Why Did John the Baptist Lose His Head?

Why did John the baptist lose his head?

Why Did John the Baptist Lose His Head?

Richard Hollerman

As we read through the four gospels, we are confronted with an enigmatic figure—John the Baptist. More literally, this would be “John the baptizer” or, even more literally, “John the Immerser.” Jesus said of this prophet, “Among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” (Matthew 11:11a). (Read the full account at Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9; Mark 6:14-29.)

Why was John taken captive by Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea? Mark tells us that “John was arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodius, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her” (Mark 6:17). This means that Herod had married Herodius, but she had been earlier married to Herod’s brother, Philip. Herod would not have been permitted to marry Herodius, for obvious reasons.

John had a choice of simply avoiding a confrontation with Herod. Or he could have dismissed the idea of addressing Herod’s remarriage. What was he to do? The text tells us that John chose to confront Herod. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:18). Because of this, “Herodias had a grudge against [John] and wanted to put him to death and could not do it” (v. 19).

As it turned out, Herodius’ daughter danced before Herod and because of this incident, he was willing to give her whatever she asked. At her mother’s urging, the dancing daughter asked for Herod’s head! Although Herod didn’t wish this, he was willing to command that this prophet would be beheaded (read the full account at Mark 6:20-29).

Some of us may read of this account and think how John could have remained alive instead of being murdered. He could have remained quiet! He could have reasoned that Herod was hard-hearted and would not change. He might have recalled how Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). But John the Immerser chose to confront the King and remind him that he had remarried and was now living in adultery! Some would also add “incest” to Herod’s sins here.

Perhaps the background for this was Jesus’ own teaching: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). We know that this teaching came after John was executed and it reflects His own teaching, whereas John was yet under the Old Covenant teaching (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; etc.). Still, John knew that Herod was guilty of sin and should be condemned.

We wonder whether many today would be willing to publicly condemn personalities. Would you? Would I? Would we be willing to say that apparently Ronald Regan and Donald Trump are (were) living in adultery because of their previous marriages? We doubt that either Ronald or Donald would like this reminder, but it is true. What about the dozens or hundreds of Hollywood actors and actresses who marry, divorce, and remarry—sometimes once, sometimes twice, and sometimes more. And what about your own parents, children, brothers or sisters, cousins, uncles or aunts? Are you willing to point out their sin, their adultery, even though society around you accepts this immorality?

If John was willing to publicly expose and condemn the sexual immorality of Herod and Herodius, would you or I be willing to do this? Would we just “sweep it under the rug” and go our way? Would we just dismiss it as being something that millions of people do, thus there is no use?

Let’s ponder what our own response to this popular sin of our age should be. Should we be willing to stand like John and point out God’s will to others? If so, are we willing to “lose our head” like John did? Would we have the courage to stand for truth even when others seem to reject it? Are we willing to speak the truth of God, out of love, because we love God and people? If John was willing to “lose his head” in pointing out the adultery of a leading public figure, are we willing to do the same? What about you? What about me?


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