Herod and John — Matthew 14:1–5

The withdrawal of the King — part 2

40 blogs of Lent — day 3

In the previous passage in yesterday’s blog post Jesus linked this narrative section on Jesus’ Galilean ministry back to the previous Galilean section and also linked it forwards by introducing the question, “Who is Jesus?” to be answered at the end of the section in Chapter 17.

Also in Chapter 17 is the question, “Who is John the Baptist?” This too is introduced early.

Saint John the Baptist bearing witness
Wikimedia Commons

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.

Matthew 14:1-5 ESV UK

There are Two main people in this story, Herod and John.


Herod is not Herod the Great from the Birth stories. He died and his kingdom was divided into four because the Emperor Augustus has changed the will. The three successors who concern the story of Jesus are Herod’s sons Philip, who ruled to the kingdom to the north east of Lake Galilee, Herod the Great’s son Herod had the territory of Galilee, to the west of the lake, and another section to the north east of the Dead Sea, and Archelaus, who had Judea and Samaria, the rest of the kingdom to the west of the Jordan valley. Even by the standards of the Roman Empire, Archelaus was an unstable despotic ruler, he was deposed by Rome and a Roman Procurator put in his place. At the time of Jesus’ ministry that procurator was Pontius Pilate.

Herod’s title was tetrarch, he never had the title king, although the Bible sometimes refer’s to him as king, He is also called Herod Antipater and Herod Antipas. He died in AD 39. Herod had divorced his Nabataean wife, the daughter of the King Aretas IV, in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.


John the Baptist and Jesus were related through their mothers Elizabeth and Mary, but as John would have been brought up in Jerusalem and Jesus in Nazareth they may not have met often, but it is clear from the conversation at Jesus’ baptism that John was aware of who Jesus was. John was about six months older than Jesus and started his ministry first, living in the desert and calling people to repent and baptising them in the River Jordan. The only other thing we know about John, other than this passage, is that he pointed Jesus out to his followers as the one who takes people’s sins away and recommended that they follow Jesus.

Herod had put John in prison because John had dared to speak out against his marriage. John, like the prophets before him, had not only called the people back to God, but also dared to criticise those who were in power. In every age we need prophets who will tell those in power what God is saying, not from a party political standpoint because the government is too left wing or right wing for their liking, although if you live in a democracy ot constitutional monarchy you have every right to do so, and I commend it. But those who will take time to bring the needs of the people and the government before God and to say what God is saying. John the Baptist did that, acted like a prophet so it was no wonder the people proclaimed him as such. This gave Herod the dilemma, how to get rid of John? So John was to rot in jail, the short term consequences of obeying God are not always good. Persecution of Christians is stronger in the world now than it has ever been, and gospel that says, “Follow God and things will be great,” is not the Gospel of God. The Gospel of God is that God shares in our sufferings. John suffered, Jesus suffered, we suffer, but we have Jesus alongside us in our suffering.

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