Caligula is dead and Claudius has taken his place as the new Roman emperor. King Herod Agrippa, first put in place by his good friend Caligula, is shrewd enough to have seen Caligula’s deterioration and supported Claudius to be the new emperor. Claudius is in Judea to visit him, and he is hoping that his shrewdness has paid off for him. “Agrippa, I want to extend my gratitude to you for supporting me in my claim for the throne. As a reward for your loyalty and support, I will confirm your position as king over this territory. Does that satisfy you?” “Indeed, Caesar, I thank you for your generosity. I will not disappoint you,” Agrippa replies. As the new emperor prepares to return to Rome the following day, Agrippa is already plotting ways to endear himself to the Jews. He has heard about this new sect, calling themselves Followers of the Way, and how hated they are by the majority of the Jewish population, especially those in power in Jerusalem. He sends some spies to learn more, so that he may determine the best course of action here. Upon receiving their reports, he decides that he must use a show of power to demonstrate his devotion to the sacred traditions of the Jews. Going over the notes, he sees that there are twelve in power over the new sect, and that two of those are very formidable brothers – known as the Sons of Thunder. Seeing how quickly the sect is growing, Agrippa knows that he has to tread carefully so that he will not have riots on his hands. One of the brothers is in more of a leadership position than the other. He decides to choose James. “Guards, arrest this James, Son of Thunder, and bring him here to me,” he orders. Quickly, James is located and arrested, and a mockery of a trial ensues. James never wavers, standing straight and tall and strong in his profession of faith. His “accuser,” a man who has been paid to claim that James has been breaking Roman law in the carrying out of the duties of his faith, is humbled by watching the man. Repenting of his dishonest role in bringing down this man of God, the accuser quickly asks James how he, too, may be forgiven. James tells him, “Turn away from your desire to do wrong, confess your sins to God, and ask Jesus to save you from having the pay the penalty for them. That is all you must do to be saved.” The man does this, and because in doing so he has betrayed those who have paid him, he is sentenced to die alongside James. But James forgives the man, saying, “I pray you have peace,” just before both are beheaded by a Roman sword. James is the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred, and though the whole community of believers mourns his death, they rejoice that he is now with Jesus in Heaven. Herod Agrippa takes advantage of this period of mourning and arrests Peter as well, since the death of James seems to have won him great favor with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. He does not put Peter to death right away, however, preferring this time to simply imprison him for a while. After all, it is now Passover, and there is too much going on in Jerusalem to risk putting Peter to death now. But he is taking no chances that the man’s friends might help him escape. He orders four squadrons of soldiers to guard Peter while until Passover has ended and he can bring the man out to publicly stand trial.
Acts 12:1-4, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/acts/12-1,2.htm