselves that he was tied by one that had the rule over him, that he might not more vehemently oppress the Church. He slew James, as, when any sedition is raised, the heads and captains go first to the pot, 750750     “In duces et capita animadverti solet,” punishment is usually inflicted on the heads and captains. that the common riff-raft may by their punishment be terrified. Nevertheless, the Lord suffered him whom he had furnished with constancy to be put to death, that by death he might get the victory as a strong and invincible champion. So that the attempts of tyrants notwithstanding, God maketh choice of sweet-smelling sacrifices to establish the faith of his gospel. Luke calleth this games which was slain the brother of John, that he may distinguish him from the son of Alpheus. For whereas some make him a third cousin of Christ’s, who was only some one of the disciples, I do not like of that, because I am by strong reasons persuaded to think that there were no more. Let him that will, repair to the second to the Galatians. Therefore, I think that the apostle and the son of Alpheus were all one, whom the Jews threw down headlong from the top of the temple, whose death was so highly Commended for his singular praise of holiness.

3. Seeing that it pleased the Jews. It appeareth more plainly by this that Herod was not moved either with any zeal that he had to Moses’ law or with any hatred of the gospel, thus to persecute the Church; but that he might provide for his own private affairs, for he proceedeth in his cruelty that he may win the people’s favor; therefore we must know that there be diverse causes for which the Church is assaulted on every side. Oftentimes perverse zeal driveth the wicked headlong to fight for their superstitions, and that they may sacrifice an offering to their idols by shedding innocent blood; but the more part is moved with private commodities only, so in times past, at such time as Nero knew, after the burning of the city, that he was loathed and hated of the people, he sought by this subtle means to get into favor again, or, at least, he went about to stay their slanders and complaints, by putting certain thousands of the godly to death.

In like sort, that Herod may win the people’s favor, who did love him but a little, he putteth the Christians to death. as a price wherewith he might redeem their favor; and such is our estate at this day, for though all men run by troops upon the members of Christ, 751751     “Insaniant,” rage against. yet few are pooked 752752     “Incitat,” instigated by. forward with superstition; but some sell themselves to antichrist, like profitable bond-slaves; other some bear with, and commend the outrageous outcries of monks and the common people. But we, in the mean season, being abjects, must be glad to bear their mocks; yet there is one comfort which doth excellently keep us on foot, in that we know that our blood is precious in the sight of Almighty God, which the world cloth shamefully abuse; yea, the more shamefully and reproachfully the wicked do handle us, so much the less shall God’s goodness forsake us.

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