“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2)
Verse 2 of our text rather casually records what may have been one of the lowest points of apostolic time. James was killed with the sword—James, one of the only three disciples in Christ’s inner circle. He was one of only three to witness the resurrection of the synagogue ruler’s daughter (Luke 8:51-55); one of three to catch a glimpse of Christ’s glory at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2); and one of only four to sit with Christ on the Mount of Olives and learn of the future (Mark 13:3-4). In Gethsemane, after their last supper together, Christ allowed him, along with Peter and John, to witness His agony in a special way (Mark 14:32-34).
He was highly trained by Christ Himself, and the fledgling church could ill afford to lose his leadership. But suddenly he was arrested and slain! A tragedy it would seem to lose such a leader. Think what James might have accomplished had he lived longer, much as Peter and John did. Could it be, however, that his martyrdom was a blessing in disguise? Certainly God allowed this to happen, but for what purpose?
The answer may be found in the verses following our text. Peter had been taken prisoner and was to be executed the next morning (Acts 12:6). However, the church had learned a lesson. No prayer for James is recorded, but for Peter, “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5), and Peter was miraculously freed by an angel and joined the prayer meeting.
What would have happened had the believers prayed for James as they did for Peter? Of course, that question has no definite answer, but prayer such as was offered for Peter followed the apostles and early church leaders in their work from that time on. JDM