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Years ago a popular television show often ended with the masked hero riding off into the sunset as someone at the rescue scene inquired, "Who was that masked man?" This passage has very much the same flavor. Reports of Jesus' activity have reached the nation's highest political levels. Herod is hearing about what Jesus is doing, and he is attempting to assess who Jesus is. He is perplexed. Like many who encounter Jesus, he is not sure where Jesus fits.
Is Jesus John . . . raised from the dead? (This probably means people speculate that John's spirit now resides in Jesus.) Others have suggested Elijah, which makes Jesus a prophet of the end times (Mal 3:1; 4:5). The third option is that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. Interestingly, all these options have a prophetic thrust. Clearly God is behind Jesus' activity. But where exactly does he fit? Herod has beheaded John, so why is he hearing such things about someone else? Are prophets proliferating before his eyes? The possibilities pique Herod's curiosity, and he desires to see Jesus.
This passage continues Luke's "who is this?" discussion about Jesus. Here Herod serves an as example of one trying to come to grips with who Jesus is. His curiosity and openness end the passage on a note of reflection. Such curiosity is natural when one looks at Jesus from a distance. But who Jesus really is cannot be discovered through secondhand reports and rumors. Genuine testimony about Jesus comes a little later in Luke (9:20). Those who give testimony there will recognize that the One through whom such powerful works occur is more than a prophet.