SECTION 7: THE WITHDRAWL OF THE KING
JOHN THE BAPTIST BEHEADED
THE COMPROMISE OF A CONSCIENCE
Scripture To Consider:
“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.’ For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for John had said to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ And although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted John as a prophet.”
“But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore, he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So, she, having been prompted by her mother, said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him at the table, Herod commanded it to be given to her. So, Herod sent and had John beheaded in prison.”
“Then John’s disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.” Matthew 14.1-12
Something To Consider:
To record the death of John the Baptist just at this point in the story is a stroke of genius. The death of His herald was a certain forewarning of the forthcoming rejection and crucifixion of the King. Its recital forms a fitting transition to this portion of the gospel of rejection, which deals with the temporary retirement of Jesus and the crisis of His struggle with the so-called religious Pharisees of Galilee.
In itself, the incident is one of tragic interest and deep moral significance. The grotesque picture of Herod shows the peril of trifling with conscience. Herodias reveals the deadly and wicked power of revenge. Both are contrasted with the moral grandeur of John the Baptist. Both are connected with the career and ministry of Jesus. This Herod Antipas is to be distinguished from Herod the Great and from Herod Agrippa; yet all are involved in a common and evil infamy.
Herod the Great slaughtered the innocent babes of Bethlehem in hope of destroying the true King baby Jesus. Herod Antipas murdered John the Baptist, the herald of the King. Herod Agrippa killed James and imprisoned Peter, two of the chief early church messengers of the King. And kings, and presidents, princes, politicians, and misguided preachers and false prophets have attempted with some success to silence the message John the Baptist and others died for, including Jesus Himself.
Something Else To Consider:
The real human instigator of the crime against John the Baptist was Herodias whom Herod married although her husband, the brother of Herod, was still living. John the Baptist, with the courage of a great prophet who does not fear to rebuke sin in high places, had won the enmity of Herodias by condemning the guilty of an adultery alliance. She, therefore, hated John for his rebuke, because his influence threatened to foil the ambition which had led her to desert her lawful husband in order to secure a sinful position of royalty.
Herod imprisoned John but hesitated to put him to death both for fear of the people and because Herod himself regarded John with something of reverence and awe. Herodias plotted in advance to secure a cruel revenge. While Herod celebrated his birthday in revelry with his companions, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, was sent in to dance most likely immodestly before the king and his guests.
In the king’s most likely drunken delight, no doubt he promised an oath to reward her with any gift she may name. Prompted by her mother she requested the head of John the Baptist. The king is entrapped, and yet, he could have refused, but Herod was a moral coward. He feared to withdraw his rash oath lest he should be ridiculed by his companions. And so, Herod violated his own conscience by compromise. He issued the fatal command. He won the contempt of his comrades and secured the scorn and condemnation of the world.
It is not the last time that an indecent dance has established the downfall of a king. It is not the last time that a man has been more afraid of a sneer than a crime. It is not the last time that the vanity and malice of a woman has brought about the death of a prophet. Therefore, Herodias gloated over her bloody prize. And Herod had silenced the voice of John the Baptist, and yet, he could not still the voice of his conscience.
Again and again, the buried memory of Herod’s crime rose up to torment him. And more terrible still he came to believe that John himself had risen up from the grave to confront him and possibly to destroy him. Herod heard of the miracles of Jesus and his awakened conscience filled him with horror. Herod believed that none, but John could perform such works. Herod, therefore, wrongly identified John with Jesus.
It is not strange that Jesus saw clearly what the kings and princes of this world had in store for Him and that He sought places of seclusion where He could instruct His disciples and prepare them for His last struggle with the religious rulers and for the hour when He would follow His forerunner in the experience of a violent and cruel death.
Something More To Consider:
It appears Herod was beside himself at the fast-traveling news of Jesus working various miracles. In his corrupt and seared conscience of a mind and heart, he believed Jesus to be John the Baptist raised to life in spite of his own compromising of conscience edict to kill John the Baptist by beheading, a horrifying method still being used in the Middle East today by terrorist not unlike Herod.
Had Herod not been filled with a self-preserving pride and hardened by a willingness to compromise his conscience, he could have just as easily have said no to Herodias’ daughter’s ruthless request for John’s head on a platter. But that is the ultimate problem created over time by a person’s refusal to submit to the conviction of one’s own conscience. After a length of time with no spiritual restriction it becomes easier to compromise and less important to simply do the right thing.
In other words, without Christ in a person’s life and without the Holy Spirit’s influence we would all become like Herod in one degree or another. Compromise usually does not begin with the beheading of a person. But one compromise leads to another, and each decision to compromise a person’s conscience is more easily rationalized the next time.
A Few Final Words:
In reality, compromise is not only a spiritual problem of kings. And yet, in essence, according to John the apostle, in Revelation 1.6 and also in chapter 5 and verse 10, as true born-again overcoming and enduring to the end believers, we have been made unto God, kings and priests. And in reality, on a daily basis, we are faced with the temptation to compromise our consciences and our biblical convictions.
As we are living in this world, and yet not of this world, the enemy, our flesh, and unbelievers that surround us, are all attempting to wrongfully influence us toward compromise on an almost daily basis. Therefore, the spiritual dilemma continues to cloud the judgment of many. Will we remain faithful to the cause of Christ when faced with temptation? Will we become and remain more like Christ, or more like faithless followers who succumb to the call to compromise?
Whether kings, priests, carpenters, plumbers, doctors, nurses, teachers, peacekeepers, politicians, religious leaders or parents; if we endure, if we overcome, if we produce fruit worthy of repentance, according to John in Revelation 5.10; we shall reign with Christ on the earth in the future.
The decision should be clear! The choice should be an easy choice! Compromise is not negotiable for spiritual kings and priests who in reality are simply happy to be faithful everyday followers of Jesus Christ.
Our Father in heaven, thank You for the biblical teaching of John the Baptist being beheaded for his faith in biblical truth. Thank You for the divine revelation of the fruit of the compromise of a conscience and the willful refusal to rightly respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit of God. Make of us overcomers of evil and individuals who desire to reflect the spirit of Jesus who endured to the end of His earthly life. In Him Always, Amen!