Lesson 57: The Death of John the Baptist
Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29, Luke 9:7-9
A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. This is lesson # 57. We're going to start in Luke's account, Luke 9:7-9. Please be turning to that. This lesson is on the death of John the Baptist or perhaps I should say the murder of John the Baptist. It would appear that this happened while Jesus and the twelve apostles were going two by two through the villages of Galilee on their mission we covered in our last lesson. "Laborers of the harvest" as Jesus referred to it in the last verse of Matt. ch. 9. Luke uses only three verses to discuss the death of John the Baptist. Let's read it! Luke 9:7-9. Are you ready? "Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; and of some, that Elijah had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. And Herod said, John have I beheaded; but who is this, of whom I hear such things? and he desired to see him."
You will remember that Antipater Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, had put John in prison at about the time Jesus began his public ministry according to Matt. 4:12-17. In verse 9 of Luke 9, where we just read, Herod admitted to murdering John, "John have I beheaded." But, Luke doesn't tell us WHY. V.7 said that Herod was perplexed. So, what was bothering Herod? Not that he had murder John the Baptist. The problem was that Herod had heard rumors of Jesus going over Galilee and preaching to the multitudes in much the same way John the Baptist had done. Herod had not seen Jesus; but, he desired to see Jesus according to the end of v.9. Now, what were the rumors that were carried into this tetrarch's castle? Some said that Jesus WAS John the Baptist risen from the dead. That alone may have caused Herod to spend a few sleepless nights, if he believed that; which we'll discover, he did. Others made the supposition that Jesus WAS Elijah, one of the prophets of old, reincarnated that is. And, there were still OTHER rumors floating around, according to v.8. Now, I suppose that Herod could have sent his troops out and have Jesus brought in; but, even Herod sensed there was something supernatural about all this. And, since Herod already had the blood of John the Baptist on his hand; he was not very anxious to repeat that experience, i.e. deal with a reincarnated John the Baptist, as Herod envisioned it.
Now, let's analyze that Elijah rumor. Do you remember? Malachi said that God would send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the messiah. We've already touched on this several times. It's the last few verses of the O.T. We leaned in Luke 1:17, THAT WAS a figurative statement referring to John the Baptist. Then Jesus confirmed THAT STATEMENT again in Matt. 11:14. But, some were no doubt associating Malachi 4:5 with Jesus, you see. It would appear they associated Jesus more with a prophet or one who would usher in or introduce the messiah, rather than the messiah himself. That was because, as we've said over and over; they were expecting the messiah to be some great earthly king, you see. Notice how Luke states this in Luke 9:7-8. The rumors were (#1) "that John was risen from the dead..." Or, (#2) "that Elijah had appeared." Notice, there's no reference to Elijah being risen from the dead; because, that could not properly be said; you see. Elijah did not die. Elijah was translated, you'll remember, i.e. taken up in a whirlwind in a chariot of fire •in to heaven (II Kings 2:11). All of this, tells us that the general population of the Jews were about as mixed up on the O.T. THEN; as the general population today is mixed up on the N.T. now. Some today teach the KINGDOM came with John the Baptist. Some say it came WHEN Jesus was baptized. Some say it came AT A LATER time. Some say it hasn't come yet. Some, today, have built a lot of theories about a 1000 year period upon this earth, still in the future, THEY SAY, and they associate the kingdom with that imaginary hypothesis; which is pure fantasy. So, just like today; some speculated BACK THEN rather than study to see what the scriptures really taught. And, of course, some had other theories, as well.
But, let's do another reading. Mark 6:14-29. Mark gives us some more details. Have you turned to Mark ch. 6? We're going to start in v.14. Are you ready? "And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad;) and he said, That John the baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. Others said.. That it is Elijah. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias1 sake, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and a holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel; and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb."
Now, let's move to Matthew and read this sad story one more time. Matt. 14:1-12. While you're turning there, I might tell you that ALL OF Matthew should NOW be highlighted in your Bible down through the verses we are going to read. Matt. ch. 14. Beginning in v.1, let's read. "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias1 sake, his brother Philip's wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus."
Notice that all three accounts start off about Herod hearing reports about Jesus. And did you notice that Herod accepted the theory that John was risen from the dead. And, it's quite clear, Herod's conscience was bothering him. Then, after making that point, Matthew and Mark both dropped back and relate the details surrounding John's death, which Luke DID NOT DO. John had expressed disapproval of Herod's incestious marriage to Herodias. As was pointed out some time before; NOT ONLY did Herod Antipater steal Herodias from his brother Philip; she was the daughter of Aristobulus Herod, (that is) she was Antipater (this tetrarch's) niece. Also, back in Luke 3:19, if you remember, Luke said that John had charged Antipater with other evils also. So, we still don't know EVERYTHING that was involved. But, notice in Mark 6:20; Herod observed John AND heard him gladly, (that is) Herod had a certain fascination for John. V.20 in the NIV reads like this: "When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he like to listen to John." Herodias had wanted to kill John from the start (Mark 6:19). But, old Herod was trying to plow down the middle and straddle the fence between Herodias and those that took John for a prophet; that game called politics. Herod undoubtedly thought he could put John in prison for a few weeks, and then later release John quietly. Herod FEARED that doing something rash to John might bring on an uprising of some kind by John's disciples and those that counted John as a prophet. But, Herodias out-maneuvered Herod at his own political game. AND, there is A GREAT lesson here on morals, I trust you can see.
Then can you visualize Herod's big birthday party? Dig into Mark 6:21. "Herod on his birthday made a supper for his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee..." Can't you just smell the pomp on that occasion? A little hoop and a lot of hoo-raw! Dignitaries at every table! Notice how meticulous that both Matthew and mark tell this story, without bias. They don't criticize Herod. Neither do they condone Herod. They simply told it like it was as is characteristic throughout the whole Bible. Now, they didn't say this, but; I tend to see Herod getting a little high on alcohol; after the supper that night about the time the entertainment began. V.22 said, "When the daughter of the said Herodias came in...", probably with more skin showing than clothing. But, I'll leave that to your imagination. THIS GIRL (now) was Herod's stepdaughter AS WELL AS his grand-niece. When the dancing was over, Herod got a little rash and made a fool out of himself. But, Herodias was trigger-happy-ready to take advantage of Herod's weakness. You see, Herod didn't want to appear to back off on his word before all those lords and high captains. It might tarnish his honor. So, v.27 says, "immediately the king sent an executioner..." Someone has said, blessed are the big wheels for they shall go around in circles. You see, Herod got caught up in his own trap. He wouldn't hesitate to kill a prophet in cold blood before he would back off on his drunken word. Then, he couldn't sleep at night with that blood on his hands; because he thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. Can you really visualize this mess? Can you see the great contrast between Herod and John? John went over Galilee teaching REPENTANCE. That simply means change your mind from the wrong thing and start doing the right thing and live accordingly. But, Herod reminds me of a story, I once heard about a cute little, fresh sophisticated gal at her first party, who accidentally put salt in her ice tea, thinking it was sugar. When someone pointed it out to here that; THAT was salt, she said, "OH! I just love it that way!" And she drunk that salty stuff, rather than admit her error. Herod wasn't going to admit his error, he would murder a prophet first.
Now, can't you just see that soldier going to John's prison cell, taking a sword and decapitating that great prophet, placing his head on a platter and delivering it to Herod. "ONE HEAD ON A CHARGER, AS ORDERED SIR!" Jesus said, "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." (Matt. 11:11). Have you ever thought of Jesus' estimate and worth of a human being as compared to king Herod? To Herod, John was just another political pawn. Herod's only question was, Where can I cash this pawn in, to get ME further up the ladder? Then can't you just see the smile on Herodias' face when John's head was presented to her. John WON'T TELL ME WHAT 1 CAN AND CAN'T DO ANY MORE! Have you ever met a Herodias? What kind of moral influence did that have on her young daughter? Some give the girls name as Salome. Now, let me touch on something here that SOME might think is an inconsistency. In Matthew' account, v.8, it says, "she, being BEFORE instructed of her mother" with reference to asking for John's head. Mark said, (v.24) "she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask?", (that is) after the king had asked for her request. Now, I have no trouble accepting that both statements are true. The girl may have been instructed ahead of time; but, she may still have went to her mother for verification and reassurance to see if that was still what that wretched woman wanted; possibly hoping that her mother had changed her mind. Undoubtedly, the daughter, could have thought of SOMETHING she would rather have than a bloody lifeless man's heard on a serving tray. And, then, what about that headless body lying somewhere down there in prison? A young man about 32 years old, dressed in camel's hair and a rough leather girdle. A man filled with the H.G. from his mother's womb. A man with spunk and character. Who preached "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And he preached unquenchable hell fire as punishment for the wicked (Matt. 3:12). John didn't hesitate to condemn sin. He said Christ must increase and John must decrease. Undoubtedly, his aged parents, the priest Zechariah and Elisabeth, his mother, were dead by that time. John was a nazarite. Jesus said John came neither eating nor drinking (Matt. 11:18). But, there lay his lifeless and headless body in that cold prison. They probably dumped the body over the backyard fence, I don't know; but, I wouldn't be surprised. Where ever they placed John's body, it still testified again and again that there was a very great need for John to "reprove" Herod, and he still needed it. As Herod slept it off, I can understand how his recurring, guilt-ridden conscience must have helped him reach that stupid superstitious conclusion that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead; as that visual must have kept coming back, over and over, as he tried to sleep. Remember now, Herod had never seen Jesus, he had only HEARD of Jesus' miracles; but "he desired to SEE Jesus." (Luke 9:9). In Luke ch. 23, Herod finally got his desire; he finally met Jesus face to face; but we'll hold that for another time. Herod wanted to see a miracle of Jesus. Some undoubted associated miracles with spirits that came back from the dead. John the Baptist did no miracles (John 10:41). Jesus did many, many miracles.
Matthew said John's "disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus." Can you imagine the news as it overtook the apostles, two by two? It must have took their mind back to that speech Jesus made in Matt. ch. 10 in preparing them for their journey. There must have been tears all over Galilee for John. He had many disciples. John had baptized many in the Jordan. And one of John's greatest admirers was Jesus. Until our next lesson, have a good day.