While exploring Herod’s fortress at Masada, visitors are immediately struck by its extravagance and grandeur. It housed two palaces and provided a tremendous view of the Dead Sea. It featured every luxury for which a person in the first century could have hoped, including heated baths. It was a home fit for a king.
Herod was a cruel and unjust ruler, and seems to have suffered from paranoia. This would lead to the deaths of several family members, including three sons and his beloved wife Mariamne. He was a friend to emperor Augustus, having helped save the Olympic Games, among other things. Yet even Augustus is said to have once remarked that he would have rather been Herod’s pig than his son. Observing the Mosaic law, Herod would have never eaten pork. His family did not enjoy the same measure of protection.
During the final years of Herod’s life, another king was born – one who would come to be known as the King of Kings. He was different from Herod in almost every way. We might contrast these two powerful men:
- Herod enjoyed splendid accommodations; Jesus remarked that he had nowhere to lay his head.
- Herod’s rule was characterized by brutality and cruelty; Jesus is known for love and compassion.
- Herod desperately clung to his throne and his crown; Christ emptied himself to come to earth and serve.
- Herod’s rule was temporal; Christ’s rule is eternal.
Herod’s kingdom would eventually go the way of all nations on earth. The Romans ravaged Judea in the First Jewish-Roman War of AD 66-73. Jerusalem fell in AD 70. The temple was destroyed and its treasures looted. The Romans took Masada about three years later in a siege that lasted anywhere from two to six months.
Herod’s legacy is to be remembered as a despot who schemed and murdered to maintain his own power. Jesus could hardly be more different, giving up his throne in heaven to become a servant.
Jesus and Herod represent the only two ways of living on earth. Either we embrace God’s Son and enjoy eternal life in his kingdom, or we side with the powers on earth and participate in their eventual doom. A ruined and abandoned palace, or an empty tomb – the choice is ours.