Jesus, Herod, Kingdom of God

For some time I have been convinced that Herod Antipas in Mark 6 is intended to stand as a sort of anti-king of a worldly kingdom in contrast to Jesus as king of the Kingdom of God.

There are a few ways that Mark signals this.

First, Mark juxtaposes Herod’s birthday feast with Jesus’s setting a feast for the people in the wilderness.

Second, both stories are replete with royal imagery.

Herod (who was not, in fact, a king) is called “king” several times in the story. And the story takes its dire turn when he promises to give his step-daughter up to half his kingdom.

When Jesus, in turn, confronts the crowd in the wilderness, he has compassion on them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. This means (a) they don’t have the shepherd-king they should, and (b) Jesus steps in to fill this role.

Third, the stories both tell of banquets. Herod’s is a birthday feast with all of the important people. Jesus is with hoi polloi. But when Jesus has the people sit for their meal, we are told that they sit in banqueting parties (symposiai).

One key component to Jesus’s feast is that the disciples are involved in the distribution of food. The disciples, in fact, directly feed the people: Jesus took the bread and gave it to his disciples, and they gave it to the people.

The final “course” of the meal is not a final course at all–it is abundant leftovers. The kingdom of God overflows with life-giving goodness.

Recently I noticed that this pattern of giving and giving again is repeated in the Herod story.

Herod takes the head of John the Baptist and he gives it to his step-daughter and she, in turn, gives it to her mother.

The dessert course of Herod’s banquet, the final thing to come out on a serving platter, is John’s head.

And so in a grisly, perfect, antithetical juxtaposition, death is served by the would-be king who has no kingdom while the kingdom-bringing Jesus serves life to the many.

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4 thoughts on “Jesus, Herod, Kingdom of God

  1. (You mean “grisly” not “grizzly”. Grizzly is bears.) I think that kings good and bad are quite a theme in the Gospel record. As I wrote in the paper on Is. 7 and Matt. 1 which I have sent you, in no case after ch. 1 does Matthew mean by ἵνα πληρωθῇ straight predictive fulfilment. For that he has other expressions. He means rather that there is a deep correspondence, sometimes termed typological. It is reasonable to suppose that the same is meant in the first instance. I see therefore no reason to suppose that our first ‘fulfillment’ example is any different from the later ones: what is meant at the very least is that Jesus will be ‘God with us’ as a completion of the deeper meaning of the Isaiah passage: this child will not merely bear the name, but embody the reality of God with us. Quite possibly ‘fulfillment’ of the whole context of chs. 6-10 is meant. That of course includes more than one vision of an ideal king of David’s line; one explanation of what appears to be Joseph’s genealogy at the start of Matt. 1 is that it establishes the legal claim of his adopted son to Davidic lineage. Certainly Matthew invokes Scripture only at turning-points, points which incidentally usually involve human judgment of Jesus, a judgment which recoils upon the men who make it. Most significantly, the expression τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα … occurs only in connection with the Birth narrative and with the Passion narrative. I am thus prepared to propose that Ἐμμανoυήλ at 1:23 is programmatic, and that καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ̓ ὑμῶν εἰμι at 28:20 signals the end of the drama.

  2. Hmmmm…. if this is the case then perhaps Matthew’s birth narrative is a expansion of the same theme with Herod’s Pops. There he definitely is an anti-king and the wisdom of the wise men was recognizing him as such.

    1. Myself I suspect that Matthew means us to see Ahab lurking behind Herod (who had his real son murdered as well as the Innocents) when he alludes to Is.7 and says τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα …

  3. This is precisely my reading of Mark 6 but the way I came to it was through Ezekiel 34.

    With the feeding of the 5000, you have Jesus looking at the people, “like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus then has them sit down on green pasture and feeds them – his “flock” on the “mountains of Israel”. Plenty of clear allusion to Ezekiel 34 is going on in the feeding of the 5000 where Jesus acts as Shepherd.

    Ezekiel 34 starts by lambasting the bad shepherds of Israel though who eat the flock. I think John’s head coming out on the silver platter is very significant.

    Interestingly, regarding “king”, it’s only used of Herod (ch6) and Jesus (ch15) (apart from an indefinite reference in Mk 13:9)

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