Last week we looked at the rule of Caesar Augustus. Jesus comes in the midst of it with a different kind of government. When Augustus ruled with brute force and devastation, Jesus rules with peace and love. It is Jesus Himself who said that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. He is also the one who said, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”
The Kingdom of God is completely different and polar opposite of the Kingdom of darkness (which rules the kingdoms of the world). Lets look now at Jesus and the Herods:
Jesus also was born in the reign of King Herod. If you are Caesar Augustus, and you rule an empire that spans from England to India, how do you rule an area thousands of miles away if it takes you a year just to get there? If you are Caesar Augustus, you put in place different kings and nobles who are under you, but over the people of that area.
In the area of Israel, they found a young warrior who was half Jewish and half Edomite (which, if you know your Bible, you know has a whole lot of other complications in it). He besieged Jerusalem with 11 battalions of infantry and 6000 cavalry. Masses were butchered in the alleys. Herod’s army (all Jews) was intent on letting no one survive. He claimed that he took power by the will of God, but left out the detail that he massacred countless Jews.
Herod had to ultimately pay alms to Caesar, so he built altars and statues everywhere he went. This half Jewish king was putting up statues and altars to a man in a land that the people believed God to say, “Make no graven image,” and, “Worship no other gods beside me.” Right away, you can see he wasn’t well liked.
There is a legend that says that King David, while fleeing from Saul, hid out in the rock outcropping called Masada. So Herod said, “If your greatest king hid out on Masada, then I will live in luxury on Masada.” He built a 3-story palace. He had marble custom cut and designed for it. He had hot and cold baths, as well as hot tubs on Masada. He had Italian marble imported from Rome for columns. On the roof, where it hadn’t rained in 700 years, he had a pool put on. In order to get the water, Herod rebuilt the desert so that water would channel from Jerusalem (17 miles away) through the mountains and to his palace. In one rainfall, he could collect enough rainwater for 10,000 people for 10 years.
He discovered a way to preserve fruit. In the mid-60’s, a group of archeologists discovered a storage room for Herod’s dates and figs, and they undid the jars and ate them. He knew how to preserve fruits for 2000 years.
Herod wanted to build a Greek-styled city on the coast. The problem was, where he wanted to build it, the soil was very swampy and couldn’t be built upon. It is possible this is what Jesus was referencing when He said, “If you don’t follow my teachings, it’s like a man who builds his house on the sand.” Herod rebuilt the coastline. By draining the coastlines and draining the marshes, he was able to reinforce it with cement, and then build the city known as Caesarea. The largest harbor in the world was 60 acres in Athens. So, Herod built his 520 acres. He built an underground sewage system that would drain with the tides. He also built an aqueduct in the mountains for freshwater. It was 19 miles long. For every meter, it would fall a centimeter. To this day (2000 years later) it is less than a centimeter off.
Herod wanted to build a stadium. It was claimed to be more massive than people could imagine. We’ve discovered one, and it wasn’t that large, but then there was another stadium dug up. After discovering 350,000 seats, they are still digging. It’s guessed that there are over 500,000 seats.
There is a legend that says that while Herod was sailing back to Caesarea, he saw the city and was displeased that it wasn’t beautiful enough. So they covered the whole thing in marble. To this day, if you go to the area that Caesarea used to be, you can find pieces of marble in the sand and on the tide.
He had 11 wives and 43 children. He was suspicious of one of his wives, and had her executed. He had a suspicion against one of his sons. The son was drowned in the family pool. Two other sons were brought before him because they were “conniving against him.” After interviewing them, he had them killed. You can actually read the interrogation. It is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes ever recorded.
King Herod had a dispute with the most influential Jews of his time, and so he had them all executed. He, at another time, took the most noble and wisest of the sages of his time, and locked them into a stadium in Jericho, and then said, “When I die, I want you to kill everyone in this stadium. That way there will be a guarantee of weeping and mourning at my death.”
Some historians estimate that he was the richest person who has ever lived. Not just of his time: ever in history. It has been estimated that he had 500,000 people under his payroll. Only he, King Herod, was paying them. This wasn’t a company or anything that spanned nationwide or internationally. King Herod himself had 500,000 employees working for him.
Herod added to the Temple to win some points with the Jews, who pretty much hated him. He had what are called Herodian stones cut out, and then brought them into Jerusalem, and he rebuilt the foundation of the Temple with these stones. The stones are 10 feet by 10 feet by 80 feet. Modern machinery can’t move one of them. They go down into the ground 3 stories. Modern machinery can’t move one of them. He had thousands brought in. Herod was way ahead of the curve.
King Herod built another palace on top of a mountain between Jerusalem and his home country Edom. He drew a line on a map and said, “That’s where I’ll build my palace.” There was only one problem: there wasn’t a mountain where he wanted his palace on a mountain. So, he had a mountain built and put a palace on top of it. You know… like most people do. His palace was called the Herodian. The Herodian had a pool that was 9 feet deep and a gazebo in the middle that you could only get to by boat. Everything Herod did was huge.
By the way, Jesus is on the Mount of Olives teaching in Jerusalem. He is teaching a bunch of high school kids that if you look out and see this mountain with a palace on it, and you look slightly past it, you could see the Dead Sea. And if you have faith, you can speak to that mountain, “Be cast into the Sea,” it will be done for you. Basically, “The stuff Herod is doing… if you have faith… you can do bigger than that…”
He built an aqueduct in Laodecia. He funded the Olympics. He had built fountains and temples and monuments and all sorts of architecture in cities that weren’t in Israel. Stick with me, because this gets really interesting really fast.
In Jerusalem there was no farmland. It was a city. Herod lived in Jerusalem in a palace surrounded by people who he had hired that also lived in Jerusalem. The poor didn’t live in the city Jerusalem. Jerusalem was home of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Herod had control of the major religious establishment. He ruled the government system, the religious system, and the economic system.
One question would be, if there weren’t any farmland in Jerusalem, then where did they get their food? It is believed that in the time of Jesus, 80 or 90 percent of the people of Israel were (or were at some point) some sort of farmer/fisherman/agricultural worker. Many of Jesus’ parables deal with agriculture, because most of the people of His time would have understood this easiest.
Herod took 25 to 30 percent of all the grain, and he took 50 percent of all the fish. So if you were a peasant fisherman, and you’ve been out all night fishing, your nets are full. You come into the dock on the Sea of Galilee. Waiting for you on the dock was a telones. The word telones is the Greek word that has been translated into English as tax collector. The tax collector takes 50 percent for Herod. That’s the law. But then, he is allowed to take as much as he wants for himself. That is the benefit of working for Herod. You don’t like it? You get killed.
A list of some of the taxes would be that you had a Roman tribute tax, a tax because Caesar is god, taxes to Herod, transit trade tax, market exchanges, Temple tax, and then there were taxes on special offerings that you were demanded to perform at various times of the year. People are losing their family lands and are in debt. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
A Roman delegate went to Caesar because Herod had so overtaxed his people that they were in helpless poverty. What is Herod doing with this money? He is building hot tubs on Masada. He is building 500,000 person stadiums. And he is building statues and altars to Caesar. But you, as the common person of Herod’s time, are starving.
This is the reign of Herod: 10 percent have all the wealth and all the power, and the masses are reduced to unbearable poverty. Notice Matthew 2: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who is born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
Why is all Jerusalem disturbed with Herod? The richest of the rich live in Jerusalem. If there is a King of the Jews born, then that means Herod isn’t the king. And if Herod isn’t the king, then this new ruler might have it out for the people of Jerusalem. If you are Herod, what do you think your first reaction to this question would be? “…Who is this next person I’m going to kill?”
The birth of this baby means that an entire system is now going down. Just from Christ’s birth, our Christmas story, there are huge governmental, religious, and economical implications. Herod and his oppressive rule are going down. And those who are in Jerusalem are going with him. This is the way that the Bible introduces this pebble that shatters the feet of Daniel’s statue.
Christmas and the Kingdom
Remember Luke pulls from Caesar being Emperor. And then Matthew pulls from Herod being king of the Jews. In both cases, the question is “Who is the king? Who is Lord? Who do you follow?” The Magi came from the east and saw a star, and then Caesar claimed this star to be the proof of his lordship.
Maybe another way to put it is this: Who is your Lord? Caesar or Christ? Power or peace? Who is your King? Herod or Jesus? Is power your king? Is authority your king? Is wealth your king? Who is the king? Who is Lord? Government? Statues? Stature? Hot tubs? Palaces? Who is the king? Who is Lord?
Now we have the Kingdom presented in such a way that we can understand it. You have polar opposites. Is your kingdom about the things of this world? Or is it about this Jesus and the way that He taught us to live? What does this have to say about religion? What about politics? What about obeying authority?
Has Caesar been a good ruler? Has he brought you peace? Has Herod been all that you have hoped he would be? Have the rulers and the governments over you really brought you the peace that you were hoping for? Have they really supplied for your needs? Or are your needs deeper than stuff? Are your needs and your deepest longings for something bigger and greater than that which has been given you? Choose ye this day: Caesar or Christ? Herod or Jesus?
Have food stamps saved anyone? Has anyone been better off in life because they have health insurance? Does life get easier when we have these conveniences? Our tax money goes to pay for things like health insurance, food stamps, social security, Medicare, upkeep of unused buildings (that could be used to shelter the homeless if our Government really did care about us), great scientific studies like whether sick shrimp perform as well on a treadmill as healthy shrimp, army expenses, paying off the interest on our nation’s debt, veteran’s benefits, and government jobs such as postal workers or police officers. But I have to ask the question: as necessary as some of these things are, is it really benefiting the common person? Who is Lord? Does our Government satisfy our deepest needs, or do they only provide (sometimes) for our external luxuries?
It is striking to me that when you start talking in these terms, some people just don’t follow you. You start to realize the question to ask isn’t about needs anymore. If the answer to these questions about whether the system of the world has worked for you is yes, then most likely you are one of the people living in Jerusalem. If you can continue to go to church and not have some sort of longing in your heart for something bigger and more authentic, then you are probably in Jerusalem. If you don’t feel the need to release the poor from their oppression, then you are in Jerusalem with King Herod. This Kingdom has never been, nor will ever be, intended for you. This is why Jesus said, “It is very difficult for the rich to make it into the Kingdom of God.”
There are some who are in the system and they love every minute of it. There are others who are in the system and they know something is wrong. You have examples in the Bible of such: Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Obviously, not all of the tax collectors were hell-bent on wickedness. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and there is good evidence that more Pharisees followed Jesus secretly.
I know that these aren’t necessarily ending with a conclusion. This is a continuous study, and so I don’t want to end with a conclusion. You can tie these studies back to back to find a full story.
Next time, lets talk about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. =)