Matthew 14:1-13a & The Heralded and Herod

Here we have a king who looks like one but isn’t, and another King who doesn’t look like one but is. Herein lies the truer contrast of this text. The primary contrast you are meant to make isn’t between John and Herod, but between the King John heralds, and Herod.

Herod technically isn’t a king and Matthew wants to remind you of this; that is why though he calls Herod a king later (v. 9), he begins by telling us he is a “tetrarch”. Technically this means a ruler of a forth part of a kingdom, but it came to mean simply a lesser ruler. Herod Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, received the title “king” from Rome, but not Antipas. Still in both cases they were vassal rulers, subject to the authority of Rome. So here we have a pretend king, who hears word of the fame of the real King and fails to recognize Him. This is the setting for the flashback that makes up the majority of the text.

But it isn’t just the beginning of the text that informs us where the true contrast lies, it’s also the end. At the beginning, Herod hears about Jesus. At the end, Jesus hears about John. In both instances a king receives news; one responds with speculation, the other with preparation.

Upon hearing about John, Jesus wishes to get away by himself to a desolate place.  We see Jesus doing this often, and he often does it to pray. Why does Jesus wish to be alone? What is He thinking about? What is so heavy upon him that He desires to be alone in a desolate place? I think its simple – John’s death is a foreshadowing of His future. If this is how they treat the herald, it’s because of how they think of the King. Jesus’ future is determining the past. Jesus is thinking of the much more violent death He will face on the cross, not facing merely the limited frustration of any earthly potentate, but in addition the wrath of His Father against the sins of men.

So here we have a wicked king, who out of fear and in pride takes the life of his enemy, contrasted with the righteous King, who out of love and in humility prepares to give His life for His enemies.

May we now herald Him too, even unto death.

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