Why did God kill king Herod?

20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastusthe king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts. 12:20-23)

If God because of the redemption do not hold people’s sins against them – how come He punished king Herod? In another article, I explain why Ananias and Sapphira died in Acts chapter 5, which also took place after the cross. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the Scripture does not directly say that it was God who was behind their death. However, in the case of Herod, there is no hesitation about it. It was an angel of the Lord that struck him so that was eaten by worms and died.

How then do I explain the judgment against king Herod in light of the finished work of Jesus? Historical research has shown that this king Herod was a very unrighteous and cruel king, who had many innocent lives on his conscience. In the beginning of chapter 12 of Acts, king Herod executed the apostle James, the brother of John, while other believers were either imprisoned or tortured. He even put Simon Peter in jail, but because of the persevering prayers of the church, God sent an angel that liberated Peter from the prison chains. The context shows us that king Herod was a violent and dangerous opponent of the early church, who tried to stop the spread of the Gospel in order to gain popularity with the Jews.

Note that God had not judged king Herod after he had executed James, or when he killed, tortured, or imprisoned other innocent people. The “main rule” in this age of grace is namely that God do not hold people’s sins against them, because Jesus died for the sins of the world on the cross (2 Cor. 5:19).  

However, there are obviously exceptions from this “main rule”. God protects His people and resist those who hinder the spread of the Gospel. We saw in the article about Ananias and Sapphira that this was the reason why they died on the same day, after having lied to the Holy Spirit.

When king Herod let himself be honored as God, instead of giving honor to the God of heaven, he obviously went too far – even for God Himself. Not only had Herod executed, imprisoned, and tortured the believers. Now he also opened up the door to idolatry and false worship of himself as God.

To understand why God found it necessary to finally intervene and strike king Herod so that he was eaten by worms and eventually died, it is important that we read the next following verse:

But the word of God grew and multiplied.” (Acts. 12:24)

The judgment of king Herod is thus directly mentioned in connection with that the Gospel was advanced successfully, without hinderance.

What can we learn from this? The “main rule” is that God in this age of grace do not hold people’s sins against them. God withheld his judgment from king Herod for a long time. Since Herod tried to stop the spread of the Gospel, he obviously had heard the message and thereby had been given many opportunities to repent. There might also have been a possibility for Herod to repent after the angel had struck him, since it must have taken some time until the worms had “finished him up”.

What we can learn from this story is thus the following: God gives us all far more grace than what we ever can deserve. For a long time God related to Herod based on His grace and mercy, in spite of all the evil deeds Herod had committed. Non the less, God defends and protects His children. It might be dangerous to resist the Gospel of grace, since resisting the Gospel is resisting God Himself (see Acts. 9:4-5).


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