By far one of the most popular shows that my younger kids watch is called Curious George. It is based on the books that first started coming out during World War II. Curious George is a monkey whose curiosity always seems gets him in trouble.
We live in a day of unprecedented curiosity about spiritual matters. Even as more people proclaim themselves to be atheists, there are many people to continue to explore the claims of the Bible and Jesus.
Many people are curious about who Jesus is. Their curiosity does not always lead them to salvation, however. We see this in the life of a man named Herod Antipas. You could call him Curious Herod.
Luke 9:7a Now Herod the tetrarch…
“Herod” here refers to a title, not a proper name. There were several tetrarchs and kings that took this title that originated with Herod the Great. After his death, his sons took over and thus began a dynasty of kings where “Herod” was the a title that Caesar would give him.
The Herod in this passage was named Antipas (as we learn from other historians like the ancient Josephus). Antipas was born in 20 BC to Herod the Great and one of his wives—a Samaritan wife.
Herod the Great, you will remember, was king at the time that Jesus was born about 6 BC, and he died in 4 BC. After he died, his kingdom was divided between Antipas and two other sons, Philip and Archelaus [Arch Ah Lay Us]. Antipas was given the region of Galilee and Perea (a region to the south of Galilee).
None of the sons was given the title of king by Caesar. Antipas was given the title of tetrarch which was lower in rank than a king. This would always bother Antipas and he would always pursue trying to gain the title of king.
A few years later, in AD 6, he went to Rome and ratted on his younger brother, Archelaus, causing him to be removed from power. Antipas thought Caesar would give him the title of king, but all he got was the title of Herod. He probably got a T-shirt that said, “I went to Rome and all I got was this lousy title.”
So Herod Antipas contented himself with rebuilding cities and building new ones, including one that he called Tiberias, after the name of the Caesar (I think he was still hoping that the Caesar would give him the title of king; “See Caesar Tiberius, I named a city after you!”).
Tiberias was built just 8 miles south of Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. When they were building it, they came across an old Jewish cemetery, which they destroyed. When Antipas tried to get Jews to settle there, he found it difficult, because they considered the place unclean. He had to offer free houses and tax exemptions to get people to come. At any rate, in AD 23, Tiberius became his capital city. 1
All this gives you an idea of the kind of man that Herod Antipas the tetrarch was: prideful and powerful. But he was about to be something else. He was about to be perplexed. He was about to be…
PERPLEXED ABOUT JESUS (9:7b-9a)
Luke 9:7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by [Jesus]: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead;
We just said that Herod’s capital was Tiberias, only eight miles from Capernaum, Jesus’s base of operations. Being so close to the situation, he had probably heard about Jesus the moment Jesus started doing miracles.
But now the disciples were going around preaching and doing miracles, so the situation had intensified. Now that he seemed be creating a movement, Antipas needed to know who this Jesus was.
Luke says that he was “perplexed” (diaporeō). That word means that he did not know how to proceed, which is how most of us are when we don’t have all the facts. It also has the sense of being confused, which is very evident in this situation because of the confusing ideas going around about who Jesus was.
People were very curious about both John the Baptist and Jesus. Who were they? Were they really the fulfillment of prophecy?
Some, as we see in verse 7, were saying that Jesus was “…John was risen from the dead.” And, in verse 8, we read…
Luke 9:8 And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again.
So, according to popular opinion, there were at least three possibilities about who Jesus was. The one that probably concerned Antipas the most was the first one, that John the Baptist was risen from the dead. Let’s look at that possibility last and take up these other two first.
1) “Elias had appeared”—In the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi wrote that Elijah would come again:
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: (Malachi 4:5)
This is a prophecy that some thought was fulfilled by John the Baptist. While John did come as a kind of Elijah, he did not fulfill this prophecy—in fact, John denied that he was Elijah. Instead, it will be fulfilled the Tribulation period (Matthew 17:10-13; John 1:21; Revelation 11:1-13).
2) “one of the old prophets had risen again”—the return of Elijah was certainly the most common and biblical expectation that the Jews had concerning returning prophets. But it was not the only expectation that they had. Prophets like Moses, Jeremiah (Matthew 16:14), Isaiah, and Ezekiel also came up in what you can imagine were late-night theological discussions.
3) But perhaps the possibility that concerned Antipas the most was the idea that John the Baptist had risen from the dead.
Luke 9:9a And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things?
Antipas’s conflicted relationship with John began in AD 29, when Antipas made a journey to Rome. Along the way, he visited his half-brother Herod Philip. While he was there, he fell in love with Herodias, who was Philip’s wife. Herodias was a shrewd woman and saw that Herod Antipas offered more power than Herod Philip. When Antipas returned from Rome, she married him. 2
This violated God’s law—a man could not marry his brother’s wife unless he was dead (Leviticus 18:16; 20:21). John the Baptist was just coming on to the scene at the time and he publicly rebuked Herod and Herodias for what they had done. Matthew records what happened next.
3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. 5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. (Matthew 14:3–5)
And in Mark,
19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: (Mark 6:17–19)
Herodias took John’s rebuke more personally. Herod Antipas was concerned about public backlash if he executed John. Furthermore, Antipas had this curiosity that led him to desire know more about what John was teaching.
20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. (Mark 6:20)
Herodias bided her time…
6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 8 And she, being before instructed of her mother [Herodias], said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. 9 And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. 10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. (Matthew 14:6–10)
Herod Antipas was perplexed. Was this Jesus actually John the Baptist risen from the dead? Matthew 14:2 and Mark 6:16 indicate that, at least for a time, Antipas believed that John the Baptist had actually risen from the dead. Luke, however, brings us to his final answer: it just can’t be. So now Antipas wondered who was this Jesus?
PONDERING WHO JESUS IS (9:9b)
Luke 9:9b …who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him.
Just as he had desired to talk to John the Baptist and learn from him (Mark 6:20), so Antipas also desired to see Jesus. It’s clear that he had a curiosity about spiritual matters. His question in verse 9, “who is this, of whom I hear such things,” is an important question for anyone to ask about Jesus.
Jesus had caused a stir in Galilee and caused people to be curious about him. In the last 2,000 years, Jesus has continued to cause a stir in the world. Billions of people know something about Jesus. His name is used as a swear word for people who never darken a church building. Everyone needs to ask, “Who is this Jesus?”
Just as the people in the first century asked if Jesus was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other prophet, so we can ask questions about Jesus today.
One of those questions could be: “Is Jesus a liar, lunatic, or is he Lord?” I like that question because it forces people to think about the box that they have put Jesus in. Many people, like Herod Antipas, have a respect for Jesus and like to call him a good man or a good teacher. Today it is especially popular to cast Jesus as a tolerant teacher.
One recent example comes from the Senate confirmation hearings for Mike Pompeo [Pom Pay O], an evangelical Christian, whom has been nominated to be the next Secretary of State.
Senator Cory Booker is leading the charge to deny him the position, because of Pompeo’s biblical views about gay marriage. Albert Mohler reported,
Senator Booker writes, speaking of Pompeo, “He and I are Christians. We believe in the ideal and mandate, love thy neighbor.” And then he says, “There are no exceptions to this.” So now you have Senator Booker identifying the only understanding of Christianity that he as an elected official of the United States government will accept. What is that singular acceptable form of Christianity? It’s a form of Christianity that would claim to continue the name, but to deny the clear teachings of scripture. 3
I don’t know anything about Booker’s heart, but this is a very common reductionistic view of Jesus these days. Jesus is about loving your neighbor and following the Golden Rule and that’s it. But they have never really considered all the things that Jesus has said. Can you say that Jesus is a good and tolerant teacher when he has said things like:
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13–14)
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
One thing that you should notice right away is the shear lack of tolerance that Jesus had in regards to there being many ways to Heaven. It’s a narrow way that goes through faith in Jesus. And just being able to claim his name and say, “Lord, Lord” doesn’t count.
Now, if these claims and more like them are not true, what does that make Jesus? You would have to say that he was a liar or a lunatic.
If he was a liar—if he was deliberately deceiving people about his true nature, abilities, and mission—then should we give Jesus any sort of credit for being a good and tolerant teacher? Should we go around saying that “love thy neighbor” is a great moral teaching if it came from a liar? Maybe it is, but should we link it with Jesus?
How could someone who was a liar be responsible for some of the greatest moral teachings that the world has ever known? And would he allow himself to be killed for what he knew was a lie?
Perhaps he was a lunatic, or, as we might say today, he had a mental illness problem.
Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft presents this option and then shows why we must reject it:
A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; If I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; If I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater… 4
Jesus made statements that indicated that he thought he was God (John 8:56-59) and that he was the only way to Heaven. If he was a lunatic, he would not just be a little off kilter, he would be completely bonkers. But that is not the Jesus we see in the gospels. We see a man who is compassionate, wise, and attractive to people—not a lunatic.
Another possibility is that Jesus was a legend. That is, Jesus never existed, at least not as he is portrayed in the Bible. Perhaps he was a historical figure, but over the years he was turned into a legend along the lines of Robin Hood or King Arthur.
This is a view that attacks the truthfulness of the Bible and especially the New Testament. One way to answer it is to point to the tons of manuscript evidence for the New Testament. We simply have too much evidence and too much very old manuscript evidence to say that Jesus didn’t exist or that the stories are made up.
One scholar said that if you stacked the existing manuscripts for the average ancient writer, like Homer’s Illiad, it would make a stack about four feet high.
But the New Testament has almost 6,000 existing manuscripts which amount to 2.6 million pages. If you stacked them, it would make a stack one mile high. 5 It’s hard to seriously accept that Jesus was merely a legend. There’s much more that could be said here, if you want to study more yourself, I recommend a book like Josh McDowell’s, Evidence That Demands A Verdict.
The only other possibility is that Jesus is Lord. This is what those who listened to him and followed him eventually concluded:
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)
27 [Martha] saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. (John 11:27)
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. (John 20:28)
If he is Lord, then we mustn’t treat him as anything less. We can’t wipe away his teachings that we don’t like and take only those which we do like. This is really the great divide between those who come to Jesus as their Savior and Lord. They are willing to follow him as Lord.
Why do some people who are curious about the Lord Jesus Christ do as Antipas did and eventually end up rejecting him? It’s really not because they have determined intellectually that Jesus can’t exist or can’t be the Savior. That’s a smokescreen. The real reason is because they are unwilling to submit to him as Lord.
BEING CURIOUS ABOUT JESUS IS NOT ENOUGH
Herod Antipas’s curiosity about Jesus was not an honest curiosity. Later, in Luke 13, Pharisees (probably for ill-intentioned motives) would warn Jesus that Herod Antipas was trying to kill him. Jesus responded by calling him “that fox” (Luke 13:32). To call someone a fox is to call them sly and crafty. Jesus knew Antipas to be a man who was dishonest.
Later, at Jesus’s crucifixion, Herod Antipas would finally get to meet Jesus and try to have his curiosity satisfied. It happened when Jesus was brought to Pilate:
7 And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time. 8 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. 9 Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing. (Luke 23:7–9)
What did Antipas really want from Jesus? His desire was really just for magic tricks. Jesus knew this and did not speak to him at all.
Antipas, history tells us, would not end well. His spiritual curiosity amounted to nothing. His pride, on the other hand, would lead him to continue to seek the title of king and lead to his downfall.
Herod Agrippa (a friend of the new Caesar, Caligula) was appointed king of Herod Philip’s territory. Herodias urged Herod Antipas to follow his pride and so, in AD 39, they travelled to to Rome to seek the title of king from the new Caesar.
When Herod Agrippa found out what they were up to, he brought accusations against Antipas. Caesar sided with his friend Agrippa, and banished Antipas to what is today, southern France, for the remainder of his life. 6
Herod’s pride led him to exile forever…not just in France, but, as far as we know from history, also in Hell. His great curiosity in John the Baptist and in Jesus led him nowhere. Instead, he followed his pride.
What about you? Are you curious about Jesus, but you haven’t committed yourself to him in faith? Is your pride keeping you from Jesus because you know that it will mean humbly following his commands? Don’t be a Curious Herod. Being curious is not enough, commit yourself to him in faith.
1 Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, H-L (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 144.
See also Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 478.
2 Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 484.
4 Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).
5 Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).
6 Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 492, 609.