(1) Herod the king.—The previous life of this prince had been full of strange vicissitudes. The son of Aristobulus and Bernice, grandson of Herod the Great, brother of the Herodias who appears in the Gospel history, named after the statesman who was the chief minister of Augustus, he had been sent, after his father had fallen a victim (B.C. 6) to his grandfather’s suspicions, to Rome, partly, perhaps, as a hostage, partly to be out of the way of Palestine intrigues. There he had grown up on terms of intimacy with the prince afterwards known as Caligula. On the marriage of Herod Antipas with his sister, he was made the ruler of Tiberias, but soon quarrelled with the Tetrarch and went to Rome, and falling under the displeasure of Tiberius, as having rashly given utterance to a wish for the succession of Caligula, was imprisoned by him and remained in confinement till the death of that emperor. When Caligula came to the throne, he loaded his friend with honours, gave him the tetrarchies first of Philip, and then that of Lysanias (Luke 3:1), and conferred on him the title of King. Antipas, prompted by Herodias, came to Rome to claim a like honour for himself, but fell under the emperor’s displeasure, and was banished to Lugdunum in Gaul, whither his wife accompanied him. His tetrarchy also was conferred on Agrippa. Coins are extant, minted at Cæsarea, and bearing inscriptions in which he is styled the Great King, with the epithets sometimes of Philo-Cæsar, sometimes of Philo-Claudios. At the time when Caligula’s insanity took the form of a resolve to place his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem, Agrippa rendered an essential service to his people, by using all his influence to deter the emperor from carrying his purpose into execution, and, backed as he was by Petronius, the Governor of Syria, was at last successful. On the death of Caligula, Claudius, whose claims to the empire he had supported, confirmed him in his kingdom. When he came to Judæa, he presented himself to the people in the character of a devout worshipper, and gained their favour by attaching himself to the companies of Nazarites (as we find St. Paul doing in Acts 21:26) when they came to the Temple to offer sacrifices on the completion of their vows (Jos. Ant. xix. 7, § 3). It would seem that he found a strong popular excitement against the believers in Christ, caused probably by the new step which had recently been taken in the admission of the Gentiles, and fomented by the Sadducean priesthood, and it seemed to him politic to gain the favour of both priests and people, by making himself the instrument of their jealousy.
Then were the days of unleavened bread.—The crowds of Hellenistic and other Jews who were gathered to keep the feast at Jerusalem naturally made this a favourable opportunity for courting the favour of the people. A tradition recorded by St. Jerome states that St. James was beheaded on the 15th of Nisan, i.e., on the same day as that of the Crucifixion. Peter was arrested probably at the same time; but the trial and execution were deferred till the seven days of the feast were over.
Intending after Easter.—Better, after the Passover, as elsewhere. In this solitary instance the translators have introduced, with a singular infelicity, the term which was definitely appropriate only to the Christian festival which took the place of the Passover.
In the prison.—Literally, in the dwelling, or chamber. The term appears to be used as an euphemism for “prison.”
The iron gate.—The touch of topographical precision may be noticed as characteristic of St. Luke.
Passed on through one street.—The word implies one of the narrow streets or lanes of the city. (See Note on Matthew 6:2.)
Many were gathered together praying.—The facts of the case show that the meeting was held at night, possibly to avoid persecution, or, it may be, as the sequel of the evening gathering to “break bread.”
He departed, and went into another place.—The act was in accordance with the precept which had been given to the Twelve in Matthew 10:23. What the “other place” was we can only conjecture. Some Romish writers have hazarded the wild guess that he went to Rome, and having founded the Church there, returned to Jerusalem in time for the council in Acts 15. Others have assumed Antioch, which is, perhaps, less improbable; but there are no traces of his presence there till after the council (Galatians 2:12). Some nearer city, such as Lydda or Joppa, might, however, have been sufficient as a place of refuge, and the absence of the name of the place suggests the inference that it was comparatively unimportant, and that Peter had carried on no conspicuous work there.
Desired peace.—Literally, were seeking peace. They apparently feared that Herod would show his displeasure by prohibiting the export of corn, and oil, and wine, on which the Phœnician cities, with their large population and narrow strips of territory, were dependent for subsistence. Comp. 1 Kings 5:11, and Ezekiel 27:17, as showing the identity of the commercial relations of the two countries at long intervals in their history.
Comparing St. Luke’s narrative with this, it seems probable that the delegates from Tyre and Sidon were among those who raised the cry, “Be thou propitious to us,” and that their friend Blastus, knowing the weak point in Herod’s character, had instructed them that this was the way to obtain his favour. We feel, as we read the narrative, the contrast between St. Peter’s refusal even of Cornelius’s attitude of homage, and Agrippa’s acceptance of the profane apotheosis of the multitude.
Because he gave not God the glory.—The words probably mean something more than that he did not ascribe to God the praise which was due to Him, and Him only. To “give God the glory” was a phrase always connected with the confession of sin and weakness, as in Joshua 7:19. (See Note on John 9:24.)
He was eaten of worms.—The specific form of the disease is not named by Josephus, and St. Luke’s precision in describing it may fairly be regarded as characteristic of his calling. The form of the disease, probably of the nature of phtheiriasis, or the morbus pedicularis, from its exceptionally loathsome character, had always been regarded as of the nature of a divine chastisement. The more memorable instances of it recorded in history are those of Pheretimo of Cyrene (Herod. iv. 205), Sylla, Antiochus the Great (2 Maccabees 9:2), Herod the Great (Jos. Ant. xvii. 8), and Maximinus, among the persecutors of the Church (Euseb. viii. 16; ix. 10, 11; Lactant, De mort. Persecut. c. 33). The death of Agrippa took place A.D. 44, in the seventh year of his reign, and at the age of fifty-three.
Took with them John, whose surname was Mark.—The choice is, of course, partly explained by his relationship to Barnabas, but it shows also that he entered heartily into the work of the conversion of the Gentiles; and owing, as he did, his own conversion to Peter, it would naturally be regarded as a proof of that Apostle’s interest in it.