By the time we get to Matthew chapter 14, Jesus has been ministering for some period of time. He’s called His disciples, trained them and sent them out on their first short term experience. He’s healed many, delivered many and taught a great number of people. He is becoming famous – at least on a regional scale. So it ought not to surprise us that eventually, the political powers would hear about Him. Matthew duly records, “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus.”
Of course, Matthew has already written of Jesus catching the attention of a certain Herod back in chapter 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 has been 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.” But this isn’t the same matter. In the past it was the Magi that alerted the king, not Jesus’ activity. And this isn’t even the same Herod; “On the death of the Herod of the infancy materials the realm was divided and the present Herod, Antipas (one of the previous Herod’s sons), became ruler over Galilee and Perea. […] None of the rulers of the divided territory was allowed by Rome to term himself king. Instead the title ‘tetrarch’ was used. This is literally ‘ruler of a quarter’, but it was used in the NT period more generally for the role of minor princes.”
Getting noticed by King Herod almost cost Jesus His life. It may be that Herod the tetrarch was a lessor force (being a tetrarch instead of a king) and perhaps a more stable personality mental-health wise, but getting noticed by Herod Antipas was still problematic for Jesus. Every political figure who can have people arbitrarily imprisoned and executed is someone you want to avoid interactions with, especially when they’ve already imprisoned your cousin! (see v3). But Herod represented a more unique problem, because Herod was superstitious and prone to jump to his own conclusions: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.””
Herod’s superstitious beliefs could have taken Jesus’ ministry in a wildly different direction. He could have spread word that Jesus was not who He said He was, but rather was John the Baptist, resurrected. That might actually be popular with the uneducated crowd, and with the civic ruler’s respect would’ve gone far in allowing Jesus certain freedoms in movement and speech. However, Jesus did not value notoriety at all, He only valued the work His Father assigned to Him.
To that point, Jesus was not about to risk the confusion, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”
It is always better to follow God’s leading than to pursue prominence!
Alas! Men burn away their lives for the approbation of fellow-creatures.W. Harvey Jellie
God’s good and gracious direction is always more profitable to us than the easy path forward.