The Smiting of the Angel of God
January 8th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
THE SMITING OF THE ANGEL OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-8-78 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Smiting of the Angel of God. It is based upon an unusual presentation in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts. In this chapter, twice the angel of the Lord descends, and twice he does the same thing: he smites. But how vastly different is the smiting. The twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts begins like this: “About that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to persecute the church. And he killed James the brother of John,” the son of Zebedee, “with the sword” [Acts 12:1-2]. When he saw it pleased the Jews, he incarcerated Peter and would have immediately executed him, but the Passover was at hand; so after the Days of Unleavened Bread, keeping Peter in chains, he was preparing to slay God’s chief apostle [Acts 12:3-5]. Then Peter, in prison fast asleep—the angel of the Lord smote him on the side and raised him up saying, “Arise.” His chains fell off, the doors opened, and the angel led him forth into the light and liberty and freedom of the providence of God [Acts 12:6-11]. That is the first smiting, “And the angel of the Lord smote Peter” [Acts 12:7].
The second, this: Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea, and upon a set day, arrayed in royal apparel, he sat upon his throne and made an oration to the people, and the throng gave a shout, saying, “It is a voice of a god, and not of a man” [Acts 12:21-22]. And immediately, “the angel of the Lord smote” Herod; same angel, same smiting. “And the angel of the Lord smote him, and he was eaten up of worms and gave up the ghost” [Acts 12:23].
What a contrast in those smitings of the angel of God! Simon Peter is the chief apostle. To him the Lord gave the keys to open the door of the kingdom of grace in which we live [Matthew 16:18-19]. He was God’s preacher at Pentecost in Jerusalem [Acts 2:14-42], at the Pentecost of Samaria [Acts 8:14-25], and at the Gentile Pentecost in Caesarea that opened the doors to the Gentile world [Acts 10:1-48]. This Herod, wherever you read that name in the Bible, it spells trouble, anguish, turmoil, murder, bloodshed, violence. Wherever you find that word Herod in the Bible, there are waves and repercussions. There are draggings of darkness and death that ever follow after. Herod the Great is introduced to us in the beginning of the Gospel. This is the one who killed the babes, massacred the children in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16].
Herod Antipas is the Herod that slew John the Baptist. Listening to his wife Herodias—another Herod, who left the man she was married to, her uncle Herod Philip, he was just a dull drab of a man, and gave herself to Herod Antipas because he was a tetrarch; and her daughter Salome, dancing before the king, ended in the severing of the head of John the Baptist; that’s Herod Antipas [Mark 6:22-28]. This Herod is the grandson of Herod the Great. He’s the son of Aristobulus, who was slaughtered by Herod the Great with his brother Alexander and with his mother Mariamne. This Herod is the brother of Herodias, he’s the father of the three Herods that we see in Acts 24 and 25; Herod Agrippa II. This is the Herod before whom Paul appeared. He persuaded his sister Bernice to leave her husband, and when they appear in the Book of Acts, they are living in incest together. And then the other sister, Drusilla, is the wife of Felix the Roman procurator [Acts 24:24].
This Herod is Herod Agrippa I, and he is as cunning, as schematic, he is as treacherous and as dark and devious as his grandfather Herod the Great. Sent to Rome to be educated, he lived a profligate and dissolute life, finally left penniless and in debt. He made appeal to his sister Herodias that she take him in. They did so, and Herod Antipas, Herodias’ husband, gave him a menial task in his new capital, built on the Sea of Galilee, named Tiberias. Upon a public occasion, Herod Antipas taunted and insulted this Herod Agrippa, and in burning anger and resentment, he returned to Rome. And in those strange providences of history, this Herod Agrippa became close friends to Gaius Caligula, heir to the Roman Caesars. Tiberius, the Caesar, overheard this Herod Agrippa say words disparaging concerning him and his stupidity, and that Caligula ought to be the Roman Caesar. Tiberius placed this Herod in prison and in chains, but six months later Tiberius died, and Caligula came to the Roman throne. He liberated this Herod, gave him a golden chain the same weight of the iron chain by which he was bound. And this Herod, seeing his opportunity, accused Herod Antipas and persuaded Caligula to dismiss Herod Antipas in disgrace, in exile. And Caligula gave the kingdom of Herod Antipas to this Herod. When Caligula was poisoned, this Herod persuaded the reluctant Claudius to take the throne of the Caesars. And Claudius gave to this Herod Samaria, Judea, and Idumea, and he is now reigning over the entire area, the kingdom that Herod the Great, his grandfather, once reigned over.
When he saw that persecuting the church pleased the Jews, he killed James with the sword [Acts 12:1-2]. Then when he saw that gained him further popularity, he took Peter and placed him in prison; would have slain him, but the Passover was at hand, so he decided after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, after the days of the Passover, that he would slay Simon Peter also; the next day, Simon Peter is to be killed [Acts 12:3-5].
There he is, between two Roman soldiers in iron chains, behind three iron doors, fast asleep, confident in the assurance of the goodness of God. If he lives, it is unto the Lord. If he dies, it is to be with the Lord. So, facing execution in a few hours, he is there sound asleep. And suddenly, suddenly, the angel of the Lord descends and smites Simon Peter. “Awake, awake,” smote him with a gentle violence, “awake.” And his chains fell off, and the prison doors opened, and he was free in the liberty of the goodness and grace of God [Acts 12:6-11].
Could that be an emblem and a sign, a harbinger, a promise, an earnest, a picture, a type of the smiting of the angel of God when he strikes the children of the Lord? When he strikes us in death, and an angel takes us up to heaven, bears us to the bosom of Abraham? [Luke 16:19-23]. A type of the smiting of the angel of God, when at the voice of the archangel, at the trumpet of the Lord, we who are asleep in Jesus will be awakened [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]? Our chains of sin have fallen off, the imprisonment of this fleshly carnal body has passed away, and we are liberated into the glorious likeness of Jesus our Savior [Philippians 3:21]. The sweet smiting of the angel of God; always death is like that, and immortality is like that to the Christian.
Paul wrote it, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. Paul wrote it, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. Paul wrote it, “For there is unto me reserved a crown of righteousness, which the Lord . . . shall give me at that day: and not to me alone, but to all them also who love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8]. The smiting of the angel of God, a gentle and precious violence.
Our great Christian poets have felt it no less as they face the smiting of the angel of the Lord. Robert Browning, dying, read to his daughter-in-law and sister his last poem, the Epilogue:
One who never turned his back but marched, breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed the right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Had we fall to rise, are baffled fight better,
To sleep, to wake.
The great friend of Browning, and poet laureate of England, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote it like this as he came to his last days:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
But may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound or foam,
When that which turned from out of boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that, the dark!
But may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out this born time or place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face-to-face
When I have crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
The sweet, gentle smiting of the angel of the Lord: “Awake, Simon, awake.” The chains are gone. The prison doors are open [Acts 12:6-10]. God’s freedom is ours and forever.
But oh, how different the smiting of the angel of the Lord in Herod. “And Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea” [Acts 12:19]. Dull shabbats in Jerusalem; dreary koshers and laws and observances in Jerusalem, he went down to Caesarea where the life was brighter and where the wine was redder, and where the vines were better, and where the tempo was faster; he went down to the Roman city of Caesarea. “And upon a set day, Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them” [Acts 12:21]. It would be interesting, interesting to read from Josephus this same incident. “And as he spake, the people shouted saying, It is the voice of a god. And immediately, the angel of the Lord smote him, and he was eaten of worms and died” [Acts 12:22-23].
It is interesting to read that same incident from the pen of the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus. He says that at a feast day, Herod [Agrippa] entered into the theater. That theater is there today. Many of you have been in it, in the ruins of Caesarea, great amphitheater. And he appeared, Josephus says, he was robed beautifully in a gorgeous robe of woven wrought silver. And as he moved, it dazzled in the sun. And Josephus says that the people shouted that he was a god, and they cried as they added these words, “Be thou merciful to us, O Herod, for altogether we have hitherto reverence thee only as a man. But now shall we henceforth reverence thee as superior to mortal beings.” Then Herod was struck, and looking upon his friends who carried him away, he said, “I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life, while providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me, and I, who was by you called immortal,” and immediately hurried away into death. How unusual, Josephus describing it, and Dr. Luke saying the people shouted, “He’s a god!” “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” [Acts 12:23]. What a difference the smiting of the angel of the Lord; “and he was eaten up of worms,” the visitation of God to the wicked. Three times in the Gospel of Mark, the ninth chapter, does the Lord refer to the place where the wicked go: “where the worm dieth not” [Mark 9:44-48]. What an imagery! But how sadly and tragically true.
Lord Byron was the darling of the whole world. He was a peer in the House of Lords in England. Not only reverenced and loved, cajoled, adorned, pampered and petted by the English-speaking world, but by the whole world; Lord Byron. Do you remember the last poem that he wrote?
My days are in the yellow leaf.
The flowers and fruits of love are gone.
The worm —the worm, the canker and the grief
Are mine alone.
Do you remember the title of the poem? “Upon My Thirty-Sixth Birthday”; the smiting of the angel of the Lord. Byron was as dissolute, and as wicked, and as personally immoral as any figure in literature that ever crossed the horizon of human story. What a way to end your life, in despair.
Those two smitings, how they represent all mankind in the presence of the Lord: the smiting of Simon Peter, the gentle tenderness that awakens him to God [Acts 12:7]; and the awful judgment, the smiting of the angel of the Lord to those who give their lives to worldliness and to wickedness [Acts 12:22-23]; the same angel, the same smiting, but oh, how different. Thus all of the providences of life, the same providences, the same experience, but oh, how different, how opposite!
The cloud, the cloud to the Israelites was light and life, but that same cloud to the Egyptians was darkness [Exodus 14:20]. The ark that maimed the god Dagon and that decimated the Philistines [1 Samuel 5:2-4], blessed the house—the same ark blessed the house of Obed-Edom [2 Samuel 6:11]. In the passage of Scripture that you just read, the same gospel, “the savor of life unto life to them that believe,” the same gospel, “the savor of death unto death to those who perish” [2 Corinthians 2:16]; all of the providences of life are like that. They are dual in nature.
Death, death to the child of God is a coronation. It’s our entrance into glory [2 Peter 1:11]. On my desk, placed a note just now, one of our saints has passed away to be with the Lord. Heaven is open, the pearly gates, filled with angels to welcome God’s saint that is gone home—death to the child of God [Luke 16:22]. Death to the wicked, what an ominous visage that pale horseman [Revelation 6:8], yet to both it is death; the resurrection; the resurrection to the child of God, the smiting of the angel, awakened into a life like that of the immortal glorified Son, our elder Brother [John 17:24]. But resurrection to the wicked as Daniel writes, “Raised to shame and to everlasting contempt” [Daniel 12:2], what a judgment!
The judgment of God, the judgment of God to the righteous, to the Christian, it is the great bēma before which God gives us His commendation [2 Corinthians 5:10]. God accepts us in the Beloved [Ephesians 1:6], and we sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-9], each one of us rewarded at what we’ve tried to do for Jesus. How precious the bēma, the judgment to the Christian [1 Corinthians 3:11-15]. How awesome the great white judgment to the lost [Revelation 20:11-15]. Standing before the same God, how different the smiting of the angel of the Lord!
Not only in the consummation of the age do we find that duality, we find it through every day of this life, in every experience of this life. To a child of God, how precious to read the Scriptures; to a child of God, how dear to receive a Bible; maybe written in Korean, maybe written in Hottentot, maybe written in Chinese, maybe written in Auca; how precious these carvings, these writings of the Lord to those who are saved [2 Corinthians 2:15-17].
But how dull, and how phlegmatic, and uninteresting, and sterile, and stupid are the Scriptures to those who despise them! [2 Corinthians 2:16, 4:3-4]. “What we want, pornography; mountains of it. What we want, salacious stories, filled with all of the evil carnal suggestiveness of a vile and depraved imagination.” Same type, same vocabulary, same words, same alphabet but oh, how different—put together in the Word of the Lord or put together in a salacious, suggestive carnal story.
Prayer, prayer to the Christian:
Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus.
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
[“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”; Joseph M. Scriven , 1855]
To the Christian, how much strength, and comfort, and help, and assurance there is in prayer. To a child of the world, couldn’t find an exercise more distasteful; if they had a thousand hours in every day, no minute of it devoted to intercession, to talking to God, to bearing the soul naked and open before the Lord. How different the smiting of the angel of God!
The church: “I was glad,” says the Christian, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1], love, coming, attending, being present, sharing, worshiping, calling upon His name; listening to the expounding of the holy Word. To a worldly, to a man who is not saved, what a dullness, what a waste of time. “Man, I could be out there in a thousand other things in the world while there you sit in the house of the Lord”; the smiting of the angel of God.
The songs that we sing! Oh, I think there are no songs in the world like Christian songs, songs of praise and hallelujah! One you heard just now: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive honor, and blessing, and glory, and dominion, and power. Amen. Amen,” how wonderful a song, written three hundred years ago, but how different. We like rock and roll, we like them suggestive, we like them sexual, we like them impassioned; the smiting of the angel of the Lord.
What we need in life, in home, in heart, in every experience, what we need is a great turning to the Lord. You know, even though it is in some ways sad, there is no more true a parable the Lord ever spake than when He told the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]. It says he took his inheritance, the substance of his father, and he wasted it with harlots and riotous living [Luke 15:13]. When he hit town, did everybody know he was there! Oh, the fun and the frolic; the wine, and the women, and the song; he lived it up! That’s the way of the world! I don’t know, just somehow the way God put it together, the day comes; it inevitably comes, it inexorably comes. The day comes when his money is gone, when his health is gone, when his youth is gone, when the good times are gone, and he is eating with the hogs. He is eating the husks [Luke 15:14-16].
Thank the Lord this boy, the Book says, as he sat on the top of a corral fence and watched the hogs eat, you remember what it says? “He came to himself. He came to himself.” What nomenclature. “He came to himself” [Luke 15:17], he came into his right mind, into his right judgment. It is right, it is reasonable for a man to be a Christian, to love God. It is unreasonable; it is an aberration of the mind for a man to leave God out of his life. “He came to himself,” and he said, “Here I am in the hog pen. I will go back to my father and home” [Luke 15:18]. That’s where he belonged, not in the hog pen, not in the world, not eating husks. Where we belong is in the house of the Father, in all of the blessing and the glory of the gracious hands of God our Lord [John 14:2-3].
And that’s our pressing invitation to you today: out of the world, into the life of Christ; out of the poverty of the cheap repercussions and rewards of the world, into the riches of the abounding ableness and providence and largesse of God. Why would a man choose to die when he could live? Why would a man choose to live with the hogs when he could live with the angels? The smiting of the angel of God! Ah, that it might be for us beautiful, and precious, and heavenly, and light, and life.
In a moment we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, in this balcony round, you, in the press on this lower floor, you, “I have decided for God and I am coming, pastor.” “This is my wife and our children, we all are coming today.” A couple of you, or just one somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up, walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle, “Here I am, preacher, I have decided for Christ, and I am on the way.” Make it now. Do it now. Come now. And may those heavenly angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
SMITING OF THE ANGEL OF GOD
A. Two accounts of the
angel’s descent and smites(Acts 12:1-2, 7-11,
B. Contrast between the
1. Simon Peter,
the chief apostle
name of Herod – trouble(Matthew 2:1-19, 14:1-2,
Acts 12, 24-25)
C. This is Herod
Agrippa I(Acts 12)
persecution of the early church to gain favor with Jews
2. Kills James,
prepares to execute Peter after Passover
II. “Smote Peter” (Acts 12:7)
A. Peter, in chains, is
asleep in confident assurance
B. A gentle violence –
awakened to freedom, liberty, work of witnessing
emblem of the smiting of the angel of the Lord to those asleep in Jesus(Philippians 1:21, 1 Corinthians 15:55, 2 Timothy 4:8)
A. Went from Judea to
Caesarea where the life was brighter(Acts 12:19)
B. The great festival
in the theater(Acts 12:21)
C. Eaten of worms – the
visitation of God to the wicked(Mark 9:44, 46,
IV. Comparison of the two
A. Dual effect of all
God’s interventions(2 Corinthians 2:16)
B. At the end times – death,
resurrection, judgment(Daniel 12:2)
C. In every experience
in this life – Scriptures, prayer, songs(Psalm
D. The need is a great