Herod Antipas, like his father, Herod the Great, was a man of ability. From the outset of his career there was potential of ruling well. The young Herod followed his father’s passion for architecture, and among his achievements was the building of the city of Tiberias.
His promising career fell short when Antipas made a fatal miscalculation by entering into an illegal marriage with Herodias, the wife of his own brother Philip. She quickly left her husband to come to him, and then Antipas sent away his own wife, the daughter of Aretas. Herodias was a much stronger character than he; rather, it is better to say she was more cunning. She remained at his side through life as his evil genius.
When the fiery preacher, John the Baptist, stirred up the masses Herod Antipas took an interest in his message and eventually invited him to the palace. But when John spoke out against his prohibited union to Herodias, he was thrown into prison. But even then Herod frequently sent for him. Antipas seemingly admired the character and the teaching of John.
Eventually seeds of hate found fertile soil in the heart of Herodias. Naturally she feared and detested the man of God who was seeking to remove her from power. Drip. Drip. Drip. She plotted against him with ruthless repetition. With each passing day she carefully cultivated her cravings to do him harm. She was only too successful, enlisting her own daughter, Salome, as a way to have him extinguished. On the king’s birthday Salome danced before Herod. She so intoxicated the king with her skill and beauty, that, heated and overcome with passion, he promised to give her whatever she might ask, even to the half of his dominion; the young witch, well-drilled by her mother in the craft of extortion, wasted no time and asked the head of the John the Baptist on a platter. She was not refused.
This awful crime filled Judeans with horror. Soon afterwards, King Aretas, the father of Antipas’s discarded wife, seized the opportunity when Herod’s popularity was eroded and invaded the country to avenge his daughter’s wrong. A humiliating defeat ensued – the loss was popularized as divine punishment for murdering John the Baptist.
Antipas now wracked by remorse: when he heard of the preaching of Jesus, he concluded that this was John the Baptist risen from the dead to taunt him.
From this point forward Antipas’s mental health seems to have rapidly deteriorated. Feeling the rejection of his subjects and the loss of territory, he turned more and more to foreign customs: his court became distinguished for Roman imitations and affectations. Purveyors of innumerable sensualities and amusements of every kind hawked singers, clowns, dancers, and jugglers in Antipas’ court. His ethical character was more and more corrupted until it became a mass of pulp, ready to receive every perverse desire.
His annual visits to Jerusalem were inspired less by religious devotion than by the hope of pleasure. In so large a concourse there would be acquaintances to see and news to hear, and who could tell what excitement might turn up?
His reception of Jesus was characteristic of a man of many demons. Had he possessed a conscience he might have been humbled to meet the Friend of John the Baptist. In times past he had been moved with terror at the mere report of Jesus; but that was all bygone — those emotions had been crowded out by newer ones or were forgotten. Now Antipas was “exceeding glad” to see Him. First, it was an excitement. Then, he perceived it a compliment from his Roman boss, Pilate; indeed, we are told that Pilate and he had aforetime been at enmity, but the governor’s deference made friends them again. Antipas found enjoyment, however, chiefly from the hope that he might see Jesus working a miracle. For two or three years his own territories had been ringing with the fame of this Galilean Miracle-worker, but Herod had never seen Him. Now was his chance. No doubt it had entered his mind that Jesus would indulge his curiosity.
Herod’s assessment of Jesus was that He was on the level of a new dancer or singer, a celebrity with magical powers, and he expected from Him the same entertainment as he might have obtained from any wandering professor of dark arts.
At once Antipas addressed Jesus in the friendliest manner and questioned Him. Apparently he had forgotten the purpose for which Pilate had sent Him. He did not even wait for any replies, but went on with endless ramblings. He had opinions about religion, and he wished Jesus to know it. He had theories to ventilate, puzzles to propound, remarks to make. A man who has no religion may yet have a great deal to say about religion. There are people who like far better to hear themselves talking than to listen to any speaker, however wise. No mouth is more verbose than that of a characterless man with puffed-up feelings.
Herod at last exhausted himself, and then waited for Christ to speak. But Jesus uttered not a word. The silence lasted till the pause grew awkward and painful. Herod grew red and angry; but Jesus would not break it with a single syllable.
The entire proceedings were irrelevant. Jesus had been sent to be put on trial; but this had never been pursued. Had Jesus yielded to Herod’s wishes and wrought a miracle for his gratification, no doubt He would have been acquitted and sent back to Pilate loaded with gifts. But we cannot believe that such a thing was even a temptation to the Lord. Never before had He wrought a miracle for His own behalf, and it is inconceivable that He should have stooped to offer any justification to a clown such as Herod Antipas. To such an ignorant buffoon Christ will always be silent.
Herod is the representative of those for whom there is no seriousness in life, but who live for pleasure. The world is filled with apes such as this. Not only has true faith, in any high and serious sense, no attraction for them, but they dislike everything involving deep thought or earnest work in any sphere. As soon as they are released from the claims of business, they rush off to be excited and amused. The one thing they dread is solitude, in which they might have to face themselves. In certain classes of society, where work is not necessary to obtain a livelihood, entertainment is all that exists — one amusement follows another, and the utmost care is taken to avoid any intervals where reflection might come in.
Christians should consider Christ’s example: we do not owe an answer to the religious objections of everyone we encounter. Among those we meet there are some that the Lord considers less than swine and dogs, and we should not waste our time on them. The Christian life is, indeed, a subject on which every theological hack takes the liberty of speaking; the most unholy and evil men of this world talk and write of Jesus Christ; but in reality it remains a subject on which very few are entitled to be heard. We may know beforehand which ones are worth hearing: we know what their opinions are worth based on the fruits their labors produce. If all religions lead to God, why do they not all lead us to the cross of Christ?
It may be conjectured that Jesus ought to have spoken to Herod— that He missed an opportunity. Ought He not to have appealed to his conscience and attempted to rouse him to a sense of his sin? His silence was itself this appeal. Had there been a spark of conscience left in Herod, those Eyes looking him through and through, and Jesus measuring and weighing him, would have caused his sins to rise up out of the grave and overwhelm him. Jesus was silent, that the voice of the dead Baptist might be heard.
If we understand it correctly, the silence of Christ is the most eloquent of all appeals.
How far Herod understood the silence of Jesus is difficult to determine. It is likely that he did not wish to understand. He acted as if he did not; he treated it as if the entire matter was a waste of his time. He thought that the reason Jesus would not work a miracle was because He could not. Antipas assumed He was a pretender whose powers left him when he falls into the hands of the king’s police. Jesus, he thought, was discredited. His Messianic claims were exploded; even now, he thought, His followers must be disillusioned and would return to recognize him as their true king.
So he thought and so he said; and the minions around his throne chimed in; for there is no place where a great man’s word is echoed with more parrot-like precision of a petty court. And no doubt they considered it a great stroke of the king’s wit, well worthy of applause, when Herod, before sending Him back to Pilate, cast over His shoulders a gorgeous robe— probably in imitation of the white robe worn at Rome by candidates for office. The suggestion was that Jesus was a candidate for the throne of the country, but one so ridiculous that it would be a mistake to treat Him with anything but contempt. Thus amidst peals of laughter Jesus was driven from his presence.
But Jesus lives and Herod is dead …