King Herod

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Mt. 2:3

We all know the story: after Jesus’ birth, wise men from the east – Magi – show up at Herod’s court in Jerusalem claiming to have seen a star which they interpreted as announcing the birth of “the king of the Jews.” Hearing this, Herod calls an impromptu counsel of the Jews in order to determine the whereabouts of this supposed king. Finding out that Bethlehem is the most likely place, he sends the Magi there under the pretense that he wants them to find Christ so that he too can bring him homage. The Magi do indeed find Jesus and give him worship and gifts. But being warned by God in a dream not to give this information to Herod, they return to their country “by another way.”

The King Herod referred to in the text is Herod the Great, who ruled, by the consent of the Roman Senate, as King of Judea from 40 B.C. to his death in 4 B.C. (If this date is correct, then it follows that Jesus was probably born around 5 B.C.) Summarizing his reign, D. A. Carson writes:

"Son of the Idumean Antipater, he was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects (including the temple begun in 20 B.C.) admired even by his foes. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his sons."[1]

When Jesus was born, and therefore when the Magi appeared, it would have been at the very end of his reign, and thus at the very time when Herod was earning the reputation of a madman and a murderer. It is no wonder, then, that Matthew records the response of Herod: “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” For Herod, here was the greatest possible threat to his throne. On the other hand, the inhabitants of Jerusalem must have cringed at this information, for they knew that such news was likely to send Herod into a rage. They, too, were “troubled.”

We know from 2:16-18 that Herod in fact meant to remove this threat to his throne by killing what he perceived to be a clear rival. Thinking that he could use the Magi to find this child for him, he used deceit, making them think he wanted to worship Christ, when he really wanted to put him to death.

His was a response of out-and-out rejection of Jesus. He wanted him out of his way so he could get on ruling his kingdom. In one sense, this extreme form of rejection is played out by those who persecute his people. Hatred of Jesus results in many places in the world in the imprisonment, banishment, and punishment of his followers. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. . . . If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:18, 20). “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12, ESV).

However, you don’t have to be a persecutor of Christians to mimic Herod. Herod’s response is played out every time a person rejects Christ’s claim on their life in the interests of their own desires and plans. If you don’t want Jesus telling you what to do, if you want exclusive rights to your heart and life, if you are not willing to surrender everything to Jesus, then like Herod, you reject Christ as King over your life.

And you can’t have Jesus any other way. He is not willing to negotiate terms with you. He demands unconditional surrender to his absolute authority over your life, and nothing less. Jesus himself put it this way: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:15-26, ESV). He then tells us to count the cost:

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33, ESV)

Some people will claim that it is legalistic to present Jesus in this way. However, Jesus is not saying that a person earns their salvation by taking up the cross. He is saying that those who are saved take up the cross. Grace comes to us from a Cross not our own but leads us to a cross of our own. We don’t win the forgiveness of our sins, but forgiven people are people who are radically changed by the grace that brings forgiveness and healing and love. Paul put it this way: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).

Am I like Herod? Have I renounced the claim to the throne of my heart, and have I surrendered all to Jesus Christ?

[1] D. A. Carson, Matthew 1-12 (EBC: 1995), p. 84.

By: Jeremiah Bass