Mark 6:14–29 NRSV – King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 6:15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 6:16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 6:17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 6:18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 6:19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 6:20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 6:21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 6:22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 6:23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 6:24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 6:25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 6:26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 6:27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 6:28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 6:29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Summary – The incident of the death of John the Baptizer is well known. It demonstrates the level of wickedness that indwelt the Herodian dynasty. Herod the Great had claimed to be “King of the Jews” and as we read in Matthew 2, He tried to kill Jesus. Here the apple does not fall far from the tree – This king is actually Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. Mark portrays him like Ahab, the Old Testament king of Israel in the episode with Elijah, since John is an Elijah. The scheming Herodias is a Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, who had a special hatred for Elijah (1 Kings 16:29-19:3; 21:1-29). In the end John’s head is served on a platter as though they have complete power over John, the most powerful prophet of God. But it becomes clear through the rest of the Gospel and in Acts, the only power they have is what God has permitted for His own purposes.
Insight – If we only had this portion of the Gospel to read it would seem as though the enemies of God are winning. But this is not true and is only one moment in the grand Story of our salvation. God is in control and John’s death set the stage for Jesus’s death. Through Jesus’s death and resurrection he took the throne of heaven to rule the world and be the true king. As Jesus would say later to Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10). At His trial Jesus said, “I am [Messiah]; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” (14:62) Therefore we should never fret if rulers do evil since Jesus reigns.
Catechism – How did John the Baptist die? He was beheaded by Herod Antipas.
Discussion – Are there evil rulers in the world today? How is God using them to accomplish His purposes?
Prayer – Father in Heaven, You have raised Jesus to be the True King and Lord of all, Grant us the faith to trust in His power and endure until His kingship is visible to all the world. We pray in His mighty name. Amen.