Acts chapter 12 revolves around the activities of King Herod Agrippa. He was the grandson of Herod the Great who ruled in the years leading up to the birth of Yeshua. There was no king of Judah after the death of Herod the Great in 1 B.C. until King Herod Agrippa was coronated by Emperor Claudius in 41 A.D.
So for 40 years after the death of Herod the Great, it was a series of Roman Procurators that ruled over Judah and the Holy Lands.
Agrippa was considered to be a Jew although genealogically he was just as his grandfather Herod the Great was; he was of Idumean and Nabatean roots. Idumea was formerly Edom, and the people there descended from the line of Esau. Herod The Great’s mother, was Nabatean; they came from Ishmael.
So while Herod the Great was a Semite, there was no Hebrew (and therefore no Jewish) blood in him. The same went for his grandson Herod Agrippa. However, this fiction of his Jewishness was useful because the Jewish people convinced themselves that they now had a Jewish king.
Perhaps the main reason that the Jews were willing to be happily blind to the truth is that Agrippa followed Judaism. He was known to celebrate every Biblical Feast, and to sacrifice on the altar at all the appropriate times, and to respect the Priesthood and sanctity of the Temple.
Agrippa was quite well liked by the Jewish people and all in all thought to be a good and decent King. Josephus described him as a devout Jew, known for his generosity to his Jewish subjects. He resided in Jerusalem, at least part time, and his behavior was regarded as mild as opposed to rash.
So here’s the conundrum: why did Agrippa go after the Jewish Believers so violently that he beheaded James (Jacob, Ya’acov actually), the brother of John? And more, why did the Jews, or better Judeans, express glee over him doing this? We’re not told.
However, Bible commentators usually say that it was because of The Way’s belief in Yeshua as Messiah that he did it and the Jews liked it. There is no evidence that Agrippa was so religious that this was any issue at all, or that there were mass persecutions by mainstream Jews against the Believers.
All along it had been only certain religious zealots that wanted to decimate this new rival Jewish sect of Yeshua followers; not Jews in general. There is little doubt in my mind that King Herod Agrippa didn’t go after all the Jewish Believers, but only targeted the leadership (thus we hear of James’s execution and the arrest of Peter).
Even more, I have little doubt that this consummate politician saw the leadership of The Way from political eyes, not religious. These leaders seemed to represent some threat to him.
The movement of Yeshua followers had grown large enough that it contained Jews of many ilks’ including zealots; that is, very reactionary Jews who were militant and used every cause as a platform to fight against whatever they perceived as injustice. Peter was known as an outspoken leader of The Way, which made him a natural target.
Kings didn’t tolerate civil disturbances from their subjects. But the timing of this also suggests that the disturbances may well have been in reaction to the predicted famine since indeed Claudius was now in power as the Roman Emperor and this is when the famine was to strike.
So this would also explain the issue of Tzor and Tzidon when something caused them to get on the wrong side of King Herod Agrippa. Historically they bought much of their food from the Holy Land, and the issue of food was even more critical of them at this time of famine.
Notice in verse 3 that it says that it was during the season of unleavened bread (that is the Festival of Matza) that Agrippa arrested Peter. And then in verse 4, we’re told that the King planned on dealing with Peter after Passover.
A Great Point In History
By this time in history, the terms Unleavened Bread and Passover had become interchangeable. A Jew could say that it was during the Passover season, or during the season of Unleavened Bread and it meant the same thing.
The Jews were well aware that Passover and Unleavened Bread (Pesach and Matza) were two entirely different God-ordained Biblical Feasts. However, since Passover was a one-day feast, and the weeklong festival of Matza began the day after Passover, then in ordinary everyday speech they were spoken of as one combined event.
So some would call the entire festival period Passover, others would call it Unleavened Bread and even switch back and forth within the same conversation. And we find our New Testaments doing the same thing.
In Biblical reality, Jews were not required to come to the Temple for Passover. Rather it was the Feast of Matza at which a pilgrimage to the Temple was required. However, if one was going to be in Jerusalem for Matza, and since the first day of Matza was a Sabbath day that prohibited travel, then the only solution was to arrive early.
Since the day before the 1st day of Matza was Passover, then any traveling had to be completed before the start of Passover. Thus if Jews were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Matza, they automatically would be there also for Passover.
King Herod Agrippa didn’t want to make a fuss and have an execution during these eight days of holy festivities, so he arrested Peter before the start of Passover, and when both feasts were completed, he planned on dealing with him.
We’ll continue with chapter 12 in my next blog post.