The Paradoxical Nature of God: Acts 12:1-5
“1) Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2) And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. 3) When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4) When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. 5) So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” Acts‬ ‭12‬:‭1‬-‭5‬
In this chapter we have the martyrdom of James and the supernatural deliverance of Peter in the same context. These two men were among the first disciples Jesus called. They were both with Him on the Mount of transfiguration and taken deeper into the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet within a few short verses they experienced two radically different outcomes.
We could ask the question; “Which one did Jesus love most?” Conventional logic would force us to say, “Peter” because he was spared from the evil design of Herod the king. Yet we know that they were both loved equally.
So how can we explain the radically different outcomes of these two men? One was put to death with a sword, while the other was delivered by angelic intervention. Certainly, it seems like James died prematurely, especially with all that Jesus had invested in him. I have wrestled much with this chapter over the years. Let me share a few brief thoughts.
First, I want to observe that God could have delivered James as well had it been in His will. But he had a different plan and purpose for James. I maintain that his death was used as greatly as Peter’s deliverance in the early church. He set the example of dying well for the glory of God. He set the example of choosing death above life for his loyalty to Christ. His death sent shock waves of courage and boldness through the early church. His death was not wasted!
But secondly, this chapter screams that God has a unique and different plan and will will for each of us. I always get a bit queazy when I hear people say; “It’s always God’s will to…” The bottom line is that God is Sovereign, very creative and in control. That means His will always happens. I cannot imagine a world in which other forces can trump or supersede the will of God. The moment that happens God is dethroned.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there is a paradoxical mystery to the nature of God. Let me explain. Apart from broad parameters like love and truth, God is not restrained by boxes. He is free to do as He pleases, with whomever or whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases to do it; but He is not random in the process. He is decent and orderly. Mysterious He is, cruel He is not!
His specific will for each one of us will be colored in differently. Related to His sovereignty, it seems that love, mercy and grace prevail. Yet there will be times that James will be put to death with a sword and Peter will be released. Both fit within His love and sovereignty. Yet I want to stand up as I read Acts 12:1-5 and scream; “But God … this isn’t fair!” Do you ever feel that way about circumstances in this life?
One of our problems with this discussion boils down to perspective. We have a temporal perspective, but God has an eternal perspective. We read about James being put to death with a sword, but we don’t get to read about the heavenly celebration and reunion with Christ that began before the sword was returned to its sheath. We say; “James was the first apostle martyred!” Jesus says; “James was the first apostle I glorified!” What different perspectives.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global