About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.
Now Luke takes us back to Jerusalem, and the church there. We can date these events, as King Herod Agrippa 1, grandson of Herod the Great, ruled from 37 to 44 C.E. Putting these dates into perspective – Jesus was born about -4, or 4 BC. There was a math error by the person who invented the Christian calendar. He lived until he was 33, which would have been about 29 CE. So, this particular Herod ruled from about 17 to 24 years after Christ lived. Remember that Paul had been in Tarsus for 10 years, and in the desert for 3 years before that, and these dates make sense. It is spread out over many more years than the impression we get as Luke moves the story along – sort of like a novel that spreads over the characters’ lifetime.
The Church in Jerusalem had been persecuted at first by the religious elite, the temple leaders. Now, the king, who is a puppet of Rome, joins in the persecution. The religious elite had never dared touch the apostles themselves, but Herod has no such qualms! He violently arrests James, one of the first 4 of the apostles (Peter, Andrew, James and John – the fishermen), and has him killed. James is the first of the apostles to be martyred, but he will not be the last! Peter is also arrested.
The people, the church, might have said, “What can we do against the power of Caesar?” But they did not. They knew what they could do – they prayed – they gathered together and they prayed. We will see what happened, and we will be reminded that prayer is a powerful force!