Summary: Who is responsible for Jesus’ death? We consider Herod.
Who is responsible for Jesus’ death? We’ve considered Judas who betrayed him, Peter who denied him, and the rest of the disciples who deserted him. We’ve looked at the religious leaders who plotted his downfall and pronounced a guilty verdict against him. Judas reminds us of the person who looks out for himself, trying to take advantage of every situation to meet his own desires. The disciples represent all of us who have too much confidence in our own strength to be good enough for God. The religious leaders? They are the majority of people who have made up their minds about Jesus without feeling the necessity of examining his claims. He doesn’t match their expectations, so why bother? Luke presents another character in the story – Herod. Let’s see what the role of this pleasure seeker is.
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 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.
Herod Antipas was tetrarch over the territories of Galilee and Perea. Galilee was in the north of Israel, and Perea covered a stretch of land running down the Jordan River. A tetrarch was the title given to a local ruler. Herod would have been Pilate’s counterpart in authority.
Whatever we might conclude about Herod’s character, he evidently was adept at staying in power. He kept his position for forty-three years, which is no small feat. He ruled during the entire life of Jesus, from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. The young Herod in “The Passion of the Christ” does not match the real man. He would have been in his 50s at least when he meets Jesus. (Christopher Plummer’s portrayal in “Jesus of Nazareth” is more realistic.)
Like his father, Herod the Great, Herod Antipas was a builder of cities. He built Tiberias on the Lake of Galilee and other cities after Greek models. He was clearly enamored with Greco/Roman culture. Though much of his heritage was Jewish, his heart was Greek, and we shall see the inner struggle it created in him.
Luke has earlier introduced Herod as far back as chapter 3: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee… That is the time, Luke explains, that John the Baptist appeared on the scene. After describing John’s preaching, Luke then reports: But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison (3:19).
The story of Herod and Herodias is the stuff of gaudy soap opera. While traveling to Rome, Herod stops in at his brother’s place. He falls in love with his brother’s wife. They scheme for Herod to divorce his wife when he returns from Rome, and then Herodias leave her husband to become his bride. Ah…such love! John, however, seems to be a stuck-in-the mud about the affair and preaches publicly against it. The wife gets mad, and the husband locks him up. Mark’s gospel indicates the inner struggle that beset Herod: And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly (6:19, 20).