After Pilate discovered Jesus was from Galilee, the jurisdiction of Herod, the Roman governor quickly sent Jesus off to see Herod. At that time, Herod was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover with the Jewish people. But before we get into Herod’s excited anticipation to meet Jesus, let’s first see which Herod this verse is talking about.
Several men named Herod ruled in Israel over the years. The first and most famous was “Herod the Great,” who was made the first governor of Galilee when he was twenty-five years old. His kingship was launched by the order of Octavius and Marc Antony—the same Marc Antony who had a famous relationship with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. Flavius Josephus, the well-known Jewish historian, recorded that Herod the Great died in 4 BC.
After the death of Herod the Great, his territory was divided among his three sons. These three sons (also named “Herod”) were as follows:
Herod Archelaus was made governor of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea in 4 BC when his father died, and he ruled until approximately 6 AD. This makes him the Herod who was ruling when Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returned from their flight to Egypt (see Matthew 2:22).
When Herod Archelaus ascended to the throne in 4 BC, things almost immediately went sour for him. The first problem he confronted was a rebellion incited among Jewish students by their teachers. Because the Ten Commandments forbid graven images, these teachers encouraged their students to tear down and destroy the imperial golden eagle that Rome had ordered to be hung on the entrance to the temple. As punishment, Herod Archelaus ordered these teachers and students to be burned alive. The massacre continued until three thousand Jews had been slaughtered during the Feast of Passover. Soon Herod Archelaus journeyed to Rome to be crowned by the Emperor Augustus. However, fresh riots ensued in his absence, resulting in more than two thousand people being crucified.
The Gospel of Matthew indicates that Joseph and Mary were troubled about settling in the territories ruled by Herod Archelaus and therefore made their home in Galilee (Matthew 2:22). Herod Archelaus was so despised that the Jews and Samaritans, usually foes, united together and corporately appealed to Rome to request that he should be removed from power. In 6 AD, Herod Archelaus was banished to Gaul (modern-day France) and died before the year 18.
Herod Philip was educated in Rome, along with his brothers Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas. When his father, Herod the Great, died in 4 BC, Herod Philip became governor of the distant regions in the northeast territories of his father’s kingdom. These territories included:
- Gaulanitis—known today as the Golan Heights.
- Batanaea—the territory east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee.
- Trachonitis and Auranitis (or Hauran)—the southern part of modern-day Syria.
The Jews were a minority among Herod Philip’s subjects. Most people under his rule were of Syrian or Arabian ancestry, but he had Greek and Roman subjects as well, usually living in the cities. Herod Philip died in the year 34 AD after having ruled his kingdom for thirty-seven years. Since he left no heir, the Roman Emperor Tiberius directed his territories to be added to the region of Syria.
Flavius Josephus wrote that Herod Philip was moderate and quiet in the conduct of his life and government. When Tiberius died in 37 AD, his successor, Caligula, restored the principality almost in its entirety and appointed Herod Philip’s nephew, Herod Agrippa, as the new ruler—but he’s another story that we won’t get into today!
This leads us to the third son of Herod the Great—Herod Antipas, the same Herod before whom Jesus appeared in Luke 23:8 and who had long desired to personally meet Jesus. What do we know of this Herod?
Herod Antipas was assigned tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea (located on the east bank of the Jordan). The Roman emperor Augustus affirmed this decision, and the reign of Herod Antipas began in the year 4 BC when his father died.
The name “Antipas” is a compound of two Greek words, anti and pas. The word anti means against, and the word pas means all or everyone. Once compounded into one word, it means one who is against everything and everyone. This name alone should tell us something about the personality of this wicked ruler.
In the year 17 AD, Herod Antipas founded Tiberias, a new capitol he built to honor the Roman emperor, Tiberius. However, the building of this city caused an enormous disturbance among his Jewish subjects when they discovered it was being constructed on top of an old Jewish graveyard. Because these graves had been desecrated, devout Jews refused to enter Tiberias for a very long time.
Herod Antipas tried to style himself in a way that would appeal to the Jewish people, even participating in national Jewish celebrations. But the people were not convinced by this act and viewed him as an insincere fraud. Even Jesus compared Herod Antipas to a fox—an animal that was considered to be the epitome of trickery and that was usually unclean and infected with sickness. In other words, when Jesus called Herod a fox, it was the equivalent of saying he was a sneaky, lying, deceiving, dishonest, infected, and sick individual. Those were pretty strong words for Jesus!
Herod Antipas’ first marriage was to the daughter of an Arabian leader. However, he divorced this woman so he could marry the ex-wife of his half-brother, a woman named Herodias. Taking the ex-wife of one’s brother was not uncommon, but Herodias was also the daughter of another half-brother, Aristobulus. In Roman law, marriage to one’s niece was also permitted, but marriage to a woman who was both one’s sister-in-law and one’s niece was most unusual. This unusual marriage drew the attention and criticism of John the Baptist. The Gospel of Mark records that John the Baptist died because of the public stand he took against Herod Antipas’ second marriage.
In the year 37, Herod Antipas’ new wife, Herodias, disagreed when her brother Agrippa became king in place of Herod Philip. She thought that the royal title should not be given to Herod Agrippa but to her husband and made plans accordingly for Herod Antipas to be appointed king. Adamantly disagreeing with Herodias, the Roman emperor exiled both her and her husband to live the rest of their lives in Gaul, which is modern-day France.
Luke 23:8 tells us that Herod Antipas was eager to finally meet Jesus: “And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.” Notice this verse says “And when Herod saw Jesus….” The word “saw” is from the Greek word homo, meaning to see; to behold; to delightfully view; a scrutinizing look; or to look with the intent to examine.
This word horao paints a very important picture for us of exactly what happened when Jesus finally stood before Herod Antipas. It conveys the idea that Herod was excited and delighted to finally behold the miracle-worker he had heard so much about. Once Jesus stood before him, Herod literally looked Him over, scrutinizing and examining every detail of the Man who appeared before him.
The next part of the verse confirms the exhilaration and jubilation Herod Antipas felt about seeing Jesus. It says, “he was exceeding glad….” The Greek text uses two words, echari lian. The word echari is from the word chairo, the Greek word for joy. The Greek word lian means much, great, or exceedingly. These two words together suggest extreme excitement or someone who is ecstatic about something. In other words, Herod Antipas was so “hyper” about having the chance to meet Jesus that he was nearly jumping up and down on the inside!
This should tell us how well known Jesus had become during His ministry. If Herod Antipas was this excited to meet Him, it’s no wonder that the scribes and elders were apprehensive about His widespread popularity. Even the nobility longed for a chance to see Jesus’ miracles!
That’s why the next part of the verse says, “… for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him….” The word “desirous” is the Greek word thelo, which means to will or to wish. However, the construction used in this Greek phrase intensifies the wish, making it a very strong wish or desire. According to this verse, Herod had this strong desire for “a long season”—a phrase taken from the Greek words ek hikanos chronos. The word hikanos means many, considerable, or much. The word chronos means time, such as a season, epoch, era, or any specified duration of time. These words together could be translated for many years, for a long time, or for many seasons.
Why had Herod Antipas longed to see Jesus for many years? The verse says, “… because he had heard many things of him….” Jesus was a name that the Herod household had heard for years! I’m sure all three Herod boys—Archelaus, Philip, and Antipas— heard tales about:
- Jesus’ supernatural birth.
- The kings from the east who had come to acknowledge Him.
- The attempt of their father, Herod the Great, to kill Jesus by ordering all the babies in Bethlehem to be murdered.
- Jesus and His parents slipping into Egypt and waiting for the right moment to come back into Israel.
- The ministry of Jesus touching the nation with healing and delivering power.
Stories of Jesus must have been very familiar to the Herod household. Herod Antipas had longed for a chance to meet this famous personality for many years. Jesus was a living legend, and now He was standing in his presence!
At the end of this verse, we discover the reason Herod Antipas was most excited to meet Jesus. The verse continues to tell us, “… he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.” The Greek word for “hoped” is elpidzo, meaning to hope, but the construction used in this verse is similar to the word thelo, noted above, which means to wish. Just as Herod’s wish to see Jesus was a very strong wish, now his hope to see some miracle performed by Jesus was a very strong hope or an earnest expectation.
Herod was expecting to “… have seen some miracle done by him.” The word “see” is the Greek word homo, the same word used in the first part of this verse when we are told that Herod was excited to see Jesus. Now this word is used to let us know Herod was euphoric about his chance to see some “miracle” done by Jesus.
The word “miracle” is the Greek word semeion, which is a sign, a mark, or a token that verifies or authenticates an alleged report. It is used in the Gospels primarily to depict miracles and supernatural events, which means the purpose of such miracles and supernatural events is to verify and authenticate the message of the Gospel.
But Luke 23:9 tells us that Jesus did not work miracles on demand for Herod, nor did He answer the large number of questions that Herod put to Him that day. As a result of His silence, the following verse tells us, “And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him” (v. 10).
Notice that the chief priests and scribes followed Jesus from Pilate’s palace to Herod’s residence. When Jesus performed no miracle for Herod, the scribes and elders, most of whom belonged to the sect of the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the supernatural, seized the moment to start screaming and yelling uncontrollably. The word “vehemently” is the Greek word eutonus, meaning at full pitch, at full volume, strenuously, or vigorously. In other words, these religious leaders weren’t just slightly raising their voices; they were what we might call “screaming their heads off”! Most likely they were screaming accusations right in Jesus’ face, saying things like, “Some miracle worker You are! You have no power! You’re a fraud! You can work miracles, why don’t You work one right now! You’re nothing but a charlatan!”
That day Herod was left with the impression that Jesus was nothing more than a spiritual fraud. Because Jesus didn’t perform on demand as Herod wished, this governor’s expectations were dashed, causing him to unleash his rage against Jesus. In the short time that followed, Jesus took the full brunt of this wicked ruler’s wrath.
I’m sure you’ve been in situations when you’ve been railed at because you failed to meet someone’s demands. Can you think of a time when something like this happened to you? How did you respond? Did you yell and scream back at that person when he vented his anger at you, or were you able to remain quiet and controlled as Jesus did that day before Herod Antipas and the chief priests and elders?
Life will occasionally take you through difficult places. One of those hard places is when you discover that people are disappointed with your performance. If you find yourself in this kind of predicament, remember that Jesus failed to meet the expectations of Herod Antipas (although that was probably the only person whose expectations Jesus ever failed to meet)! When you find yourself in such a place, go hide yourself away for a few minutes and call out to the Lord. He has been there; He understands; and He will help you know how you must respond!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, help me control myself when a project into which I’ve put my whole heart and soul goes unappreciated and rejected by my boss, my parents, my pastor, my fellow workers, or my friends. Help me take advantage of moments like these to learn how to be quiet and controlled. Please use these times in my life to help me mature and to learn how to keep my mouth shut. I know You understand the emotions that accompany this kind of disappointment, so who else can I turn to but You to help me in these kinds of ordeals?
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am self-controlled when people get angry or upset with me. Even when others vent their anger by yelling and screaming, I don’t yell and scream back at them. In these moments, the Spirit of God rules my heart, mind, and emotions, and I am able to remain quiet and controlled. When I find myself in this situation, I hide myself away in prayer for a few minutes and call out to the Lord. He helps me understand the right way and the right time to respond.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you recall a time when after putting forth your very best efforts, you discovered that those efforts weren’t appreciated or considered acceptable by those you were trying to please?
- When those you were trying to satisfy informed you about how displeased they were with your performance, did you graciously listen and learn, or did you put up a fight in your self-defense?
- Looking back on that situation and knowing what you know now, how would you respond differently if you could turn the clock back and do it all over again?