John the Baptist

The Gospel of Mark – Part 21

John the Baptist – Mark 6:17-29

Mosaic Rockford – Dave Spooner – Jan. 12th, 2020


  • Jesus had been teaching and doing incredible things, all of which was evidence of who He was.  People came in droves from far and wide to hear, to see, and to form their opinion about Him.  Many devoted their life to Him and put their faith in Him as the Christ, the Son of God. While others rejected Him, and some went as far as to want to kill Him. Jesus and His followers received a response from all that they encountered, even from those in “high places.” 
  • Last week we left off with the ruler of the region, King Herod, misidentifying Jesus as “John, whom I beheaded, had been raised” (Mark 6:16 ESV). At this point, Mark then tells the story of what had become of “John the Baptist” which we have not read about since chapter one.  
  • John was a significant figure as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of the one who was to come to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3 ESV). He preached with great courage and saw crowds of people repent and be baptized. He pointed people to the messiah saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8 ESV)
  • He even baptized Jesus and was there when the Holy Spirit came down on Him as a dove, and he heard the voice of the Father saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11 ESV).  Jesus then goes out into the wilderness to be tested, and then we read, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God” (Mark 1:14 ESV). This is the last thing that we hear about John the Baptist until this point, where Mark gives us more details as to what had happened to John. From John’s story, we can learn some important truths about following God’s calling on your life in the realities of the world we live in so that you will continue to be strong, faithful and courageous.  

Truth and consequences

Mark 6:17-20 ESV
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. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 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.

  • The ruler of the region at that time was King Herod or Herod the “tetrarch” (Matt. 14:1). {By the way, there are four rulers from this family and three “Herods” in the Bible. The first is “Herod the Great” who was reigning during the time the Jesus was born (Matt. 2). Herod the Great had 10 wives and from these marriages came many children.} The Herod in this passage was a son of Herod the Great and he is known as King Herod, or Herod the tetrarch or Herod Antipas. He was the one who had John the Baptist killed, and the one who is in power when Jesus was crucified (Luke 23). 
  • The Grandson of Herod the Great (Marcus Julius Herod Agrippa I) also came to power and we read about him in Acts 12 when Peter was imprisoned. And finally, the great Grandson of Herod the Great came to power (Marcus Julius Herod Agrippa II – know as “King Agrippa” in Acts 25 & 26). King Agrippa was the king that Paul was imprisoned under. All that to say that this was a long-standing and complicated ruling family in the region during the time of Christ and the early church.
  • Herod the tetrarch, the one John the Baptist interacted with, had married his half brother’s wife, and according to the Law of God, this was forbidden (Lev. 18:1; 20:21) and John the Baptist told him so. John, staying true to the word of God and His calling, spoke truth to power and because he did so, they wanted to kill him (see also Matt. 14:1-12). But because Herod “feared the people, who held him to be a prophet,” (Matt. 14:5) they put John in prison. While a prisoner, Herod and John talked, and Herod “heard him gladly” and also “feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man” so he protected him from his wife killing him.  
  • John was in prison for boldly and courageously doing the will of God and following the word of God. He could have backed away, or looked the other way, or ran away, but he followed the way, and so doing ending up in prison. Sometimes because we are doing the will of God and speaking the word of God, people will do us harm.  Don’t be naive about this. Truth has power and in order to live and be in the truth you must be willing at times to suffer for the truth of God.  Some people will receive the truth and others will repel it. 
  • At this point, I am going to interject another passage from Matthew, where Matthew gives us some more details about John’s time in prison, where John has questions and expectations.  

Questions and expectations

Matt 11:2-6 ESV
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” 

  • While John was lingering and locked up in prison (it could have been a year or more), he started to have questions for Christ. I believe that his expectation was that the Christ would vindicate and free him from his imprisonment (based upon the response of Jesus), but there he was still in prison, and wondering why he was still there. So, John told some of his disciples to go the Christ and ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Basically, he was saying, “Hey Jesus, when are you going to get me out of here? I have served the word of the Lord; I have acted boldly and courageously and have stayed true to your word and now I am here.  When are you going to bring justice to me?” This is what John and others expected the Christ to do, to bring justice in his vengeance and yet, John still waited in prison. “Christ, are you the one we were expecting, or shall we look for another?” People typically ask that question when they are facing hardships and difficulty as a result of living their lives according to the word of God. 
  • Jesus answered the question by telling John all the things that were happening and that they could see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news preached to them. Jesus was quoting to John two messianic passages from the prophet Isaiah (35:5-6; 61:1 with possible further allusions to 26:19, 29:18-19) saying that what was prophesied about the messiah is being done by me, saying that He is really the messiah. The confusion comes in, is that in all of these passages there is also the verses that say, “your God will come . . . with vengeance; with divine retribution” (35:4) and “the day of the vengeance of our God” (61:1). John thought that all these things would happen at the same time, however he was yet to see the “vengeance” and “retribution” part. 
  • The truth is that this part of the prophecy will come, and it will come after a period of time where the grace of God will reign until the final accounting and wrath of God comes. Jesus, after telling John all these things, said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” – blessed is the one who does not fall away from me or trips up over me. God will always be true to His word; we must always wait for His timing. Don’t be offended if God does not do for you what you want and expect Him to do for you in the timing that you want it. Don’t be upset or offended by this.  Many people walk away from their faith because of this. Wait for Him in faith. He will fulfill His word in His timing. He will put all things right in the end, for everything will be seen for what it is (Heb. 4:13, I Peter 4:5).    

Rulers and realities

Mark 6:21-29 ESV
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 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.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 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.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

  • Herod had gathered the nobles, military commanders and leading men of Galilee for a birthday party in his honor. Rulers of the earthly kingdoms like having people of power and influence around them, so they can feel more important, connected and also to spread and flex their influence and power. It has always been and always will be (this of course was not how Jesus did things). Rulers are given the power to rule, for the bad or for the good.  
  • While they were together, Herod’s stepdaughter came out to dance for them and her dancing “pleased Herod and his guests.” Herod promised her anything she wanted (up to half the kingdom, which used to say, you can have anything I can give you). This girl then asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother saw this as the opportunity to get her revenge, so she wanted the head of John the Baptist immediately on a platter. (She knew that she had to strike now when these people were around so they would see if he would keep his word or not – she was a crafty woman indeed). Herod granted her request because “of his oaths and his guests, he did not want to break his word to her.”  
  • People in positions of authority have egos and unless they are submitted to Christ, they defend them with their power and authority. In defense of their pride and ego, they did what they did, and the man of God paid the price. And the God of heaven let it happen, to one of his greatest servants. This is how rulers are and this is reality. Just because you are doing what is right and good does not obligate God to save you from all harm. However, this is not the final end of the story, for God in the end will bring justice. God in the end will set the record right and give to everyone what is due them. 

1 Peter 3:17 ESV
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.


  • It is better to be in the will of God and suffer then to be out of the will of God without suffering.  Telling the truth according to God’s word is always the right thing to do, and in doing so you may turn people from their sin, or you may have to suffer for the truth. Either way, you want to be on the side of the truth of God’s word, no matter what it costs, because the reward of God is by far better than any difficulty and suffering you will endure here on earth.  Fix your eyes on Jesus, and look for a greater reward (Heb. 11 &12).