I. ‘In Spite of Dungeon, Fire, and Sword’


It is not at all surprising that Herod, tetrarch of Galilee (Luke 3:1), hears of the fame of Jesus (Matt. 14:1), who has been accomplishing miracles throughout the region. is better translated ‘fame’ (esv) than ‘news’ or ‘reports.’ see p. 297, n. 34. The phrase En ekeinō tō kairō (‘At that time,’ Matt. 14:1) and Herod’s reference to hai dynameis (‘the mighty powers,’ 14:2) link this passage to the report of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (13:53-58). Herod’s interpretation of Jesus as John raised from the dead (14:2) shows that he is as blind to Jesus’ true identity as were the Nazarenes. That statement prefaces the story of the Baptist’s imprisonment and martyrdom. Matthew’s account, which is considerably shorter than Mark’s (Mark 6:14-29) and longer than Luke’s (Luke 9:7-9), brings sharply into focus John’s relationship both to Herod and to Jesus.. In Matthew, the portrait of Herod is especially negative (Hagner 1995: 411). The main function of both accounts is to present John as a prototype of Jesus (Keener 1999: 397). Luke 3:19-20 prepares for 9:7-9.

A. Herod and John

This Herod here makes his only appearance in Matthew. We now learn that it was he who imprisoned John (Matt. 4:12; 11:2), and why; and also what he did to John thereafter, and why.

‘Herod the tetrarch’ (14:1) is Antipas, son of Herod the Great (2:1) and younger brother of Archelaus (2:22). When their father died in 4 B.C., his kingdom was divided among three of his sons – these two (whose mother was Malthace) and Philip (whose mother was Cleopatra of Jerusalem). Archelaus was deposed in a.d. 6, and his territories becamean imperial province ruled by Roman prefects; Philip ruled until a.d. 34, Herod until 39. As Luke 3:1 reports, when John’s ministry began (ca. a.d. 27) Pontius Pilate was prefect (the verb hēgemoneuō) in Judea, Herod (Antipas) was tetrarch (the verb tetraarcheō) in Galilee, and Philip was tetrarch (the same verb) in Iturea and Trachonitis. Herod Antipas had a second brother named Philip, who was son of Herod the Great by Mariamne II. It is this Philip who married Herodias (Matt. 14:3); her daughter, Salome, became wife of the other Philip, the tetrarch. again) of Abilene. The noun tetraarchēs means ‘ruler of a fourth’ (in which light it is interesting that Luke 3:1 lists four rulers: three tetrarchs and one prefect), though, in time, that literal sense ceased to apply (BAGD s.v.). Herod Antipas is called basileus (‘king’) in 14:9; but Rome never officially awarded him that title. In his Antiquities of the Jews (18.5.1) Josephus names Herodias’ first husband Herod rather than Philip. Some think the evangelists have confused this Herod with his half-brother Philip the tetrarch, and have mistakenly made Philip husband of Herodias instead of Salome. This view is refuted by H. W. Hoehner, ‘Herodian Dynasty,’ DJG, 323-24; he rightly calls Herodias’ husband ‘Herod Philip.’ Herodias was daughter of Aristobulus, another son of Herod the Great, so she was both niece and wife to Herod Philip and then to Antipas. For Antipas’ later relation to Jesus, see Luke 13:31; 23:6-12. The only person expressly called Antipas in the NT is a Christian martyr (Rev. 2:13).

Matthew reports that Herod arrested and imprisoned John ‘because of Herodias’ (i.e., because John rebuked Herod for marrying her, 14:3-4). Herodias’ desire (the verb thelō) to have John put to death (the verb apokteinō, Mark 6:19) finds fulfillment through Herod’s oath to Salome (Matt. 14:8-11). Herod also wanted (thelō) to have John killed (apokteinō, 14:5a); but unlike Herodias ‘he feared [the verb phobeomai] the crowd, because they held him to be a prophet’ (14:5b), so he kept John alive in prison. (Matt. 14:5a) is concessive: ‘though he wanted’ (e.g., esv). Indeed, throughout the story Herod is shown to be fearful and cowardly: ‘he fears John [Mark 6:20, with the verb phobeomai]; he fears the Jews who approve John’s preaching [Matt. 14:5]; he fears to break an unholy oath[14:9]; he fears to seem weak before his guests [14:9]; he fears Herodias, whose merciless scheming and hatred are apparent [14:8].’ 18.5.2, states that this was the reason for John’s arrest. This episode recalls Queen Jezebel’s rage against the earlier Elijah and her power over her husband, King Ahab (see 1 Kgs. 18:4; 19:1-2; 21:4-16). How this Herod differs from his father!

Yet starker is the contrast between the fearful king and the fearless prophet. Like Elijah before Ahab, and no less aware than his OT counterpart of the risks involved, John boldly and persistently declares God’s law in face of Herod’s sin. (from legō), is in the imperfect tense. It illustrates two usages: the iterative (‘he kept saying’) and the ‘pluperfective’ (‘he had been saying’) before Herod arrested him (Matt. 14:3, where the verbs are in the aorist tense). Cf. GGBB, 323-47, 549. John’s righteous and holy life (Mark 6:20) invests his preaching with yet greater authority (cf. comments on Matt. 7:29). Our appreciation for Jesus’ words about his forerunner in 11:7-15 is now deepened. Here, as there, the prophet stands over against a man who wears soft clothing – and who is also a reed shaken by the wind (11:7-8).

Herod is guilty of several sins, all of which are prohibited in Matthew 5: 1. He divorces his wife, daughter of Aretas IV, king of Nabatea, in order to marry Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife and his own niece. In so doing he violates 5:31-32, and the OT law concerning incest (Lev. 18:16; 20:21)., 323). In light of Herod’s transgression, note that Matthew 14:3-4 does not expressly say he married Herodias; but cf. Mark 6:17. Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1., reports that the Nabatean wife fled to her father when she learned of Herod’s intentions. 2. He disobeys the sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13) by wanting John dead (cf. 5:21-22) and by having him murdered. 3. Salome’s dancing arouses his lust (cf. 5:28) – desire doubtless intensified by the food and drink he was consuming. As Herod is sleeping with her mother, his desire is incestuous (Lev. 18:17). (‘the birthday having come’) is apparently a dative absolute (GNTG 3: 243; cf. BDF, par. 200). Such parties, with their excessive drinking, were a Greek and Roman custom, not a Jewish. The fortress of Machaerus, where all the events occur, included a dungeon (where John was kept) and separate dining facilities for men and women (so that Salome ‘went out’ to confer with her mother; Mark 6:24); cf. Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.2. See Keener 1999: 399-400. 4. Thus aroused, he makes a foolish vow (cf. 5:33-37).

Yet Herod, while distressed (the verb lypeō) over the consequences of his vow (14:9) shows no sign of repentance. (‘being distressed’), it states the reason for Herod’s distress. If joined to the following verb ekeleusen (‘he commanded’), it gives the reason for this order (cf. Hagner 1995: 413; TC, 29). To be sure, he recognizes John to be a righteous and holy man; John’s preaching pleases him (though it much puzzles him); and fearing John as he does, he keeps him safe (for a time) from Herodias’ evil (see Mark 6:19-20). Yet by all indications John’s rebuke (Matt. 14:4) has no effect on Herod’s behavior; and there is not the slightest hint that Herod wants to emulate John by becoming a righteous and holy man himself. Nor does Antipas embrace the truth about Jesus; on the contrary, like his father, he will threaten Jesus’ life (see comments on ch. 2; cf. Luke 13:31). He is indeed impressed by Jesus’ miraculous works (and later hopes that Jesus will perform one for himpersonally; Luke 23:8); and he even professes belief in a yet grander miracle – one that explains those works – namely, that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead (Matt. 14:2). But there is no suggestion that Herod interprets those works as Jesus does (12:28); nor that Herod has the faintest idea of Jesus’ true identity, or the least interest in becoming his follower (as did his steward’s wife, Luke 8:3). Herod appears to think that John accomplished miracles, or could have done so (none are on record; cf. John 10:41); but he evidences no knowledge of John’s verbal witness to Jesus. In his refusal to repent and submit to God’s rule, he rejects the premier proclamation of both John and Jesus (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Thus, Herod responds to the message of the kingdom as did the crowds (see comments on Matt. 13). Does not Herod’s rejection of John’s witness help to explain Jesus’silence in Luke 23:9?

B. John and Jesus

We learned from Matthew 11:7-19 that Jesus and John are united in their mission and in their experience of opposition; no wonder John’s disciples report his death to Jesus (14:12b, a statement peculiar to Matthew). Later reflecting on John’s execution, Jesus declares that he too will die at his enemies’ hands (17:12). In death, as in life, John points forward to Messiah.

John is seized, bound, imprisoned and killed. Where Jezebel failed (see 1 Kgs. 19:2), Herodias succeeds. Herod’s plot to slay Messiah was foiled; but his son Antipas beheaded Messiah’s forerunner. Antipas threatens Jesus too (see below on Matt. 14:13), but so do many others. Already Jesus’ foes outnumber John’s. In time, Messiah too will be seized and bound; and though, unlike John, he is brought to trial, the proceedings are illegal. (‘seize’) and deō (‘bind’) are applied both to John (14:3) and to Jesus (26:48, 50, 57; 27:2). On the trial before Caiaphas, see 26:57-68 and comments. While John is imprisoned for atime, Jesus’ death follows swiftly upon his arrest and trial. Beheading was merciful compared to crucifixion; and more appalling than a severed head presented on a platter to diners (14:8, 11) is Messiah’s accursed death and separation from the Father (27:46; Gal. 3:13).

John was not silenced until his contribution to ‘the restoration of all things’ was complete; indeed his death was integral to that work (see comments on Matt. 17:9-13). Moreover, Matthew and others provided a permanent record of John’s work, and the word of God for which he forfeited his life remains an unfettered power (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9). Herod would in time die as well; and whereas only a few historians take note of him, the church has honored John through all her history. 18.5.1-2). Cf. Acts 12:23-24, where the word of God advanced over a later Herod’s dead body. Yet the church accords far greater honor to the One whom John foretold – which fully accords with John’s own purpose (John 3:28-30). Contrary to Herodian superstition, John did not rise from the dead in Jesus (Matt. 14:2). Yet Herod here employs the very language – ‘He has been raised [ēgerthē ] from among the dead [apo tōn nekrōn]’ – later used to announce Jesus’ personal triumph over death and all the powers of darkness., and phrase in Matthew 17:9; 27:64; 28:7. It is that event which assures the ultimate conquest of all the Herods of the world, and the ultimate vindication of all God’s faithful prophets. John is buried by his disciples (14:12a – as Jesus would be by one of his, 27:57-60), there to await his resurrection.