King Herod (Agrippa I) was the grandson of Herod the Great. Given much power and a large kingdom by the Roman emperors, Agrippa I ruled over the region of Judea. In order to placate his Roman benefactors, he was interested in maintaining stability, so he worked to gain the favor of the Jews especially by attacking Christians.
That destructive earthly power of Herod is contrasted today with God’s greater power to save. Herod had already executedJames; now he imprisoned Peter with similar intentions. Peter’s situation was dire—not only was he arrested, he was in double chains, flanked by two soldiers, and his prison door was guarded by sentries. What could a small minority of Christians possibly do against such a powerful force like Herod and the Roman guards?
But that is just the point. We are given such a clear picture of the world’s power so that we might see more clearly God’s power. The church did the only thing they could: pray! With earnest, unrelenting, into-the-night prayers, that small group of believers poured forth their petitions to God. And remarkably—even to the praying Christians!—Peter was delivered from prison by an angel. None of Herod’s attempts at security worked. The chains fell off, the guards slept on, and locked gates opened. Reunited with his brothers and sisters, Peter understood what happened: “the Lord had brought him out of prison” (v. 17).
Finally, God’s power was displayed once more upon Herod. As he reveled in human praise in Caesarea, God struck him dead. Herod, the symbol of earthly power, was nothing against the power of God. Scripture’s words near the end of this chapter summarize it well: “But the word of God continued to spread and flourish” (v. 24). The contrast is complete and the point is clear: God’s power is always greater than the world’s.