Have you ever wondered how different life would be as a king or queen? OR Do you think Queen Elizabeth watches Neighbours?
Read Mark 6:14-29
This story of the death of John the baptist is included in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). It appears in Mark right in the middle of the mission that the disciples are sent on. Jesus sent his Twelve Disciples off on mission in Mark 6:6-13 and Mark records their return from mission in Mark 6:30. While they are spreading the news about the kingdom of God, calling people to repent and believe, healing and casting out demons, we are given this account of John the Baptist. On the ground, the disciples are spreading the news of the kingdom, but in the earthly kingdom of Herod, we see sin with no repentance and a mishearing of who Jesus is.
- 14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus
- 17-20 What Herod heard from John
- 21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!
14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus
“King Herod heard about this…” This is referring to the mission that the disciples were on. The commotion in the streets caused by the disciples preaching a message of repentance had reached the ears of Herod. We are brought from the real street-talk of the kingdom of God into the house of an earthly king. See Luke 3:1 for a scope of the rulers of the day. Herod was the tetrarch over Galilee. It lists four men ruling different regions under the higher reign of Tiberius Caesar. One of the four was Herod’s brother Philip.
“Some were saying… John… Elijah… A prophet…” Jesus’ name was not in question but what was his position or identity. His name was well known but what about his calling or importance? Malachie 4:5 will help understand why Elijah is listed and why the disciples repeat this rumour in Chapter 8. Ironically, it is John the Baptist who is the Elijah figure predicted to come as he was one of the prophets like the Old Testament prophets whose primary message was to call Israel to repent and return to the LORD. A prophet like Elijah would come and prepare the way for the LORD. This was John the Baptist (Mark 9:12-13). As readers of this story, we are meant to realise how wrong they all are – that they misunderstood Elijah and rejected his call to repent – how then will they understand who Jesus is?
“But when Herod heard this, he said…” Herod’s conclusion is that Elijah has somehow come back from the dead with even greater powers than he had before.
17-20 What Herod heard from John
“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested…” We are taken back in time to understand Herod’s experience with John. What follows is a story of lust and sexual immorality; of a call to repent and a man who doesn’t disagree but unwilling to repent.
“…Herod feared John… when Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” This is the profile of someone who is unable to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Many people responded to John’s ministry of repentance and repented. Herod revered John as a holy man but what he spoke about puzzled him.
21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!
“Finally the opportune time came.” This refers to Herodias’ dilemma in Verse 19. She had a grudge against John. He was a nuisance to whatever her ambitions were. The size of this grudge comes out further when we hear how it is released.
“…the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.” You can imagine alcohol and festivities and the passion of the moment and pride and the want to impress the rulers that have been invited to the party. This is not a PG rated party. Herod is swept up in the moment and promises his niece anything up to half the kingdom. Wow!
“She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Herodias must have had quite the influence over her daughter. The offer has already been suggested: half the kingdom! Why not take that offer?
“The head of John the Baptist.” The grudge is strong. Her hate of John focuses her attention and dismisses all other possibilities.
“On hearing this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” The story is complete with the outside world hearing what has taken place inside the governor’s house. This earthly ruler behaves so unimpressively. His kingdom offers nothing but selfish ambition. He is more concerned with saving face than with righteousness and justice.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. Look up Luke 3:1 to hear who is listed as important in Jesus’ day. A tetrarch is a sub-ruler. By telling us the story about Herod and John, what contrast is Mark giving us to consider?
Q2. What had Herod heard about? What conclusions were being made about Jesus from Herod’s palace? What were they getting right and what were they getting wrong?
Q3. What issues did John the Baptist have with Herod and what does the bible teach about these things?
Q4. Given all we know from this story, how would you describe the kingdom of Herod?
Q5. Why do you think Mark (and Matthew and Luke) includes this story in the gospel?
There is a scene change in the gospel of Mark. While the disciples spread the good news of the kingdom of God, we are taken to an earthly ruler who has no backbone or care for righteous living. He hears the talk about Jesus and is filled with fear. We hear the word of what went on inside his home and are filled with disgust. He had the prophet who God sent to point people to Jesus right in his house – imprisoned – but he killed him, letting lust and pride rule. Herod heard about Jesus but did not hear about the kingdom of God. Herod heard from John but did not understand. He heard from his family and submitted to sin.
Challenge#1 Human government and us
Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2 teach us to pray for our governments and have respect for their authority. It does not follow that we are to agree with their conduct or decisions. This can be a complicated area of discussion but isn’t it possible to live as citizens of this world but love the kingdom of God because it is so much better? People in this world will often disappoint us. The greatest people in the kingdom of God are those who live for Christ and give him the highest respect. John the Baptist spoke the truth to the ruler and faced the consequences for it.
Challenge#2 Lust, envy, hate and pride
These things are to be put to death in us. The fruit of the spirit feeds none of these things. Romans 8 teaches us to give energy to the Spirit and not to the desires and passions of the flesh. Sin is destructive and the Spirit gives life. When the outworkings of the flesh appear, turn back to God and repent.
Challenge#3 The kingdom of God is not in palaces
While we read about the mayhem in the court of Herod, the real kingdom growth was happening in the villages. The news of this world will revolve around what is happening in politics and sport. Very little attention is given to people turning back to God. This emphasis will be turned on its head one day when everyone sees Jesus as King and that everything that we thought was great in this world is nothing compared to him.