Mark chapter 6 starts and ends with the ministry of Jesus and His Disciples. Sandwiched between the accounts of ministry is Mark’s account of the death of John the Baptist. It is the account of a weak king who is manipulated and outwitted by an evil, vengeful woman.
The king in the account is technically not a king but a tetrarch, which literally meant “ruler of one-fourth.” When Herod the Great died he left six wills. He had killed many of his sons. Rome stepped in and divided his kingdom into four parts.
The tetrarch of Galilee and Perea was one of King’s Herod’s sons, Herod Antipas. This is the Herod of our story. The Herods were well-known for their immorality, debauchery, lies, murder, and treachery. Herod Antipas was a weak, insensitive, debauched man who was originally married to an Arab princess, probably to cement a political alliance. Antipas paid a visit to Rome and was entertained by his half brother, Herod Philip. While there, he repaid Philip’s hospitality by seducing and stealing his wife, Herodias.
By marrying his half brother’s wife who was also his niece, Antipas had broken Jewish law in Leviticus 18 and defied the codes of decency and morality. Because of this, John the Baptist had rebuked him (Mark 6:18). It took incredible courage to condemn or rebuke a Middle Eastern king who held the power of life and death.
In spite of John’s rebuke, Herod still feared and respected him. John was obviously a man of sincerity and goodness. Apparently, Herod was trying to protect John from Herodias by having him imprisoned. Herodias, we are told, had a grudge against John (Mark 6:19). She was climbing the social ladder, and John had the audacity to speak against her adulterous and incestuous lifestyle.
Herod, Mark says, feared John but enjoyed listening to him (Mark 6:20). Herodias bided her time and waited for an opportunity. This came when Herod gave a lavish banquet for officials in his kingdom to celebrate his birthday. Apparently it was a male-only banquet at which the wine flowed freely.
The daughter of Herodias, Salome, performed a sensual dance for Herod and his guests. This type of sensual dance typically would have been performed by a prostitute. The drunken men would have been filled with lustful thoughts. Watching the girl’s sensuous actions led the drunken King Antipas to make a rash promise. Summoning the girl to him he said, “Ask me for whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” Then he upped the offer by saying, “Whatever it is, up to one half of my kingdom’s wealth, I’ll give it to you.” Technically the kingdom wasn’t his to offer. Rome was his master and would have had to approve any large gift.
The girl sought advice from her mother, Herodias, who instantly saw her opportunity for revenge.
“That’s easy,” she said, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist.”
The girl immediately returned to the king and said, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king realized with terror that he had been outdone by his wife. He didn’t want to kill John, but he was ashamed to go back on his promise in front of his officials. Summoning one of the royal bodyguards, he sent him to the jail cell with orders to bring back John’s head. Salome was presented with the grisly trophy which she immediately took to her mother.
The disciples, upon hearing of the murder, came and carried away the body for burial.
It was simple enough for the king to order the execution. It was far more difficult to quiet Herod’s nagging conscience. He knew John was a righteous man of God, innocent of wrongdoing. He knew he should not have ordered John’s death. He knew his marriage to Herodias was sinful and wrong. He probably tried to divert his guilty conscience by lavish living, by parties like the one in this lesson, and by trying to ignore it.
Then stories began to filter in to Herod about a teacher who performed astonishing miracles. Herod’s guilty conscience went into overdrive. The people had three theories about the work and miracles of Jesus.
1. Some said He was John the Baptist come back to life and doing miraculous things.
2. Some said He was Elijah.
3. Others said He was another Old Testament prophet.
When Herod received word of the people’s ideas, he immediately said, “This is John who I beheaded. He has risen!” His guilty conscience would not allow him to rest.
There are many lessons in this sordid story for us.
1. Recognize Holy Ghost Conviction
Herod had murdered a man of God. He knew John was innocent and godly, yet he beheaded John to avoid being embarrassed in front of his guests. Now his conscience was working overtime. He was consumed with guilt.
You and I need to remember that when we sin there is a price for us to pay. When we deliberately disobey God’s Word or disregard the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will not rest easy till we confess and forsake our sin.
God is interested in our obedience. He wants us to follow His Word and His voice. Let’s resolve to follow Him in obedience. Let’s resolve to quickly obey when the Holy Spirit speaks to us.
2. Release Personal Grudges
Herodias was just as guilty as Herod. Whether for love, power, or political alliances, she married unlawfully. She was wrong. When John confronted her, she could have repented and obeyed. Instead, she nursed a grudge against John. She let her pride and anger turn to hatred, bitterness, and murder. She let a desire master her life and keep her far from God.
A single desire left unchecked or sin without repentance can harden our hearts and separate us from God. By hanging on to grudges and sin we can give the Devil an opportunity to come into our lives and build strongholds from which he can control us. Don’t let grudges build up. Don’t harden your heart against God’s conviction of sin in your life.
Some of us know people who have held on to grudges for years. Some of us may be holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness because we refuse to let go of a grudge. Perhaps someone has wronged us years ago, and we are too proud or stubborn to go and make it right. Someone may have attempted to right a wrong, but we proudly refused to forgive.
That kind of behavior is an insult to the grace and forgiveness of our Lord’s sacrifice at Calvary. Who among us can honestly say we have suffered even a fraction of what our Lord willingly suffered for us? Our Lord willingly forgave those who did unspeakable things to Him—those who caused unimaginable pain and suffering to our blessed Savior. He forgave. Yet sometimes we find it hard to forgive others the trifling things they do against us.
When we get a real glimpse of Calvary, when we realize what He was willing to suffer for us, when we realize even a little bit the great sin we were forgiven, we will have no trouble forgiving each other.
3. Beware of Speaking Rashly
King Herod made a rash promise to the daughter of Herodias in a rush of passionate emotion while under the influence of wine.
Scripture records at least two other rash vows that should not have been made. Jephthah, flush with victory, vowed to sacrifice to God whatever came out of the door of his house to meet him. It turned out to be his daughter (see Judges 11). King Saul vowed to kill anyone who ate before evening. His son Jonathan did not get the message and ate a little honey. Saul was in a terrible predicament (see 1 Samuel 14).
We need to be careful not to make rash promises or pronouncements. It is so very important for us to think before we speak. Some of us rashly say the most awful things when we are angry or upset. We often don’t even mean what we are saying, but those words can wound and hurt deeply. Before we speak, we need to consider the impact our words will have on us and on others.
“Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
4. Avoid Compromising Situations
If we yield to the pressure of those around us, we will do things we have no business doing. Herod did not want to kill John the Baptist, but he gave the order for John to be executed so he wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of his guests. It is so easy for us to go along with the crowd and allow ourselves to be pressured into doing wrong.
We need to avoid situations where we may be too embarrassed to do right. Additionally, we need to determine to do right no matter how embarrassing or painful it may be.
One good way to avoid doing sinful things because of peer pressure is to avoid the people, places and things which we know will tempt us to sinful behavior. It’s no use asking God to “keep us from temptation” if we deliberately place ourselves in those places where we know we will be tempted.
“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
5. Prepare for Persecution
John the Baptist’s fortitude in rebuking Herod Antipas serves as an important lesson for us. May we take courage from John’s example to speak the truth, rebuke evil, and patiently suffer for the sake of the truth regardless of the potential consequences.
Discipleship may mean death or persecution. John the Baptist, Jesus, and most of the Disciples died martyr’s deaths. God has not promised us lives without persecution. All around the world, Christian brothers and sisters are often brutally treated, and many have given their lives for Christ.
We may never face this kind of persecution, but I believe it is important that we prepare for it in case it comes. It is important that we know what and why we believe so we can successfully resist if our faith is put to the test. All throughout history Christians have been called upon to suffer for their faith. It is not reasonable for us to expect that we will be exempt from persecution. We need to be prepared if it does come.
6. Lead the Home with Grace
Herod Antipas was not a strong leader in his marriage or his family. Instead, he was weak, vacillating and selfish. He lived to gratify his passions and get what he could for himself. His wife was pushy, scheming and vindictive. Rather than doing the hard work of standing up to her, he allowed her to manipulate him. We husbands and wives must take a lesson from this pair.
God has placed the man in the position of leadership in the home. He is to be the spiritual leader. His family should be able to look up to him with honor and respect. He should cultivate a deep, spiritual walk with God. This relationship with God should spill over into the lives of his family. They should see him making moral choices and decisions which are shaped by his relationship with God. He should be open and transparent, willing to seek their forgiveness when his life is inconsistent.
He should nourish and encourage his family by leading them in family devotions when they are young, and by encouraging them to develop their own spiritual disciplines when they are older. This kind of spiritual relationship with God will build strong character and will lead to right moral choices.
You ladies need to remember how great your influence can be on your men. Being godly, winsome, and kind will yield dividends which you would never get by whining and nagging. Peter talked about this in 1 Peter 3:1-4: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
Peter also spoke to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
Then Peter spoke to both husbands and wives in verses 8-9: “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”
The family will function best when Christ is the head of the home. If the husband will truly love his wife and family as Christ loved the Church, they should have no problem respecting and submitting to his authority. That authority will be exercised in Christ-like love and tenderness if the husband is truly following Christ. This was obviously not true in the Herod household.
7. Stay True to Your Spouse
We need to remember that God’s Word teaches that death is the only way to end a marriage. Both Herod Antipas and Herodias had a living marriage companion when they were married to each other. God’s Word teaches us that to divorce and remarry while one’s former spouse is still living is sin.
Christ said in Mark 10:11-12: “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” See also Luke 16:18 for a similar passage.
Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, said: “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”
Paul is teaching that if divorce does happen, or has occurred, the partners should remain unmarried or be reconciled to each other. It is truly a hard teaching. Many in Christendom do not teach and practice it, but God’s Word is clear. We disobey at our peril.
8. Keep Yourself Pure
Contrary to the moral depravity we see in Herod, Herodias, and Salome, God calls each of us to lives of moral purity. God is especially jealous of our marital purity, because married couples are a picture of the Church being the bride of Christ.
Just like the Church must keep herself pure before the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9), single persons should keep themselves morally pure. Premarital sexual activity is strongly condemned by God’s Word. It is important that limits are set on moral behavior before one enters a tempting situation. If limits are not set beforehand, one may engage in behavior which they would not have done if limits had been set beforehand.
Married people need to remember that God has called them to sexual purity to their marriage partner. All sexual expression outside of the marriage is sin and is condemned by God. The marriage bond provides proper context for a loving and beautiful physical relationship to flourish, honoring both marriage partners and God Himself. The physical relationship is cheapened and sinful outside of marriage.
Today, society clamors for same-sex marriage and the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. We need to remember that while we love the person, God’s Word clearly condemns these perversions as sin.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul clearly condemns these lifestyles and says those who practice them and do not repent will not inherit the kingdom of God.
God calls all of us to lives of sexual purity. Today we need to guard against pornography, both in print and in digital media. Don’t ever let Satan fool you into thinking you can practice these things alone and not affect others. Sexual sin always affects others. Let’s determine to stay sexually pure both in our actions and in our thoughts.
We need to be like the man who is described in Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Delighting in God’s law and meditating on His law day and night will help keep us morally pure.
Today we are living in a world of moral compromise. The standards of the world correspond to the will of the majority. But as Christians, we are called to be faithful. Our standards need to begin with the Word of God. We must stand up against what is morally wrong. We need to pray for wisdom and courage. And then we need to speak and act in faith. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
May God help us to be faithful.