Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Tale of Two Kings

By Dan and Brenda Cathcart
Moed Ministries International

The video version of this teaching is available at:
From His headquarters in the northern Galilean town of Capernaum, the Master Yeshua and His twelve disciples continued to minister in and around the towns of the Galilee.  Here they brought the message of the kingdom of God to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Luke 9:1-2,6 NKJV 1 Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. 2 He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick… 6 So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

On the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, sat another city, the city of Tiberias that Christian tradition tells us the disciples did not visit.  Tiberias was built by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and named after the emperor of Rome, Tiberias Caesar.

The two cities were less than 12 miles apart from each other.  Herod Antipas held the official title of Tetrarch and, although not connected in any way to Jewish blood, desired deeply to be named King of the Jews like his father before him.  Yeshua, on the other hand, was a direct descendent of the line of David and the rightful heir to the office and title of King of the Jews.

Herod Antipas was driven by passion, greed for money and power, and political intrigue. Yeshua had the Holy Spirit and the power of God behind him. In between, were two key players, Herodias, the wife of Herod Antipas, who would stop at nothing to see to it that Herod would be made king and herself become queen, and John the Baptist, the prophet like Elijah who was to come, sent to prepare the way of the true King of the Jews.  Yeshua and Herod Antipas were now on a collision course. But before we get to this part of this story, a little background will help put it all into perspective. 

Some thirty years prior to this time, a teenage Herod Antipas had married a Nabataean Princess through arrangement by his father Herod the Great.  Herod the Great himself had Nabataean origins. He was an Edomite.  The Nabataean kingdom at this time covered a large area that included much of the Negev, ancient Moab and Edom as well as a large portion of what is today Saudi Arabia.  They controlled some critical ancient trade routes and their capital was Petra, in what is today Jordan.

Even though the marriage of Herod Antipas to the Nabataean princess was originally for political purposes, Herod Antipas remained married to the princess for over thirty years.  Herod’s ambitions to be King of the Jews like his father got the best of him when he fell for the wife of his half-brother Philip.

Philip’s wife, Herodias was also Antipas’ niece since she was the daughter of a then dead older brother.  Having fallen in love with Herodias, Antipas asked her to divorce her husband and return to Tiberias to become his queen once he convinced the Roman Emperor to grant him that sought-after title.  She agreed and along with her teenage daughter Solome, traveled to Tiberias shortly after Antipas sent his current wife packing.

This is where John the Baptist enters the picture.  Herod Antipas was at first an arms-length admirer of John the Baptist. Perhaps even traveling to the banks of the Jordan river to hear John for himself.  John was viewed by the people as a great prophet of God. Some believed that he was the resurrected prophet Elijah.  Antipas let John alone as long has he didn’t stir the pot toward rebellion.  The situation soon became dangerous for the paranoid Herod Antipas.  The historian Josephus writes:

“The crowds grew around John, and his words greatly inspired the people.  Herod began to fear that John’s great influence over the people might enable him (by some innovation) to raise some form of rebellion.”[1]

Once Antipas divorced his Nabataean wife for the sole reason of marring Herodias, John spoke out publicly condemning the marriage as being unlawful under the Torah.  At one point even telling Herod so in person!  This proved to be a source of irritation to Antipas and an out right embarrassment to Herodias because John was in-fact publicly calling her and adulteress. The historian Josephus writes:

“Herodias took it upon herself to violate the laws of our country.  She divorced herself from her husband while he was still alive, and she marries Herod Antipas, her husband’s brother by the father’s side”[2]

Antipas found the situation intolerable and had John arrested and imprisoned at the desert fortress of Machaerus on the eastern side of the Dead Sea.

Mark 6:17-19 NKJV 17 For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her. 18 For John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not;

Herodias had insisted that Antipas have John executed, but Herod Antipas, fearing the reaction of the people and not wanting to create a martyr, kept John alive but in chains and as far away from Herodias as possible, in the fortress of Machaerus.  But the fate of John the Baptist would soon be sealed by a cunning play by Herodias and her young daughter Solome.

Not long after the marriage of Antipas and Herodias and with John in prison, a large celebration was staged for the birthday of Herod Antipas.  All the high officials from Tiberias and the surrounding area were invited to the celebration, and Solome provided the entertainment.

Mark 6:21-23 NKJV 21 Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. 22 And when Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, "Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you." 23 He also swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom."

Making such a promise to Solome in the public hearing, was a dangerous thing to do.  Solome might have done very well for herself.  Herod Antipas had just offered her virtually anything she wanted. Herod was not a king, but a tetrarch.  Anything that he could give away in this manner would require the approval of Rome.  Solome may have realized that Herod had just “slipped up” so she consulted her mother what to ask for.  Mark 6:24-25

Mark 6:24-25 NKJV 24 So she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist!" 25 Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

Oops!  Now Herod was stuck.  He made a public oath to Solome, but the execution of John the Baptist was the last thing he wanted because he feared the public reaction.  Never the less, he granted her wish.

Mark 6:26-28 NKJV 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.

In Roman society, such celebrations as Herod’s birthday party would have lasted from several days even as much as a week.  This would be plenty of time for the message requiring John’s execution to reach the fortress of Machaerus, the executioner to perform his duty, and return the head of John the Baptist as promised.

Upon hearing the news of the execution of John the Baptist, the disciple broke the news to Yeshua.

Matthew 14:12-13 NKJV 12 Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it and went and told Jesus. 13 When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself…

John the Baptist had finished the job as the forerunner of Yeshua.  He prepared the way in both life and in death.  John proclaimed the kingdom of God and identified Yeshua as the coming one.  Yeshua knew that he would follow a similar path.  It wasn’t long after the death of John that Yeshua told His disciples of His own fate.

Matthew 17:10-13 NKJV 10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" 11 Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. 12 "But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands." 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

When the disciples that Yeshua had sent out to the cities, returned to report to the Master all that they had seen and done in the cities of the Galilee.  It was time for them to rest a while.

Mark 6:30-32 NKJV 30 Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.

Their rest was to be short lived.  The multitudes followed them wherever Yeshua went.  They ran along the shore of the Galilee, trying to get ahead of where Yeshua was headed.

Mark 6:33-34 NKJV 33 But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. 34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.

The multitude almost certainly would have included followers of John as well as many of those who heard the message recently presented by Yeshua’s disciples on their journey throughout the Galilee region.  Mark records that they were like sheep without a shepherd perhaps supporting Yeshua’s own instruction to the disciples as they went out about going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

It appears that Herod Antipas’ worst nightmare has now come to pass.  With the death of John the Baptist, Herod feared that the people would rise up in protest or rebellion.  Word had now reached Herod of the signs and wonders performed by Yeshua and the vast multitudes which followed him.  Herod began to wonder if perhaps John the Baptist or some other prophet of old had risen from the dead.

Luke 9:7-9 NKJV 7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, 8 and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again. 9 Herod said, "John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?" So he sought to see Him.

With the larger and ever-growing crowds following Yeshua and the disciples wherever He went, Herod became more and more fearful.  Herod most likely sent spies to keep an eye on the activities of this man whom the people wanted to proclaim king, the very position that he himself was determined to attain.

To add to his troubles, Herod now faced the wrath of his ex-father-in-law over the divorce of first wife.  The Nabataean King was determined to avenge the honor of his daughter.  Border disputes and cross border raids broke out as both sides began preparations for war.

Yeshua continued to preach the message of the kingdom of God and perform miracles and healing the sick wherever He went.  The people flocked to him by the hundreds and by the thousands, bringing their sick and lame for healing.  Yeshua often tries to find a secluded place to rest and pray only to find the crowds had gathered there as well.  The crowds continued to grow as did the signs that Yeshua demonstrated.  It became increasingly difficult to remain out of sight of the Roman authorities and Herod Antipas.  One day they were in the countryside outside the city of Bethsaida and there was no food or provisions for the multitudes of people.  Yeshua gave instruction to His disciples.

Mark 6:35-44 NKJV 38 But He said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they found out they said, "Five, and two fish." 39 Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. 41 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. 42 So they all ate and were filled. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. 44 Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.

When the crowds of followers grew too large and threatened to attract too much attention of the authorities, Yeshua would quietly slip away.  Yeshua was also attracting the attention of the Pharisees who were allied with Herod to get rid of Yeshua.

Mark 3:6 NKJV 6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Not all the Pharisees were plotting against Yeshua.  Many would warn him of the growing danger from Herod.

Luke 13:31-32 NKJV 31 On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You." 32 And He said to them, "Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.'

Yeshua’s answer to them was to call Herod “that fox.”  In English, to call someone a “fox” would be to describe them as a clever schemer.  First Fruits of Zion in their work, the Chronicles of Messiah point to a Hebrew cultural idiom of Yeshua’s day, referring to a rabbinic maxim that says “When the fox is in his hour, bow down to it”[3] referring to the transitory nature of Herod’s rule and authority.

The antipathy between Herod Antipas, the wan-a-be king of the Jews and Yeshua, the rightful heir to the crown and title, continued to grow as Yeshua’s ministry and message of the kingdom of God grew and spread throughout the land.

Herod did not have a good relationship with the Roman government under the Procurator, Pontias Pilate probably because of the troublesome border disputes and brewing war with their mutual neighbor, king Aretas.

Herod would finally have an opportunity to meet Yeshua personally on the day of Yeshua’s crucifixion.  When Pilot realized that Yeshua was from the Galilee, He perhaps saw an opportunity to gain some favor with Herod and secure a more favorable political relationship.

Luke 23:6-7 NKJV 6 When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. 7 And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

Herod had traveled to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover.  Yeshua had been arrested and was in the custody of the Roman authorities.  Herod was ecstatic to finally get a chance to meet Yeshua!

Luke 23:8-12 NKJV 8 Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. 9 Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing. 10 And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. 11 Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. 12 That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.

Yeshua did not dignify Herod, the would-be king of the Jews, with performing any miracles or even speaking a single word to him.  Antipas and his soldiers performed a mock coronation ceremony, dressing Yeshua in a royal robe.

Antipas strove all his life to gain the title “King of the Jews.” But when standing face to face with the real king, he engaged in a foolish mockery of the level of royalty that he could not even begin to understand.

Yeshua was returned to Pilot and ultimately endured death by crucifixion later that day.  Herod continued as tetrarch of the Galilee region for only a short time.  Herodias continued to push Antipas to pursue the title of king to no avail.  Herodias’ brother Agrippa returned to Judea from Rome, having been named King of Judea by Gaius Caligula who had become emperor.

Agrippa and Herodias traveled to Rome to try once again to attain the title of king and queen of the Jews, only to find that Agrippa had already accused them of treason against Rome.  Emperor Caligula had them exiled to Spain, in the farthest reaches of the empire.  As far away from the Galilee as possible where they both died in abject poverty only a few years later.

Josephus commented on the reversal of fortune that Herod and his depraved second wife Herodias faced.

“Thus did God punish Herodias… and he punished Herod also for giving ear to the vain discourses of a woman.”[4]

Herod Antipas would have been much better off sticking with his first wife, the Nabataean princess. He never did achieve the crown he sought, nor did he recognize the rightful owner and heir to that crown when he at last met him face to face.

Herod will obviously never return to power, but we wait for our king, the true king of Israel to return and reign from the house of the LORD at Jerusalem forever!

Discussion Questions:

1. In the story of the death of John the Baptist, there is some striking connections to the story of Purim and Queen Esther.  What are some of these connections?  How are these stories similar?  How are they different?

2. Considering Herod’s obsession with being named King of the Jews, how would he view Yeshua’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem?

3. Both John the Baptist and the prophet Elijah faced the ire of a vengeful woman.  How are the situations similar and how are they different?

4. How did the marriage of Herod to Herodias violate the Torah as John the Baptist said?  Under the Torah, when is it lawful to marry a brother’s wife?

© Copyright 2018 Moed Ministries International.  All rights reserved

[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18:118/v.2.
[2] Joseph, Antiquities of the Jews 18:136/v.4.
[3] The Chronicles of the Messiah, D. Thomas Lancaster, FFOZ V2 p693
[4] Joseph, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:255/vii.2.

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