Mark 6:14–29—Herod and the death of John the Baptist

14 Herod Antipas, the king, soon heard about Jesus, because people everywhere were talking about him. Some were saying, “This must be John the Baptist come back to life again. That is why he can do such miracles.” 15 Others thought Jesus was the ancient prophet Elijah. Still others thought he was a prophet like the other great prophets of the past. 16 When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.” 17 For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. 18 John kept telling Herod, “It is illegal for you to marry your brother’s wife.” 19 Herodias was enraged and wanted John killed in revenge, but without Herod’s approval she was powerless. 20 And Herod respected John, knowing that he was a good and holy man, so he kept him under his protection. Herod was disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him. 21 Herodias’s chance finally came. It was Herod’s birthday, and he gave a party for his palace aides, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. 22 Then his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased them all. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” 23 Then he promised, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half of my kingdom!” 24 She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother told her, “Ask for John the Baptist’s head!”25 So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!” 26 Then the king was very sorry, but he was embarrassed to break his oath in front of his guests. 27 So he sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison,
28 brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came for his body and buried it in a tomb.

Points of Interest:

  • ‘people everywhere were talking about him’—The miracles and teaching of Jesus and his disciples are causing quite a stir. Rumors of him even reach the king. And the big question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Who is this guy?’ They’ve seen and heard enough to know that he’s no ordinary man, but they don’t know exactly what it all means.
  • “John kept telling Herod, ‘It is illegal for you to marry your brother’s wife.’”—John the Baptist speaks with integrity. He has the same message for the king as he has for everyone else: turn from your sins.
  • ‘Herod was disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen’—He likes to hear John’s message of repentance; it rings true to him. Yet, he doesn’t have the resolve to actually make the path straight for Jesus. He refuses to repent. In the end, rather than listening to John’s message, he cuts off the source of the words. He chooses not to turn. Because of that, when Jesus comes, he can’t see him. He can’t reach out and grasp the kingdom of God, because rather than seeing Jesus all he sees is John’s ghost. His own doubly guilty conscience gets in the way of Jesus coming to him.
  • ‘I will give you whatever you ask, up to half of my kingdom!’—Herod is playacting a bit here. He’s acting more magnificent than he really is. In point of fact, he doesn’t have the authority to give away half of his kingdom: he is a puppet king of Rome, and only the Romans have the authority to divide his kingdom. But his vanity costs him dearly: because of his foolish oath, he is forced to do what he doesn’t want to do: kill John the Baptist.
  • This is the first passage since Jesus’ baptism in which Jesus isn’t the primary actor. All along, we’ve seen life in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom full of freedom, healing, deliverance, and dignity. Here we get to compare Jesus’ kingdom with the kingdom of Herod. In Herod’s kingdom, there is entrapment, death, and debasement. Praise Jesus for bringing his kingdom.

Taking it Home:

  • For you: Part of Herod’s mess is caused by his flippant promise. It would have been best if he had never made it. It would have been better for him to face the embarrassment of breaking his word than seeing it through, but he felt stuck. Is a foolish promise keeping you back from responding to the good news? What are the consequences of extricating yourself from the promise? Ask Jesus if that’s what you should do, and ask for the strength to do it.
  • For your 6: Herod is intrigued by the message of John, but to listen to it would have big consequences for his life. He isn’t willing to face those consequences. Our friends may also be daunted by the effects following Jesus would have on their lives. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give them boldness to move forward. Also, Herod’s decision to listen is made more complex by the fact that his wife is completely uninterested. Pray for the close relationships of your 6 that they would also be open to Jesus and his words.
  • For our church: Jesus sent the twelve out, and it caused a stir. But the buzz was about Jesus, not the disciples. Pray that our work as a church will cause a buzz here in San Diego, and that the buzz will be about Jesus, not our church.