The Smitings of God’s Angels
November 13th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
THE SMITING OF GOD’S ANGEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-13-83 8:15 a.m.
The Lord bless the great throng of you in the sanctuary this day, and no less wonderfully bless the multitudes who share this hour with us on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message, the sixth one on angelology. Next Sunday – or the next Sunday that I preach – will be the last one, entitled What Angels Learn in Church. And the message today is entitled The Smiting of God’s Angel. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, Acts chapter 12:
Now about that time Herod Agrippa the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
And he killed James the son of Zebedee, the brother of the sainted apostle John, he beheaded him with the sword.
And because he saw it pleased the Sanhedrin of the hierarchy, he proceeded to take Peter also. But it happened in the days of the Passover.
So Herod put him in prison, intending after the Passover to slay him also.
And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And Peter’s chains fell off of his hands.
Now beginning at verse 21:
And upon a set day, Herod Agrippa, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto the people.
And the throng gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: he agreed with them; he was a god: and he was eaten of worms
– that’s Doctor Luke’s description of one of the most loathsome diseases of the ancient world –
and gave up the ghost.
When I read the passage, do you notice an identical saying? "The angel of the Lord smote him." The first in verse 7: "The angel of the Lord smote Peter." And do you notice in verse 23, "And the angel of the Lord smote Herod," the smiting of God’s angel. In this passage I’ve just read, the angel of God, an angel of God, comes down, descends to this earth, and does the same thing: he smites Simon Peter, and he smites Herod Agrippa. But how different the smiting; and that’s the sermon of the hour.
Whenever, wherever, anytime you read the word "Herod," you’re reading about trouble, trouble, trouble. Herod the Great; then follows the story of the slaying of the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, ruler in Galilee, Tetrarch of Galilee, slew John the Baptist, cut off his head [Matthew 14:10]. This Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, slew James the brother of John, the son of Zebedee [Acts 12:1-2]. And Herod Agrippa II, the son of this Herod, who appears in Acts 25 and 26, he wooed his sister Eunice from her husband; and it was the scandal of the Roman Empire. They lived together. His sister Drusilla married Felix, the procurator of the Roman province of Judea; and it was before them that the apostle Paul appears from the Caesarean imprisonment. Wherever they appear, there’s trouble; especially and particularly this Herod in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, Herod Agrippa I.
He was a shrewd, cunning, cruel young man, educated in Rome. And because of his profligacy, because of his extravagant debauched ways, he escaped Rome because of his insurmountable, immeasurable debts. When he did, he fled to his sister Herodias, who was married to Herod Antipas. And Antipas Herod had just built his new capital of Galilee and called it Tiberias, down there by the sea. But Herod Antipas gave his nephew, this Herod Agrippa, a menial job, a debasing job; and taunted him. And this Herod Agrippa bitterly hated his uncle Herod Antipas who was married Agrippa’s sister Herodias, who herself had been wooed away from her husband Herod Philip, by whom she had Salome, who danced and caused the beheading of John the Baptist.
In bitterness and in hatred this Herod Agrippa returned back to Rome. He was the friend of Caligula and of Claudius; but because of a sarcastic and impertinent remark that this Herod made concerning the emperor Tiberius Caesar, Tiberius put him in prison and in chains. But Tiberius died six months later, and Caligula, who followed him as the Roman Caesar, elevated this Herod Agrippa out of prison. And then came the, to him, the sweetest revenge in history. He led Caligula to dismiss in disgrace Herod Antipas, and Caligula gave the kingdom of Antipas to Herod Agrippa. And Antipas died in exile and in disgrace.
When Caligula the Roman Caesar died, Claudius took his place. And Claudius gave to Agrippa, this Herod, all of the remainder of the kingdom that had belonged to Herod the Great. So when he appears here in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, Herod Agrippa is the king of all of that part of the Middle East. And he was a royal sovereign of the stripe and of the kind; he lived it up. It says here in the nineteenth verse that "he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and there abode." You see, Jerusalem was a Jewish city, a worshipful people. Caesarea was a Roman city, and the capital of the Roman province of Judea. So Herod found it too dull and tame to be in Jerusalem; he went down to Caesarea, where the lights were brighter, and where the dance was dizzier, and where the life was more furious, and where the viands were better, and where the wine was redder, and where the tempo was faster. That pleased Herod.
And upon a day, in the theater, on the second day of the festival, he appeared before the people. That theater is still there. It’s been restored. I’ve spoken in it; a Roman amphitheater. Some of you’ve been in it. In that theater, on the second day of the festival, Herod Agrippa appeared. In one of the providences of life, Josephus tells this same story. Luke says, "He appeared in royal apparel." Josephus says that when he appeared he was clothed in a garment, in a robe woven of solid silver. And Josephus says that when the sun shined on that silver robe, it sparkled and dazzled the eyes of the thousands who were gathered there. And Josephus says, "The people shouted, ‘This is a god.’" That’s what Luke writes: "The people shouted, It is the voice of a god" [Acts 12:22]. And Josephus says, "Immediately he was stricken."
And Doctor Luke describes the disease: same kind of a disease that struck Sulla, the dictator of Rome; same kind of a disease that struck his grandfather Herod the Great; same kind of disease that some historians say took away the life of Antiochus the Great and Maximinus the Roman Caesar; a loathsome disease that even the ancients looked upon as a judgment from God. And Doctor Luke says, "He died of worms" [Acts 12:23].
When I read that, immediately I concur in the ancient judgment that it’s a visitation from heaven: God did it. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Mark, it says, "These shall be cast into hell, where the worm never dies, and the fire is not quenched"; three times that’s repeated in the ninth chapter of the Book of Mark [Mark 9:44-48]. The smiting of the angel of God, that’s the way Luke writes it. When he was there in all of his royal apparel and was accepting the obeisance and the worship of the people as though he were God, an angel of the Lord smote him; and the judgment, "where the worm dieth not."
There’s another smiting by the angel of the Lord in this unusual story. Peter, in a quaternion of soldiers, with chains and behind iron doors, awaiting the next day to be executed, Simon Peter is smitten by an angel of the Lord. Did you notice, when I read the Holy Word, Peter was asleep between those two soldiers to whom he was chained, asleep. The next morning he was to be executed; he’s sound asleep. That’s one of the finest pictures I’ve ever read: calm, tranquil, quiet, at rest before the Lord, sound asleep [Acts 12:6-7]. Whether he lived, he lived unto the Lord; whether he died, he died unto the Lord [Romans 14:8]. Whether he lived or whether he died, he was the Lord’s, and he’s sound asleep. Isn’t that great?
Do you remember my describing to you a picture that I saw entitled Peace, Peace, Peace? And it was the stormiest picture I ever looked upon. Against a high cliff, a raging sea was beating; those thunderous waves were rolling in. The clouds were boiling; it was a scene of fury, entitled Peace. But when you looked at the picture closely, up there in a cleft in the rock at the top of the cliff was a little bird with his head under his wing, sound asleep. Rest, confident, peace, that’s God and the people of the Lord.
Simon Peter asleep before his execution the next morning; then the same story. The angel of the Lord smote him and awakened him. And his chains fell off, and the iron doors opened, and a light from heaven shined upon him. The gentle violence of that angel awakened him to liberty, and to freedom, and to the glory of God, just as the angel shall someday awaken the Christian who falls asleep in Jesus; and his chains of sin fall off, and he’s liberated from the prison of the grave, and he is introduced into the light of the glory of the presence of God; the smiting of God’s angel.
And that twofold smiting I read and find all through the Word of God and all through our human life. Twofold, the same smiting, the same intervention, the same providence, and yet one is the judgment of death unto death and the other the gift of life unto life. In the Bible, the cloud, the cloud that was so dark against the Egyptians, the cloud was light to the Israelites and guided them through the wilderness; same cloud [Exodus 14:19-20]. The ark, the ark, the same ark, the same ark that maimed the Philistine god Dagon and cursed and decimated the Philistines, the same ark blessed the house of Obed-edom [2 Samuel 6:10-22], same ark. Paul describes the gospel like that. In 2 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 16, "The gospel we preach is the savor of death unto death to them that reject; but it is the savor of life unto life to us who believe"; the same gospel.
All of life, all of experience is like that. Death to the unbeliever is a horror; to the Christian it is God’s open door into the glory that is yet to come. The resurrection to the lost man is a resurrection to damnation and hell; but to the Christian, the resurrection is the giving back to us of this body that is immortalized and glorified and raised. The judgment to the lost man is a terror; "These shall go away into everlasting perdition" [Matthew 25:46]. But the judgment to the Christian is the final reward God hath prepared for those who love Him. And the eternity that is yet to come, to the lost man is a horror, a dread, a foreboding; but to the Christian, the eternity to come is to be with our Lord and one another in heaven; the same eternity.
And it is so in all of our human life, all of it. Life lived away from God is filled with every terror, every dread, every foreboding, but a life lived in the faith of our Lord is beautiful and precious, even in tears and in sorrow, in hurt, sometimes in illness. If it’s in Christ, it’s a beautiful life.
I don’t know better how to present that – the same thing, the same life, but how differently received – than in English literature. Do you remember Lord Byron?
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
Remember the title of that poem? "On My Thirty-Sixth Birthday"; he wrote that, and died; Lord Byron, who lived a dissolute, and debauched, and unspeakably vile and evil life.
Robert Browning, one of the great Christian poets of all time and tide, as he lay dying, he read to his daughter-in-law and his sister his last poem. Whenever you read the poetry, the works of Robert Browning, this is the last one, called "The Epilogue." Do you remember it?
One who never turn’d his back, but march’d breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dream’d, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.
Facing life, facing death, smitten by the same angel, but how different.
Take just once again in English literature, two of the great poets of the Victorian Age, William Henley and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. William Henley, vindictive, invective, belligerent:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
. . .
It matters not how strait the gate,
How [charged] punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
And I am the captain of my soul!
Remember that "Invictus"? Compare it with the sweet last poem of Lord Tennyson. And if you ever read his works, this will close the volume:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And 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 drew from out the 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 bourne of Time and Place
The tide may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
[from "Crossing the Bar," Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
Or as a greater wrote, in Philippians 1:21, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain." Or as he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:55, "O Grave, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting?" Or as the hymnal writer says it:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels from the stars come down
And bear my soul away.
[adapted from "Must Jesus Bear the Cross
Alone?" Thomas Shepherd]
Oh, come, angel band,
Come and around me stand;
. . .
Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
["Oh, Come, Angel Band"; Jefferson Hascall]
The smiting of God’s angel: to the one, to be eaten of worms; to the other, to be liberated into the fullness of the glory of God.
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing the song, to give your heart to the wonderful Savior, the Lord Jesus, to put your life with us in the circle of this dear and precious church, to answer God’s call to your heart and life, make the decision now. And when we stand, down one of the stairways, down one of the aisles, "Pastor this is God’s day and God’s time for me, and I am coming." Do it and those angels from heaven attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing. While we sing; "This is God’s time for me, and I’m coming."