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Claiming to be divine is not advised...unless you like worms

There have always been world leaders, warlords or religious leaders who have thought of themselves more highly than they should have. The Caesars of Rome were thought to be divine. Most of them did not take it seriously, but a few did. Domitian liked to be referred to as dominus et dues, (lord and god). And theologian N. T. Wright believes that John, who was exiled by Domitian, purposely uses these words when he quotes Thomas (Jn. 21:28) as a reminder for Domitian that there is only one God.[1] We see this terminology over and over in Revelation, also penned by John (1:8, 4:8, 4:11, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 19:6, 21:22-23).

A few weeks ago I shared with you that the Caesars called themselves autokrator: "one who rules alone." Thus, John refers to God as pantokrator: "ruler of all"—a clear rebuke to Domitian.


We live in an age where many see themselves as autokrators—self-rulers who do not want to give up power. Just yesterday it appears that Putin killed his former trusted leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, as punishment for his attempted coup. Putin has had others killed for far less. Kim of Korea has already executed over 300 people as of 2016.

There is something about power over people that—if the leader does not have God’s heart— becomes obsessive, demonic. When was the last time an incumbent US president did not run for reelection? The answer is Lyndon B. Johnson, over 55 years ago, and he had served a term and a half, having taken over for Kennedy.

Herod and Worms

In Acts 12, we find an interesting story about the death of Herod. This was Herod Agrippa I (One day, I am going to produce a diagram of the Herods). The people of Tyre and Sidon needed food from Herod, but were not on good terms with him. They came together on “the appointed day” (v. 21). The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that this was not a normal day, but a day to honor Caesar.[2]

The people of Tyre and Sidon knew the game. They were clients and Herod was their patron. This was the way the Ancient Near East worked. The clients were dependent on the graciousness of the patron. In exchange, they would sing the praises of the patron, boosting him up what was called the cursus honorum (ladder of offices or honors), giving him greater standing in society.

Herod came out, according to Josephus,

“clad in a garment woven completely of silver so that its texture was indeed wondrous, [Herod] entered the theatre at daybreak. There the silver, illumined by the touch of the first rays of the sun, was wondrously radiant and by its glitter inspired fear and awe in those who gazed intently upon it” (Antiquities 19.343–344)[3]

Of course, they would go overboard. That was the game; however, they were under no illusion that he was truly divine. Josephus gives a second testimony that the people of Tyre and Sidon compared Herod to a deity.[4]

Because Herod does not give glory to the one true God, he is struck down by an angel. The Bible says he was eaten by worms and died. The imagery is a little bit hard to imagine. Surely, I can see him being struck down for his arrogance and narcissism. But how was he so quickly eaten by worms? Luke doesn't tell us but fortunately, Josephus does.

“Then, looking up, he saw an owl. On an earlier occasion, when imprisoned in Rome, he had seen a vision of an owl; and a fellow prisoner told him it was the harbinger of good fortune for him. That had indeed proved true, for he was released and eventually became king of the Jews. The same prisoner, however, had warned him that if he ever again saw an owl, he would have but five days to live (Ant. 18.200). Josephus added that he was immediately stricken with pain and carried to his bed chamber, and he died exactly five days later.”[5]

Luke never says he died immediately. He just says that he was "eaten by worms and died" (v. 23).

“He experienced pain in his heart and stomach—possibly peritonitis from a perforated appendix, combined with intestinal roundworms, ten to sixteen inches long. (Bunches of these can obstruct the intestines, causing severe pain, copious vomiting, and finally death.) This excruciating condition continued for five days until he died.”[6]

There is more here. Luke is telling is a story within a story.

  • Worms spread and consumed the life of an antichrist.

  • Meanwhile, the gospel spread and brought life to the nations.

This story is not here by accident. Luke is a skilled writer. Many scholars believe that the end of Chapter 12 is the halfway point in Acts. As we get into Chapter 13, the gospel begins to spread rapidly to other nations.

The martyrdom of James in the beginning of Acts 12 shows Satan’s attempt to shut down the gospel message. It looked like Peter would be killed next. But God's intervention for Peter was not merely about Peter. It was about the fact that the gospel would continue to go forth. Just as Peter was freed from prison, nothing can hold back the gospel message. Just a few verses later, we see Paul and Barnabas taking this message to the nations, bearing great fruit.

Now let's contrast between the last few verses of the first half of Acts the first few verses of the second half of Acts:

Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

1. Worshiping God vs. Not giving glory to God.

2. Fasting (a form of humility) vs. pride and arrogance.

3. Herod died vs. spreading life.

4. Isolated self-leadership (autokrator) vs. team leadership in Antioch.

5. False praise to a man, claiming divinity vs. true praise to the living God.

6. Humbling themselves in prayer and fasting vs. wearing royal robes, and sitting on a throne.

7. An unhealthy community using manipulation and false praise to get food vs. a healthy community using prayer and fasting to realize the blessings of God.

8. Acts 13 presents Manean (Menahum in Hebrew), one who was raised with Herod (uncle of the one in Acts 12) who left that life for the truth vs. Herod who embraced Roman polytheism and died.


I do believe that God has a prophetic warning here to any leader, whether political or religious, who would seek to steal God's glory. Whether in this life or the next, without repentance, your destiny is worms. Let’s give glory to the one true God and see his message spread like in Acts.

[1] N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2013), 341. [2] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 285. [3] Allison A. Trites, William J. Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), 494. [4] Polhill, Acts, 285. [5] Polhill, Acts, 285. [6] Trites and Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts, 494.

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5 comentários

Indeed, a wise warning for anyone who would steal the glory due only to Yahweh, the one true God. Or worse, see His people ascribe His glory to another deity, as happened in the early centuries when Catholicism fashioned a Triune God from Greek philosophy.

As a former Catholic who was delivered from that pagan deity, I know how difficult it is to deprogram from that belief. Something the Reformers did not do when they threw the Mass, the Pope and worship of the saints in the trash. But did not submit the doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity to the same Scriptural scrutiny.

It was so disheartening then to see the ones who I’d hoped would finally stand tall…


Galinda Nelson
Galinda Nelson
24 de ago. de 2023

This is very interesting history to fill in what Acts 12 doesn't tell us, thank you.

Just a point or two:

1) There is no John 21:28 as far as I can tell, nor Rev.21:28 in case it was meant as that.

2) NT seems to indicate in a few places that Jesus can never be God, because he prays to God, etc.,

yet, in other places it seems to indicate that Jesus is God.

It is well-known (common-knowledge) that 1 John 5:7 was added by the (then) Roman church at the First Council of Nicaea in 325CE, to push trinitarian theology.

You need to seriously look into the claims of Jesus being God, because God has told us not…


Edward Prah
Edward Prah
24 de ago. de 2023

Yes, I learned about worms personally through sexual temptation/sin at the age of 11/12. They opened up my life to the demonic world and don't seem to want to go. I have been severely disciplined and refined by this. How much more those who don't want to put their trust in God or accept discipline. This ordeal has made me become quite familiar with Isaiah 66 and my need for healing from this seemingly incurable disease. I am 40 now and would not wish this punishment on anyone.

Galinda Nelson
Galinda Nelson
24 de ago. de 2023
Respondendo a

@ Edward Prah. Bro, just start keeping Torah... studying it weekly every Shabbat; studying the Prophets; studying the Megillot on the festivals (you can find it all on internet). The fear of God keeps us from sinning (Ex.20:20). Since we were not at Sinai - and even those who were, sinned - we have to develop the Fear of God, by trembling at His Word & Presence (Isa.66:2).

God will reveal more to you as He sees you're serious in seeking Him in the way that is desirable to Him, and are not focusing on the sin (that only serves to make it look like an irresistible giant). He will reveal to you the root, and that it is …


Susan Smith
Susan Smith
24 de ago. de 2023

The warning should be not only for leaders, but those who elevate leaders to godlike status. It seems that in an effort to abrogate their own responsibility to live righteous lives, most want a civic government to make laws to enforce morality. Morality cannot be legislated; it must be taught by those who watch over the flocks...Jew and Gentile both.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob already made the road sign: "Repent (turn around) and follow the narrow path!" No political sign saying "Be good or you're going to jail" can be enforced.

Unfortunately, in the U.S. the "church" has become far more political than humble servants of the LORD.

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