Today, there are certain names that are known in every community. It might be a political leader, athlete, or entertainer. But no matter where you go, most people know who that person is because his or her fame has kept them in the news. Their reputation precedes them. In this chapter, we are introduced to a person that everyone at the time would have known. It was King Herod. Who exactly was this man? “Herod Antipas [was] the son of Herod the Great and Malthace, a Samaritan.”4 He “was tetrarch (ruler of a fourth part of his father’s kingdom) of Galilee and Perea under the aegis of Rome from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39 (cf. Matt. 14:1; Luke 3:19; 9:7). Officially he was not a king but Mark’s use of the title probably reflected local custom in view of Herod’s covetous ambitions.”1 (Read Luke 3:1-2 for a list of the other tetrarchs at this time.) What this tells us is that Herod Antipas was the ruler over the area in which Jesus had been ministering. And what we learn about him in today’s study will reveal what he thought about Jesus and how he responded to God’s message.
- What Herod thought about Jesus (Mark 6:14-16)
What does it say?
As Jesus ministered in various areas, His name became well known to everyone. I wouldn’t be surprised if the formerly demon-possessed man from Gadera was still telling his story on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But the same could be said about the people who knew about Jairus’ daughter being raised back to life, the woman in the crowd who had been healed by Jesus, or the man healed of a withered hand. These miracles had gotten the attention of the entire area. Jesus did what nobody else could because of who He is.
But what did people think about Jesus? King Herod had heard about Jesus and believed that He was John the Baptist raised back to life. While that story will be told a bit later, this shows us that “the murder of John had taken place previous to this point in the ministry of Jesus.”3 “Others thought He must be the promised Elijah, who, according to Malachi, was to come to call Israel to repentance before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”8 Others thought that Jesus was “the Prophet” or at least that he was similar to one of the old prophets. Moses had prophesied that the Lord would raise up a prophet like him that they would listen to in the future (Deut. 18:15). Perhaps the people thought that Jesus was this prophet. But Herod was adamant that Jesus was John the Baptist whom he had beheaded. He believed that John had somehow come back to life.
What does it mean?
This part of the passage shows us that people are often ignorant of who Jesus is. As you read through the different responses to Jesus, it is clear that the people were not aware of who Jesus really was. They thought He was John the Baptist, Elijah, or a prophet. In each case, these were speculations that were never confirmed but were talked about nonetheless. How many of these people went to Jesus and asked Him who He was? How many took the time to listen to Him or to consider Who He was? It seems that none of them did. They were content to live with their ignorance about Him.
How does it apply?
Things haven’t changed much today. People are still content with their pre-conceived notions about Jesus without spending a whole lot of time investigating His identity for themselves. They look at what the Bible says about Him and find it interesting but not important. He said and did some great things, but none of that really makes a difference in their day-to-day lives.
What about you? Have you had the same response to Jesus? Have you just considered Him to be another great teacher from the past? Or have you been convinced that He is the Son of God, God who became a man, and the great Savior of mankind? Let me encourage you to continue studying the Bible. Read ahead in the Gospel of Mark and ask God to show you who Jesus really is. What you will find about Jesus (if you trust in Him) will change your life.
- What Herod thought about John (Mark 6:17-20)
What does it say?
Before Jesus had become well known, John the Baptist was the preacher most talked about in the Jordan area. But his ministry had been curtailed by his arrest and imprisonment. Herod had imprisoned him for the sake of his wife whose name was Herodias. Why did he do this? He did it because John had confronted him about him marrying his brother’s wife. Herod had been married to a Nabataean princess5 but “he became enamored with his half-niece Herodias (daughter of his half-brother, Aristobulus) who was married to Herod’s half-brother … Philip (her half-uncle; cf. Josephus The Antiquities of the Jews 18. 5. 1-2). They [Philip and Herodias] had a daughter Salome. Herod divorced his wife in order to marry Herodias who had divorced Philip.”2 What a mess! When his first wife of many years realized that she was being abandoned for another woman, she fled back to her father. With all that had gone on, is there any wonder why John the Baptist had confronted Herod about his relationship to Herodias?
But this didn’t go over well with Herod’s new wife. Herodias held a grudge against John the Baptist for what he had said to Herod. She was so angry that she wanted to murder him. “The parallel to the Old Testament story of Jezebel is obvious.”6 But Herodias was not able to do anything because of Herod’s respect for John. He realized that John was just and holy and chose to protect him rather than doing his wife’s bidding. The strange thing is that Herod, despite his sinful relationship with Herodias, gladly listened to John the Baptist for some reason. Perhaps he was being convinced of his sin and need to repent.
What does it mean?
This part of the passage shows us that people need to be confronted about their sin. Mark recorded these events to show us how believers should interact with people about their sins against God. John the Baptist confronted Herod (and Herodias) about their adulterous relationship. He told Herod that it was unlawful to have his brother’s wife. This conversation must have been difficult, but it was God’s way of providing sinful Herod and Herodias the opportunity to know the truth and then repent of it. The ultimate goal is for people to know God’s perspective about their sin. When they know about their sin and how it keeps them from having a right relationship with God, they are given the opportunity to change and to be reconciled to Him.
How does it apply?
When we talk to people about the Bible, about Jesus, and about faith, we may be tempted to make things easier for them. We could say something like, “Ask Jesus into your life and He will make things so much better.” But is this the message that John the Baptist preached? Is this the message that Jesus preached? Is this the message that the early Christians preached? No, it is not. If we want to be faithful in giving out God’s truth, we must follow in the steps of people like John the Baptist who addressed the sin issue before pointing people to the forgiveness found in Jesus.
Do you understand that? Here is the problem. Each of us has offended God by our sinfulness. When we lie, steal, lust, hate, and covet, we are going against God’s ways. He hates our sin so much that He will eventually condemn sinners to eternity in the lake of fire. If you don’t address your sin problem, that is where you will eventually end up. And that is why you need to be confronted about your sin. But this is also why you need to learn about Jesus, because He is the only One who can take care of your sins, forgive you, and make you right with God. If you haven’t done so yet, repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus while you can. The Bible is filled with examples of terribly sinful people who have been reconciled to God when they repented of their sin and put their faith in Jesus. “And such were some of you…” (1 Cor. 6:11).
- What Herod did to John (Mark 6:21-29)
What does it say?
But there came a day when Herodias had the opportunity to take her revenge against John the Baptist. On his birthday, Herod held a feast for his nobles, upper-level military officers, and the chief men of Galilee. The daughter of Herodias performed a dance in front of these men. Grassmick thinks that her dance was “provocative.”2 Hiebert agrees as “such solo dances were grossly suggestive … comparable to a striptease act in a modern nightclub. They were regularly performed by professional entertainers of low moral character, and it was an almost unprecedented thing for Salome to perform such a dance before Herod’s guests.”7 While this seems shocking to us, we have to remember who Herod Antipas was. He was an adulterous man who had left his wife for another woman. With this in mind, this dance from his step-daughter should not surprise us. Herod and his guests enjoyed the girl’s dance.
Herod responded to her by offering her anything she wanted up to half his kingdom. Not knowing what to ask for, the daughter consulted with her mother who instructed her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. In other words, she told her daughter to ask for Herod to execute John. The daughter went back to the banquet hall and asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. The fact that she asked for his head on a platter seems to indicate that she was as vile a person as her mother was. After hearing her request, King Herod was struck with the foolishness of his offer. He was sorry that he had made her the offer, but because he had sworn to give her whatever she asked and because of the peer-pressure from the people who were sitting around him, he gave in. He sent the executioner to John’s prison cell and had him beheaded. The severed head was then placed on a platter and given to the girl who then gave it to her mother. “One can imagine how Herodias gloated over the gruesome object as she realized those cold lips would never again charge her with adultery or other sins.”9 While Herodias was celebrating her victory over John the Baptist, his disciples came and took away his body and buried it in a tomb.
What does it mean?
This part of the passage shows us that people will do anything to cover their sins. Despite his willingness to listen to John, Herod put him in prison because of his adulterous relationship with Herodias. Herodias wanted John the Baptist dead because she loved her sin more than God. Salome, Herodias’ daughter, was willing to follow her mother’s murderous plot because she loved her sinful lifestyle. In each case, the person was willing to do whatever it took to continue their sinful way of life despite the atrocities that needed to be committed. This is ample evidence of what the Bible says elsewhere.
John 3:19 – “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
How does it apply?
What about you? Are you so much better than these people? I don’t mean to infer that you would commit murder to cover your sins. However, there have many people over the years that have gone to great lengths to cover their sins and appease their conscience. Think of King David who tried to cover his adultery and Bathsheba’s pregnancy by bringing her husband home from the war. But when he refused to go home for the night, David decided to plan his death during the next conflict. This terrible story is covered in 2 Samuel 11.
Have you been attempting to cover your own sin? If so, please note that David was unable to keep God from knowing what had happened. He was later confronted by Nathan the prophet and was judged by God for his sins. You can’t escape God’s judgment by hiding your sin. So don’t even try. Instead, take a moment to allow God to convict you about your sin. As He convicts your conscience, repent of that sin and turn from it to God. This is the only way that you can have God’s forgiveness.
The death of John the Baptist is not an enjoyable story to read. It is gruesome and full of sinful people who were enemies of all that God wanted to do at the time. While their actions removed the person who had confronted them about their sin, their actions did not remove the problem itself. Their sin and its results still remained. Sin is something that has affected many lives over the years. Sins such as adultery, fornication, and drunkenness have torn apart families. But these are not the only ones. Lies, covetousness, theft, hatred, and many more have ruined the lives of many people we know. And these sins still affect people today.
I want to ask you a question. Do you know people who are affected by the sinful choices they are making? If so, do you want them to continue to be hurt by their sins? Do you want them to find God’s forgiveness? Do you want them to know about Jesus and the new life they could have when they repent and believe Him? Then you must be faced with a serious truth. At some point, you need to tell them the sobering truth and confront them about their sin. Their only hope to escape condemnation is knowing the truth. And if you don’t tell them, who will?
1 Grassmick 128.
2 Grassmick 129.
3 McGee 186.
4 Hiebert 162.
5 Hiebert 166.
6 Hiebert 167.
7 Hiebert 168-69.
8 Ironside 92.
9 Ironside 94.
Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.
Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.
Ironside, H. A., Mark, Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1969.