DEPRAVED POWER COWERS IN FEAR, CONCEALS A GUILTY CONSCIENCE AND COMPLIES WITH MANIPULATIVE SCHEMES
Van Parunak: Now we enter the third subsection of the Proclamation section. Having documented the opposition and presented the choice that is to be made, Matthew sets off the section with two episodes.
- In the first, King Herod kills John the Baptist, the one who introduced the Lord.
- In the last, Peter confesses our Lord, John’s most famous disciple, as the Son of God.
We must remember that “Son of God” throughout the OT is the title assigned to the promised royal Son of David. Taken together, these two episodes remind us: the kings of this world will try to stamp out God’s purpose to set up his kingdom, but the true king has arrived and is recognized by his own people. The material between these bookends reminds us of the preparation in ch. 4-11 and the rejection in ch. 12-13. In particular, we have two sections of miracles and boat rides that remind us of the evidence collected in ch. 8-9, evidence that our Lord cited to John the Baptist when he sent early in ch. 11 to ask whether Jesus were in fact the promised Messiah. These alternate with two sections of Pharisaic rejection that recall ch. 12. The first of these includes a reference to the Gentiles, which was the centerpiece of the rejections in ch. 12.
Charles Swindoll: The story begins with a birthday party, involves a sexually provocative dance, turns on the strangest of all birthday gifts, and ends with the senseless beheading of a godly prophet by order of a lustful, creepy king. From the prominent figure in this story we can learn some valuable lessons about folly and sin – and their terrible consequences.
Walter Wilson: The question of Jesus’s identity (a major theme for much of chapters 11–16) is raised yet again, this time through the words of a new character, Herod Antipas, who responds to reports about Jesus and his miraculous powers with speculation that Jesus is in fact John the Baptist raised from the dead. That Herod would have reason to feel anxious about such an eventuality is shown by the following scene, which serves as both a digression and a flashback within the narrative. The audience watches as Herod has John imprisoned (cf. 4:12), learning that he did so because John had condemned Herod for marrying his brother’s wife. Although Herod initially refrained from executing John (on account of his fear of the people), at a banquet for his birthday a pair of women within his own household manipulate him into doing so. The description of the banquet itself, meanwhile, further illustrates the depravity as well as the viciousness of those who oppose the kingdom of God. The scene concludes with an explanation of how John’s disciples buried his body and reported to Jesus what had happened. . .
The characterization of Herod in 14:1–12 is familiar against this background,
- his behavior being guided by fear (14:5),
- recklessness (14:7),
- grief (14:9), and
- inappropriate desires, both for Herodias (14:3) and her daughter (14:6),
- his relationship with the former entailing an impious disregard for the law (14:4).
He hosts a depraved and gruesome banquet, during which he has John executed without due process. Worst of all, he yields his agency to a pair of women from his own household. In all these respects, he contrasts both with the fearless, ascetic John and with the true king, Jesus.
Grant Osborne: Herod represents the leaders of Israel both in his false understanding of Jesus and in his persecution and murder of God’s messengers—in this case, John the Baptist. At the same time, John represents Jesus in his bold proclamation and willingness to suffer the consequences and also in his arrest and martyrdom at the hand of God’s enemies. So this intensifies the rejection of 13:54–58 and demonstrates how far that rejection will go, namely, to death. . .
A major theme in this unit is the striking parallels between the death of John and that of Jesus (cf. 17:11–13). Davies and Allison calls it a “christological parable.” John was the messianic forerunner, and that means that he was also the forerunner of messianic suffering and death.
R. T. France: The careful reader of Matthew might reflect on the contrast between this degenerate scene of Antipas’ lavish feast with its sordid and tragic outcome and the wholesome simplicity of the “feast” which will follow in vv. 13–21.
I. (:1-2) COWERING IN FEAR — MIRACLES OF JESUS MISAPPLIED TO THE GHOST OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
A. (:1) Herod Hears of the Ministry of Jesus
“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus,”
David Thompson: Now I carefully want us to observe the opening prepositional phrase of verse 1 — “at that time.” This has some far-reaching ramifications. At the time when Jesus Christ had taught and had done so many wonderful miracles and His reputation was widely spread and He had been nationally rejected, including being rejected by those from His hometown, we then come to this part of the narrative which deals with the murder of John the Baptist. Dispensationally, Christ had just given a series of parables which demonstrated that He was going to leave and things on earth were going to become evil. Christ wants to show that God’s true servants will not be loved at this time; in fact, they will be hated, persecuted, and at times even killed. The evil will escalate.
ONE WHO STANDS FOR THE TRUTH OF GOD AND PROCLAIMS THE TRUTH OF GOD WILL BE HATED AND THERE WILL BE THOSE WHO WANT HIM DESTROYED.
When real righteousness is preached, it is not embraced by the majority of people. It offends most people and they want to destroy the one who is proclaiming that which is true and righteous.
Jeffrey Crabtree: This Herod was Herod Antipas, a son of King Herod the Great (2:1). Among his siblings were a full brother Archelaus and three half-brothers, Aristobulus and two named Philip (2:22; ISBE II:693-694). Herodias, the daughter of Aristobulus, married one Philip (Mt. 14:3) and their daughter, Salome, married the other Philip, Philip the Tetrarch (Lk. 3:1). Herod Antipas divorced his first wife and Herodias divorced Philip in order to marry each other (A.D. 27). Thus, both husbands of Herodias were her uncles. John the Baptist publicly denounced this marriage and made these two his enemies. . .
Jesus had very little respect for Herod Antipas and no fear. He would not run from Herod because He still had ministry to complete (Lk. 13:31-32). Jesus called Herod a “fox” and refused to be intimidated by his sly, nocturnal ways. At His own trial Jesus refused even to speak to Herod when Herod questioned Him. Herod and his soldiers shamefully treated Jesus (Lk. 23:11). Antipas and Herodias were the N.T. counterparts of the O.T. Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kg. 18:17 – 19:1).
D. A. Carson: Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was tetrarch (v.1), not king—though doubtless “king” was used popularly (Mk 6:14). His tetrarchy included Galilee (4:12) and Perea (19:1). Because John the Baptist’s ministry had been exercised in Perea (Jn 1:28), he had come under Herod’s power. Herod had been ruling more than thirty years, and at this time he lived primarily at Tiberias on the southwest shore of Galilee. Thus Jesus’ ministry was taking place largely within Herod’s jurisdiction.
How the reports of Jesus’ ministry reached Herod is unknown; it may have been through Cuza (Lk 8:3). So extensive a ministry could not have been kept from Herod for long. His conclusion, that this was John the Baptist risen from the dead (v.2), is of great interest. It reflects an eclectic set of beliefs, one of them the Pharisaic understanding of resurrection. During his ministry John had performed no miracles (Jn 10:41); therefore Herod ascribes the miracles in Jesus’ ministry not to John but to John “risen from the dead.” Herod’s guilty conscience apparently combined with a superstitious view of miracles to generate this theory.
B. (:2) Herod Loses His Mind Due to Superstition and a Bad Conscience
“and said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead;
and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’”
R. T. France: The idea of a ghostly or even physical return of someone who has had a special influence, especially if that influence has been prematurely cut off by violent death, is found in various cultures (think Elijah, Nero, King Arthur, Elvis). This is popular superstition rather than a worked out theology of resurrection such as that of the Pharisees. Matthew does not say explicitly that Antipas felt personally threatened (“haunted”) by the returning John, but that is probably implied, and Jesus’ “withdrawal” in v. 13 suggests that he regarded Antipas as a potential threat to himself (cf. Luke 13:31).
Bruce Hurt: These were “Works of power.” Herod clearly associates the supernatural acts of this person (he thinks is John) with the fact that he has returned from the supernatural. He knows that John did not manifest miraculous powers during his life, so his distorted theology determines this has to be a result of his resurrection so that now he possesses powers he did not possess in his natural state.
Leon Morris: In any case superstition and a bad conscience make a strong couple, and they led Herod into this curious affirmation.
II. (:3-5) CONCEALING A GUILTY CONCIENCE — MEMORY OF HEROD FLASHES BACK TO REBUKE DELIVERD BY JOHN THE BAPTIST
Robert Gundry: Herod’s lack of understanding triggers a flashback to John’s death.
A. (:3) Instigation of Herodias
“For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him,
and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.”
Tom Stevenson: [The tyrant] was in general paranoid, cruel, and unstable, both psychologically and emotionally … unlike the good king, he killed citizens; he was dominated by evil advisers and women … he was a creature of lust … he disregarded the state laws and institutions, ruling in an arbitrary, repressive fashion according to his moods.
John MacArthur: The palace [at Machaerus] was located on a mountain higher even than the city of Jerusalem and offered a beautiful and dramatic view. But the dungeon was dug deep into the earth beneath, and archaeologists have discovered the many places where prisoners were chained to the walls. There was no natural light and only dank, foul air to breathe. Here John the Baptist was incarcerated for about a year until his execution.
B. (:4) Indictment Delivered by John the Baptist
“For John had been saying to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’”
Donald Hagner: John opposed Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, not simply on the grounds of the impropriety of divorce and remarriage (cf. 19:9) but on the basis of the OT prohibition reflected in Lev 18:16 and 20:21 (in the case of a childless widow, such a “levirate” marriage was obligatory; see Deut 25:5; cf. Matt 22:24). This lies behind John’s strong statement: οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἔχειν αὐτήν, “it is not lawful for you to have her.” The imperfect tense of ἔλεγεν implies repetition: “he kept saying.” Herod would not tolerate John’s condemnation and so had him arrested.
William Barclay: It is always dangerous to rebuke a despot, and by his rebuke John signed his own death warrant. He was a man who fearlessly rebuked evil wherever he saw it. When the Scottish reformer John Knox was standing for his principles against Queen Mary, she demanded whether he thought it right that the authority of rulers should be resisted. His answer was: ‘If princes exceed their bounds, madam, they may be resisted and even deposed.’ The world owes much to the great men and women who took their lives in their hands and had the courage to tell even kings and queens that there is a moral law which they break at their peril.
C. (:5) Impediment to Execution
“And although he wanted to put him to death,
he feared the multitude, because they regarded him as a prophet.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Matthew records that Herod was afraid to kill John because of the people. They had great respect for John (3:5-6). The general population considered John a prophet, even as they did Jesus (16:14). Herod had enough political savvy to know that killing John could have enormous political fallout if the people turned against him. Josephus reports that Herod was motivated by political fears when he arrested John, afraid John had such influence that he could turn the people against him (Maier, 271-272). With John preaching to large crowds and publically denouncing Herod’s sins, Herod may have been losing favor with the people. This could have been another reason Antipas decided to stop John. He also feared John because he knew John was “a righteous and holy man” (Mk. 6:19-20). Because of this fear and knowledge of John’s holiness, not only would Herod not kill John, he would not permit Herodias to kill him either. John apparently languished in prison for some time, perhaps as much as a year or more (4:12; 9:14; 11:2; Wilkins 510).
III. (:6-11) COMPLYING WITH MANIPULATIVE SCHEMES — MARTYRDOM OF JOHN THE BAPTIST SCHEMED BY HERODIAS
Walter Wilson: With its trappings of royal intrigue and corruption, the episode that follows (14:6–11) is redolent of ancient court tales, including the tale of Esther, to which our story probably alludes. Of particular interest for its verbal similarities is Esth 2:9, which tells of how the “girl” (κοράσιον, cf. Matt 14:11) “pleased” (ἤρεσεν, cf. Matt 14:6) the king, ἀρέσκω being a verb that in the LXX often has sexual connotations. According to Mark 6:22, she pleased Herod and his guests, while in Matt 14:6 she pleases Herod alone. Once again, focus is maintained on Herod. While Matthew drops the reference in Mark 6:21 to a banquet (δεῖπνον), the references to Herod’s birthday (14:6a), to dancing (14:6b), to reclining guests (14:9), and to a platter (14:11) are consistent with a banquet scene. The impropriety of a princess dancing before guests in such a setting, engaging in the sort of performance usually reserved for courtesans, is taken for granted, as is the idea that such an act would take place in a Herodian household.
A. (:6) Scheme of Herodias Exploited Her Own Daughter
“But when Herod’s birthday came,
the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod.”
Grant Osborne: This dance is unusual, for such an undoubtedly lascivious dance was normally done by courtesans. The fact that it was the princess (named Salome in Josephus, Ant. 18.136–3711 and probably between twelve and fourteen years old [so Hoehner]) who performed it would at first have shocked everyone and then been regarded as a high honor to Herod. The low morals of Herod’s court were well known, and he is greatly pleased with the girl and her dance.
Michael Wilkins: Herod the Great built a royal palace at the fortress Machaerus, in part because he prized the hot springs at Calirrhoe not far away. The remains of a majestic peristyle court that rose to an ornate triclinium (banquet room) have been excavated, an indication of the lavish entertaining that was held at the palatial fortress. After the death of Herod the Great the fortress was assigned to the tetrarch of his son Herod Antipas. Here, according to Josephus, Herod Antipas imprisoned John the Baptist and later had him put to death.
Homer Kent: The celebration of Herod’s birthday provided Herodias opportunity for revenge. Debasing her own daughter by sending her to perform a suggestive dance before Herod and his courtiers, she extracted from this puppet ruler a grandiose promise more fitting for a Persian monarch (Mk. 6:23; cf. Est 5:3).
B. (:7-9) Scheme of Herodias Extracted Foolish Oath from Herod
- (:7) Blank Check Foolishly Promised
“Thereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked.”
- (:8) Beheading of John the Baptist Demanded
“And having been prompted by her mother, she said,
‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.’”
Grant Osborne: Herodias obviously did not want to give Herod any time to think about it. It was common for victorious conquerors to have the heads of their enemies put on public display (it was a Roman rather than Jewish practice), but at a banquet to have John’s head served up as if it were a delectable dish on a “platter” is hideous beyond belief. No better proof of the absolute depravity of Herod’s court could be given.
William Barclay: Herodias — she was the ruination of Herod in every possible sense, although she was a woman not without a sense of greatness. At the moment, we simply note that she was stained by a triple guilt. She was a woman of loose morals and of infidelity. She was a vindictive woman who nursed her wrath to keep it warm, and who was out for revenge, even when she was justly condemned. And – perhaps worst of all – she was a woman who did not hesitate to use even her own daughter to achieve her own vindictive ends. It would have been bad enough if she herself had sought ways of taking vengeance on the man of God who confronted her with her shame. It was infinitely worse that she used her daughter for her evil purposes and made her as great a sinner as herself. There is little to be said for a parent who stains a child with guilt in order to achieve some evil personal purpose.
- (:9) Bondage to Foolishness and Peer Pressure
“And although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given
because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests.”
William Barclay: Herod’s action was typical of a weak man. He kept a foolish oath and broke a great law. He had promised Salome to give her anything she might ask, little thinking what she would request. He knew well that to grant her request, in order to keep his oath, was to break a far greater law; and yet he chose to do it because he was too weak to admit his error. He was more frightened of a woman’s tantrums than of the moral law. He was more frightened of the criticism, and perhaps the amusement, of his guests than of the voice of conscience. Herod was a man who could take a firm stand on the wrong things, even when he knew what was right; and such a stand is the sign not of strength but of weakness.
C. (:10-11) Scheme of Herodias Ensured the Execution of John the Baptist
- (:10) Severing the Head of John the Baptist
“And he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.”
Warren Wiersbe: Herod is remembered as a weak ruler whose only concern was his own pleasure and position. He did not serve the people, he served himself. He has the dubious honor of being the man who killed the greatest prophet ever sent to proclaim God’s Word.
- (:11) Serving It Up on a Platter
“And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl;
and she brought it to her mother.”
(:12) EPILOGUE —
A. Respectful Burial
“And his disciples came and took away the body and buried it;”
Robert Gundry: The taking of John’s corpse by his disciples anticipates the taking of Jesus’ corpse by one of his disciples (27:57–60) and thus contributes again to the parallel between John and Jesus that runs throughout Matthew.
B. Reporting Back to Jesus
“and they went and reported to Jesus.”
R. T. France: We have heard of John’s “disciples” already in 9:14; 11:2. They have continued as a group after his imprisonment, and indeed there is evidence that such a group continued for a considerable time after John’s death distinct from the disciples of Jesus; note the mention in Acts 18:25; 19:3 of “disciples” who “knew only the baptism of John.” Their action in burying John’s body after execution (presumably having obtained permission from Antipas’ court to do so) is like that of Joseph of Arimathea later (27:57–60); in each case there was some risk in being associated with an executed leader, but that risk was overriden by the Jewish horror at leaving a body unburied. In view of the close relationship which Matthew has depicted between John and Jesus, it is not surprising that on John’s death some of his followers should look to Jesus as the natural successor to their leader; hence Matthew’s statement that they reported to Jesus.
D. A. Carson: Only Matthew mentions their report to Jesus. This report does not become the reason for Jesus’ withdrawal but serves other purposes:
(1) It draws John and Jesus together against the opposition;
(2) it suggests, though it does not prove, a positive response to Jesus by John and his disciples following 11:2–6; and
(3) it supports the view that Matthew often finishes his longer narrative pericopes by returning to the opening theme (see comments at 12:45; 15:20)—Herod hears reports of Jesus (v.1); Jesus hears reports of Herod (v.12). The frequency of this device gains importance in interpreting Matthew’s later chapters.
John Schultz: John’s disciples came to claim his body and give him an honorable burial and they came to tell Jesus what happened. Matthew tells us how Jesus reacted to this news. Evidently, it hit Him hard and He sought a place where He could digest the news and where He could be alone with the Father. According to Mark, the incident coincided with the return of Jesus’ disciples from their evangelistic campaign. Jesus’ effort to withdraw was also prevented by a mass show of a crowd of people, which forced Jesus to keep on moving. There would be no time for solitude and reflection.