In the middle of Mark 6, we get a glimpse of just how fast knowledge of Jesus began to spread. After hearing about Jesus sending his disciples out in groups to further his message and ministry of the kingdom of God, verse 14 says that news of all this was spreading so far and so fast that Herod, the ruler of Galilee, even heard of it. Religious authorities have noticed Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry. Now the political authorities are beginning to take notice.
This Herod is one of the sons of Herod the Great, the king who ruled at the birth of Jesus. The son was denounced by John the Baptist for marrying his brother’s wife. To pull this wedding off, Herod had to divorce his own wife, who was the daughter of Aretas, king of the nearby Nabateans. Aretas, to save family honor, attacks Herod and takes part of his territory. Then Herod marries Herodias, who was previously married to his brother. In case that’s not enough palace intrigue, Herodias was niece to both these sons of Herod the Great. Herod does not seem like one who would bother to take note of whatever the latest religious phenomenon is sweeping Galilee.
Herod did take some interest in John the Baptist, who was introduced back in chapter 1 of Mark’s story as the forerunner of Jesus. Herod’s main interest seems to be that John would not stop talking about how wrong it was for Herod to divorce his wife and marry his brother’s wife who was also his niece. Let’s be honest, John had a lot to talk about here. And, Herod did not know quite what to make of John, for though he put him in prison, he would listen to him gladly.
Herod, who is supposed to be in control and running things, actually comes across rather pathetic in this story. He does not rule so much as he is ruled by his passions and his desire to not lose any honor. When the daughter of Herodias, his new wife, dances before Herod and his court at a lavish party, Herod promises to give her whatever she desires. Encouraged by her mother, the daughter asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod, the once willing listener to John’s preaching, grants the request.
So when Herod hears of a new religious fervor sweeping Galilee, He is amazed to learn that it is attached to a new name, Jesus. Some say this person is no ordinary person but a prophet, like one of the prophets of old: Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Amos. Some say surely this figure is Elijah, come back to bring in a new messianic era. Herod joins the voices of those who say, “Surely, this person is John the Baptist, raised from the dead.”
Whatever Herod has heard and thinks about Jesus, he does not know Jesus. It is not enough to just gather bits and pieces of information about Jesus, to be aware of his fame. There is nothing like knowing Jesus. If Herod knew Jesus, he would have known that he was one greater than the prophets, Elijah, and even John.