The story of Herod and the three wise men is familiar to most who celebrate Christmas. After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the wise men came looking for Him, having seen a star they believed signaled His coming. Arriving in Jerusalem, they asked “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Word of this search made it to Herod, the then-current king of that region under Rome’s authority, and his first instinct was to eliminate what he saw as a threat to his own power. In Herod’s eyes, only he was king of the Jews.
Herod came up with a simple plan: to use the wise men to help him find this threat. “And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’” However, the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went home after visiting Jesus. “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”
Herod believed so strongly in the necessity of the power of Rome and of his place in it that he was willing to commit mass murder. If he couldn’t find the one child he wanted, he’d just kill them all. He feared Jesus (or His followers) would overthrow him as king, and he was right but in the wrong sense. Jesus would overthrow Rome. He was born to overthrow every earthly kingdom – that is inevitable.
Isaiah 40:17 proclaims that “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.” The word “emptiness” here is the Hebrew “bohu,” part of the phrase “tohu va’bohu” translated as “without form and void” in Genesis 1:2. This phrase represents empty things with no eternal value or purpose. So, while Isaiah doesn’t use the whole phrase from Genesis, he uses “less than” for emphasis instead. When compared to God’s eternal purposes, all that every nation has ever devised and achieved is less than useless. God has nothing to learn from our political and economic visions – He transcends them all. No nation can or will accomplish what God has accomplished and will accomplish.
Therefore, Jesus’ other mission was to overthrow Herod’s dominion over Herod. But Herod was determined to resist. His heart was so hard that he preferred to hang on to a government willing to commit mass murder to preserve its own self-centered ways. He thought he could preserve the façade of “Pax Romana,” the idea that worldly government can solve all of our problems, even while he, as an agent of Rome, was killing innocent children. Herod saw it as in his own best interest, and in the interest of Rome, but this is one of many examples of “a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Jesus can overcome death only by overthrowing our views of our own “best interest” and what “seems right.” He was not born and did not die and rise again just to overthrow Rome, but He came so we would have a way to overthrow ourselves and death itself. Jesus will establish the only government that will matter in eternity: His Kingdom. The soul of Herod, and of all of us, will outlive every society that ever existed, and ever will, on this earth. The nations are all “accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.” While Herod could find hope in Jesus if he wanted to, Rome itself never had any hope.
Therefore, the question Jesus asks all people is: Will we let Jesus overthrow us or will we, like Herod, go to great lengths to resist Jesus and try to preserve a world that is doomed to fail?
Isaiah 9:6, recently the focus of my Christmas series on 4 names describing Jesus, also says “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” His Kingdom will be the only government we need, and He alone is uniquely qualified to establish and rule it.
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”