1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. – Matthew 14:1-12 ESV
Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great and the successor to his throne as tetrarch of Judea. The period of his rule spanned from 4 B.C. until 39 A.D. and included the entire lifetime of Jesus. Jesus and Herod would not meet until the last week of Jesus’ life when He appeared before Herod in one of His so-called trials. But their paths crossed on numerous occasions. Herod had evidently heard about Jesus, and we know from Luke’s gospel that the wife of Herod’s household manager had become a follower of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3). It is likely that this woman had provided updates about Jesus to her husband and his co-workers.
Mark records in his gospel that Herod had heard the rumors that were spreading about Jesus among the people.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” – Mark 6:14 ESV
And Luke tells us that Herod was at a loss as to how to explain the actions of this Jew from Nazareth. He even began to consider the truth behind the rumor that Jesus was actually John the Baptist come back to life.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead… – Luke 9:7 ESV
This news, if true, would have greatly concerned Herod because he had been the one to have John beheaded. John had initially been imprisoned by Herod for confronting the tetrarch about his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife. And while had wanted to kill John for his pertinence, he had feared angering the people, who believed John to be a prophet. But as the story goes, Herod and his guests had been entertained at his birthday party by the daughter of Herodias, his brother’s former wife. When Herod had offered the young girl a reward for her dancing, she had asked for the head of John the Baptist. And Herod reluctantly delivered her request.
And it seems clear from Matthew’s account, that Herod was fearful that John had come back to life.
“This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” – Matthew 14:2 ESV
We can only imagine what was going through Herod’s mind. Perhaps he was afraid that the resurrected John the Baptist had come back to seek his revenge. If the stories were true and Jesus had supernatural powers, what would keep Him from using those powers to get even with Herod?
Herod had seen John as a threat to his rule and reign. John’s open disregard for Herod’s power and the unmitigated gall he displayed by confronting Herod’s morals, was unacceptable. And while Herod had regretted having to behead John, his reputation meant more to him than any potential outcry from the people. This story provides a foreshadowing of what was to come. Herod, as a puppet of the Roman government, represents the earthly political powers that stood against the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist had been the forerunner of Jesus, proclaiming the coming of that kingdom, and calling the people to repentance. In fact, he had told the religious leaders of Israel, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Their lives were to display outward proof of an inner change about the way they thought about everything – from God and righteousness to sin and salvation. And John’s accusation against Herod had been a similar call for a change in behavior.
But Herod, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, had rejected John’s call. He was not going to repent. He had no intention of giving up his illicit affair with his brother’s wife. And the animosity of the religious and political powers of Israel and Rome was going to increase over time. Their opposition to Jesus would intensify. And eventually, He would face the full wrath of the powers that be, just as John had. The King would suffer a fate similar to that of His forerunner.
As Matthew continues to present the growing opposition toward Jesus, he reveals the unlikely alliances being formed against Him. The Jews had no love affair for the Romans. The Pharisees despised them. And within the Jewish religious leadership, the Pharisees and Sadducees were sworn enemies. But over time, they would join forces in order to plot the destruction of Jesus. He had become their common enemy. And there was a Jewish political party that held close ties to Herod and the Roman government. In fact, they were known as the Herodians. While the Pharisees strongly supported Jewish independence, the Herodians encouraged cooperation with the Romans. They were willing to compromise for the sake of political expediency, and this infuriated the Pharisees. Yet, these two opposing forces joined together in their opposition to Jesus. Their mutual hatred for Him became greater than their perceived differences with Herod and Rome. Mark tells us:
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 3:6 ESV
Matthew records that, when Jesus heard the news of John’s death, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 ESV). While likely not surprised by John’s gruesome execution, Jesus was deeply impacted by the news. This was the man of whom Jesus had said:
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” – Matthew 11:11-12 ESV
Jesus knew that John was the first of many who would die as a result of their faith. And Jesus was well aware that He would be the next to suffer and die at the hands of the religious and political powers. The day was coming when He would also appear before Herod. And in the room that day would be gathered all the powers of Rome and the religious leadership of Israel. Their common interest would be their hatred for and rejection of the Messiah, the Son of God.
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. – Luke 23:6-12 ESV
The Jews leveled false accusations against Jesus. The Romans treated Him with contempt, mocking His claim to be the king of the Jews by dressing Him in royal robes. All the forces of earthly power aligned themselves against Him. And, like John, Jesus would face the full brunt of their wrath and hatred for Him.
Jesus knew what was coming. He was fully cognizant that His own days were numbered, and it was just a matter of time before He faced a similar fate as that of John. But He was confident that it was all within the will of His heavenly Father. It was why He had come.
“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV
And as the opposition to His ministry mounted, Jesus’ commitment to His mission would grow stronger. He would allow nothing and no one to keep Him from accomplishing what He had come to do. And as He would later tell Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.