Christmas and the Most Unhappy Man
He missed Christmas. Not only did he miss it, but he also sought to destroy it.
He was called Herod the Great. At the age of 25 or 28, in 47 BC, he was appointed the governor of Galilee by his father, Antipater. His position was thus, not something he earned. His career was marked by his attempts to “climb the ladder” and appearances before Roman leadership to vie for positions of importance. In 40 BC, he was surprisingly appointed King of the Jews.
He ruled 34 years. While he considered himself a Jew, his decadent lifestyle suggests his religion was only to gain influence among the people he ruled. He executed members of his own family, including his wife—anyone he believed represented a threat to his rule. He even used secret police to monitor the general feelings of his subjects toward him. He suppressed protests and had 2,000 bodyguards.
He rebuilt the Second Temple and undertook great building projects, including large fortresses. These projects were designed to garner him favor with the people, yet they were paid for with heavy taxes on the people he was supposedly benefiting.
In Matthew 2, the Bible records that Magi came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” Little could they realize the tumult caused by their request to this paranoid king. He could not rejoice in the idea of a Messiah, a Savior or Redeemer. The Bible understates the impact of the request:
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
He feigned interest in the birth of the Messiah, but only as a way to discern the potential challenger to his throne. And when he learned the Magi held no loyalty to him, he embarked on a sweeping plan: He would kill every child in the age vicinity within Bethlehem.
No matter the outcry of the people, the distaste of his Roman authorities, Herod acted—to save his throne. He could only see himself: his needs, his position, his place. He sought permanence through the buildings that he built and the supposed favor that he bought.
But he missed Christmas. He missed the coming of the Savior.
Sadly, the historical accounts tell us that Herod died a terrible death—fever, ulcerations, stench, and convulsions.¹ For a short season, he may have saved his position and power, but in the end he lost it all.