Capitol Bible Study: “Clash of Kingdoms” (Mark 6:12-32)
Mark 6:12-32 12 They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. 14 And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” 17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, 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 Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. 21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 Immediately she came in a hurry 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 although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded 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 about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.30 The apostles *gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He *said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
Today’s passage is a vivid example of the clash between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of heaven.
1. A Worldly King’s Reign (6:14 -16)
An identity problem: There were seven leaders named “Herod” mentioned in the Bible. All of them were part of the same family dynasty that ruled Israel for four generations. The ruler in today’s story is Herod Antipas. Antipas was obviously an insecure man, a weakness probably fueled by his desire to make a name for himself in a family that included so many powerful government leaders, especially his now deceased father, the famous “Herod the Great.”
An insecurity problem: In 6:14 he is referred to as “King Herod” because that was his self-designated title, but Antipas was not really a king. He was, in fact, a “tetrarch” (Matthew 14:1), which means a ruler over a fourth of the country. He and his brothers divided the rule of Israel, under the leadership of Rome. His territory included the regions of Galilee (northern part of Israel) and Perea (east of the Jordan river).
A moral problem: First-century historian Josephus explains that Herod Antipas visited his brother Phillip and his wife Herodias. Herodius, though married to Phillip, was actually Philip’s and Anitipas’s niece. Antipas and Herodius developed a relationship, and so Herodius left her husband/uncle Phillip and Antipas left his wife Phasaelis, and they married.
A fear problem: Antipas was controlled by his fear. He was afraid of his evil and power-hungry “wife” and afraid of his political reputation. If only he were more afraid of God.
2. A Heavenly Kingdom’s Response (6:17-18)
John the Baptist was the greatest man to ever live up to that day (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28). As such, we can learn much about how to serve God from his example.
Some people today say that John the Baptist’s speaking out about Herod’s sin shows that all Christians have a responsibility to engage in political activism against immoral leaders and laws, but a careful look at this passage shows that John was busy with something very different than that. He was instead engaged in personal pastoral ministry.
a. John called ALL Jews in Israel, not just Herod, to repent and follow God (Mark 1:5) If we are going to address the sins of government leaders, we should do the same regarding the sins of others too.
b. John was not giving speeches about Herod’s sin. He spoke “to” Herod (6:18, Matthew 14:4), not about Herod. When we have a concern about someone, we should speak to that person personally if possible, even if they are a powerful leader (Galatians 6:1).
c. John did not lambast Herod’s corrupt leadership Instead, he focused on personal repentance before God, probably referencing scriptures like Lev 18:16, 20:21 and others that addressed Herod’s specific sins.
d. John focused his ministry on the Jews, who were God’s chosen people entrusted with His word. There is no mention of him rebuking the well known atrocities of the Roman Emperor or the other Gentiles leaders and citizens in Israel, some of whom were far more immoral and corrupt than Antipas. In a similar way, we are today to address unrepentant sins in the lives of those who profess to follow Christ (1 Corinthians 5:9-13), but proclaim the Good News of salvation to unbelieving sinners.
e. Jesus did not speak to or about Herod at all. One time, Jesus implied that he was going to ignore him (Luke 13:31-32), which is exactly what he did later (Luke 23:8-9). Jesus knew that John had already preached to Herod, so to do so again would have been as pointless as “throwing pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6).
3. A Worldly King’s Reaction (6:19-28)
Antipas submitted to the demands of Herodias and had John arrested. He was then able to hear from John often (6:20), This was his big opportunity! The greatest prophet ever other than Christ was preaching to him! What a privilege! As Charles Spurgeon said, “Alas! the gospel seldom climbs the high places of rank and dignity. It is a great act of mercy towards nobles and princes, when they have the opportunity of hearing a faithful gospel discourse.”
Instead, Herod had John killed. Why? Pride: His ego was too big to admit his sin. Politics: He was too worried about appearing to be a weak leader if he confessed he had made a bad public promise. Cowardice: He was too fearful of Herodius’ to do the right thing.
God, in his mercy, gave Herod one more chance to repent. About eighteen months later, the Messiah Himself stood before Herod (Luke 23). Sadly, Herod on this day made friends with the Roman prefect of Judea, Pilot, as they united in their mutual rejection of Jesus (Luke 23:12).
4. A Heavenly Kingdom’s Reward (6:29-32)
Years later, Herod Antipas and Herodius traveled to Rome to request the right for him to be officially titled “King” over his territory. Instead, the Emperor removed him from office. Antipas and Herodius moved out of their country and into historical obscurity. As far as we know, they never did submit to God.
And what of John the Baptist? No sane person desires martyrdom, but moments after his head was removed from his body he entered into the glorious presence of the Lord where he lives now and where he will enjoy a rich future forever.
And so today, we each choose our path. Will we go Herod’s way, which is the way of this world? Or John the Baptist’s way, and enjoy a heavenly kingdom’s reward? Herod and John made their choices. Now it’s your turn.
(A printable formatted copy of this and other Capitol Bible Studies is available online at www.capitolcom.org/california/studies. Audio recordings of some Bible studies are also at www.frankerb.com or soundcloud.com/frankerb1.)
(c) 2014 Frank Erb