I have been in pastoral ministry for close to 40 years. During this period, I have served in ethnic and American churches, in small towns and in metropolitan areas. Inevitably, in each of those places, someone would come to me and say, “Pastor, preach the word and not politics!” In order to prove their point, sometimes they would add, “Be like Jesus, who did not meddle in politics.” That statement has always brought a smile on my face and without being condescending, I would ask, “Have you ever studied Jesus’ relationship with the Herod dynasty?”
The Herod dynasty is encountered at the birth of Jesus and we find it again at His crucifixion. The Herod that we meet at the birth of Jesus orders the killing of all boys under the age of two, while the last Herod makes sport of Jesus and places a robe on him as he is being returned to Pilate to be condemned to death.
When we talk about this period in history, we must talk about the Herod dynasty because there were so many of them. There was Herod the Great (37 – 4 BC) who wanted to kill Jesus and was known to have killed many of his own sons and a good number of his wives. There was Herod Antipas (4 BC – A.D. 39) who beheaded John the Baptist and was perplexed about Jesus. There was Herod Agrippa I (A.D. 37-44) who killed James the brother of Jesus and imprisoned Peter. Then there was Herod Agrippa II (A.D. 53-70), before whom Paul made a defense of his faith.
I am almost sure that Joseph told Jesus about Herod’s reaction to his birth. Herod wanted to kill the infant Jesus and an angel told Joseph to hide in Egypt until Herod died. When Herod the Great died, the Holy Family returned to Bethlehem. But when they heard that the Herod’s son was ruling in his father’s place, they settled far away from the threat in Nazareth.
I imagine it must have been shocking for Jesus to hear the news that his cousin John had been beheaded. John was the forerunner to the ministry of Jesus and he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. From the depths of prison, John sent a message to Jesus, “Are you the one, or shall wait for another?” And now John was dead. He died because he had the courage to confront the king and tell him that he was wrong. Salome danced one of the most seductive dances in recorded history and Herod promised her half of the kingdom in a moment of vainglory. But Salome asked for something else: she took the advice of her mother and asked for the head of the man who spoke out against her mother and Herod.
This is not the only place where Jesus and Herod were in opposition. In the Gospel of Luke, he records these words, “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him: “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, I will drive demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must keep going today, and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:31-33)
After all this time, Jesus and the current Herod finally meet. But Jesus refuses to even speak to him. Herod wanted Jesus to perform miracles because he has heard that Jesus was a miracle worker, but Jesus does not do anything. Herod’s time had come and gone. (Luke 23:5-12)
Jesus challenged the political and legal systems of His day. When Pilate boasts that he has the power to condemn and power to release, Jesus tells him that any power he has was given to him. He was appointed for that hour by the providence of God. From Nimrod (the mighty warrior of Genesis) to Nebuchadnezzar to Nero to any person today who feels powerful, the Bible reminds them that they are in that office with the permission of God and they will be removed when God determines their last day or hour.