HEROD CONDEMNED BY JOHN THE BAPTIST
Matt 14:1-5 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. (See Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9)
For the most part, this narrative and its meaning that is found on Matthew 10:27-42, is also found in Luke 14:1-24, and will be studied in a later discussion of topic of this harmony of the gospels. We find that the lesson topic introduced in Matthew 14 is included in the gospel writings of both Mark and Luke immediately following the apostles of Jesus being commissioned, inspired, and sent out unto the Jewish people. They were to teach the lost sheep of the house of Israel that the time for the promised kingdom of heaven to be established on earth, and was now at hand.
The ruling tetrarch identified in the lesson text is known as Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. At the death of Herod the Great, the nation of Israel, known as Palestine, was divided and ceded to his sons to rule. The term "tetrarch" literally means a fourth part. The part of Palestine given to Herod Antipas to rule included Galilee, which was also under the oversight of the Roman emperor. It is believed that Jesus had been preaching the coming of His kingdom for over one, and possibly two years at this time. With the powerful and compassionate miracles performed to establish His deity, Jesus' reputation and renown had spread throughout the nation of Israel, especially in the province of Galilee.
Having heard of the fame of Jesus, Herod Antipas revealed to his servants his thoughts as to who this notable man really was. He said, this is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. Certainly the fame of John the Baptist was well known during this period of time. He was preaching to the Jewish nation and baptizing all that submitted to his call. It was this inspired effort by which he prepared the nation of Israel for the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. Knowing the fame of John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, no doubt the conscience of Herod Antipas seemed to bother him. Some of his servants suggested that this man called Jesus was the reincarnation of Elijah or some other Old Testament prophet (Luke 9:8). Because of His fame, the guilt of Herod Antipas caused him to assume that Jesus was John the Baptist who had ...risen from the dead.
In verses three and four, Matthew tells of the original reason Herod Antipas had John the Baptist put to death. Looking back in biblical history we find that this Herod was originally married to the daughter of Aretas, a name taken by the Arabian kings that ruled over the country then known as Petrae, in which we find the city of Damascus. (A ruler bearing this title we find mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:32). While married to this woman, Herod Antipas became foolishly attracted to Herodias, the wife of his brother, Herod Philip. She was the granddaughter of Herod the Great, which meant that she was, at this time, married to her uncle, Herod Philip. With this mutual infatuation taking place, Herod Antipas and Herodias, although still married, scandalously eloped together, and soon after he put away and annulled his marriage to the daughter of Aretas.
John the Baptist had openly condemned the marriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias, telling him that it is not lawful for thee to have her. Claiming to be a Sadducee, Herod Antipas was under Jewish law. Therefore his marriage to Herodias was unlawful because both his wife and her husband were still alive. They were further condemned because Jewish law disallowed a marriage between a man and his niece. Although Herod Antipas would have put him to death at this time, he did not do so because he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. This tells us that Herod Antipas was more fearful of the people over whom he ruled than he was of God under whom he would face his final judgment.
Mark tells us that John the Baptist was, at Herod Anitpas' command, forcefully taken, bound, and placed in prison (Mark 6:17). The following shortened narrative, was primarily taken from Matthew 14:6-12 (Also see Mark 6:21-29 for a similar account). Here, in this text, we find the account of the cruel beheading death of John the Baptist that took place at a later date, and was ordered by Herod Antipas. A celebration was made in honor of Herod Antipas' birthday and he was entertained by the daughter of Herodias, who danced before those gathered on this occasion. Pleased with her performance, he promised to give her whatsoever she would ask. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, who hated John the Baptist, the young damsel requested that she be given his head in a charger.
Although he was sorrowful for this deed, Herod Antipas reluctantly fulfilled his promise and sent men into the prison and had John beheaded. This being accomplished by Herod's order, his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. The head of John the Baptist seemed to be a trophy or prize that represented her "victory" over John's condemnation of her marriage to Herod Antipas. What Herodias saw as an earthly victory, was indeed, her eternal loss. Such cruelty is difficult to understand, but it is evident that revenge was the motive of the adulterous woman, Herodias. The Jewish historian, Josephus had this to say about her: "she was a woman full of ambition and envy, having a mighty influence on Herod, and able to persuade him to things he was not at all inclined to."
Although the head of John the Baptist had been severed from the body, with due respect and reverence his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.