The Seat of Judgment

Acts 12:20-25

Now he [Herod Agrippa] was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. And the people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.

This is an interesting little passage. Ironic twists and turns but only to the astute observer of Biblical context. Which is why I write, unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught. I can’t imagine a mega-church pastor touching this text with a ten-foot pole–other than Herod’s death on the judgement seat but Luke didn’t write that he died on the judgement seat. It is not sexy or fraught with peril or retribution, feasts or famine, ego or justice, crime and punishment. Actually, it is, it’s like a gangster movie.

In our last episode Peter was running for his life, being an escaped, death-row fugitive, from the injustice of Herod–Peter is on the lam. And Herod is more than peeved, having killed his gaurds, he is still reeling from the escape with a bruised ego. But like any megalomaniac, he’s not only angry with Peter, the church and his gaurds, he is also angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; notice. “Now he [Herod Agrippa] was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country.” Let’s look back.

In Matthew 24 Jesus said that in their generation there would be famines. In my last missive, which was the previous  passage in Acts, we saw a famine. Looking forward in today’s text we see Paul and Barnabas returning from famine relief. While Judea suffered from famine, it appears famine has also found its way to Tyre and Sidon as well. The question is, how did Herod provide famine relief to Tyre and Sidon, when the church was starving in Jerusalem? The answer is elusive yet obvious, hidden in the context.

Herod hated the church, it’s no wonder that he didn’t provide them with relief. Herod, like his grandfather, considered himself the king of the Jews but the church served The King of the Jews, Jesus. We also notice that Herod was withholding food from Tyre and Sidon, but he had to have gotten the food from somewhere in order to withhold it. Context is king and where there is smoke there is fire. Herod wanted to be praised and we can reasonably assume, based on the context, that Herod had made political moves to bring food to Judea. I don’t think that even Herod would go up on stage, demanding praise, if he had not made the necessary political moves to provide people with provisions. Josephus confirms that Herod was provided provisions from nearby nations and he in turn, distributed them around the region.

Apparently Tyre and Sidon were not giving Herod his proper respect concerning the provided provisions. We read that “their country was fed by the king’s country.” It seems as if Tyre and Sidon were biting the proverbial hand that feeds, at least in Herod’s mind. But the people desired peace, so that they would not starve–hunger is a great motivator. Another great motivator is praise, people desperately desire to be praised, popular and powerful. Herod, the megalomaniac that he was, enjoyed this more than most. In a demonstration of his political power, Herod came up with an event.

“And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. And the people kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’” “Rostrum” means stage. Literally Herod put himself up on the stage, figuratively he was on the judgment seat, putting on the pomp. Herod wanted the people present to know who he was, a regional governor, a king if you will, answering to no one but Caesar, himself–so he thought.

Sometimes I amaze myself with my ignorance and hypocrisy. While suggesting that the dogmatic dispensationalists read Flavius Josephus, I have to admit that I have not read all of his works, or even most. Truthfully I have only read enough to become convinced that Matthew 24 certainly applied to the first century, and mainly before and very soon after, 70 AD. As it turns out, today’s text was also recorded by Josephus. Now, l am not in any way saying that Josephus’ writings are equal to the inspired writings of Luke. What we have is a divinely inspired account of history corroborated by another historical narrative. Much more could be said but the similarities are self evident–Luke’s account being less detailed but divinely inspired. Josephus gives us greater details which help illuminate the scenario but ultimately are not necessary to see Luke’s aspiration to his audience.

Though short, when read in the greater context, Luke’s account is very illuminating. Herod put on the show to see if Sidon was on his side. Tyre and Sidon came to Herod’s chamberlain, Blastus, and “won him over.” Blastus knew what the people of Tyre and  Sidon had to do–feed Herod’s ego. This is like a gangster movie where Herod is the godfather or don and Blastus is an underboss or capo and the people of Tyre and Sidon are under the protection of the don, but they have not been too good lately, disrespecting the don and not paying their fair share of attention to him–he demands the utmost respect.

There is tension in Tyre, they need the help of the don, their is famine in the land, just like Jesus promised. They go to his underboss who is more reasonable and not as hot headed as the don and they speak to him, communicating their concerns. The underboss is a good go-between, he knows both the don and the people. He knows what makes his boss happy. He’s got money, fame, women, but he demands reverence in exchange for his benevolence. Therefore the underboss instructs the people of what to say. It’s nothing short of a conspiracy. They wanted peace, meaning Herod was harassing them, withholding food. Herod wanted praise, Blastus probably wanted…who knows what. Whatever the people did to convince Blastus, it worked, they “won him over.” And Blastus told them how to act and what to say.

Josephus enlightens us to the timing. The famine came during the reign of Claudius. Claudius and Herod got along well, according to Josephus, unlike Herod and Tiberius. Josephus states that Herod was very protective of the Jewish people and the temple, even opposing Tiberius at times. But now that Claudius was Caesar, Herod had provided relative peace in Jerusalem. There is an ebb and flow. In exchange for the blessings of Rome, Herod planned to have a sporting event in the honor of Caesar, and himself, of course.

At the appointed time, according to Luke, Herod had everyone assemble, to watch sports and he garbed himself in his finest clothes, according to Josephus–Herod put on his shining suit, of sorts. Dressed to impress, Herod took his seat on stage and gave a rousing speech, it would seem–at least in his own mind. For the people present screamed, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” Possibly a paraphrase by Luke, certainly a summary but no doubt that the people present lifted Herod up as more than a mere, mortal man, Josephus confirms this.

God was not impressed with the performance of the person who persecuted his people and pursued Peter. “And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Josephus confirms that Herod fell violently ill that day and died five days later. The sweet talk of the people had gone a little too far but it fed Herod’s ego to the point where he wouldn’t humble himself. God proved that Herod was a mere, mortal man.

“But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.” Their mission was to bring provisions from Antioch and the region, offered by the local churches, to the churches in Judea. Herod certainly wasn’t going to provide them with provisions. He and the Jews hated the church. Perhaps if the church had praised Herod as Tyre and Sidon did, he would have provided provisions to them as well. But this is one thing that is supposed to set the church apart, they take care of each other without blasphemy. You better believe that Herod hated this. But Herod the heretic is dead, while Saul and Barnabas completed their mission. We can also assume that Peter breathed a little easier at this point, but he is still a wanted man.

We see the irony in the situation–Herod was against God’s true people, but considered himself king of the Jews, sat in his judgment seat, up on the stage, praised as an immortal man, only to die a mortal man. Herod was there to judge the games, according to Josephus. He held a sporting event like the Olympics in honor of Caesar and himself. Upon taking his seat to judge the outcome, he gave a lofty speech and the people of Tyre and Sidon fed his ego, as Blastus had told them to do, taking it a bit too far. God, in his judgment seat, proclaimed sentence on Herod in his judgment seat. All Herod had to do was tell the people, “you’re too kind, but I am a man like yourselves, only with a way better suit.” However humble himself Herod would not. Which again is ironic because he let Peter escape without violence, but by a handful of people on their knees. Herod backed the wrong horse, himself, the Jews and the temple, not giving the glory to God and hating his people.

Herod is dead but the church keeps growing and missions are accomplished. There is continually and ebb and flow but exponential growth. We have seen much of Jesus’ predictions coming to fruition but what about the false prophets–when will we start to see those?

Here’s a sneak peek at next time: “And when they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence.”

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s