We have come to another memorable Passover. The last Passover celebration we have record of was Jesus’ final one here on earth. This time it is James’ last one. Not as detailed or pivotal in the Kingdom, but just as important.
Persecution had begun in earnest with the death of Stephen. It was taken to a new high with Saul’s activities BEFORE his encounter with Jesus. After that, things quieted down a bit. But it never went completely away and those who were called Christians or of the Way still faced difficulties. The religious leaders HATED anyone associated with advancing Jesus’ name. After all, one of the main points brought out by His believers was that He was killed by the religious leaders.
I was wondering how all the Herod’s fit together so I Googled it. On GotQuestions.org I found what I was looking for. Herod Agrippa decides to join the religious leaders in their actions against the new church. This Herod is the son of Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist and whom Jesus stood before during one of His trials. Herod Antipas’ father, Herod the Great was the one who tried to kill Jesus as an infant.
The Herod of this time wanted to please the ruling body so he had many of the new believers arrested and he did so in a violent manner. I don’t exactly know what that would entail but I imagine it involved those being arrested being hurt physically in the process. We are not told how many people he had arrested or what the fates of the majority of them were. We do know what happened to James, John’s brother. I don’t believe Herod personally took this action but he ordered James’ death. James was killed “with the sword.” We are also not told if James was allowed a defense like Stephen was. We are simply told of his timing and method of execution.
Luke tells us that “it pleased he Jews” so then he arrested Peter too. The fact that it was Passover was the only thing that kept Peter from facing the same fate as James right away. I’m not sure if James was killed during the feast of Unleavened Bread or just prior to it but Herod was content to wait to deal with Peter after all the festivities ended. But he was taking NO chances. He had probably heard how the apostles had escaped prison before. He wasn’t about to have that happen to him! (He is in for quite a surprise!)
One website I visited during my pondering today’s reading pointed something else out to me. Up until this point the apostles had never really been hurt by the religious leaders. Each time they got into trouble for preaching the gospel they were rescued by God or punished and released. James’ death was the beginning of the real danger for the apostles. Stephen was the first person killed for the faith but the apostles were still relatively safe. They didn’t even leave Jerusalem when Saul began his campaign.
I was just thinking about why this change and I believe God gave me an answer. In the beginning of the church God protected the apostles so the body could be established with a firm foundation. He allowed them to remain together so they could be one another’s council when difficult matters arose. He wanted a healthy start for His church.
Now that the body had grown substantially and in good order it is time to move them further out. It is also time to ensure that the focus remains on Jesus and doesn’t shift to the apostles themselves. It would be so easy for the new body to begin to worship the apostles. I KNOW the apostles would have stopped it, as Peter did with Cornelius, but it could be devastating if let develop. At this point the apostles looked like super heroes and could do anything. That could not continue indefinitely. They needed to be seen as members of Jesus’ body, not as heads of their own body. Yes, they held a special place in His body but were still only members of it, not heads of it. They held no more power or special rights to Jesus than any other member of His body. They were the eyewitnesses, the first, and the closest to Jesus, but they were also still men, just like the rest of us.
That Passover marked another pivotal point in the Kingdom. A pruning for redirected and greater growth.
Thank You Father for seeing the pitfalls before we walk headlong into them. Thank You that we KNOW James stepped right into Jesus arms as he left this earth. Thank You that You gave Peter that surety too in the place he found himself. Thank You for keeping our eyes on Jesus. And thank You for the surprise that is coming up.
On a more personal note, thank You for giving me an answer to my question. It may not be ALL the answer but it is enough to satisfy my soul tonight. I look forward to “the rest of the story” during our bench time. Help me ALWAYS keep YOU the head of ALL I do. Let me be like Peter with Cornelius, if that sort of situation ever develops. YOU are the One I worship. NONE OTHER.