In an effort to rally his political base, King Herod “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.” Herod goes so far as to have James, the brother of John and one of Jesus’ very first disciples (Luke 5:9-10), killed by the sword.
When Herod sees that his cruelty pleases his supporters, he proceeds to have Peter arrested as well. This happens during the same time of year that Jesus was arrested and crucified, the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
The rest of chapter 12 tells how God, the King of the Universe, thwarts the earthly kings plans and how eventually Herod’s narcissism, pride, and megalomania leads to his own death.
Much more could be said about God’s opposition to pompous, violent, and wicked political leaders from Genesis through Revelation.
But what captured my attention was how Peter’s arrest was in response to the boost in popularity Herod received from his base of support after killing James.
Herod, in a callous display of Machiavellian politics uses cruelty and violence to increase his political popularity.
This tactic has long been a tool of authoritarians and dictators throughout history because human beings, due to our sinful and fallen nature, rejoice in seeing our “enemies” suffer.
However, rejoicing in the suffering of enemies is antithetical to the way of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most central teaching, he teaches,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Followers of Jesus are not called to withdraw from the world and not be engaged in politics.
However, we are to do so as people of the Kingdom who do not rejoice in, celebrate, or reward political behavior incompatible with the way of Jesus.