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).
Herod “feared” John. Feared what? John’s influence? Perhaps. Matthew says that he wanted to kill John, but feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet (14:5). But Mark indicates, further, that he feared the God whom John served. He knew that John was “a righteous and holy man.” That is another way of saying that John had a special connection with God.
But the last sentence is the most revealing: When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. When would Herod have heard John, unless he went to John or had him come to him? He evidently wanted to hear John. Indeed, as Mark says, he heard him gladly. Nevertheless, he was “perplexed.” About what? No one could accuse John of being ambiguous. He had no trouble saying directly what he thought. I think Herod was perplexed about what to do. He knew John was right, not just about Herodias, but about other misdeeds of his that John would have brought to his attention.
But again, what could he do? John is a religious man. It is easy for him to see things in black and white. Herod is a ruler under the rule of Rome. Life is complicated; doing the right thing is complex. John needs to understand that. Maybe his life would be more peaceful if John didn’t exist. But no…he is a holy man. That would not be right. But still…life was more pleasurable before John came around. John brings up God’s law. Yes…it would be good to follow the righteous path. Maybe he ought to return to the religion of his people. But…it is so clear that Rome is the power, and the culture of the Greeks…it seems so beautiful…and their ethics are not so strict. Why, they merely wink at his indiscretions. Why can’t John and his God bend a little? What’s wrong with a little fun, and I’m just trying to get ahead like everyone else? But wouldn’t it be good to be true to God like John?