The Life of John the Baptist: The Death of John the Baptist

The Life of John the Baptist

THE DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST // Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9

I. Herod is reminded of John

    A. Christ was often compared to great men (Mark 6:15; Luke 9:8; cf. Matthew 16:13-14), but we must remember that He is greater than any man (Matthew 16:15-16; John 14:6; Acts 4:12)
    B. Christ’s power reminded Herod of John (Matthew 14:2; Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7-9)
    C. “While John had done no miracles during his ministry (Jn. 10:41), so powerful must have been the effect of his life and work that the tetrarch has no difficulty believing that so mighty a prophet should be risen and now working miracles too.” (Fowler, Matthew)

II. Herod’s unlawful marriage

    A. John boldly proclaimed to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Matthew 14:4; Mark 9:18)

      1. Herod Antipas and Philip (not the tetrarch) were half-brothers
      2. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, another half-brother of Herod Antipas and Philip
      3. Salome was Herodias’ daughter with Philip (not the tetrarch); she later married Philip (the tetrarch), who was also a half-brother of her father Philip (not the tetrarch) and Herod Antipas
      4. Herodias left Philip and married Herod Antipas
      5. “The Jews fiercely resented Herod’s incestuous marriage with Herodias for three reasons: First, he was already married; second, she was his niece; and third, she was his brother’s wife. The Jewish law expressly forbade a man’s marrying his brother’s wife, even after the brother’s death, much less while he was still alive; the one exception being that when a man died without an heir, his brother was commanded to marry the deceased’s widow and produce an heir to his estate (Leviticus 18:16; Deuteronomy 25:5-10).” (Coffman, Matthew)
      6. See also Leviticus 20:21
      7. “The forsaken wife of Antipas was a daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, who resented the insult to his family and throne, and marched upon Herod Antipas shortly after this murder of John the Baptist, and routed him with great slaughter.” (Boles, Matthew)

    B. Too many abandon the truth due to family situations; others compromise depending on their audience

      1. It is interesting that John did not fear the consequences of speaking truth to the powerful Herod, but Herod feared the opinion of the common people in determining John’s punishment
      2. “John boldly rebuked vice even in the great. As our Lord said, when speaking of him, John was no reed shaken with the wind; he was a prophet and more than a prophet, and spoke with a prophet’s fearlessness. Luke tells us that John also reproved all the evils which Herod had done (Luke 3:19).” (Johnson and DeWelt, Mark)
      3. While we may present the truth in different ways to different people, we cannot compromise the gospel message itself (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Ephesians 4:15)

III. Herod’s and Herodias’ opinions of John

    A. “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man” (Mark 6:20)

      1. He even listened to John’s message “gladly”
      2. “Herod was awed by John’s virtue. He feared and esteemed him, and did many things to please the Precursor, but not the one thing against which John’s rebukes were chiefly directed. Herod would not put away Herodias.” (Johnson and DeWelt, Mark)

    B. Yet, despite this respect, “he wanted to put him to death” (Matthew 14:5)

      1. “The purpose was already in his heart, and, had it not been for fear of the people, he would already have martyred John.” (Coffman, Matthew)
      2. Cf. Matthew 5:21-22
      3. Perhaps this was a “heat of the moment” thought when Herod first heard the message, only to cool off after considering the truthfulness of the statement

    C. Herodias “wanted to kill him” but was prevented by Herod

      1. Whereas Herod protected John and listened to his preaching, Herodias’ opinion did not change over the course of time
      2. “She is under stress not only because of John’s publicly denouncing her as an adulteress. She is also menaced, because if she must return to her first husband, or at any rate, leave Herod, to whom she has attached her ambitions, these very ambitions must be immediately relinquished and her personal struggle for supremacy must begin all over at a time when she sees herself beginning to arrive at her goals.” (Fowler, Matthew)
      3. She took hold of the opportunity to exact her revenge on the occasion of Herod’s birthday
      4. “Convenient day for Herodias to execute her malicious designs. Wine, dissipation, licentiousness were all favorable to this.” (Dorris, Mark)
      5. While we may not immediately jump to thoughts of murder, do we not at times resent those who expose sin in our lives? May we consistently examine ourselves that we do not make enemies of men whose only desire is to speak truth (cf. Galatians 4:16)

IV. Herod’s birthday

    A. The dance (Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:22)

      1. “History reveals the corruption that was exhibited in eastern courts; dancers exhibited themselves in immodest attire and aped all of the emotions of sensual carnality.” (Boles, Matthew)
      2. What should we do when we are confronted with the temptation of lust? (Matthew 5:28-29; 2 Timothy 2:22)
      3. We must also take care that we are not the cause of temptation for our brothers or sisters (Romans 14:13)

    B. The promise (Matthew 14:7; Mark 6:22-23)

      1. The rich often enjoy showing off their wealth
      2. “This was the type of boastful, extravagant oath, characteristic of tyrants and despots of that era.” (Coffman, Mark)
      3. “A wild and reckless promise that could have been made only by one who had lost his wits by drunkenness. A drinking man is not a safe business man….But how many in our day give away the whole kingdom of their souls, with health and hope, prosperity, peace, and goodness—yea, the whole kingdom of heaven—for the paltry price of a glass of wine; the pleasure of the table; the acquisition of a little money.” (Dorris, Mark)
      4. Consider the warning in 1 John 2:15-17

    C. The request (Mathew 14:8; Mark 6:24-25)

      1. “When it is considered that Salome might have requested any things which could have been of great value to herself, and that her mother by this suggestion actually robbed her daughter of whatever benefit Herod might have bestowed upon her, all for the sake of venting her vicious hatred against John, the blindness and stupidity of evil are evident.” (Coffman, Mark)
      2. Did Herod have any option but to honor this request? (cf. Leviticus 5:4-5)

    D. The murder (Matthew 14:9-12; Mark 6:26-29)

      1. “Herod’s conscience was dead to real crimes like adultery, incest and murder, but supersensitive to the point of scrupulousness about a broken oath! What moral blindness to uphold a dubious point of honor a the expense of elementary justice!” (Fowler, Matthew)
      2. “John died as a martyr for the truth and exchanged his dungeon for a world where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest—a world in whose light his rejoicing soul could discover the ways of God.” (Boles, Matthew)
      3. The greatest testimony of the life of John comes from the Savior Himself: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)

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