Acts 12:1-5
Acts 12:1 (KJB)
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
Vex - To harm, mistreat, or injure
In A.D. 41, Rome had added Judaea to the rule of King Herod Agrippa. He was a grandson of Herod the Great. He was one of the Herods who had faithfully practiced the Jewish religion. Since he wanted to gain favor with the Jews, he no doubt heard about the rift between the Sanhedrin and the Apostles. In the early part of his reign, he wanted to show his authority so he began to seize some of the leaders of the Jerusalem church with intent to do them harm.
Acts 12:2 (KJB)
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
Peter, James, and John were the inner circle of Jesus and without even a trial or the chance to explain his faith, James was killed with the sword, which no doubt, means decapitated. Herod would not have this done this in private but publicly so everyone would know it happened. No trial is recorded anywhere so this was just a summary execution to build fear in the Christians.
Acts 12:3 (KJB)
And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
Pleased - Acceptable
The murder of James had pleased the Jews and maybe the leaders saw an end to the “sect of the Nazarene” because one of their own was now on the throne and could begin to weed out the Christians and they would see an end to this sect. Then they could get back to making money and building their wealth and status. Since they were pleased with the murder of James, Herod probably thought that if he would seize the big fish, Peter, it would raise his status much higher in the community plus it would show that he wants to keep order and that those who disrupt will be dealt with quickly. Since Peter was the main spokesman on Pentecost, his arrest and execution would send a message to the Christians that they will all eventually be dealt with.
Acts 12:4 (KJB)
And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
A quaternion was four soldiers so Peter was guarded by 16 soldiers. Probably they guarded him in shifts so some could rest while the others watched. Herod wanted to place Peter under heavy guard because he no doubt heard how they had escaped jail before.
One of the accusations which is leveled at the King James Bible is the translation of the word “pascha” as “Easter.” The word “pascha” is not a Greek word but is from the Aramaic “pascha.” King Herod Agrippa, being a grandson of Herod the Great was Idumaean which was Edomite. This means that King Herod Agrippa was not a Jew but an Edomite. The Edomites were descendants of Esau.
(Gen 25:30 KJV) And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
(Gen 36:1 KJV) Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom.
Therefore the Herod Dynasty was not in the line of Jacob. It was the king of Edom who did not allow Israel to pass through their land when they came out of the Land of Egypt.
(Num 20:21 KJV) Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.
Archaeology has dug up many clay figures in the area known as Edom. The main gods of the Edomites were the fertility gods of the region. According to Assyrian secular records, it is known that Edom had one national god named “Qos,” however they were hardly monotheistic in that they had other gods. (2 Chr 25:14 KJV) Now it came to pass, after that Amaziah was come from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them. If you notice this verse speaks about gods in the plural. There was also evidence of Baal worship. The Bible does not mention any specific gods which the Edomites worshipped. In fact, in the early years they had worshipped Jehovah but after they refused passage to Israel, they started to descend into idolatry. Since they had taken up the local gods of the area, Astarte, would have been one of the gods of the area. Normally wherever Baal was, Astarte was also found. Astarte was a deity of fertility. Astarte was known as Aphrodite to the Greeks. Astarate was also known as “Ishtar” which was the goddess of fertility.
These false gods can be found in basically all of these ancient pagan civilizations. So the region of Edom, which was south of Israel, would not have been a stranger to them. These false gods even crept into both Israel and Judah. (Jer 7:18 KJV) The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger. The queen of Heaven was also known as Ishtar the fertility goddess. In our day, we are seeing a resurgence of goddess worship.
Now back to Herod’s declaration about Peter. Herod was going to wait until after Easter to bring Peter out to the people and no doubt they would have pronounced the same sentence as the Lord Jesus Christ received. Now, there seems to be a difficulty because the word “pascha” should be translated “Passover.” Correct? Absolutely not. We owe a great debt to William Tyndale who translated this verse correctly.
(1526 Tyndale) And when he had caught him he put him in preson and delyvered him to .iiii. quaternios of soudiers to be kepte entendynge after ester to brynge him forth to the people.
The reason that Tyndale had translated “pascha” as Easter in this verse was a question of timing.
(Num 28:16-17 KJV) And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the LORD. {17} And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten.
(Mark 14:12 KJV) And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?
As we can see that the Passover came first and was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So if we look at Acts 12:3, we see a very important phrase.
(Acts 12:3 KJV) And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
Notice very carefully what it says in the last phrase. It states that these were the days of Unleavened Bread. The Passover was already complete. So therefore, in verse four, it would not make sense if Herod was going to bring Peter out after Passover when the Passover was already over but Peter was still in prison. Since the days of unleavened bread was a feast lasting seven days, we are not told what day this was. It could have been day 6 where Peter was still in prison.
Now enter the word “Easter.” Immediately Christians think of the day the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. However, the word “Easter” is a very pagan name. It is derived from “Eostra” which is a pagan festival of Spring. The Bible nowhere commands Christians to celebrate the resurrection or birth of Christ. So when Christianity was turned into a religion by the third century, these pagan holidays were incorporated in the church calendar year but with Christian meanings. For example, Christmas was really the feast of Saturnalia but the church wanted to cover this pagan festival and therefore instituted Christmas as Christ’s birth being on December 25.
Herod being an Edomite and a pagan would not care the least about what festival was taking place. After all, they crucified the Lord Jesus Christ on the preparation day for the High Sabbath and Passover. Why would a pagan king concern himself with the holidays of the Jews? He could have had Peter executed any time he wanted to and during any holiday in the Jewish calendar. Even though he followed the Jewish religion, he would have been celebrating a feast of Ishtar, the fertility god. This was his “Easter” as he would have been too busy celebrating Ishtar under the name Easter, that he would wait until after his pagan festival was over and then he would get back to his duties and have Peter executed. Easter was a pagan spring festival which occurred simultaneously with Passover and therefore “Easter” is the proper word for Acts 12:4 and not Passover. So the “Easter” in Acts 12:4 is not the Christian “Easter” but it is the pagan Easter. Just like politicians do today, they will go to church and up until the time they are elected, they claim to be Christian. Then after they are elected, they never darken a door of a church again. This is what Herod would have done to gain the favor of the Jews.
Acts 12:5 (KJB)
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
Since Peter was placed in prison and the Christians knew what was ahead for him, they had begun to have a continual prayer session on behalf of Peter. The prayer session was the right thing to do because they were unprepared for this sudden persecution. So a mighty prayer meeting took place for the next several days on behalf of Peter. The Christians may have been new but they knew full well that they were in a spiritual battle against the forces of evil. Herod wanted to put an end to the church but he did not know who he was up against.