Herod had seen how the church was growing. They not only had, in fact, the numbers of people, but they also had a higher-profile convert in Saul as he was no longer persecuting the church, but was now instead speaking for Jesus as the Christ.
Herod was the feudal king over the area for Rome, and he wasn’t ignorant of all that was going on. These Jesus-followers were preaching another King, and he couldn’t continue to do nothing. He needed to act, so he had James executed and Peter put in prison.
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.Acts 12:1-3
The church is now on the defensive. Its leaders are being arrested and thrown in prison. In fact, they are being killed because of their faith. There isn’t an escape, unless the Lord acts.
In Peter’s case, Jesus moves and brings Peter out of prison. In James’ case, he is killed. When it says that James was put to death with the sword, it means that he was probably beheaded, similar to what happened with John the Baptist.
We can’t explain why God would allow Peter to continue on in the body and why He would allow James to be killed. We can’t say that one was better than the other. We can simply say that this is how God decided to use each of these men, because through both of the cases, we see a familiar refrain to what we had seen previously. Following the death of James, the jailing and release of Peter, and ultimately Herod’s death, the familiar refrain is: But the word of God continued to spread and flourish, which is verse 24, the last verse in chapter 12.
God will use all of these circumstances. He uses the death of two people and the internment of Peter for His good and His glory. He uses each of these circumstances for Himself. Not for James or Peter to feel good about themselves. Not for the church to feel great about the wonderful victories that God is accomplishing on their behalf. But even through the pain and sorrow of losing people and terrible things happening to them, God’s word continues to spread. God receives more glory even through these situations.
We shouldn’t imagine, therefore, that the life of a Christian should be rosy and great. Instead, we should understand that God wants to use each of us for His good and His glory.