The Death of Herod

Monday: Herod’s Dynasty

Acts 12:19-25 In this week’s study we see that the Gospel cannot be stopped, even by wicked rulers.
Herod’s Dynasty

The twelfth chapter of Acts brings us to the end of the second major section of this book, but in a strange way. It tells of the death of King Herod, and our reaction is likely to be, “So what?” The death of a king is not remarkable. In fact, most deaths are not. A couplet from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline says: 

Golden lads and girls all must, 

As chimney sweepers, come to dust. 

Herod was only a man, though a king also. What is remarkable about his demise? It is a question worth raising. 

We might also raise this question because of where we are in Acts. This bit of narrative material might have been inserted at any inconspicuous space in the story. But it does not come just anywhere. It comes at the end of chapter 12, where Luke is wrapping up the second section of the book. We recall that in the first chapter, in Acts’ version of the Great Commission, Jesus told His disciples that they were going to be his witnesses: 1) in Jerusalem, 2) in Judea and Samaria, and then, 3) throughout the whole world. These verses end part two and prepare the way for part three. Is this a proper way to end the second section? I think it is and would like to show why. 

But, first, we need to know who Herod was. There are five Herods in the New Testament, and they are related. That is, they were part of one dynasty. 

1. Herod the Great (reigned from 37 to 4 B.C.). The first and most prominent king in this dynasty was Herod the Great, the ruler who controlled Palestine at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. He was a ruthless man. He exterminated all potential rivals to his throne, including at least one wife and several sons. We know him best as the king who ordered the murder of the babies of Bethlehem, thinking that if he killed all who were under two years of age, he would inevitably kill the pretender, that king of the Jews who had been sought by the wise men (Matt. 2:2). 

2. Herod Archelaus (reigned from 4 B.C. to A.D. 6). Herod the Great was succeeded by his son Archelaus, the worst of his descendants. Archelaus was so bad that the Jews complained to the emperor about him, and he was removed from office in A.D. 6. He is mentioned only once in the New Testament (in Matt. 2:22). 

3. Herod Antipas (reigned in Galilee from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39). After the removal of Archelaus, Judea was governed for a time by Roman procurators. But the line of Herod the Great continued through another of his sons who reigned in Galilee until his banishment to Gaul in A.D. 39. His name was Herod Antipas, and he is the Herod who killed John the Baptist. He emerged in a cameo role at the trial of Jesus Christ.  

4. Herod Agrippa I (reigned as Tetrarch of Trachonitis from A.D. 39 and then King of Judea from A.D. 41-44). This is our Herod, the one who appears in Acts 12. 

5. Herod Agrippa II (reigned over various territories from A.D. 50 to 100). This Herod was a son of Herod Agrippa I, but he was only seventeen at the time of his father’s death, and the emperor Claudius was persuaded not to give him his father’s kingdom owing to his youth. In time, however, Agrippa II was given other territories. This was the Herod before whom the Apostle Paul appeared and made a defense some years later, a story recounted in Acts 25 and 26. Paul tried to persuade Agrippa to believe on Jesus Christ. But the king replied, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28).

Study Questions
  1. At what point in Acts does the story of Herod’s death fall? What themes have been dealt with?
  2. List the five Herods in the New Testament. How are they related and what important roles did they play in the beginnings of the church?

Reflection: We live in an age that idolizes people, not necessarily because they are great leaders, but more often simply because they are famous personalities. What traits are well regarded these days, as opposed to earlier times when universal virtues and character were extolled and admired?

Prayer: Pray for the rulers of your country, that they will administer justice and good.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Christ before Herod.”  (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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