Bible Study with Jairus – Acts 12
The beginning of Acts chapter 12 discusses how after James was killed, Peter was imprisoned and then miraculously rescued by an angel. The end of the chapter talks about Herod being struck by an angel, eaten by worms, and dying because he didn’t give praise to God.
Let’s look at the following verses:
12:21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. (NIV)
12:22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” (NIV)
12:23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. (NIV)
A member of our Bible study asked the question, “What exactly did Herod say that made God strike him like that?” Is it because what he said was not the word of God? Was it perhaps the word of man which was then exalted by the people as the word of God, so he committed the sin of presumptuousness and was struck by God? Did God tell him what to say but he didn’t give praise to God and was therefore struck down? There are many evil people in the Bible, and many of them were punished. Herod’s demise of being struck by God’s messenger, eaten by worms and dying, is a rare case.
This is a difficult question to answer, because the Bible doesn’t record what Herod said, so we have no way of knowing. If we look at the train of thought in this chapter from the beginning, it may help us understand this question.
Aside from Herod’s death being strange, James’ death is also hard to understand., When we compare it with Peter’s miraculous rescue, James died unjustly. This doesn’t seem fair at first glance. Peter was imprisoned and magically rescued by an angel. Then we have James, who was persecuted and killed by Herod without God intervening at all. Peter, like us, also encountered unjust things. When the Lord Jesus was with His disciples on earth, He told Peter, “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (NIV, John 21:18). This indicates the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God (NIV, John 21:19). Peter’s first question to Jesus was, “What about John?” (NIV, John 21:21). The Lord said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (NIV, John 21:22). In the end, there was a rumor spreading that John would not die. But John explained that the Lord was not saying that he wouldn’t die. Rather, the Lord was saying that if He wanted him to remain alive until He returned, it was none of Peter’s business. This was a matter between the Lord and John. The Lord said to Peter, “Follow me.”
We follow Christ on an individual basis, not focusing on other people’s lives. The most important thing is for each of us to follow the Lord and be faithful to the end.
Peter and James weren’t the only ones who encountered injustice. Why are Christians persecuted and often put to death in some countries, yet in other countries, they live in peace? Why are there Christians who endure much suffering for the Lord while others have peace and prosperity? We don’t compare ourselves with Peter, James, and John today. We generally compare ourselves with people around us, especially those who may be better off financially or spiritually speaking.
Reading and understanding the Bible should be easy because it means exactly what it says. The Bible is God’s love letter to us, and He means for us to understand it. Why do we find it difficult? One reason is we complicate the simplicity of it, preventing our minds from understanding its true meaning. We must read the word as a child would and allow the Holy Spirit to interpret the meaning.
I’ll use myself as an example. I left the Local Church Movement under the Lord’s direction several years ago. I was saved in this church and fellowshipped there for ten years. I moved to a Charismatic church to observe and learn. One of the most important things that I learned was that we are all restricted by our denomination’s theology to a certain extent. This is why the body of Christ doesn’t operate in unity. We all have truths that are shaped by our denominations and we have a hard time seeing any truth outside of that. When I was going through this process, it was painful because the identity I had formed in the Local Church Movement was being challenged. As we grow up, our identity is shaped by our culture, ethnic group, our country, as well as our church background. Allowing ourselves to be open and explore other denominations, and the truths they hold will help us take the limits off of our own mindsets. This is a challenging process but well worth the effort to break down the barriers that have been formed.
We can look at marriage through this same lens. Instead of looking at an issue from your perspective, try looking at it from your spouse’s perspective. Many arguments could be avoided and problems solved more quickly if we put aside selfishness and see the other person’s view. As Christians, if we could look past our denomination’s way of thinking and see problems from different points of view, God could use us in a mighty way for His glory. Unfortunately, many remain stuck in their denominations thinking and are restricting themselves in the kingdom of God without even realizing it.
Similarly, if we can break away from our earthly thoughts and read the Bible from a heavenly perspective, many things that we don’t understand will become much clearer. It’s not that the Bible is difficult to understand, but we don’t have a clear view from where we are standing. The Bible is written from a higher spiritual realm, and if our thoughts are limited to this world, we will have a difficult time understanding it.
People tend to have the mindset of judging a person by his or her success or failure. James didn’t seem to have much written about his ministry success and was killed by Herod, martyred for his faith in Jesus. Peter, on the other hand, gets arrested and supernaturally released from prison by angels. James’ death seems to get overlooked by Peter’s success. It ends with Herod getting struck with worms by an angel of the Lord and eventually dying. How do we reconcile James’ death and Peter’s supernatural escape?
Perhaps we aren’t taking into account what James was doing in heaven after he died. He may have been praying for Peter’s life to be extended. Christians know that when something is said or done in the physical world, there is also something happening in the spirit realm. For example, we are baptized by immersion in water on the outside, but at the same time, we are immersed in the Holy Spirit in the spiritual realm. We may not be able to see what is happening in the spirit realm but we can often see the effect of that realm. A person who is baptized may have a changed countenance or deep joy that wasn’t present before they were immersed. Their life may undergo positive changes after baptism. They may have a deeper understanding of the Bible than before.
Our prayers are things that happen in the physical world. What we pray can be seen and heard physically, yet at the same time, our prayers are having a great effect in the spiritual realm. God is listening and making the impossible possible.
Kat Kerr, an American prophet who claims she has been taken to heaven thousands of times by the Lord, told a story about a Christian couple whose daughter died in a skateboarding accident. The daughter’s parents were devastated and blamed God for not intervening. The Lord allowed Kat to see that their daughter was leading a group of young people in heaven. The Lord told her that in His wisdom, He had to decide whether it was more beneficial for this girl to stay on earth with her parents or be powerfully used in heaven with the young people there. In the end, He decided her leadership in Heaven was needed. The girl’s parents were so relieved to hear what Kat saw and heard. It helped heal their sorrowing hearts.
Hearing stories like this may be difficult to believe, but whether you believe it or not, I think it is worth referencing. I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 2015 and since that time, I have had a variety of visions of Heaven. I have encountered Chinese believers and others, although I didn’t know their names. Heaven is not just a throne with God sitting there with people shouting, “Glory, Glory, Glory.” You are mistaken if you believe this. In one of my heavenly encounters, I saw buildings, someone preaching, and a variety of meetings and discussions held by groups of people in heaven. It’s a very busy place! In addition to God and the angels, the believers who arrive in heaven are also very busy. In my prophetic dreams, I am often led by the Holy Spirit, going somewhere with the angels, preaching the gospel or attending a meeting. From my limited experience, I surmise that God, the angels and believers in heaven are cooperating with people on earth.
Hebrews 12:1 tells us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, which are the saints that have already passed away. Our job is to lay aside burdens and sin and run the race with endurance that is set before us. Those who have gone to heaven before us aren’t just lying around doing nothing but singing hallelujah all day. They are busy doing a variety of services and operating in their gifting in heaven. We just can’t see them.
Many of us think that when we die, it’s all over. This is a very limited view and keeps us from understanding what the Bible says. Death is not the end; it’s only the beginning. Like the couple who lost their daughter in the skateboarding accident, we don’t always understand this. When James was killed, it wasn’t because the enemy had triumphed over God or that God abandoned him. James’ death was the beginning of his heavenly ministry. God arranged it through His wisdom. Who knows, James may be sitting at Jesus’ right or left hand. We aren’t sure, but we shouldn’t neglect his ministry in heaven. Jesus said that Abel’s blood continues to speak today so James’ martyrdom and testimony are doing the same.
It will be easier to understand Peter’s miraculous rescue and Herod being eaten by worms if we recognize James’ ministry in heaven. Although God and the angels were involved, perhaps James’ prayer, testimony, and role in heaven affected these circumstances.
We are not trying to contrast James’s heavenly ministry with Jesus. Rather, we are opposing the thought that “when we die, it’s over.” I have read many testimonies about people who visited heaven. They say that the believers who have passed away are still praying for their loved ones on earth and participating in prayer in heaven. Let’s try to overcome the concept of time and space when looking at the Bible. It may help us understand it on a deeper level.
To sum up this chapter, James died a martyr, but in his heavenly ministry, it’s possible that he prayed that God would spare Peter and save him from death. Again, we realize that James is not equal to Jesus but rest assured that believers in heaven do pray for us and situations will change because of that. Let’s not lose hope by only seeing one side of the story. What looks like a tragedy in appearance may actually turn things around. If we only focus on loss and failure, it prevents us from receiving the blessings from the other side.