“King Herod heard of it (see verses 7-11), 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.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 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; for John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for 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.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For 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.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And 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.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” (Mark 6:14-29, ESV)

This is a strange and very challenging passage of Scripture. It’s strange because it seems out of place with the flow of the story of Jesus. It’s challenging because of its’ gruesomeness. It certainly seems out of place with our sanitized and civilized culture, or is it really out of place? Here is a passage that features political power, popular opinion and propheticide. So, perhaps it’s not so remote from our experience after all.

This is a story of what happened and what still happens when the Gospel of the Kingdom begins to have a noticeable impact on the culture. The immediate context of this passage is related directly to Jesus sending His apostles out to preach the message of repentance that was His own focus: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) As the apostles did what Jesus authorized them to do, His own name became more widely known, spawning all kinds of rumors regarding who He was and what was going on.

So well-known had Jesus now become even King Herod was speculating on what this all meant. Herod was hearing what others were saying about Jesus, one of the rumors being that John the Baptizer had come back from the dead. And since Herod was responsible for the death of John, his conscience was leading him to superstitiously believe just that; “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” But why did Herod have John executed and what does that have to do with the gospel and more personally with us?

John was the last of the Old Covenant prophets, a preacher of repentance unto righteousness. Here is the history of his demise, as was the case with so many of his predecessors, at the hands of those who resisted God. When John died the Old Covenant began to come to its fulfillment and end.

When John baptized Jesus, the New Covenant began to arise. The message that John preached continued in the Gospel that Jesus preached. And what Jesus preached was passed on to His disciples.

The death of John is just one more testimony to the struggle between the world, the flesh and the devil and the Way, the Truth and the Life. John pointed his disciples toward Jesus Christ. The disciples of Jesus point everyone toward Christ. The world, the flesh and the devil still and always will resist the message of Jesus Christ.

So, here in this passage in Mark we see the account of how John came to be executed. Here in this account we need to see how the unbelieving world still and always will act without Christ and how it will react to the Gospel. The world is a world of political power, popular opinion and propheticide. It stands organized and opposed to the Way, the Truth and the Life of Christ.

The way of the world is guided by whoever has the political power to lead and demand compliance. That was where Herod was. He played politics to the tee and was quite successful at striking a balance between what the Jews demanded and what the Roman Empire allowed. As long as he could maintain that balance he could act freely, even keeping an unpopular preacher relatively safe from the ungodly ire of his illegitimate wife Herodias; “for 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.” 

Herodias, very clearly represents the way of the world when it comes to defining Truth. As long as people like Herodias can live anyway they want then everything is fine. But if someone comes along preaching the righteousness defined by God in a world defined by rights then popular opinion seeks to influence political power to at least suppress the Truth; “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; for John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John…”

Herodias found the right opportunity to pressure Herod to execute John. Herod had made a very unwise vow in front of his political and military colleagues. Because his political power could only be preserved by maintaining a delicate balance between the Jews and the Romans, his unwise vow made him very vulnerable. Herodias took advantage of Herod’s embarrassing mistake and pressured him to finally rid the world of the prophet who so troubled her carnal pursuits and Herod caved in: “the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head.”

The killing of God’s prophets is described by the word propheticide. Propheticide is almost always the result of the interaction of political power and the power of popular opinion against the righteousness of God. Even in the history of the Old Testament prophets we see this played time and again. And we see this type of thing repeated in the New Testament history of the betrayal, trial, condemnation and death of Jesus as well as the way His apostles were persecuted by both unbelieving Jewish leaders and the Roman government. It has been the grievous testimony of church history right up to and now including modern history.

John was “served up for righteousness sake” because he lived the way God wanted and preached the message God has called all of His servants to preach. The question for us is; are we willing and with God’s help able to be served up for righteousness sake? That is, are we willing to follow the Way of Christ, as revealed in the Scriptures, no matter what it may cost us? Are we willing to study the Truth in order to become equipped to then stand firm in the faith as directed by God’s Word, no matter how people react to us? Are we willing to live the Life of Christ in contrast to and even opposition to the culture of death we are surrounded by? Are we willing to lose our worldly, carnal and prideful lives for Christ’s sake, or will we lose our souls for the sake of “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life?”

I fear that we live in a time when there may be many “Baptists” but very few like John the Baptizer. Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John lost his head for the Kingdom of Heaven, are we willing to lose anything at all for the kingdom?