Herod murdered John the Baptist at some point between Matthew 11 and Matthew 14. To me, this makes Jesus’ statements of comfort to John in chapter 11 even more poignant.
Shortly following John’s death, word came to Herod of the great deeds and miracles associated with Jesus’ ministry. Though John had worked no miracle (John 10:41), Herod believed that Jesus was an incarnation of John, empowered by God to perform miracles. For what purpose and to what end Herod feared is uncertain. Perhaps he feared that there would be an uprising against him by those who were drawn to this reincarnated character whom he had imprisoned and killed. Or, maybe he feared (not unlike the Jews in Acts 2:36-37) that this resurrected and Divinely empowered character would seek him out to exact revenge. Regardless, the thought of John’s resurrection terrified Herod.
But why? Herod knew that John was a man of God (Mark 6:20). Such was manifested in the integrity of his preaching. Even those who are in the wrong can appreciate the courage of a subordinate who is willing to declare “the emperor has no clothes.”
Herod knew that what John had said against him was right. Unlike one of the other tetrarchs or a political foe, John had no personal grievance or axe to grind against Herod.
Herod put many innocent people to death (cf Matt 2:16-18), likely without losing sleep, but John was different. Recognizing this, Herod’s conscience ran wild at the possibilities that were before him.
Herod’s problems centered in his instability to control his sensual desires and his pride. He had taken as a wife a woman whom he had no right to marry, and his brother’s wife at that! He allowed his lusts to override his good judgment when his step daughter had danced provocatively before him, making a promise he never thought he’d have to keep. Finally, his pride would not allow him to right the wrong he had committed in making his foolish pledge (v 9).