Preview of coming events, Matthew 14:1-12

It is all too common to be haunted by the things we have done. Even we who trust in Jesus and enjoy his limitless grace can regret past acts. And we do. How much more can those who never knew him at all!

Matthew 14:1-12

14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.

3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: It is not lawful for you to have her. 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

6 On Herods birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist. 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Commentary

It is easy to get confused in this brief account. Matthew gives us events out of chronological order by using a flashback in verses 3-11. These events were already in the past, on Herod’s timeline, when Herod experienced the fears expressed in verses 1-2.

Herod Antipas (b. 21 B.C. – d. after A.D. 39), the tetrarch of Galilee (verse 1) was a son of Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus not long after he was born. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., and Caesar Augustus divided his kingdom, delegating rule of Galilee and Perea to Herod Antipas. See the map in the Introduction. Like his father, Herod Antipas would not make a good ethical model, but his rule kept Galilee relatively stable and prosperous during Jesus life and ministry there.

After he had already ordered John the Baptist to be executed, as described in verses 3-12, Herod heard the reports about Jesus (verse 1), and verse 2 makes clear that the reports correctly included miraculous acts by Jesus. It was typical for reports to be made to rulers about important events in their territories, and Herod was at the fortress of Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea, 85 miles (by air) from the area where Jesus was working miracles. The rough terrain made the messenger’s actual travel much longer.

Osborne probably has the right idea that Herod’s guilty conscience had used Hellenistic ideas about spirits seeking revenge to come up with the idea that the miracle-working Jesus was actually John resurrected (verse 2).[1] Starting in verse 3, Matthew gives the twisted background behind John’s execution. Herod had arrested John to shut him up, because John had repeatedly said in public that it was not lawful for Herod to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (verses 3-4). As we will see, this was not the last time that Herod’s lust would land him in trouble. Herod wanted to kill John to stop the ongoing attack on his honor, but he knew that could cause real trouble with the people (verse 5), and that risked the anger of his Roman overlords.

Herod already had a wife, a Nabatean princess, whose royal father was furious and later waged a war that cost Herod dearly.[2] Herodias, who was Herod’s niece and the wife of Philip the tetrarch, soon proved that she could skillfully execute plots to get her way (verses 6-8). She relied on Herod’s lust and the alcohol that flowed freely in such quasi-royal birthday celebrations. It is amazing after so long a time that even non-biblical sources tell about Herod’s extravagant parties.[3]

When you consider the number of parties that occur where questionable or evil things occur, what should a Christian do about invitations to them?

Verses 610 need no explanation in this context. Herodias eliminated her greatest enemy; Herod gained a lifetime of bad dreams; John’s disciples, at great risk, requested John’s body and buried it. While we are here, it is illustrative to see that Herod got word by a messenger from Galilee, and Jesus received the bad news through John’s disciples after a long journey from the southern wastes. News traveled slowly.

John spoke the truth and, through scheming, was put to death. In that, he again served as a forerunner for Jesus. Matthew probably decided to use John’s story here to hint at what will follow for Jesus.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 557.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 554.

[3] France, Matthew, 555, footnote 17.

 

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!