“But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’ For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” - Mark 6:16-20
This portion of Mark’s Gospel is unique in that it contains the only narrative that does not center around Jesus. Instead, Mark describes the events leading up to the execution of John the Baptist. As the forerunner to Jesus, John was the last and greatest prophet. Jesus himself commended his faith: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). Throughout his ministry, John proclaimed the kingdom of God, called people to repentance, and baptized them in the river Jordan. As a prophet, he was not afraid to be bold and challenging, even when addressing high-ranking officials such as King Herod.
As we have seen, however, prophets were not always welcome or honored. Such was the plight of John the Baptist. He exposed the indecency and immorality of the king and his family line, and there was plenty to reveal. Herod was one of many sons born to the ten wives of Herod the Great, who reigned when Jesus was born. When the elder Herod heard that a new king (Jesus) had been born, he decreed that all males under a year old must be killed. Nice guy! The current king was following in his father’s footsteps by living a life of indulgence, sin, and debauchery. He even divorced his own wife so he could marry his brother’s!
John the Baptist called the younger Herod out and held him accountable for his actions. While the king did not appreciate the rebuke or change his ways, he did respect and fear John as a godly person. Mark tells us he was intrigued and perplexed by John’s teachings, and it seems the two men had several conversations. Herod even protected John (albeit temporarily) from his new bride, who demanded the prophet’s life. Of course, he also kept John imprisoned to appease his wife. And later, despite his misgivings and regrets, he ultimately executed John to save his own pride. No wonder he was afraid Jesus was John reincarnate!
In Jesus’ day, the righteous were executed while the ungodly sat on thrones. Though Herod sat on a throne in Tiberius, he did not enjoy peace and security his reign. In killing John the Baptist, Herod suffered tremendous guilt and fear. That guilt and fear led to his distorted view of Jesus. Instead of seeing Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who was the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, Herod feared Jesus to be a reincarnated John the Baptist. Meanwhile, King Herod fervently sought to protect and expand his rule.
Mark will continue to drive home his question of who Jesus is. King Herod’s answer to that question was driven by his fear, shame, and regret which leads to the question – is there anything that taints your view of Jesus. Has your own guilt or fear ever distorted your view of Jesus and what he came to do?
Reflect and Respond:
How might the Lord be calling you to a new perspective of Jesus and the kingdom of God? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the Living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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