Many Pawns, One King
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of The Lutheran Ambassador and is posted here with permission.
In Matthew 2:3-6 (ESV), we read:
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’"
Herod seems to have been a powerful man. And yet “Herod the Great” (as he is often called) was really just a pawn of the devil, his true master. Revelation 12 portrays the devil as the great dragon standing before the woman as she’s about to give birth in order to destroy the Christ-child. Therefore, in Matthew 2 it must be that Satan is holding the reins as Herod the king seeks to destroy the child born king of the Jews. Herod was a pawn of the devil.
The chief priests and scribes, in turn, were pawns of King Herod. He wanted to know where the Christ was to be born. The chief priests and the scribes were assembled in order to serve Herod’s purpose of destroying the Christ, although they didn’t know this was his purpose. If they had known they likely would not have helped him. But they were the unwitting pawns of Herod, a pawn of the devil.
They gave him the information he needed. Micah 5:2 contains a straightforward prophecy that the ruler of God’s people will come from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Unlike the wicked rulers of Israel in Micah’s time, it is promised that this king will “shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD...and they shall dwell secure...and he shall be their peace” (5:4-5). This shepherd will be the Christ, the true king coming from the line of David.
Above I wrote that if the chief priests and scribes knew that Herod meant to destroy the Christ they likely would not have helped him. That was before they got to know who this child would grow up to be. Suffice it to say that by the end of Matthew’s Gospel they knowingly gathered and “plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (26:4). In retrospect we see that their initial gathering in chapter two was a preview of their gathering in chapter twenty-six to carry out Herod’s original purpose, to destroy the Christ. Of course they didn’t actually think Jesus was the Christ. They thought they were about to do a great service to God by killing a blasphemer. But they were deceived. They, too, were pawns of the devil.
In chapter two, Herod needs help from the chief priests and the scribes to carry out his plan. By chapter twenty-seven it’s the chief priests and the scribes who need help from Herod! By this time, though, Herod the Great was dead. One of his successors, Pontius Pilate, would have to do. He had the power to order Jesus’ execution but found no basis for doing so. Thus, the chief priests and the elders incited the crowd to demand his crucifixion. Pilate caved to the riotous mob and consented to the will of the chief priests. He turned out to be an effective pawn in their hands.
While Jesus hung on the cross, the chief priests and the scribes mocked him:
“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Mt. 27:42-43)
In their glee, they thought everything had gone according to plan. Jesus is crucified. “Checkmate,” they thought. Yet while they stood on top of Mount Calvary mocking Jesus, Psalm 2:4-6 declares that,
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
You see, all the other characters in this story—Herod, the chief priests, the scribes, Pilate, and the devil himself—were pawns. Only Jesus is King.