Vengeance–Acts 12:18-23

Letting go, by David Stillman

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

In our last post from the book of Acts we saw how a group of believers was praying for Peter’s release from death row, yet when they were presented with evidence of his deliverance they responded with disbelief. Their less than stellar faith in God answering their prayers didn’t matter though. God heard them and Peter was delivered anyway. Because they had Jesus, they had more power than they thought they had. It’s similar to how the little boy with a few fish wound up being used to feed thousands. Jesus said: I don’t care how little you have, give it over to me for my purposes and I’ll magnify it and use it for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory. You and I are the same. You and I have more power than we think we have: because we have Jesus. If you’re interested you can learn more here: You Have More Power Than You Think You Have–Acts 12:11-17.

In today’s post we’ll see what happens to the soldiers who were tasked with guarding Peter and ensuring that Peter wouldn’t escape. And we’ll see how Herod responds to Peter’s miraculous escape. And finally, we’ll see how God responds to Herod.

Acts 12:18-23

Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.

Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

Acts 12:18-23

When Herod learned of Peter’s deliverance he questioned the guards but refused to believe their account (or he believed but pronounced judgement on the guards anyway, in an attempt to prevent hope from spreading among the Jesus followers). The Roman practice in a situation like this was for the guards to suffer the same penalty that was due the prisoner, in this case execution. Although we can’t know his motivation, we see that Herod chose to follow the Roman standard operating procedure as it were and he ordered that the guards be put to death.

Some time later Herod is delivering a speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon in the theater of Caesarea which had been built by his grandfather, Herod the Great. The foundations of this theatre still exist today. Upon hearing him the crowd flatters Herod by shouting, “The voice of a god, not of a man!” But Herod doesn’t give God the glory, so for that reason an angel of the Lord strikes Herod down. Josephus wrote about this speech of Herod’s and how he was carried away to his palace where he suffered intense stomach pains for five days and then died at the age of fifty-four. In that culture at that time, bowel diseases and worms were thought to be among the worst ways to die. (Keener)

Herod Got It Wrong

Today we see how a human being with his human limitations didn’t understand the situation before him. He either didn’t understand that Peter was miraculously rescued and his guards were innocent, or, he didn’t understand that Peter was on the side of good and on the side of God Himself.

I’ve written about this before, how limited we are in what we can know. And how we often think we know things when we really don’t. If you’re interested in learning more on that topic you can read Jesus in Disguise–Acts 9:10-19. Herod provides yet another example of this. He was sure those guards aided Peter in an escape, or, Herod was sure Peter and the followers of Jesus were enemies of the state. In either case, Herod was wrong.

And, besides being wrong and executing innocent people, apparently, Herod was arrogant. Because when he was showered with flattery by the crowd and told he spoke with the voice of a god, he didn’t respond in humility.

How We Can Get It Wrong

Like Herod, we can also think we know things when we really don’t. So we can get it wrong in the same way Herod did. But there’s another way in which we can get it wrong.

Kathy and I were watching a TV show the other day and it was about a man who endured a horrible tragedy. Some bad people broke into his home and murdered his wife and his daughter. Most of the show (there are eight episodes) are devoted to how this man takes matters into his own hands and kills every person connected with the death of this family. As the show progresses he sinks to new lows in his quest for vengeance and I kept waiting for the part where he comes to himself and realizes that vengeance is God’s and not ours and vengeance can’t bring back his wife and daughter and his acts of vengeance only lead to an even darker place than where he was before he lost his family. But it never came. The message of the show was the opposite of God’s Message. The message of the show was, vengeance is mine and not the Lord’s. The message was, I need to be the one to respond with violence. I’m a message guy when it comes to what entertainment I consume and I was profoundly disappointed in the message communicated by this particular TV show. (Deuteronomy 32:35,Romans 12:17-19)

All this is relevant to today’s passage because in our text, we see something conspicuously absent from this account about Peter and Herod. What’s absent is an ad hominem attack (or an attack of any kind for that matter) against Herod by the side of the Christians. The message in our text is that vengeance is not mine, or Peter’s, or Peter’s friends, or Peter’s family. In fact, I can hardly imagine the believers behaving like the man in the TV show I mentioned. Their response to their enemies was aligned with Jesus’ teachings. They weren’t just followers of Jesus in name only, but they were actual followers of Jesus’ words.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

–Jesus, Matthew 5:38-48

These early believers, these genuine Jesus followers, they trusted in Jesus’ words, and they trusted for vengeance to come from God Himself, not from themselves.

God help me and God help you to do the same.

“Father have mercy on me and on the dear person reading this right now and help us to not just call ourselves Christians but help us to follow Jesus’ words the way He wants us to. Have mercy on us and fill us with Your Holy Spirit to have strength to resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands. Help us to let go of our desire for vengeance. Help us to love those who persecute us. Help us to trust in You to judge every person perfectly as You certainly will. Help us to embrace Your role to judge and help us to embrace our role to love. Have mercy on us and help us to follow You and Your words more closely, the way these early believers did. Help us.

“In Jesus’ name we ask this of You Father.



Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,
InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 357

Image of man letting go via David Stillman — Creative Commons

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One Comment on “Vengeance–Acts 12:18-23

  1. Pingback: The Price of Pride–Acts 12:20-23 | God Running

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