Heart of the Story: Herod Agrippa 1’s pride was so great that he allowed himself to be called a god, an action that caused God to kill him.
Herod Agrippa I was born Marcus Julius Agrippa. His grandfather, Herod the Great, was responsible for the massacre of infants in Bethlehem. His father, Herod Antipas, ordered John the Baptist beheaded. Agrippa 1 was reared in Rome where he learned to know two youths, Caligula and Claudius, who later became emperors. These two Roman emperors established then expanded the territories Agrippa 1 ruled between 37-44 AD. Eventually Agrippa 1’s kingdom encompassed all the lands ruled by his grandfather Herod the Great, e.g., Idumea through Galilee and large areas east of the Jordan River.
Flavius Josephus (2011) described Agrippa as man who was beneficent, liberal in his gifts, and eager to oblige people. Although perceived as being friendlier to Greeks, Agrippa 1 observed Mosaic laws, lived much of the time in Jerusalem, and went to great lengths to please the Jews.
Agrippa 1 had James, the apostle, beheaded in 44 AD. Seeing that his actions pleased the Jewish leaders, Agrippa put Peter in jail. His planned to keep Peter in jail until after the Passover then put him on public trial. Agrippa assigned four soldiers at all times to guard Peter. Nonetheless, the night before Peter was scheduled to be put on trial, God lead Peter out of prison. The following morning, the soldiers had no idea where Peter was. After making an unfruitful search for Peter, Agrippa cross-examined the guards and executed them.
Shortly afterward, Agrippa left Judea and went to Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coastline. For some reason Agrippa 1 was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. City leaders had a meeting with Agrippa 1 and asked for peace. Both Tyre and Sidon were commercial seaports. They depended on grain and other food from Judea, which Agrippa controlled.
On the second day of a festival in honor of Emperor Claudius, Agrippa wore a silver garment (Josephus 2011). He entered the amphitheater early in the morning and addressed the people. The sun reflected off of his silver robes; they shone in a way that caused the audience to be afraid. The people shouted, “This is the voice of god, not of a man” (Acts 12:22). Agrippa made no effort to refuse or refute the people’s honoring him as a god despite knowing the words were blasphemous.
The Bible recorded that immediately an angel of God struck Agrippa down because he didn’t give praise to God. Josephus’ (2011) narrative supplied additional information—a severe pain developed in Agrippa’s abdomen necessitating him being carried to his palace. He lived seven days then died because his insides were eaten by worms.
The Bible seemed to conclude that Agrippa’s audience determined that he was a god because of his oratory skills; however, Josephus wrote that their response was more related to Agrippa’s shimmering clothing. Probably, both were involved as was the citizen’s desire to ingratiate themselves with Agrippa so that he would allow food supplies to be shipped to Tyre and Sidon.
We don’t know how much of Herod Agrippa 1’s behavior was learned from his father or grandfather. At best we can conclude that he knew how to play the political games necessary to stay in power in the Roman Empire. At worst he was egotists who, similar to their Roman Emperors, believed it was okay to be worshiped as a god. He was a repeat murderer. He was vindictive, withholding food from his own citizens in a fit of anger.
Conclusion: Herod Agrippa 1 allowed Satan to use him to obstruct the early Christian church. Nonetheless the record of Herod Agrippa 1 in Acts 12 ends by noting that the word of God continued to increase and spread.
Copyright: June 15, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth