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Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 12:20-23

The Death of Herod

20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain,[a] they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

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Last week’s post described Herod Antipas’s ire and humiliation over the disappearance of Peter, who makes no more significant appearances in Acts, other than in Chapter 15.

As my post explains, Herod Antipas — i.e. his men — searched for Peter but could not find him. Herod then sentenced his 16 guards assigned to Peter to death.

Matthew Henry thought that their sentence was commuted — because of the events in today’s post. John MacArthur says that they did die.

Regardless, my post said that the death penalty was Roman law for a guard who, even inadvertently, allowed a prisoner to escape.

In any event, Herod Antipas was completely humiliated. He wanted to put Peter on stage for a kangaroo trial and bloody death after Passover that year. He had already had the apostle James — St James the Great — beheaded in a more low-key way. Peter was to be the great public spectacle, akin to Jesus before the Crucifixion.

However, God foiled Herod’s evil plan for Peter at every stage.

And God wasn’t finished yet.

As I wrote last week, after Herod was humiliated, he left Judea for Caesarea, where he staged lavish performances praising Caesar, who had just returned from a triumphant trip to Britain. He was surrounded by the great and the good of the day. They went to sponge off Herod, enjoying his hospitality. They went to honour Caesar, not Herod.

Herod Antipas was saturated with sin. Not only was he angry with the most devout followers of Christ, he was also infuriated by others, as Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us, possibly for trivial reasons.

In verse 20, we discover that he was angry with the people of two ancient cities, Tyre and Sidon. Those cities appear occasionally in both the Old and New Testaments. In 2015, I wrote about Matthew 11:20-24, saying that Sidon was a Phoenecian port city, first mentioned in Genesis 10. The Egyptians sent their wheat to Sidon. From there, ships sent the wheat to Mediterranean ports. Tyre was a nearby fortified city, mentioned in Judges 19. It provided the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon’s temple. The two cities were — not surprisingly — steeped in idolatry, corruption and vice. This is why Jesus’s comment about the two cities — a judgment against the Jews of his time — was such a stinging curse (i.e. ‘Woe to you’):

21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

Also see the parallel in Luke 10:13-15, with more about the two cities.

MacArthur explains that, at the time of Herod Antipas, who was their king for all intents and purposes:

Tyre and Sidon are two free cities north of Caesarea. Caesarea is right on the Mediterranean Sea west of Jerusalem. And up north in Syria, north of Galilee is Tyre and Sidon, coastal cities, free cities, technically belonging to Syria. They were the neighbors of Galilee and of Herod’s territory, so there was a necessary interdependence.

That interdependence had to do with foodstuffs passing through those cities. Both depended on food from Galilee. Tyre and Sidon did not produce their own, as they traded.

MacArthur tells us:

Herod was mad. Maybe he didn’t like the duties or the tariffs that Tyre and Sidon were charging him for his movement of materials. So he got mad at them and he cut off all supplies and they were hurting badly. Herod was very angry and when Tyre and Sidon couldn’t get the food they needed and the supply they needed from Galilee and Israel they were in trouble. And so they knew they needed to make a treaty with Herod.

The people of Tyre and Sidon made an ally out of a man named Blastus, the king’s chamberlain — his trusted attendant or treasurer — who acted as their intermediary. Henry wrote that they likely used bribes.

In any event, they asked for peace, because they were in danger of going hungry.

Herod agreed a date to speak to them. This was a situation he must have relished: having two powerful ports — comparable to city states — being forced to grovel at his feet.

Herod made sure he donned his most royal robes, looked majestic on his throne and delivered an oration to them (verse 21). He milked this for all it was worth. MacArthur says:

He decided that the whole world would know how super he was, how great he was, and watch these two nations bow at his feet, these two cities.

MacArthur adds that all the great and the good who saw the performances lauding Caesar were likely to have been in attendance. The performances had taken place the day before.

Henry agrees with MacArthur that the Jewish historian Josephus also wrote about this event (emphases mine):

he had all the mucky mucks and the leaders all arriving in Caesarea and they met in the amphitheatre that had been built by his grandfather, Herod the Great. I was in that place where that is, big massive amphitheatre and there he had his big throne and all the people were sitting around cheer upon cheer cheering people and he comes out splendid in his royal apparel and Josephus said he had a silver robe on, made of silver. And the sun just came and splattered off of that thing and he just looked resplend[ent] in all of his glory, which is just what he wanted. He was going to get out there and sit in his throne and the cheering people, and he was going to watch all the Tyre and Sidon people bowing down to him and … eat up every second of it. This was day one, the tip of the hat to Caesar, day two my day, see. So he got day one out of the way and the second day comes in his silver robe and he’s the glory of man at its pinnacle. All the Rome pomp and circumstances there, the soldiers, the whole shot, everything is set up and all the little mealy mouth favor seekers are sitting in the chairs cheering, crowds lining everywhere.

This was a big deal. If this were to happen today, it would have been discussed for days on all the cable news channels, on Internet sites, tweeted about and hyped beyond reason. It would have been in all the newspapers and analysed endlessly. It would have been filmed live as a great televisual showdown.

So, duly puffed up with himself, Herod Antipas gave an oration. Henry paints the picture for us:

He made a speech to the men of Tyre and Sidon, a fine oration, in which, probably, after he had aggravated their fault, and commended their submission, he concluded with an assurance that he would pass by their offence and receive them into his favour again–proud enough that he had it in his power whom he would to keep alive, as well as whom he would to slay; and probably he kept them in suspense as to what their doom should be, till he made this oration to them, that the act of grace might come to them with the more pleasing surprise.

If that had occurred today, there would have been a lengthy commercial break between oration and conclusion of perceived mercy.

Amazingly, those who heard the oration — and, frankly, this isn’t too different to our times — pronounced the ‘voice of a god, and not of man’ (verse 22).

Immediately, an angel of the Lord struck him down. He breathed his last, but not before being eaten by worms (verse 23).

N.B.: Herod Antipas was sentenced to death by worms. Those worms did not eat him in his grave. They ate him alive. We all know how hideous maggots and grubs are. Imagine being eaten by them. Talk about a spectacle. That was God’s — and Jesus Christ’s — message to him, those watching and us.

Henry analyses this for us, including Herod’s quasi-Judaism:

his fault was that he said nothing, did not rebuke their flattery, nor disown the title they had given him, nor give God the glory (Acts 12:23); but he took it to himself, was very willing it should terminate in himself, and that he should be thought a god and have divine honours paid him. Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur–if the people will be deceived, let them. And it was worse in him who was a Jew, and professed to believe in one God only, than it was in the heathen emperors, who had gods many and lords many.

This brings us back to Jesus’s curse on Chorazin and Bethsaida cited above. If we know and ignore God’s will and Christ Jesus, we will surely perish.

We cannot know God unless we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour.

As Henry explains:

Now he was reckoned with for vexing the church of Christ, killing James, imprisoning Peter, and all the other mischiefs he had done.

Also:

The angel smote him with a sore disease just at that instant when he was strutting at the applauses of the people, and adoring his own shadow. Thus the king of Tyre said in his pride, I am a god, I sit in the seat of God; and set his heart as the heart of God; but he shall be a man, and no God, a weak mortal man, in the hand of him that slayeth him (Ezekiel 28:2-9), so Herod here. Potent princes must know, not only that God is omnipotent, but that angels also are greater in power and might than they. The angel smote him, because he gave not the glory to God; angels are jealous for God’s honour, and as soon as ever they have commission are ready to smite those that usurp his prerogatives, and rob God of his honour.

Henry adds the following for his audience, as the microscope was in its infancy then. His words are also pertinent for us today, four centuries later:

Surprising discoveries have of late been made by microscopes of the multitude of worms that there are in human bodies, and how much they contribute to the diseases of them, which is a good reason why we should not be proud of our bodies, or of any of their accomplishments, and why we should not pamper our bodies, for this is but feeding the worms, and feeding them for the worms.

Yes! A thousand times yes!

Of the worms, MacArthur tells us:

Josephus says they ate him for five days before he died. That’s a sickening debasing terrible way to die. Just when a man thinks he has exalted himself to the place of glory God crushes him to a place of humility. And I say to you, you can’t fight God because his power can’t be contested and His punishment can’t be avoided. Don’t fight God. He was painfully smitten. The pompous fool done in by worms.

God will never be defeated by unbelievers or mockers.

Next time — Acts 12:24-25

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bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 12:18-19

18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.

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Last week’s post discussed Peter’s visit to the house of Mary, a relative of Barnabas and mother of John Mark — Mark of the Gospel — to tell those praying in her house for him that he was safe and well. Recall that an angel of the Lord released him from prison. Those chains were there for all to see and were passed down through the centuries. Peter left quickly to get out of Jerusalem and continue his ministry out of reach of Herod Antipas and his men.

The day referred to in verse 18 was to be that of Peter’s public trial and beheading. However, the soldiers were in an uproar over Peter’s disappearance and the broken chains.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, under Roman law, letting a prisoner escape was a capital offence.

The guards did not know an angel led Peter out of the cell. There were 16 men guarding him at various points in the prison to prevent his escape, which took place in the middle of the night. There were divine ways to turn their attention away from their prisoner, e.g. sleep. St Luke, the author of Acts, did not tell us how God worked through the angel.

Henry says the guards no doubt played the blame game in an attempt to avoid the death penalty:

They thought themselves as sure as could be of him but last night; yet now the bird is flown, and they can hear no tale nor tidings of him. This set them together by the ears; one says, “It was your fault;” the other, “Nay, but it was yours;” having no other way to clear themselves, but by accusing one another.

Herod — i.e. his men — searched for Peter in vain (verse 19). They might even have conducted house-to-house searches in a concerted effort to protect their lives. Luke did not give us details.

Incidentally, Acts 16:27 mentions a Philippian jailer who feared for his life when he thought Paul and Silas had escaped during an earthquake. That is how awful this was.

He was ready to commit suicide rather than be executed (emphases mine):

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer[e] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

The experience was so significant that he converted then and there:

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Herod sentenced the guards to death. MacArthur says that the guards were executed. However, Henry’s commentary says that they might not have died, because Herod died before the sentence could be carried out. We’ll get to Herod’s death next week — not to be missed.

Herod then left Judea for Caesarea. He was completely humiliated. If you’ve been following this series, you will recall that Acts 12 opens with Herod’s beheading of James the Apostle, the brother of John (sons of Zebedee).

James’s beheading proved popular among the Jews, so Herod wanted to create a bigger spectacle with Peter after that Passover, putting him on trial before the people and executing him.

Henry offers this analysis:

He was vexed to the heart, as a lion disappointed of his prey; and the more because he had so much raised the expectation of the people of the Jews concerning Peter, had told them how he would very shortly gratify them with the sight of Peter’s head in a charger, which would oblige them as much as John Baptist’s did Herodias; it made him ashamed to be robbed of this boasting, and to see himself, notwithstanding his confidence, disabled to make his words good. This is such a mortification to his proud spirit that he cannot bear to stay in Judea, but away he goes to Cesarea.

Herod’s departure entered the annals of the historian Josephus:

Josephus mentions this coming of Herod to Cesarea, at the end of the third year of his reign over all Judea (Antiq. 19. 343) …

Josephus recorded that, in Caesarea, Herod attended plays that honoured Caesar. Herod was rubbing shoulders with the wealthiest and most powerful people there. MacArthur puts it this way:

It was very likely under the pretense of a celebration for Claudius Caesar, because to throw a party for Herod, for Herod to throw a party for himself was really ridiculous. Nobody would come. And it wasn’t official enough to bring the big wheels, so he threw a big thing for Caesar. Caesar had just returned safely from Britain. Hail Caesar his great work in Britain. Not only that some historians tell us it was Caesar’s birthday.

The moral of this episode is that God will not be challenged. He also protects His people. MacArthur tells us:

His power can’t be contested. Herod amassed all the power that he had and it was nothing, it was a drip against the ocean of God’s power.

That is something to keep in mind at all times — especially for unbelievers and mockers.

God had more plans for Herod. Tune in next week for drama.

Next time: Acts 12:20-23

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 14:1-12

The Death of John the Baptist

14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,[a] because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

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It is appalling that neither version, Matthew’s nor Mark’s, of the death of John the Baptist — the last prophet — whom Jesus compared to Elijah and the greatest person who ever lived, is in the three-year Lectionary. Why? Churchgoers need to hear about profoundly serious sin brought about by the preference for one’s own pleasure. And Herod’s is a classic morality as well as biblical story, affirmed by the historian Josephus and the early Doctor of the Church Jerome.

The Bible tells us that we can choose to enslave ourselves to God or to sin. This story should be at the forefront of our minds as a real-life illustration — and warning — of what happens when people decide to give themselves over to the devil.

Matthew gives us the end of the story then goes back and explains what happened.

Mark has a longer history of John the Baptist and Herod. I wrote about his account in 2012 and provided a lot of historical information from John MacArthur as to why John the Baptist warned Herod about his lust and unlawful marriage with Herodias. You can read more here and here. I also wrote about the various Herods yesterday; you might find the post useful.

Now on to Matthew’s account. The first two verses tell us that Herod is convinced Jesus is a resurrected John the Baptist. He knew John was imbued with holiness, hence Herod believed he was now risen and working heavenly miracles. Herod did not know much of Jesus at this time.

We then read (verses 3, 4) why Herod imprisoned John the Baptist, who might have been held in close proximity to Herod’s home. Matthew Henry gives us a succinct explanation (emphases mine):

The particular sin he reproved him for was, marrying his brother Philip’s wife, not his widow (that had not been so criminal), but his wife. Philip was now living, and Herod inveigled his wife from him, and kept her for his own. Here was a complication of wickedness, adultery, incest, besides the wrong done to Philip, who had had a child by this woman and it was an aggravation of the wrong, that he was his brother, his half-brother, by the father, but not by the mother. See Psalm 50:20. For this sin John reproved him not by tacit and oblique allusions, but in plain terms, It is not lawful for thee to have her. He charges it upon him as a sin not, It is not honourable, or, It is not safe, but, It is not lawful the sinfulness of sin, as it is the transgression of the law, is the worst thing in it.

John the Baptist had so aggravated Herod’s conscience that he wanted to put him to death. The only thing that stopped him from doing so was the fury of the people who deeply loved and respected John the Baptist.

When Herod’s birthday celebrations took place (verses 6, 7), they were decadent. By the time Salome — unnamed in the New Testament — came in to dance, the assembled guests had enjoyed sumptuous feeding and watering. In keeping with Roman traditions, the event required a memorable party piece involving death.

John MacArthur gives us two examples:

Herodias had an ancestor by the name of Alexander Junius, and historians tell us that one time, Alexander Junius was holding a big feast, and brought in 800 rebels to make a display. He crucified all 800 of them in front of all the revelers at the feast, and then, while they were hanging on the crosses, still alive, he murdered their wives and children in front of them. It was a debauched world …

When the head of Cicero was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Antony, she spat on it, pulled its tongue out, and drove her hair pin through it. Jerome says that is what Herodias did with the head of John; we can’t verify that, but we know that Herod’s family seemed to want to mimic all of the worst atrocities of the Roman nobility. It must have been a point of derision and mocking – that dear, godly, faithful man, his head severed from his body. That is the extent of rejection that comes under the pressure of the fear of man. He was afraid to lose his throne, afraid of John, afraid of his wife, afraid of the people around him. Under the intimidation of that, he damned his soul to Hell forever.

Hell. Matthew had just mentioned Jesus’s description of it in Chapter 13, in a verse also excluded from the three-year Lectionary:

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Anyone who doubts the existence of hell or eternal punishment is allowed to debate the issue here, however, please do give a reason why, other than, for example — speaking generally — that ‘God in His mercy will save everyone’ or ‘I never believed it’. Examples of reasons would include an underlying difficulty with authority, doubting the creeds, relying on favourite authors or revisionist professors rather than Scripture, etc.

As we saw last week, Scripture — and Jesus, in particular — warned us many times about transgressing the Father. And we transgress the Father when we transgress His Son Jesus.

Jesus’s death on the cross is satisfactory for the sins of the world but is efficacious only for those who believe in Him:

It is Satan’s studied purpose to keep souls from believing in Christ as their only hope; for the blood of Christ that cleanseth from all sin is efficacious in behalf of those only who believe in its merit.

If we were all saved, why would Jesus — and, later, the Apostles — have continually warned us in the New Testament to turn away from sin? Surely, if we were all going to heaven, it would not matter. We could do whatever we pleased, as Herod and his family did, and still be saved.

In fact, why would we need any laws at all if we were all going to share a glorious afterlife? We could all be murderous, thieving anarchists engaging in fornication and adultery.

To those who support Universalism, I recommend a solid study of the New Testament, because:

When the Godhead is denied, there is no salvation.  When the dual nature of Christ is denied, there is no salvation.  When salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is denied, there is no salvation.  When the Word of Truth is denied, there is no salvation.  When Jesus’ second coming bodily to rule and judge the earth is denied, there is no salvation.

We are not saved on the basis of simply saying we believe Jesus existed, was a great guy, was a prophet, was a wonderful teacher … but on the basis of our continued belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He will ultimately save us and give us eternal life.

I suspect that those who deny hell are worried not about themselves as much as a close family member or a cherished friend, past or present.

Pray that living unbelievers are given the divine grace necessary to enable an everlasting faith. Scripture tells us that we can know God only via a firm belief in His Son Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Returning to today’s reading, Herodias had a word with Salome, who then asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter (verse 8). Henry surmises that Herodias might have worried Herod could find a younger or more beautiful partner:

Perhaps Herodias feared lest Herod should grow weary of her (as lust useth to nauseate and be cloyed), and then would make John Baptist’s reproof a pretence to dismiss her to prevent which she contrives to harden Herod in it by engaging him in the murder of John.

Herod immediately regretted his rash and extravagant promise to Herodias’s daughter (verse 9). Henry explains the dangers of making oaths and throwing wild parties:

Promissory oaths are ensnaring things, and, when made rashly, are the products of inward corruption, and the occasion of many temptations.

Note, Times of carnal mirth and jollity are convenient times for carrying on bad designs against God’s people. When the king was made sick with bottles of wine, he stretched out his hand with scorners (Hosea 7:5), for it is part of the sport of a fool to do mischief, Proverbs 10:23. The Philistines, when their heart was merry, called for Samson to abuse him. The Parisian massacre was at a wedding. This young lady’s dancing pleased Herod. We are not told who danced with her, but none pleased Herod like her dancing. Note, A vain and graceless heart is apt to be greatly in love with the lusts of the flesh and of the eye, and when it is so, it is entering into further temptation for by that Satan gets and keeps possession. See Proverbs 23:31-33. Herod was now in a mirthful mood, and nothing was more agreeable to him than that which fed his vanity.

Herod did as his step-daughter asked and, as proof, the prophet’s head was duly brought in (verses 10, 11). Salome presented John the Baptist’s head to her mother.

Afterwards, John the Baptist’s friends buried his body, then relayed the tragic news to Jesus (verse 12).

MacArthur makes this observation:

It may speak something of the thoughtfulness of Herod in his sobriety as he would permit that.

Then, Jesus went away to be alone (Matthew 14:13). John the Baptist was His cousin. They were conceived around the same time.

The Gospels tell us that Herod wanted to meet Jesus. However, He never did. MacArthur tells us:

Once, He sent a message to him. In Luke 13:32-33, He sent a message to Herod and said, “You fox. You want to see Me? You will not be able to kill Me like you did John the Baptist until My work is done.” He called him a fox, and He never saw him, and moved, with quiet dignity, beyond the grasp of Herod. He left Herod to his guilt, his unresolved fear, his vile, wretched sin, and to the woman who was his doom, until one fateful day.

The only time Jesus saw Herod was at His trial, prior to the Crucifixion:

Look at Luke 23:6. This is the only time He ever went into the presence of Herod. This is the trial of Jesus. “When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” Pilate didn’t know what to do with Jesus, who was on trial, or mock trial. So he knows that He is from Galilee, and he says that He belongs in Herod’s jurisdiction, so he ships Jesus to Herod. Verse 8. “Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.” Here was this strange fascination again, and now, finally, the two meet.

“Then he questioned Him with many words,” and we don’t know what he asked, but what an opportunity! The Lord can give him all the answers right now. Herod desires, longs to see Jesus, and has for a long time. The Lord could do some miracles, give him all the answers he wants, and it says, “But He answered him nothing.” Jesus never said one word. “And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.”

The used to hate each other, but here, they became friends. You know how? Common mockery of the Son of God; they are two very tragic men. Listen, Herod rejected Christ, and Christ rejected Herod. It was hard, stony ground; for fear of a woman, for fear of a reputation, for fear of his peers, and for fear of his throne, he damned his soul forever. John the Baptist lost his head but lives forever in the presence of God.

In conclusion:

Christ wants to reveal Himself to you, but if you are proudly holding onto your reputation, for fear of what others may think, for fear of the attitude and actions of those who may reject you, for fear of the loss of face or reputation, for intimidation by evil people, you have forfeited Christ and damn your soul. The day will come when you ask the questions and get no answers.

Next time: Matthew 14:34-36

Tomorrow’s Forbidden Bible Verses entry will be about Herod and the death of John the Baptist as related in Matthew 14.

I have written about Herod before when discussing Mark’s account of this event (here and here). Those provide full explanations about his family relationships — especially his ‘marriage’ — which John the Baptist warned him about.

It should be noted that more than one Herod is mentioned in the New Testament. John MacArthur’s sermon on the first reading in Matthew 14 has helpful explanations, excerpted below.

When Jesus was born, Herod the Great was ruling at the time:

we’ll see that there was a king then by the name of Herod. That was … Herod the Great. He was an Idumean, a descendant of Esau, and it was quite interesting that a descendant of Esau should rule over the sons of Jacob. He was an Arab, if you will. Herod the Great, to compound matters, was also married to a Samaritan, so you can imagine how a non-Jew, son of Esau, married to a Samaritan would be unpopular in the hearts of Jews. Yet he was their king, appointed by Rome, over the whole area. It was he who was so fearful when he heard the word that a King had been born, and as a result, slaughtered, in a massacre, all of the babies, in order that he might eliminate anyone who would pose a threat to his throne.

By the time we get to Matthew 14, Herod the Great had died long before, when Jesus was a baby. His legacy involved dividing the area he had ruled into territories for his sons:

When Herod the Great died, his dominion, which was all of Palestine (to the north, east, and even south), was divided among three of his many sons. It is hard to keep track of his sons, because he had them by different women, so some of them were half-brothers. Some of them even had the same name, as we shall see; they had different mothers, but the same father.

He had three sons: Archelaus, Philip, and Herod Antipas. Archelaus was assigned the area of Judea and Samaria, over which he ruled. Philip was given Ituraea and Trachonitis, which was the northernmost part of the land of Palestine. So Archelaus was in the south, Philip was in the north, and Herod got the middle, which was Galilee, and to the east of Galilee, the area known as Parea.

The Herod of Matthew 14, then, is Herod Antipas, who had been ruling for 32 years:

“Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus.” Now we meet this main character, the one who is the rejector in the passage, the one who is the stony ground.

He is called the tetrarch. Technically, that term is a mathematical word, it means ‘a ruler of a fourth part.’ Tetra has to do with a fourth of something. But it came to be a term used of any subordinate ruler in a section of a country, and there were many subordinate rulers in Israel at that time. He was one of them.

In verse 9, he is called ‘king,’ and it says, “The king was sorry.” That is a very generous use of the term; he was not a king. In fact, he sought to be a king. On one occasion, he went to Rome to ask Caligula to make him a king, primarily because his wife wanted to be called ‘queen,’ and that wish was not granted to him. So he wasn’t really a king, but a petty potentate, and it is a very generous use of the term ‘king,’ which was frequently used for people of lesser stature than we would imagine a king to have.

The New Testament has two other Herods from the same family:

There are two other Herods who appear later in the New Testament, and you need to understand that they come in the same line. The next Herod we meet is named Herod Agrippa, and if you want to know about that Herod, read Acts 12; he declared a ‘Herod Day,’ celebrated his power, and didn’t give God the glory, so God smote him and he was eaten by worms, and died. There is, following him, a second Herod Agrippa, or Herod Agrippa II, and we find him in Acts 26. Paul preached to him. So basically we have these four: Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa I, and Herod Agrippa II.

As for Herod Antipas, Herodias and Salome, Matthew Henry tells us what happened to him according to the Jewish historian Josephus:

Josephus mentions this story of the death of John the Baptist (Antiq. 18. 116-119), and adds, that a fatal destruction of Herod’s army in his war with Aretas, king of Petrea (whose daughter was Herod’s wife, whom he put away to make room for Herodias), was generally considered by the Jews to be a just judgment upon him, for putting John the Baptist to death. Herod having, at the instigation of Herodias, disobliged the emperor, was deprived of his government, and they were both banished to Lyons in France which, says Josephus, was his just punishment for hearkening to her solicitations. And, lastly, it is storied of this daughter of Herodias, that going over the ice in winter, the ice broke, and she slipt in up to her neck, which was cut through by the sharpness of the ice. God requiring her head (says Dr. Whitby) for that of the Baptist which, if true, was a remarkable providence.

Indeed. Divine judgement had certainly been passed in this world — and no doubt the next.

 

bible-wornContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 9:7-9

Herod Is Perplexed by Jesus

 7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

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Last week’s post described how Jesus sent the Twelve out to further His ministry. He gave them the same powers of preaching and working miracles so that as many Jews as possible could hear His message.

Whilst they were ministering in His name, the tetrarch — or lower-status king — Herod found out (verse 7). He was both ‘perplexed’ and troubled because some said that this man working miracles was a resurrected John the Baptist. Others said that it was Elijah or another prophet making a visit from heaven (verse 8).

Anyone but the humble Nazarene, Jesus.

Herod wishes to see our Lord (verse 9). That is not because he wishes to be saved eternally but because he wants to see whether He is a resurrected John the Baptist.

Mark explained the reasons why in Mark 6:14-20, which I wrote about in 2012. And if you have been reading my series on Luke, you might recall reading that John the Baptist was imprisoned in Luke 3:19-20.

Both posts — as well as John MacArthur’s sermon, linked to above — have useful background on Herod and his relationship with John the Baptist. At first, the ruler listened intently to what the prophet said. Then, once John warned him about his immorality, which involved his marital arrangements, things turned sour. Herodias, Herod’s wife, found out and was incensed. Salome, her daughter, also heard, hence her request (which her mother suggested) for John’s head on a platter as a party piece. If you find that a blunt explanation, be assured that the girl had no qualms about having him murdered and presented as entertainment at Herod’s birthday celebration.

John MacArthur explains the controversy (emphases mine):

What was this about on account of Herodias, his brother’s wife? Well I don’t want to go into all the details, but just briefly. He had a brother named Philip, and Philip had married another brother’s daughter. Philip had married a niece. As I said, incest was just how things were. So Philip is married to this girl who is his niece. Herod Antipas, this guy, goes to Rome on a visit, sees the girl, likes her, seduces her, gets her to divorce her husband. He divorces his wife. They get married. So he marries his niece that was married to his brother. You know, that’s tabloid stuff if you’re the ruler. And so John just kept pointing it out, along with everything else wicked that he did. So he locked him in prison.

Mark 6:21-29 describes the beheading, although Salome is not mentioned by name:

21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22For when Herodias’s daughter 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 to you.” 23And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

From this account, we can deduce that Herod’s conscience was deeply troubled. In order to quell his mind, he had to see this man. It never occurred to him that the person about which everyone spoke was Jesus.

Matthew Henry analyses Herod in this situation:

Note, Those who oppose God will find themselves more and more embarrassed. However, he desired to see him, whether he resembled John or no but he might soon have been put out of this pain if he would but have informed himself of that which thousands knew, that Jesus preached, and wrought miracles, a great while before John was beheaded, and therefore could not be John raised from the dead. He desired to see him and why did he not go and see him? Probably, because he thought it below him either to go to him or to send for him he had enough of John Baptist, and cared not for having to do with any more such reprovers of sin. He desired to see him, but we do not find that ever he did, till he saw him at his bar, and then he and his men of war set him at nought, Luke 23:11. Had he prosecuted his convictions now, and gone to see him, who knows but a happy change might have been wrought in him? But, delaying it now, his heart was hardened, and when he did see him he was as much prejudiced against him as any other.

Herod does not see our Lord until His mock trial. Note Herod’s reaction in Luke 23:6-12; the tetrarch hopes He will entertain him with a miracle:

Jesus Before Herod

 6When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

As for the reference to Elijah, MacArthur explains, adding (contrary to Henry) that Jesus would have been unlikely to see Herod if requested:

back in Malachi 3:1, Malachi 4:5, the Old Testament closes with a promise that before the Messiah comes that Elijah will come. That is to say before the Messiah there will be a prophet. The Old Testament says Elijah will come, but we all know that back in Luke 1 the angel said, you remember, to the parents of John the Baptist that he will come in the spirit and power of Elijah. John the Baptist was that Elijah at that time and would have been the final Elijah-like prophet if they had believed, now there will be another one like Elijah that will come before the return of Christ. But there was reason to think that maybe it is Elijah, he’s supposed to come before Messiah. And others said, “Well it’s just one of the prophets,” in Matthew 16:14 they even name Jeremiah. Herod was stuck on John and he said, “I cut his head off myself, so who is this man?” And he kept trying to see Him. That is a bad omen. You don’t want to see Him if you don’t have to. Jesus never went to Tiberius, just like His little family fled his father till he was dead, Jesus was not about to walk into the mouth of this lion until it was His time to die. Herod wanted to see Him. You think, “Well maybe he just, you know, wanted more information.” Really, you’d only think that if you hadn’t read Luke 13:31 and so now you will never think that again. Luke 13:31, “The Pharisees came up, talking with Jesus, and they said to Him, ‘Go away and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.'” Herod wanted to see Jesus. If it turns out it’s John, he’ll kill him again. If it’s not John, he’ll kill him. Here it says, “He wants to kill You.”

The relevance that this passage and Herod’s story has for us today is that Christ piques our consciences. One day we will all be judged with regard to eternal salvation or condemnation. Unbelievers say — universally, in my experience — that they don’t need to worry about that. But they do. Some, through His grace, will come to believe in our Lord before it’s too late. Others will not; their hearts will be too hardened. The condemnation will be all the more severe for those who turned from a knowledge of the Gospel to a life of denial.

MacArthur says:

If you are willfully blind to the truth, if you refuse to believe the New Testament, if you refuse to believe the clear evidence of the life and work of Jesus Christ, if you will not hear His words and hear His works, if you will not acknowledge the diagnosis of your sinfulness and your condemnation to eternal hell and the only salvation through faith in Him, then you will come to the wrong conclusion about Jesus Christ to save yourself from a true understanding of what you are and where you’re headed. Who is this man? Are You the Son of God? Yes I am. Even the demons said, “You are the Son of God.” They knew. “You are the Holy One.” That’s why even today we do what Paul said, we’re determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Why? “Because there’s no salvation in any other name than the name of Jesus Christ. As many as received Him, God gave the authority to become the sons of God to those that believe in His name. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.” It’s an old question, it’s new every day in the life of every person. The right answer gives you heaven, the wrong answer gives you hell. Everything turns on how you answered this question. What tragedy there is for those who choose the wrong answer.

Next time: Luke 9:10-17

Forbidden Bible Verses returns in the New Year.

Bible ourhomewithgodcomGoodness knows why the compilers and editors of the three-year Lectionary omitted two verses of the readings from Luke 3 used in public worship.

A good clergyperson should be able to explain them, thereby adding greater meaning to John the Baptist’s ministry, his interactions with Herod and subsequent imprisonment. It would go some way to explaining the troubled souls — Herod’s and his family’s — that serious sin creates. Without these troublesome verses being read aloud in church, is it any wonder that many so-called Christians today look the other way when it comes to adultery and seduction?

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 3:19-20

19But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

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Before looking at these two verses, it might be helpful to analyse the times in which John the Baptist lived.

It is no accident that this Nazirite monk (according to Matthew Henry) was the first Old Testament-style prophet in 400 years and, as such, was widely welcomed by the Jewish people.

It is also worth noting that, unlike other prophets, John the Baptist preached to Gentiles as well as his own people.

John MacArthur’s sermon (linked above) has a lengthy explanation of Herod’s lineage, his marriage and his political career. Anyone who is preparing a sermon or Bible study lessons about John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s time will find it useful in their research.

Matthew Henry has a more concise explanation which follows. First, however, notice that Luke lays out the political and religious situation in the first two verses of this chapter:

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

This is important historically, as Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

1. By the government of the heathen, which the Jews were under, to show that they were a conquered people, and therefore it was time for the Messiah to come to set up a spiritual kingdom, and an eternal one, upon the ruins of all the temporal dignity and dominion of David and Judah.

(1.) It is dated by the reign of the Roman emperor; it was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the third of the twelve Caesars, a very bad man, given to covetousness, drunkenness, and cruelty; such a man is mentioned first (saith Dr. Lightfoot [to whom Henry refers frequently]), as it were, to teach us what to look for from that cruel and abominable city wherein Satan reigned in all ages and successions. The people of the Jews, after a long struggle, were of late made a province of the empire, and were under the dominion of this Tiberius; and that country which once had made so great a figure, and had many nations tributaries to it, in the reigns of David and Solomon, is now itself an inconsiderable despicable part of the Roman empire, and rather trampled upon than triumphed in.

-En quo discordia cives, Perduxit miseros

-What dire effects from civil discord flow!

The lawgiver was now departed from between Judah’s feet; and, as an evidence of that, their public acts are dated by the reign of the Roman emperor, and therefore now Shiloh must come.

(2.) It is dated by the governments of the viceroys that ruled in the several parts of the Holy Land under the Roman emperor, which was another badge of their servitude, for they were all foreigners, which bespeaks a sad change with that people whose governors used to be of themselves (Jer. 30:21), and it was their glory. How is the gold become dim! [1.] Pilate is here said to be the governor, president, or procurator, of Judea. This character is given of him by some other writers, that he was a wicked man, and one that made no conscience of a lie. He reigned ill, and at last was displaced by Vitellius, president of Syria, and sent to Rome, to answer for his mal-administrations. [2.] The other three are called tetrarchs, some think from the countries which they had the command of, each of them being over a fourth part of that which had been entirely under the government of Herod the Great. Others think that they are so called from the post of honour they held in the government; they had the fourth place, or were fourth-rate governors: the emperor was the first, the pro-consul, who governed a province, the second, a king the third, and a tetrarch the fourth. So Dr. Lightfoot.

2. By the government of the Jews among themselves, to show that they were a corrupt people, and that therefore it was time that the Messiah should come, to reform them, v. 2. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. God had appointed that there should be but one high priest at a time, but here were two, to serve some ill turn or other: one served one year and the other the other year; so some. One was the high priest, and the other the sagan, as the Jews called him, to officiate for him when he was disabled; or, as others say, one was high priest, and represented Aaron, and that was Caiaphas; Annas, the other, was nasi, or head of the sanhedrim, and represented Moses. But to us there is but one high priest, one Lord of all, to whom all judgment is committed.

One can imagine the dinner conversations the ordinary Jews must have had. They would have been similar to ours today, critical of both politicians and clergy. There is nothing new under the sun. They awaited deliverance; however, what they thought would be temporal proved to be spiritual and, for them, an eventual disappointment.

Henry tells us that, like Jesus, John the Baptist grew up in an obscure area, Jordan. No big city boy he. At the age of 30, Henry writes, John would normally have been expected to begin serving as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, following his father Zechariah’s vocation. However, John left home to preach and baptise.

He adds that the Jews to whom John ministered accepted baptism easily. They had — as is true today — a tradition of ritual baths, or mikva. For them, water signified spiritual as well as physical cleansing. John’s baptism cleansed them of their past sins; however, with that went his exhortation — a strong plea — to go and sin no more. Through baptism, he called them to repentance.

In Luke 3:4-6, the Gospel writer tells us that John’s message borrowed from the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah 40:3-5, Isaiah 57:14, Isaiah 49:11, Isaiah 42:16, Isaiah 52:10 and Psalm 98:2-3.

John’s counsel (Luke 3:7-14), read during Advent in Lectionary Year C, concerns those in public life — particularly civil servants and the military. He urges them to treat each other and the public fairly. He also advised the Jews not to excuse themselves from sin by citing their Abrahamic heritage.

When the Jews saw John’s piety and heard his preaching, they wondered aloud whether he indeed was the Messiah (Luke 3:15). He answered that One much greater than he was coming, of Whom he was unworthy. Recall that John and Jesus were probably cousins, related via Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:36).

John’s prophecy of Jesus was exact. Indeed, the New Testament carries this message throughout. It was true then and is true today (Luke 3:16-17):

16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

During this time, Herod had married his half-sister and half-brother Philip’s wife Herodias — and later was seduced by her daughter, Salome, causing John to be beheaded. Herod had heard of John early on and invited him to his palace. This was similar to American presidents inviting clergy to the White House. Billy Graham was the primary clergyman for several administrations. Famous leaders sometimes seek the counsel of holy men for guidance — Herod, dead in sin as he was, being no exception.

As I mentioned earlier, John MacArthur’s sermon explains more about Herod. MacArthur has given others which also explain the tetrarch’s lineage, intrigues and lifestyle. I have cited one of them in my post on Mark 6:14-20 and another in my post on Mark 6:21-29. Again, if you are preparing material on which to preach or teach, they contain much information on Herod and John the Baptist.

A few days ago, I wrote about Christians wrongly clamming up about socio-political sins, some of which John the Baptist discussed (Luke 3:12-14). John did not mince words, yet he was winsome enough in his manner to interest the whole of society. Yet, he also delivered home truths to Herod. This is why we, as Christians, should not sugar coat or shy away from expressing the truth about the horrors of our world.

MacArthur, in today’s sermon, discusses this point in light of John the Baptist’s ministry:

And so John just confronted [Herod’s sin] head on. It all kind of happened because Herod apparently, if we put the history together, made a trip to Rome and he met his brother’s wife who was also his near relative and he persuaded her, he seduced her and then he persuaded her to leave Philip and be his wife. And to do that he had to divorce his wife, she had to divorce her husband. And they went through all of that stuff and he wound up with her, took her back to his area in Galilee.

MacArthur explains that Herod had been married before. His first wife was the daughter of of the king of the Nabataean Arabs, whose name was Aretas. Aretas was so incensed about the divorce that he declared war against his former son-in-law and won. This happened after John the Baptist’s death:

And Josephus, the historian, says some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God and that very justly as a punishment for what he had done to John. Interesting, you find that in Josephus Antiquities that the Jews thought that the reason Aretas came in and was so easily able to defeat Herod was because God was using him as an instrument of judgment for what he had done against John.

Back to John the Baptist’s preaching of the truth to Herod. MacArthur continues:

all you need to know is divorce, seduction, incest and John goes face-to-face with this, confronts it. And he does it repeatedly. A.T. Robertson said, “It cost him his head but it’s better to have a head like John and lose it, than have an ordinary head and keep it.”

He who loses his life shall gain it. Without taking foolish risks, this is what Christians are called to do.

In verse 19 of today’s passage, Luke tells us that Herod was incensed by John’s godly rebuke of the tetrarch’s sins. No doubt John had passed muster in earlier conversations which might well have been of a general nature about goodness. Herod might have applied those exhortations to his enemies rather than himself. It was clear he did not understand John’s message. Supposing that John went from the general to the specific — not just once but many times — it was at that point when Herod became incensed. And he no doubt told Herodias what John had told them of their immoral union. That must have angered her enormously. Herodias then most likely told Salome what John said about her. The girl would have been incensed that John had dared to criticise her mother.

Verse 20 says that Herod imprisoned John. That is the last time Luke mentions John the Baptist. The first part of the verse — ‘added this to them all’ — could be read two ways. Some interpret it as yet another heinous sin that Herod committed (John’s imprisonment for telling the truth). Others say that the words refer to Herod’s adding John’s ministry to the people as another reason he was imprisoned. Herod wanted rid of the man who not only discussed his sins with him privately but who might actually turn the populace against him. Or so he feared. John in his godliness was threatening to Herod on several levels. Herod couldn’t stand it.

Of John’s death by beheading at Salome’s request, MacArthur says:

John was murdered. Murdered about a year after he had been in prison and murdered and his ministry and his life was over. But, believe me, he went to his glorious reward and he stands as a model, a permanent model for faithful, uncompromising preaching, doesn’t he? …

Herod wound up with all the earthly power and went to hell. John had all the heavenly power and went to heaven. Very often, you know, the price of boldness is public rejection, but it’s also divine glory, isn’t it? And I don’t think…just as an epilogue…I don’t think any true preacher is concerned about popularity, that’s never been the goal of a true preacher. The goal of a true preacher is to speak the truth at any price, right? That’s why John provides such a great example for us. So John, who came on the stage in such a prominent way goes off the stage and next time the story begins with Jesus.

That is a call for clergy to preach the truth — engagingly but honestly. Yes, some people will be offended, anyway, but that is the clergyman’s — and, to a lesser extent, our own — calling.

In closing, readers who have been following the Gospel accounts of John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s ministries might wonder why they overlapped for six months, as MacArthur tells us. The reason is that Jewish tradition incorporates transition periods where religious practice and ceremonies are  concerned. He explains how this works in Jewish weddings where, at the end of the reception, the best man places the bride’s hand into the groom’s, then takes his leave. John the Baptist was handing the Church to Jesus Christ — Bride to Groom.

He explains, referring to John 3 (also see my link in the preceding paragraph on the same chapter):

John gives this monumental speech on the essential nature of Christ which sets Him apart from himself. He is of heavenly origin. He is omniscient regarding truth. He knows God’s mind and God’s Word. He has the Spirit of God without measure, that is He is one with the Spirit of God. He is God’s true heir and He alone is the Savior. And so there is a transition going on as John’s life and ministry begins to fade and Jesus begins to ascend and that’s exactly the way it should be and John sums it up by saying, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

Now in Matthew, turn to Matthew 4 for a moment as we construct to the story. One of the things that I enjoy, you probably know this, is studying the gospels like this and putting together the puzzle. That was what I did most of this week, was put all the pieces of this puzzle together so that we could get the chronological flow of this ministry of John and how it interfaced with the work of Jesus.

The ministries are overlapping. Jesus goes through His baptism. Jesus after His baptism went through His temptation. Then He had some early time of ministry and they ministered mutually in two different places. There was a descending ministry in John’s case and an ascending ministry in Jesus’ case. And then…Matthew 4:12 says, “Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee.” That’s a key verse. This is where Jesus launches His full public ministry. He had ministry, it was the early stages of ministry overlapping with John, but once John went into prison and that was the end of John’s ministry, he never came out of prison, once he went into prison, Jesus then stepped into a full public ministry. The work of the great prophet was over.

John the Baptist was a holy man, courageous and bold in his ministry. He excluded no one, he preached to the Gentiles as well as the Jews and, most importantly, he did not shy away from the truth.

May we see him as an example for ourselves, not just as a figure of biblical history.

Next time: Luke 3:23-38

Continuing with a study of St Mark’s Gospel, today’s post presents the events surrounding the death of St John the Baptist.

Strangely, his death as related in both St Mark’s and St Matthew’s Gospel has been excluded from the three-year Lectionary for public worship. Yet, the story of the Jewish people’s last prophet is iconic and instructive. This omission is but another mystery from the cross-denominational theologians and clergy who edit this book of prescribed Sunday readings.

Readings which do not appear in the Lectionary comprise my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the ESV with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 6:21-29

21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22For when Herodias’s daughter 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 to you.” 23And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

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Last week’s entry described how Herod had heard of Jesus’s many healing miracles and feared that He was a resurrected John the Baptist. That passage of St Mark’s also related why Herod and Herodias had taken against the great prophet.

Today we find out in this flashback from Mark how his death occurred. Those readers who are interested in the arts know that throughout history this death has been represented in many paintings, plays and films which revolve around Herodias’s daughter Salome. Although Mark and Matthew do not refer to her by name, the ancient historian Flavius Josephus did in his great work Jewish Antiquities. After that, it wasn’t until the 19th century when the name was regularly used, thanks to French author Gustave Flaubert who used it in his short story Herodias.

John MacArthur’s sermon gives a lengthy account of the various Herods, which is well worth reading. The Herodian dynasty was descended from Esau, so outside of the covenant the Lord made with his brother Jacob. However, because Esau and Jacob were biological brothers, the Herods various could use that historical relationship as a lever with which to ingratiate themselves with the Jews. This helped them maintain their power locally whilst their non-Jewish lineage kept them in Rome’s good books. That’s an oversimplification but gives the general background.

The dramatic and gruesome story unfolds in verse 21 at Herod’s birthday celebration. Picture a scene at the powerful provincial ruler’s — King Herod’s — splendid palace. There he is surrounded by other men who report to him on a ministerial or cabinet-like level, Jews included. Liken them to today’s politicians and corrupt military commanders; that will give you a good idea of what his guests were like. They were yes-men, sycophants, ready to play the game at any cost as long as doing so kept their boss sweet.

High-level Roman-style birthday parties were extravagant, outrageous and debauched. Anything went. The bigger, the better.

And so it was with Herod’s party. His niece — Herodias’s daughter Salome — comes to dance before him and his guests (verse 22). The man watches his blood relative (via his brother Philip) dance before him and becomes excited. Mark’s account tells us that his guests were similarly seduced. No doubt the wine flowed and loosened their inhibitions, not unlike at a stag night.

Herod says to the girl, by way of a reward for her performance, that she may ask him for anything she desires. He backs this up (verse 23) by vowing that he would even be willing to give her half his kingdom.

MacArthur explains:

Since John the Baptist was in prison in Machaerus, that must be where the party was held. The Jews would likely have shunned having a party at Tiberius because it had been built on a cemetery. This is a male event, by the way. This is a men’s event. This is the worst that a men’s event could possibly get. This is gluttony, drunkenness, lasciviousness at its rankest level. This is conversation and laughter unmitigated, unrestrained, untempered by female presence. And the low point comes at the high point, from their perspective …

Purity was not an issue in that wretched family. It hadn’t been for generations. It really never would be. As the adoptive father of this, his niece, the daughter of his brother Philip, he had no desire to protect her in any sense. For a young girl aged 15 or 16 as she probably was to dance like this was a shame, for a princess to dance like this was a double shame, for a mother to let her daughter dance like this is a triple shame. But shame doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of the family of Herod.

So she comes in to dance her evil dance when the leering men have reached the right proportion of satiation both with food and alcoholic drink, in she comes…immoral, suggestive, shameless dancing. That’s what happens. And she pleased Herod in the basest way and his dinner guests.

And so he’s going to throw his braggadocio around a little bit. He’s looped, as you would say. He’s inebriated. He’s feeling his petty power … The truth of the matter is, he didn’t have anything to give. He held what he held only because Rome let him hold it. One false step and he was done. And I already told you that happened when he tried to overstep his bounds one time. He couldn’t take any more territory, when he did he was exiled. He couldn’t give up any territory, it didn’t belong to him, this was just sheer braggadocio …

Note how Salome leaves to ask her mother Herodias what she should wish for (verse 24). As we saw from last week’s passage, John the Baptist had infuriated Herodias by telling Herod that his marriage to his sister-in-law was unlawful (Mark 6:18-19). No doubt that statement had been reverberating around Herod’s household since that point. It was only Herod who kept John the Baptist out of harm’s way, mainly because he feared a public backlash from his many subjects who knew Jesus’s cousin was a prophet, the first the Jews had had in 500 years.

But now, that route was open. Salome rushes in to declare that she would like John the Baptist’s head on a platter (verse 25). Verse 26 tells us that Herod is ‘exceedingly sorry’ however he has to save face by making good on this vile request.

Matthew Henry analyses the situation, pointing out Herod’s probable hypocrisy (emphases mine):

The plot laid to take off John’s head. I am apt to think that Herod was himself in the plot, notwithstanding his pretences to be displeased and surprised, and that the thing was concerted between him and Herodias … for John Baptist’s head was worth more than his whole kingdom. This promise is bound with an oath, that no room might be left to fly off from it; He sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask, I will give. I can scarcely think he would have made such an unlimited promise, but that he knew what she would ask … The king was exceeding sorry, that is, he seemed to be so, he said he was so, he looked as if he had been so; but it was all sham and grimace, he was really pleased that he had found a pretence to get John out of the way. Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare-The man who cannot dissemble, knows not how to reign.

Herod immediately orders an executioner to slay the prophet (verse 27) who soon returns with John the Baptist’s head on a platter (verse 28). Note how the girl immediately takes it to her mother, Herodias.

What a savage death. Yet, it was customary in those days amongst high-ranking Romans and their provincial rulers. MacArthur says:

… when the head of Cicero was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Mark Antony, she spat on it and drawing out the tongue that had so eloquently opposed and condemned Antony, she pierced it with her hairpin with bitter ridicule.

And:

John was nothing to them. They had rejected the Messiah. The Herodian party had already been in commiseration with the Pharisees to kill Jesus, reject Jesus. John doesn’t matter. Anything for entertainment.

And so they kill the last of the prophets and the best of the prophets.

Verse 29 tells us that when John the Baptist’s disciples heard the news, they collected his body and buried it in a tomb. Think back to Mark 6:16 when Herod mused on Jesus’s identity:

But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Henry notes that if Herod had bothered, he could have managed to locate John the Baptist’s tomb:

Herod, if he had pleased, might have found it, when he frightened himself with the fancy that John Baptist was risen from the dead.

The parallel version of this story is in Matthew 14:6-12:

6But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

Matthew’s account includes their notifying Jesus. However, in both Gospels, we find Jesus sorrowfully — and briefly — seeking solitude upon this sad event. In Matthew 14:13 we read:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

Mark 6:30-32 includes a call to rest not only because of John the Baptist’s savage death but also the Apostles’ burgeoning ministries:

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

King Herod would not see Jesus until His trial recounted in Luke 23:1-13. Note how this becomes a bonding experience for Pontius Pilate and Herod (verse 12):

Jesus Before Pilate

 1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him,  “You have said so.” 4Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

Jesus Before Herod

 6When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

 13Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”

Luke 23 goes on to describe how Pilate caves in to the mob’s cry for Barabbas to be saved in the annual Passover pardon in place of Jesus.

MacArthur concludes:

… sadly, the words of Jesus come back, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that stoned the prophets, kill those sent to you, your house is left to you desolate.”

Hours after that meeting with Herod, they screamed for the blood of Jesus and asked the Romans to do the dirty work. And they executed Him. The nation received the greatest prophet up to his day, the greatest man up to his day, and the very prophet above all prophets, the Son of God, rejected them both, executed them both. As I said, the Jews didn’t kill either one of them, Herod killed John, and the Romans killed Jesus, but the nation had rejected both.

It’s a horrible tragedy when such privilege is given and privilege is spurned. They went on to chase the prophets and the preachers of the gospel until eleven of the twelve Apostles were martyred. And the persecution even went on after that. The rejection of the true gospel is so tragic.

You say, “I would never do that.” You might want to join the speech of those in Matthew 23 who say, “We’re not like those people, we would never do that. We would never do that.”

Look, if you reject Jesus Christ, you stand with the executioners. There’s no escaping it. You either embrace Him as Lord and Savior, or you reject Him. And if you reject Him, you put Him to shame by that rejection. You stand in agreement with the rejecters and the crucifiers.

But Jesus welcomes your repentance, and welcomes you into His Kingdom if you turn from your sin of rejecting Him, confess your sin, acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior and receive His forgiveness. You go from death to life, from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, from hell to heaven, from tragedy to bliss, this is the gospel. Yes, they put Him on a cross in rejection but in that very act of dying on the cross, He paid the penalty for all the sins of all who would ever believe. And if you believe, then you’re part of that all. The point of application here is just make sure that you’re on the right side of how Jesus can be treated, rejected, or received. To as many as receive Him, He gives the power to become sons of God. What a promise.

Next time: Mark 6:53-56

Today’s post continues a study of the passages from St Mark’s Gospel which have been excluded from the Lectionary for public worship.

As such, it is part of my Forbidden Bible Verses series, also essential in understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 6:14-20

The Death of John the Baptist

 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 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. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20for 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.

———————————————————————–

After Jesus restored Jairus’s daughter to life, He returned to Nazareth, which is where Mark 6 opens.

However, he was not well received by the people from His hometown. Verses 3 and 4 say:

3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4And Jesus said to them,  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

In other words, you can’t go home again. It is rare for a hometown hero to be respected and admired, even by his own family. And there is evidence that not all of Jesus’s family believed He was the Messiah. The general reaction — even today — to many hometown heroes is ‘Who does he think he is?’

Jesus healed a few sick people, but Mark records (verse 5) that He ‘could do no mighty work there’ and was stunned by (‘marvelled’ at) the general unbelief among the Nazarenes.

Whilst Jesus went to teach in the villages, He sent His Twelve to begin their ministries (verses 7 through 9). He stipulated six groups of two. They were to carry the bare minimum with them: no bag, no money and no food. He told them to find lodgings in a private house wherever they were preaching and not to leave there until they had completed their teaching and healing. If any town or village rejected them, they were to shake the dust off their sandals — an ancient Jewish insult — in that place.

Matthew Henry explains the symbolism of the shaking off of the dust in someone’s home or community:

That dust, like the dust of Egypt (Ex. 9:9), shall turn into a plague to them; and their condemnation in the great day, will be more intolerable than that of Sodom: for the angels were sent to Sodom, and were abused there; yet that would not bring on so great a guilt and so great a ruin as the contempt and abuse of the apostles of Christ, who bring with them the offers of gospel grace.

Jesus invested in His Apostles the power to drive out demons (verse 7). Verses 12 and 13 describe the Apostles’ ministry:

12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Such was the power of Jesus’s and the Apostles’ teaching and healing that news of it reached Herod (verse 14). He puzzled over Jesus’s identity and no doubt pondered what others said — that He might have been a resurrection of John the Baptist or perhaps Elijah (verse 15). Then again, maybe He was another great prophet in His own right.

Herod decides that Jesus is John the Baptist, who has returned to life after his beheading (verse 16). We’ll get to the story next week, however, Mark prepares the background for us in verse 17: it was Herod who was responsible for imprisoning John the Baptist.  This was because John told Herod how immoral it was to marry his brother Philip’s wife.

John MacArthur gives a long account of the Herodian dynasty. It was full of incest, questionable marriages and other immorality. MacArthur believes that John the Baptist took exception to the union of Herod and Herodias because she was not divorced from Philip. This infuriated Herodias, and, for her, John the Baptist was her number one enemy. She wanted him dead and out of the way (verse 19).

However, Herod was of two minds (verse 20). He had gladly heard what John the Baptist had to say. Perhaps he also thought that John the Baptist could prophesy something regarding his own rule and his subjects. As long as John the Baptist spoke of things which did not impact Herod’s personal morality, all went well.

Henry notes:

Here we see what a great way a man may go toward grace and glory, and yet come short of both, and perish eternally.

The same situation has taken place throughout history. American presidents avail themselves of clergymen, e.g. Billy Graham in my day, yet continue to pursue questionable public policy or private immorality.

Mark tells us that although Herod knew John the Baptist was a holy man, he was ‘perplexed’ by what he heard.

MacArthur explains:

He couldn’t understand the message of John the Baptist. He couldn’t figure out what he was saying about the Messiah, about judgment. But he used to enjoy listening to him. It was kind of a curiosity. I mean … he was a very great preacher. He must have been at the lowest level at least amazingly entertaining. And he enjoyed listening to him.

So the combination of the novelty of John and the fear of even greater consequences to come against him in the judgment of God, if he did anything to this obviously righteous and godly man, restrained him from taking his life. But he lived in fear of the man. Fear, first of all, to kill him, and then after he did kill him, fear that he’d come back from the dead.

St Matthew’s account relates that Herod was afraid of what his subjects would do should he have John the Baptist put to death (Matthew 14:1-5):

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.

MacArthur explains:

Herod Antipas was put under Tiberius in this position and while the others didn’t last very long, he lasted 42 years…42 years, through the entire life of our Lord Jesus. This man was the petty ruler for Rome over the realm of Galilee. He is the one then who has the most to lose if a power movement starts, if a populace movement rises. And like the rest of the Herods, they’re all paranoid about their power. And if indeed this is John the Baptist risen from the dead, and he has the power to conquer death, then Herod is in some serious trouble….serious trouble. And that’s what he is convinced has happened.

More on the death of John the Baptist next week.

Next time: Mark 6:21-29

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