Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9
1. At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, 2. And said to his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is raised from the dead, and therefore miracles work in him.
14. And king Herod heard of him, (for his name had become celebrated,) and said, John, who baptized, hath risen from the dead, and therefore miracles are performed by him. 15. Others said, It is Elijah; and others said, It is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. 16. But when Herod heard that, he said, It is John whom I beheaded, he hath rasen from the dead.
7. Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him, and was perplexed, because it was said by some that Christ had risen from the dead; 8. And by some, that Elijah had appeared; and by others, that one of the ancient prophets had risen again. 9. And Herod said, John have I beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him.
The reason why the Evangelists relate this occurrence is, to inform us that the name of Christ was universally celebrated, and, therefore, the Jews could not be excused on the plea of ignorance. Many might otherwise have been perplexed by this question, “How came it that, while Christ dwelt on the earth, Judea remained in a profound sleep, as if he had withdrawn into some corner, and had displayed to none his divine power?” The Evangelists accordingly state, that the report concerning him was everywhere spread abroad, and penetrated even into the court of Herod.
2. And said to his servants. From the words of Luke it may be inferred, that Herod did not of his own accord adopt this conjecture, but that it was suggested to him by a report which was current among the people. And, indeed, I have no doubt that the hatred which they bore to the tyrant, and their detestation of so shocking a murder, gave rise, as is commonly the ease, to those rumors. It was a superstition deeply rooted, as we have formerly mentioned, in the minds of men, that the dead return to life in a different person. Nearly akin to this is the opinion which they now adopt, that Herod, when he cruelly put to death the holy man, was far from obtaining what he expected; because he had suddenly risen from the dead by the miraculous power of God, and would oppose and attack his enemies with greater severity than ever.
Mark and Luke, however, show that men spoke variously on this subject: some thought that he was Elijah, and others that he was one of the prophets, or that he was so eminently endued with the gifts of the Spirit, that he might be compared to the prophets. The reason why they thought that he might be Elijah, rather than any other prophet, has been already stated. Malachi having predicted (Mal. 4:5, 6) that Elijah would come to gather the scattered Church, they misunderstood that prediction as relating to the person of Elijah, instead of being a simple comparison to the following effect: “That the coming of Messiah may not be unknown, and that the people may not remain ignorant of the grace of redemption, there will be an Elijah to go before, like him who of old raised up that which was fallen, and the worship of God which had been overthrown. He will go before, by a remarkable power of the Spirit, to proclaim the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” The Jews, with their usual grossness of interpretation, had applied this to Elijah the Tishbite, (1Ki 17:1,) as if he were to appear again and discharge the office of a prophet. Others again conjecture, either that some one of the ancient prophets had risen, or that he was some great man, who approached to them in excellence.
It was astonishing that, amidst the diversity of views which were suggested, the true interpretation did not occur to any one; more especially as the state of matters at that very time directed them to Christ. God had promised to them a Redeemer, who would relieve them when they were distressed and in despair. The extremity of affliction into which they had been plunged was a loud call for divine assistance. The Redeemer is at hand, who had been so clearly pointed out by the preaching of John, and who himself testifies respecting his office. They are compelled to acknowledge that some divine power belongs to him, and yet they fall into their own fancies, and change him into the persons of other men. It is thus that the world is wont, in base ingratitude, to obliterate the remembrance of the favors which God has bestowed.
With respect to Herod himself, as I hinted, little ago, the conjecture that John had risen did not at first occur to himself; but as bad consciences are wont to tremble and hesitate, and turn with every wind, he readily believed what he dreaded. With such blind terrors God frequently alarms wicked men; so that, after all the pains they take to harden themselves, and to escape agitation, their internal executioner gives them no rest, but chastises them with severity.
And therefore miracles work in him. We naturally wonder what reasoning could have led them to this conclusion. John had performed no miracle during the whole course of his preaching. There appears to be no probability, therefore, in the conjecture, that it was John whom they saw performing extraordinary miracles. But they imagine that miracles are now performed by him for the first time, in order to prove his resurrection, and to show that the holy prophet of God had been wickedly put to death by Herod, and now came forward with a visible and divine protection, that no man might afterwards venture to assail him. They think that miracles work (ἐνεζγοῦσιν) in him; that is, are powerfully displayed, so as to give him greater authority, and make it evident that the Lord is with him.