The Conflict of the Ages (continued)
"About that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church ... And when he saw that it pleased the Jews ..." (verses 1, 3). Now why should Herod do this Jew-pleasing thing at that time? It might look just like a human story, it might seem to be something very simple, but we are in the unfolding of this much deeper thing. satan, as we know, is very deep, but God is deeper still, and that is what is happening here. If you look back to the chapter before this, you will find that there was a great famine. "Now in these days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius ... Now about that time..." (Acts 11:27, 28; 12:1).
The simple answer is this: the Jews were a very difficult people to rule. That is perfectly clear, of course; we know that. But add to the normal, usual, common difficulty a famine. You know there is nothing that leads to revolution more quickly than famine and hunger. We are told later in the story that the people of Tyre and Sidon, in Phoenicia, were fed from King Herod's province (verse 20). It is a question of food, and it has become very acute. There is seething and surging and a rising, and Herod must do something to get these people diverted from their troubles, get them preoccupied. Something must be done for them; there must be some diversion. He cannot provide the food and avoid the famine; it has come, it is a fact. Then, if he is going to maintain his position and hold these people and keep them in check, he must do something to please them. And there is your answer!
It sounds like a human story, a bit of trickery, politics, or whatever you like to call it; but that is one part of the answer. "Now about that time ..." Why must he please the Jews? Well, that is the answer. how will he please the Jews? He knows their hatred for the Christians - that is a long story, too - and so he will "put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church." The Christians were being used to buttress up this ramshackle, false kingdom of Herod, to keep his throne intact. He is using them for his own ends. Well, that is only part of the answer - Herod's part. It is a very simple one.
But let us get behind Herod, because Herod is not acting alone. There is something more, something deeper. The deeper and the more real answer to the question is found in the satanic realm behind the man. Let us look at chapter eleven again, verse 19: "They therefore that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews."
"They ... that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen ..." That is a profoundly inclusive word. There is something happening. Oh, what a lot has been happening! That takes us back to chapter seven - the martyrdom of Stephen. Stephen is stones; that is the cup. It looks like an immense triumph for the devil. Stephen was a mighty man of the Spirit; they were tremendous hopes for the Church bound up with the life of that young man. Some have said, after reading his discourse and studying it, that he was the equal of Saul of Tarsus at least. And there he is, murdered. It looks as though satan has really triumphed.
But what after that? From that very point there was a scattering of the believers far and wide, and they went everywhere, testifying. Saul of Tarsus is converted, and what a tremendous thing that is! Peter is led to the house of Cornelius, away up there in the north; and we know what happened there - the door is opened to the Gentiles. Things of the greatest significance are coming out of the cup, the cup of the Lord; out of the baptism and passion into which the Church has been baptized. Believers were constantly added to the Church (9:31, 42; 11:21, 24). The thing is growing. The fire is spreading; satan's kingdom is being shaken. The kingdom of satan is being stirred to its depths, and something must be done about it.
(continued with # 8)