Topic: Luke's Perspective of Jesus: Ch. 3 Study Notes
by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 4 Study # 1 Lincolnton, NC April 30, 2006
19 But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
20 Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
1901 ASV Translation:
19 but Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother's wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done,
20 added this also to them all, that he shut up John in prison.
I. This is Luke's Transition From John to Jesus.
A. It is clear from John 3:22-36 that there was some overlap in the ministries of Jesus and John. It is apparent from our text that Luke decided to skip over that historical fact.
B. It is also clear from Mark 6:17-20 that Herod's imprisonment of John was a bit more complicated than Luke's words indicate.
C. Thus we conclude that Luke raised the imprisonment of John by Herod at this point to transition from John to Jesus.
1. The main question here is this: why did Luke feel it was necessary to use the imprisonment as his "transition" statement?
a. He had deliberately "set" his record into the political-historical realm in 3:1. In our study of that text, it seemed that Luke was particularly addressing the fact that the Kingdom of God was "apparently" smothering under the "kingdoms of this world". In that light, "the word of God came to John" and he began to announce the "new" theology of that Kingdom. It was not "new" in the sense that it had not been around for a long time, but "new" in the sense that the generation to which it was addressed had not heard it because of the long-term corruption of the theology of God's Kingdom by those who dominated the theology within that Kingdom. They could not even see that it was their dominion over God's Truth that was the cause of the Gentile dominion of God's Kingdom -- God's judgment of them for their behavior.
b. Therefore, we might conclude that Luke's current reference is one of how the snakes within the Kingdom of God react to God's Truth when they have the political clout to do so. This would be a two-pronged issue: on one hand it reveals how those illegitimately in power strive to maintain their illegitimate power; and, on the other hand, it reveals how God continues to subvert that illegitimate use of power in an on-going way. This second issue is the one which men seldom understand: God subverts by confrontation and accommodation. In other words, He makes sure the evil are confronted for their evil, but, at the same time, He does not powerfully block their impenitent reactions to the confrontation. Most of us, frankly, have a hard time with God "telling people they are wrong", but not forcing them to stop. John literally "got it in the neck" for being God's spokesman for one reason: God refused to block Herod's evil reactions. So, how are we to take this? Is God all "talk" and no "action"? Hardly. The fact is that God's Kingdom is moved ever closer to its triumph through its submission to the evil of its adversaries. This is a fact, but it is a hidden fact for one reason: men can only see the "now" and not the "future". And, because men are blind to the "future", they have always reacted to God's "methods" by concluding one of two things: God is a fool; or God hates us (1 Corinthians 1:23). The one "hidden" future fact is this: God's tolerance of man's evil has a sharply defined limit. That "limit" is this: God will permit man to do evil up to maximum corruption of the physical realm, but He will not permit that corruption to proceed beyond that realm into the realm of Eternal Life. By way of illustration: God allowed the corruptors of power to mangle Jesus' body and put Him to death, but, before any corruption set in, He raised Him from the dead and permanently set Him apart from the reach of evil men (Acts 2:22-32). By the same principle God has declared that the "future" will consist of a developing progression into the final corruption that will ultimately be met by the descent of the glorified Jesus to exercise final power to destroy the destroyers. Thus, the record of the imprisonment of John is a record of God's incrementally developing triumph. It is no accident that the imprisonment brought full attention to Jesus as John's presence "leaked off the scene" according to his own words, "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30). Likewise, it is no accident that Jesus' impact began with huge popularity and visible power and ended on the Cross in apparent visible defeat. In that "defeat" was the victory for it was by that death that the Kingdom was to be populated and it was because of that death that He Who died was raised to the position of King of kings and Lord of lords and set within the plan of God to come again in power and great glory to execute great vengeance upon the wicked.
2. Luke's use of the imprisonment for the transition was his way of compelling his reader to give some thought to God's methods.
II. It is Clear From This Text That John Addressed Herod's Failings.
A. Nowhere are we told that John criticized any of the other "political" persons mentioned by Luke in 3:1 at the outset of this presentation of John's ministry. This does not mean that he did not address the behavior of those other leaders -- it would be an argument from silence to make that claim. But, perhaps because John was imprisoned by Herod, Luke told Theophilus that John had been speaking out against Herod's behavior.
B. The question arises as to why he "reproved" Herod "for all the evils which he had done".
1. Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, not Judea.
2. Apparently John was serving God within Herod's political reach.
3. Just as apparently, John felt it necessary to speak out against the "hero" of the people.
a. John's setting was within the divine theocracy. Those within the scope of that setting had a greater responsibility to reflect the divine Law than did those who were "outside of the Law of God". John is not a "justification" for our modern day religious enthusiasts who get heavily into the political arena and engage in speaking against their political enemies.
b. Egregious violations of divine Law by those who sit within the domains of power in God's kingdom have to be addressed in order for those who are influenced by the actions of those in power to be properly directed. Elders who sin are to be publicly rebuked, but that does not mean that mayors, governors, presidents, other members of the world order are also to be so rebuked. Rebuking a snake for acting like a snake will only get the "rebuker" a serious snake bite. If that happens within the theocracy, one can imagine what will happen without. Surely Nebuchadnezzar was as bad as Herod, but Daniel never spoke out about him like John did Herod or like Elijah did Ahab. There is a serious distinction that exists between those who wield power within God's theocratic kingdom and those who wield power outside of that kingdom. There are also serious instructions for the Church as to how believers are to "speak" about the rulers of the countries in which they dwell. It is to our shame that the "Church" ignores its instructions in this regard with a fair degree of high-handed self-righteousness as it struggles for an illicit power in this fallen world.
III. It is Clear From This Text That Luke Considered Herod's Whole Life a Progression in Evil.
A. Luke says that Herod's "focus" for imprisoning John was the rebuke he received regarding his behavior toward his brother's wife.
B. Luke acknowledges that John did not limit himself to that single issue when he spoke out against Herod.
C. Luke claims that Herod's reaction regarding his brother's wife was a kind of "capstone" of his evil activities.