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The Sixth Sunday after Trinity — Seventh Sunday after Pentecost — is July 11, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:14-29

6:14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”

6:15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

6:16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

6:17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her.

6:18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

6:19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not,

6:20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

6:21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.

6:22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.”

6:23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”

6:24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”

6:25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

6:26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.

6:27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison,

6:28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

6:29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This account of John the Baptist’s death immediately follows last week’s Gospel reading, which recounted the last time Jesus visited Nazareth and His sending out the Apostles to preach and heal.

No doubt the Apostles gave credit to Jesus for the healing powers He had invested them with for this short time of ministry, so that they could understand what they were to do later on when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at the first Pentecost.

John MacArthur says:

I think the twelve made it crystal clear that the power was not theirs. After all, everybody in Galilee would have been familiar with these men and their families. They had lived their whole lives there.

It was a small area. They had never had this kind of power before – even when they were with Jesus, they hadn’t had it before. They made sure that everyone knew this was a delegated power and it came from Christ and what they did they did in His name.

News travelled quickly about Jesus, and it was the same with the Apostles’ mighty works during this time.

MacArthur describes it:

it was a blitz. It set loose a greater influence for the gospel of Jesus Christ than had occurred prior in the ministry of our Lord, when He was doing it all Himself. Miracles were happening everywhere they went, dead people coming back to life, people with diseases being healed, demons being cast out, and the gospel being preached. There’s never been anything like this explosion of miracles, the explosion of gospel preaching, and it led to an expanded buzz all through Galilee.

Herod heard of it along with the speculation that John the Baptist had been resurrected and responsible for these mighty works (verse 14).

Others believed it was Elijah, while another group of people thought Jesus was a new prophet in the traditional mould of prophets (verse 15).

Herod then decided that this prophet must be John the Baptist whom he had beheaded (verse 16).

Matthew Henry’s commentary exposes the irony — and foolishness — in such thought, which is brought about by unbelief. They thought John the Baptist had been resurrected, but when Jesus was resurrected, they did not want to believe it:

Note, 1. Where there is an idle faith, there is commonly a working fancy. The people said, It is a prophet risen from the dead; Herod said, It is John Baptist risen from the dead. It seems by this, that the rising of a prophet from the dead, to do mighty works, was a thing expected, and was thought neither impossible nor improbable, and it was now readily suspected when it was not true; but afterward, when it was true concerning Christ, and a truth undeniably evidenced, yet then it was obstinately gainsaid and denied. Those who most wilfully disbelieve the truth, are commonly most credulous of errors and fancies.

However, there is another aspect to this, which Herod must have found troubling. What might a resurrected John the Baptist do to him? His conscience would have been disturbed. He might have also feared a physical retribution.

Henry says:

A guilty conscience needs no accuser or tormentor but itself. Herod charges himself with the murder of John, which perhaps no one else dare charge him with; I beheaded him; and the terror of it made him imagine that Christ was John risen. He feared John while he lived, and now, when he thought he had got clear of him, fears him ten times worse when he is dead. One might as well be haunted with ghosts and furies, as with the horrors of an accusing conscience; those therefore who would keep an undisturbed peace, must keep an undefiled conscience, Acts 24:16.

Mark goes on to give us a flashback into John the Baptist’s death. John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, thereby making him the cousin of Jesus.

MacArthur says that his death and the crucifixion of Jesus are the two most horrific deaths in the New Testament:

The Jews rejected Jesus, we know that, and eventually, of course, they cried for His blood and said, “Crucify Him, crucify Him, we’d rather have Barabbas released to us,” a common criminal. They rejected Jesus, but they also rejected John the Baptist. In fact, that’s a package deal. If you reject Jesus, then it’s clear that you have rejected John because John the Baptist was the prophet who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

It was John the Baptist who said, “I must decrease and He must increase.” It was John the Baptist who said, “He is far greater than I, I’m not even worthy to loose the strings on His sandals.” So if you reject Jesus, you have rejected John. If you reject John, you’ve rejected Jesus. If they had received John the Baptist as a true prophet, if they had received his message as God’s true Word, of necessity they would have had to receive Jesus Christ of whom John spoke. You receive them both, or you reject them both.

Well, they rejected them both and both were murdered. Before us in the text in Mark 6 is a monumental account of the murder of John the Baptist. It is a preview of the murder of Jesus Christ. And though the Jews didn’t actually kill John the Baptist with their own hands, Herod did. And though the Jews didn’t actually kill Jesus with their own hands, the Romans did. Still, the Jews stood by while the murders occurred. The story of John the Baptist’s murder is drama. It is as dramatic as any story in the New Testament, perhaps only exceeded by the story of the crucifixion of our Lord Himself.

Herod had John arrested and imprisoned because he did not like John’s condemnation of his sham marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s wife (verse 17). John told him that their marriage was unlawful (verse 18).

This Herod was Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, as MacArthur explains:

The father of this Herod, who really is known as Herod Antipas, the father of this Herod, and there are many Herods in the scriptures, the father is Herod the Great. Herod the Great compounded your difficulty and understanding what Herod you’re talking about in the New Testament because he had ten wives. So there were a lot of little Herods running all over the place who ended up in all kinds of situations.

Herod the Great was an evil man, including in his own family life, with all sorts of incest taking place.

Herod Antipas ruled under Tiberius Caesar, who succeeded Caesar Augustus. Tiberius Caesar was also a wicked man:

Tiberius was a pedophile of the rankest kind. To describe his life would be a wrong thing to do. Just the discussion itself would be sinful.

Well, 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 populist 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.

As for the sham marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias, MacArthur tells us:

Now we’re into the soap opera. And if you can follow this the first time, you’re better than most. It is so convoluted. Please notice: Herodias is not called his wife but called the wife of his brother Philip. He married her, but the technicality is it was an illegitimate marriage because she should have remained the wife of his brother Philip.

He literally seduced and stole her from his brother. She is not, then, designated as his wife, though they were married. She is legitimately still the wife of his brother, Philip. Scripture in that sense doesn’t recognize her marriage to Herod because of its evil nature.

In other words, Herodias is a bigamist, as is Herod, because his wife is also alive.

There is more to the story:

Herod was already married, and he was married to a very prominent girl whose father was the king of Nabatean Arabia, another area to the east. His name was Aretas. And the kings made these alliances, these marriages. You’re well aware of that even from any form of ancient history. So Herod was married to the daughter of the king of Nabatean Arabia, a man named Aretas.

Herod had a brother, one of the many sons born of the ten wives of Herod the Great. This was a brother also named Philip but a different Philip than the one who had been given a portion of Israel to rule over. This Herod Philip lived in Rome. He stayed in Rome as a private citizen. He was disinherited. We don’t know all of the story behind the story, but anyway, he had been disinherited by the Herod family, so he stayed in Rome as a private citizen and lived without the benefits of whatever the royal line would have brought to him.

He had a wife and her name was Herodias. She was the daughter of another son of Herod the Great. He was a son of Herod the Great, she was a daughter of one of his half-brothers. So she married her uncle, her father’s half-brother. Philip, then, is in an incestuous relationship with her. Philip is one generation from the loins of Herod the Great; she is two generations from the loins of Herod the great. Her brother, by the way, was Herod Agrippa, the one who was eaten by worms. The whole family is caught up in incest.

So Herod goes to Rome, Herod Antipas, and he’s going to visit his brother. He visits his brother and he is attracted, or she seduces him, and so they plan to divorce their spouses. She will divorce his brother, Philip. Herod will divorce his wife, the daughter of the King Aretas, and they will get together. This doesn’t sit well with Aretas, it happens. They did it. Aretas gets mad, amasses an army, and comes and wins a great victory over Herod, who also has an army, and Herod is only saved when the Roman army comes to his rescue. So blood is shed, lots of blood is shed over this marriage.

Because John the Baptist told Herod that his marriage was unlawful, Herodias was dead set against him. She wanted to kill John the Baptist (verse 19) but could not, because Herod protected him. He feared him. He liked what John the Baptist had to say, even though he found it perplexing (verse 20).

Henry explains this contradiction:

Observe, [1.] John was a just man, and a holy [one]; to make a complete good man, both justice and holiness are necessary; holiness toward God, and justice toward men. John was mortified to this world, and so was a good friend both to justice and holiness. [2.] Herod knew this, not only by common fame, but by personal acquaintance with him. Those that have but little justice and holiness themselves, may yet discern it with respect in others. And, [3.] He therefore feared him, he honoured him. Holiness and justice command veneration, and many that are not good themselves, have respect for those that are

He heard him gladly. He did not hear him with terror as Felix heard Paul, but heard him with pleasure. There is a flashy joy, which a hypocrite may have in hearing the word; Ezekiel was to his hearers as a lovely song (Ezekiel 33:32); and the stony ground received the word with joy, Luke 8:13.

However, Herod’s birthday, with the notional great and the good present, was an opportunity for these evil people to do away with John the Baptist (verse 21).

Henry says that Herod was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment:

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 it is said to be when a convenient day was come (Mark 6:21; Mark 6:21), fit for such a purpose.

These birthday parties of Herod’s were so debauched that most Jews disapproved of them, except for those who wanted to curry favour with him.

It was an all-male event. Military officers also attended, as did civilian power brokers affiliated with Rome.

MacArthur says that the party likely took place in Herod’s complex, which included his palace and the prison where John the Baptist was prisoner:

Since John the Baptist was in prison in Machaerus, that must be where the party was held.

After everyone was well fed and watered, so to speak, Herodias’s daughter, also bearing the same name, came in and danced for them, prompting Herod to grant her whatever she wanted (verse 22). He even offered her half his kingdom (verse 23).

MacArthur says that the daughter was not Herod’s child but Philip’s:

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. And being excited by this girl’s dance, he says, “Ask me for whatever you want and I’ll give it to you.”

She left the room to ask her mother, who said that she should ask for the head of John the Baptist (verse 24), which she did ‘immediately’, requesting the prophet’s head on a platter (verse 25).

Unbelievable. Words fail me, even though I know this story well.

Mark says that Herod was ‘deeply grieved’ to have to fulfil her request (verse 26), but Henry doubts that he was that upset, although he probably had a pang of conscience:

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 regnareThe man who cannot dissemble, knows not how to reign. And yet he was not without sorrow for it; he could not do it but with great regret and reluctancy; natural conscience will not suffer men to sin easily; the very commission of it is vexatious; what then will the reflection upon it be?

‘Immediately’, Herod ordered that John the Baptist be beheaded, and the deed was done in the prison (verse 27).

The soldier of the guard returned with the prophet’s head on a platter and gave it to the girl, who, in turn, gave it to her mother (verse 28).

MacArthur gives us quotes from ancient historians about this horrifying spectacle, not unknown in the Roman world:

Broadus writes, “When the dish was brought with the bleeding head on it, no doubt she took it daintily in her hands, lest a drop of blood should stain her gala dress, and tripped away to mother, as if bearing her some choice dish of food from the king’s table. It was not uncommon to bring the head of one who had been slain to the person who ordered it as a sure proof that the command had been obeyed. For example, 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.”

Jerome refers to this incident and says that Herodias did likewise with the head of John. We know not his authority for this assertion, but the desire of the Herod family seems to have been to ape the worst follies and cruelties of the Roman nobility.

When John’s disciples learned of his death, they took his body and buried it (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

Must have been a sad day for them. Must have been a day when they began to wonder because he had been telling them, “Messiah is coming, the Kingdom is coming.” It all seemed to come to a screeching halt. The prophet is beheaded.

John the Baptist had a lot of followers in distant lands, as we know from the Book of Acts. They had to be told about Jesus, whom they believed in.

MacArthur sums up the last of the Old Testament prophets preaching the arrival of the Messiah:

So after imprisonment over a year, John is dead. His work is done. And the one of whom it is said, “There has not risen a greater than John the Baptist,” went into his glorious eternal home, received his full reward for faithful, uncompromising service to his blessed God. And the Jews who were at the party never protested at all. John was incidental to them. 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 killed the last of the prophets and the best of the prophets.

MacArthur tells us how the story of Herod Antipas and Herodias ended:

When Caligula came to the throne in Rome as the Caesar, the Philip who had been tetrarch over Trachonitis and Ituraea had died, and Caligula gave it to another Herod, Herod Agrippa, whom we mentioned. Herodias was angry about this. She thought it should have been added to the territory of her husband, Herod. So she forced Herod to go to Rome and to seek the title, to have a bigger kingdom so she could be a bigger queen. He didn’t want to do it, but he had long since lost the battle to her. So he set sail for Rome.

Agrippa beat him to Caligula, and when Agrippa got to Caligula, in order to seal the deal for him to get the kingdom, he bad-mouthed Herod. And by the time Herod arrived, starting to make his case, Caligula had been convinced that he was a treacherous and dangerous man to Caligula’s power, and so both he and Herodias were exiled and died in exile. It was a bad day when Herod met Herodias – a bad day.

What an ending for two wicked people.

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.

———————————————————————————————-

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 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

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