Matthew 14:1 – At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus,
The word ‘tetrarch’ originally meant a governor over the fourth part of any region. However, it later came to denote any ruler who did not rule over an entire kingdom. In the case of Herod the Tetrarch, he and his two brothers each ruled 1/3 of the kingdom left by their father, Herod the Great. Herod the Tetrarch, or Herod Antipas, ruled over the region of Galilee and Perea. (His other ruling brothers were Herod Philip I and Archelaus.)
Jesus had been ministering in Herod’s realm for more than a year. His teaching and the accompanying miracles were drawing tremendous crowds. His confrontation with the religious leaders was probably on the lips of most Jews. How is it possible that Herod was just now hearing about him?
Herod was known as a weak man with low moral values and dubious character. Some scholars speculate that he actually had heard of Jesus, but as he had no true interest in religion, he just ignored him. This shows poor leadership on his part. He should have taken a better interest in what was going on in his kingdom.
Some say the cause was his military campaigns against the king of Arabia, which kept him out of Galilee for long periods of time. Either or both of these may be true.
What we know for sure is that eventually Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas eventually hears three strange views about Jesus circulating among the people:
Luke 9:7-8 – … it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen.
But Herod was certain he knew the truth about Jesus and his miracles:
Matthew 14:2 – 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.”
As we will shortly see, Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas was responsible for the death of John the Baptist. Killing a man he knew to be innocent and righteous definitely weighed on Herod’s conscience. Tormented by his guilt, he automatically assumes that the man on whom such supernatural power rested was none other than John, who has miraculously risen from the dead. This in turn added fear of punishment to the already heavy burden of guilt and torment.
Matthew 14:3-4 – For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
Let’s back up and get a little history. Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas’ grandfather was a proselyte to Judaism. From that time onward, all of his descendents can best be described as half-heartedly Jewish. They were far more interested in political power than religion, as evidenced by the writings of the historian Josephus.
Now Herod’s father, Herod the Great, had a granddaughter named Herodias. This made her the niece of Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas, as well as a niece to Herod’s brother, Herod Philip.
This girl ended up marrying her uncle, Herod Philip. Herod Antipas was also married. He had wed the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. Then one day, during a trip to Rome, he fell madly in love with Herodias. She left her husband (Philip) and took up with Herod Antipas, who in turn sent his wife back to her father in Arabia. (Hence, the aforementioned battle with the king of Arabia.)
This meant that under Jewish law Herod was guilty of adultery (because Herodias was his brother’s wife) and incest (because she was his niece).
John the Baptist, being a preacher of repentance, had apparently confronted Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas with the truth – that he was in a relationship that was sinful and forbidden under Jewish law.
Matthew 14:5 – and though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people; because they held him to be a prophet.
The gospel of Mark gives us a fuller picture of what was going on at this time:
Mark 6:20 – For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy, and protected him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
Now we see a truer picture of Herod. He is morally weak. His conscience is struggling against the wickedness in his character. He desires to speak with John, and hear what he has to say, but he will not repent and change his ways. He will not forsake his sin. He put John in prison, but is unwilling to give the order to kill him, not because this would be an abominable sin in the sight of God, but because the people would rebel against him. In Herod’s life, political power and worldly pleasure always take precedent over his relationship with God.
Many scholars see a parallel between this situation and one with the prophet Elijah. As you recall, King Ahab who was a weak man, was married to Jezebel, a very strong woman. They both sinned in the sight of God, and the prophet Elijah confronted them with their sin. As a result, Jezebel swore to kill Elijah.
In this instance, Herod is also a weak man, married to a strong woman. They are sinning in the sight of God and the John the Baptist confronted them with their sin. It will be Herodias who manipulates Herod into ordering the death of John.
Matthew 14:6 – But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod,
In imitation of Roman emperors, the Herodian rulers of this period commonly gave infamous parties for their birthdays. Every person of importance was invited to these lavish affairs. Often, the ruler would bestow favors on his guests. These parties would include magnificent banquets, endless drink and of course, entertainment.
Part of that entertainment included dancing. The dancing at these feasts was lewd and licentious. It was normally performed by professional dancers. No woman of rank or respectability would participate in such an event.
Yet, in order to satisfy her own desires, Herodias had her young, unmarried daughter stoop to the level of a common dancer and perform for the crowd. In the original language, the scriptures indicate that some dancing had already taken place at the party, so Salome’s dance probably occurred near the close of the banquet, after all the guests had freely partaken of wine. No matter what state of mind they were in, the dance was probably very shocking. It was a memorable event that would be talked about for years to come.
And so we see the clever plan of Herodias at work. She knows that Herod will be freely bestowing gifts on his friends this day. Also, she no doubt understood the weaknesses and desires of her husband very well – this dance will inflame his pride. He will see himself as powerful, rich, clever and sexually desirable. He thinks he is the envy of all his friends and subjects. He deserves all their praise and accolades.
Herod will view this dance not only as a gift, but as a statement of his greatness. He will certainly acknowledge it by giving Salome a fitting gift in return.
Matthew 14:7 – so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.
As expected, Herod offers a gift to Salome. It is a very rash and foolish promise: anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. He probably expected her to ask for jewels or a palace or even a city, and he was probably more than willing to give her those material things.
Meanwhile, how delighted Herodias must have been when her daughter came to consult with her! How sweet her revenge must have seemed! Having skillfully baited the trap, she now has a promise, enforced with an oath, made in a public venue, after an abundance of wine and much praising of the life of Herod. She knows what she will request – and she knows that Herod’s pride will make sure she gets it!
As an added bonus, the threat of rebellion by Herod’s subjects is removed. The people cannot hold him responsible for honoring his vow. Her comparison to wicked queen Jezebel seems just!
Matthew 14:8 – Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
Through Salome, Herodias requests the death of her enemy. Her thirst for revenge will accept nothing less. The voice of righteousness which pointed out her sin must be silenced.
She will also deny him dignity in death – it isn’t enough to kill him; his head must be put on display for her amusement and gratification.
So John, who has probably been languishing in prison from 12-18 months, is sentenced to death without benefit of a trial or a defense or a public hearing. In the end, he is denied a public execution as well. He is tried, condemned and executed within minutes.
Matthew 14:9 – And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given.
Herod’s sorrow was not a godly sorrow which leads to repentance, and thus brings people back into right standing with God. It was a sorrow for the inconvenience this situation would cause him personally.
Herod was sorry that on his birthday he had to shed blood, because it was an ill omen for a ruler. However, he had no regrets about ordering the death of a righteous prophet of God.
Herod was sorry he had made a wicked and rash oath. He would try point out that it was honorable to abide by his promise, but that is a foolish notion. The keeping of his oath did not make his actions righteous. In this case, the honorable action was to stand up, take charge of his kingdom, and declare the request null and void.
His party companions are no better. There is no record of any one of them protesting the request. None of them interjected a voice of reason to this crazy and improbable request. I wonder how many of them feared Herodias?
Matthew 14:10-11 – He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.
If you are over the age of 50, you might remember an old radio show host named Paul Harvey. He had a feature on his show that he used to call “The rest of the story”. He would tell part of a story, but then take a break. After the first part, you always felt like you knew how the story was going to end. Later, he would come back and tell the rest. The ending always had a surprise twist; it never ended the way you thought it would!
According to the Matthew Henry Whole Bible Commentary, this is ‘the rest of the story’ of Herod Antipas:
Josephus mentions this story of the death of John the Baptist (Antiq. 18. 116-119), and adds, that a fatal destruction of Herod’s army in his war with Aretas, king of Petrea (whose daughter was Herod’s wife, whom he put away to make room for Herodias), was generally considered by the Jews to be a just judgment upon him, for putting John the Baptist to death. Herod having, at the instigation of Herodias, disobliged the emperor, was deprived of his government, and they were both banished to Lyons in France; which, says Josephus, was his just punishment for hearkening to her solicitations. And, lastly, it is storied of this daughter of Herodias, that going over the ice in winter, the ice broke, and she slipt in up to her neck, which was cut through by the sharpness of the ice. God requiring her head (says Dr. Whitby) for that of the Baptist; which, if true, was a remarkable providence.
Matthew 14:12 – And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
The execution probably happened late in the evening, when John was alone. Or was he? His earthly friends and family were not with him, but the Spirit of God was there.
Hebrews 13:5-6 – …for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Many people have lost loved ones during the COVID19 virus outbreak. Due to social distancing, you may not have been beside your loved one as they passed away, but take heart – the Spirit of God was there! And Jesus was waiting up in heaven to receive your loved one when they arrived. In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
As soon as the disciples of John heard the news of his death, they went to claim the body. I like the way the scripture says they buried “it”, not “him”.
Indeed, as Christians, this is always the way we should view death. Our body stays here on earth, but our soul and spirit, the things that truly make us who we are, are transported up to heaven to be with the Lord forever. No earthly pain or sorrow or stress can touch us there. Our struggle against sin will be over. There will be no crying or tears. We will forever be in the presence of the God we have loved and served here on earth. This was true for John the Baptist, and it is true for us as well.
What about the disciples of John? How did they handle the grief and injustice of this situation? They went to Jesus and unburdened their souls. This is the best thing they could have done because:
Jesus was human. His earthly experience enables him to sympathize with all forms of human suffering. He understands the sorrow it brings to us when we are parted from a loved one by death. He knew John’s disciples had lost a friend, a mentor and a spiritual leader. Jesus knew and grieved over the toll that sin was exercising over creation.
Jesus was God. Who could be a better comfort in their hour of grief than the Son of God – who would soon put all enemies, even death, under his feet! Once the Messiah had been revealed, it was actually a mistake for the disciples to continue to follow John. John’s death prodded them into a relationship with Jesus. While it is good to faithfully follow true ministers of God, we must remember that we ultimately serve God alone. He is the one we are to honor and glorify.
Taking our troubles to Jesus first, before anyone else, is always our best course of action. It strengthens our relationship with him. It allows him an opportunity to infuse us with wisdom, understanding, comfort and direction. It helps us gain control over fleshly feelings and desires. He is well qualified to entirely lift whatever burden we are carrying. He invites us to cast our cares on him, because he cares for us!
In contrast, when we go to our friends first, we are sometimes led down the wrong path. Things like pity parties, gossip, bad advice or revenge are often the seeds that are sown by well meaning human listeners.
So let me offer you some encouragement: God has not chosen to reveal to us the final date of our passing from earth to eternity. Just like John the Baptist, we can’t be sure when or how that change will take place. But what we can be sure of is having our names written in the Book of Life. We can be sure of spending eternity in heaven with God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus. All we need to do is repent and believe on Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
Let me offer you some relief: Herod Antipas was a man filled with guilt over the sins he had committed. He was also a man who had an opportunity to hear the message of repentance. Unfortunately, he chose sin’s temporary pleasures over the eternal freedom that salvation could bring. Don’t make the same mistake!
Relief from your sin and guilt can be found by making Jesus Christ Lord of your life.
Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Bad news: Mankind has been separated from God by sin. Sin results in eternal death, unless the price of redemption is paid. We are unable to pay the price ourselves.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 14:6 – Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.
Good news: God loves us so much, that he sent Jesus to pay our debt, and restore us into fellowship with him. The blood of Jesus is the only means by which our debt can be paid; it cannot be paid by our good works.
Romans 10:9 – if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Great News: The redemption of Jesus is a free gift, which he is happy to give you!
How would one go about obtaining this gift?
Approach God through prayer, and ask for it. Prayer is simply speaking to God. You can pray or speak to God out loud, just like you would another person. He will hear your prayer, and answer it. Some people prefer to close their eyes when they pray, but it is not required.
There are no exact words or phrases that you must use. Each person’s salvation prayer might be different. The important part is that in your heart you have sorrow and regret for your sin, and that you trust Jesus to forgive you and that you believe he will wash your sin away with the blood he shed on the cross.
If you can’t seem to think of anything to say, you can use this prayer (or something like it):
Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner. I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin. I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior. I commit myself to you right now. Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life. Amen.
If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ!
Let me give you some strength: You are now part of the family of God! You will likely need some mentoring in your new walk with Christ. I suggest two things: Get a copy of the Bible and begin to read it. The New Testament book of John is a great place to begin. The second is to find a local bible based church and attend it. They can mentor you in your new life in Christ!
If you have made a first time decision to accept Jesus as your Savior or if you have rededicated your life to him, please write and let us know. We would love to celebrate with you!