Matthew 14 1-12 and Mk 6 14-29: JOHN THE BAPTIST BEHEADED

Introduction. Read Matthew14:1-12

I want to look at the four participants in the drama of John the Baptist's beheading. They will teach us some lessons about human nature.

(A) The weakness of Herod Antipas.

(1) He was corrupted by power.

Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, ruled Galilee and Peraea under Roman supervision. He had considerable power as the guest list for his birthday banquet indicates.

Herod was used to getting his own way and this led him into sin. For example:

(a) He seduced his brother Herod Philip's wife, Herodias. Philip was a wealthy resident of Rome. The seduction resulted in Herod Philip divorcing Herodias. Herod Antipas followed suit and divorced his wife - the daughter of Aretas, the Arabian King of Petraea. This paved the way for Herod Antipas to marry Herodias.

So Herod Antipas sinned in three ways:

  • He committed adultery by seducing a married woman.

  • He divorced his wife without due cause. In the Bible there are but two grounds for divorce - gross immorality like adultery or desertion.

  • He married his brother's wife while his brother was still alive - something forbidden in Lev20v21.

(b) Herod imprisoned John the Baptist without trial or due cause. John was unjustly detained for daring to condemn the sham marriage of Herod and Herodias.

I think this enraged Herodias a lot more than Herod. In all probability Herod would have shrugged off the Baptist's criticisms as the ranting of a frustrated desert weirdo. However, his wife was mortally offended and Herod took the action he did to pacify her.


People change when they acquire power. Many years ago the captain of my cricket club was the most laid back, good humoured and unflappable leader you could wish for. I could say pretty much what I wanted to him without ruffling his feathers. However, as the years passed and he eventually became the managing director of his firm, Dennis changed. He no longer suffered fools gladly. If someone upset him they knew all about it. He had become used to being heeded and obeyed.

In the last school in which I taught I had a good natured relationship with one of the Science teachers. Eventually she was promoted to a senior role within the school. She had more power! One day she said to me, "John, you know, you've changed." I hadn't changed! My friend's attitude had changed with her promotion to the senior management team. This brought her into conflict with me where there had been no conflict before.

This is something we need to be aware of and beware of.

(2) Herod showed at least a superficial interest in spiritual things.

(a) In his gospel, Mark notes a few facts in Herod's favour.

  • Herod respected John the Baptist as a righteous man; a holy man of integrity and insight. Indeed when Herod heard of the miracles Jesus was doing he thought Jesus was John raised from the dead.

  • Herod partially protected John the Baptist from the ill will of Herodias who wanted to kill him. See Mk6v19and20. He did arrest John but held out against putting him to death - as Herodias wanted. I expect Herod had to endure quite a bit of nagging from his vengeful wife. The Tetrarch was in awe of John and did not want to be responsible for his death.

  • Herod enjoyed his conversations with John. He liked to listen to the Baptist as he inveighed against society's ills.

(b) Herod's interest in spiritual matters was inadequate.

  • Herod lacked true spiritual enlightenment. Mark records that Herod was greatly puzzled by what John said.

  • Herod did not treat John justly. He had done nothing to deserve imprisonment. So long as he remained in prison he was at risk.


It is not enough to take an interest in spiritual things. It is quite possible to enjoy fine preaching, to appreciate lovely music, to engage in lively discussion without making a commitment to Jesus. So Just as Herod was not personally committed to John the Baptist so today many people who attend church are not trusting in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Without allegiance to Jesus we are not given the Holy Spirit and remain deficient in understanding the things of God. This is something the great apostle Paul experienced when he was tried before Felix, Festus and King Agrippa. His judges did not understand what he was talking about.

(3) Herod's judgment was distorted by pride.

There are three points to make:

(a) Herod couldn't bring himself to admit that he had made a mistake; that he had been foolish to make a drunken promise to a dancing girl.

(b) Herod was not prepared to lose face before his male banquet guests. He thought it was essential to be seen as a man of his word - even if it was a drunken word. The king couldn't display any weakness whatsoever.

(c) Herod's intense regret does not stand to his credit. The Tetrarch was greatly distressed at Salome, the dancer's request. But, he went ahead and had the good man John beheaded anyway.


If we make a mistake we show strength rather than weakness in admitting it. We will save ourselves an awful lot of trouble by doing so.

Many years ago I taught a rather miserable girl called Anne. One day I noticed she had written on her desk, "Ann sits here." So I began to tell her off. I never finished because she stormed out of the classroom swearing about the unfairness of her f********* teachers. I inspected the desk again after the girl had left and yes, you've spotted it, Ann, not Anne, sits here! Anne's father was enraged and told the headmistress his daughter wouldn't be coming back to school until that old Mr Reed apologised.

The headmistress was very surprised when I said that I had made a mistake and was quite willing to apologise. I did so - publicly, before all her form. The strange thing is that girl stopped being miserable in my lessons after that! I certainly did not show weakness in admitting my mistake.

(4) Herod showed weakness of character.

Herod showed weakness in four ways:

(a) He kept John imprisoned to pacify his wife.

(b) He got so drunk he made a ridiculous offer to Salome. He promised: "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." Mk6v23. It is always foolish to make grand gestures under the influence of alcohol.

(c) He wasn't a big enough man to admit to his folly and withdraw his promise.

(d) He let two scheming women get their way at the cost of John the Baptist's life.


Weak men in authority are dangerous men. A classic example is Pilate. He knew that Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against him. But he gave into pressure and delivered Jesus up for crucifixion.

No schoolteacher feels secure working under a weak head teacher - one who succumbs readily to parental demands.

Church leaders need to act on principle and not be easily swayed by those who shout the loudest.

Above all we need to be careful not to succumb to sex and alcohol. One or the other, or both together, can make fools of the strongest!

(B) The Wiliness of Salome.

Salome was Herodias' daughter and Herod Antipas' step daughter. She conspired with her mother to secure the execution of John the Baptist. There are four points to make about her:

(1) She was a performer of excellence.

Salome was the chief entertainer at Herod's birthday banquet attended as it was entirely by men! Not even Herodias was invited. It is highly likely that Salome was surrounded by male guests and performed a highly erotic dance. Such a dance would appeal to a drunken Herod - especially if his step daughter ended up in his lap!

(2) She exploited her sex appeal.

There is no doubt that young women still do this! Why else do so many wear revealing clothes: ultra short skirts, super tight jeans and tops with plunging neck lines. Yesterday, March 29th 2017, a photograph appeared in most of the morning papers of the UK Prime Minister and the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party showing off their shapely legs.

If a man is bold enough to criticise the opposite sex for showing too much flesh and inflaming masculine passion, the usual retort is, "Well you shouldn't look." This is the height of hypocrisy. The whole point of revealing clothes is to get men to look!

(3) She kept a cool head.

Salome didn't cash in by requesting a fortune from Herod Antipas. He could have wriggled out of this obligation at a later date. Herod could have used all sorts of excuses to put off making payment. Salome had enough sense to leave the banqueting hall to consult with her chief adviser, her mother.

(4) She was a shrewd strategist.

We don't know the full extent of Herodias' advice to her daughter. Note how she hurried back to Herod and asked RIGHT NOW for the Baptist's head. Then Salome was very specific; she wanted it on a platter - served up for all to witness.

In this way Herodias and Salome, together, gave the Tetrarch very little time to reconsider. Salome pressed hard for what she wanted and demanded tangible evidence that her request had been met.


Salome used tactics employed by a legion of dodgy salesmen ever since. We need to be on our guard against the man who knocks on the door and then applies pressure on you to take out insurance, to have the guttering replaced or to install double glazing.

We also need to be on our guard against a caucus who press for a certain policy in a church business meeting; who want to hurry through the agenda and curtail discussion or time for reflection.

Many a decision made in haste has been regretted at leisure.

(C) The wickedness of Herodias.

There are three points to make:

(1) Herodias harboured a grudge. Mark observed: So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him.

John upset Herodias by questioning her marriage to Herod Antipas. She was sufficiently enraged that Herod tried to pacify her by arresting John. But this did not work - she still wanted to kill him. For a time Herod frustrated the resolve of his wife by keeping the Baptist safely locked away. However, as Mark observes: Finally the opportune time came.


It is more foolish to harbour a grudge than it is to cage a tiger. As you feed both they grow stronger and more vicious. Then when the opportunity arises and the restraints are removed, tragedy ensues.

(2) Herodias felt insecure.

Herodias could not be absolutely sure of Herod Antipas. He was a man with a wandering eye who didn't put much store on faithfulness. Also her husband seemed mesmerised by John the Baptist. This posed a threat to her status. There was always the danger that Herod would annul his marriage to Herodias seeing as it was prohibited by God's Law. Many centuries later King Henry 8th of England did just that. He used Lev20v21 to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn - overlooking the fact that the law only applied to a living brother and not a dead one!


There is always a tendency for a person to over-react when their position or status is threatened. Beware!

(3) Herodias was ruthless in her own interest.

She seized the opportunity to silence her enemy - even if it was at the expense of her daughter's dignity and material well-being.

Herodias' thirst for vengeance led to the very worst of sins.


I know a young man whose life is ruined by his thirst for vengeance. Some years ago a woman he was infatuated with took advantage of this to the extent of accepting thousands and thousands of pounds. For the last 3 or 4 years the main object of the young man has been to find ways of getting his revenge. It is spoiling him and putting him at risk of breaking the law.

That most heinous of sins, the crucifixion of Jesus, was a result of the Jewish leaders - scholars, politicians and priests - looking to get their revenge for the many times Jesus had bested them in debate and whose powers they coveted and envied.

Terrible harm has been done to the church through the years when so-called Christians have given in to envy and the desire for revenge.

(D) The worthiness of John the Baptist.

The relevant passages in Matthew and Mark dealing with the events leading up to John's death reveal certain things about him. He was:

(1) Even handed. John didn't reserve his criticism for soft targets. It is one thing to tell the common man to help the poor and tax collectors to levy only what is due but quite another thing to inform Herod that he was an adulterer and his marriage was invalid. John condemned wickedness without fear or favour. I think if he were a late 20th century politician or archbishop he might have made Prince Charles and Camilla both uncomfortable and cross!

John was not willing to compromise over the truth whatever it cost him.

(2) Impressive.

John made a deep and abiding impression on Herod. The king recognised John as a righteous and holy man and for a time he protected the prophet from the vengefulness of Herodias. Herod was very upset when he fell into the trap of his wife's making and John lost his head. Later he even surmised that Jesus the miracle worker was John risen from the dead.

(3) Persevering.

John kept talking to Herod who enjoyed listening to him as he held forth in his distinctive, forceful and colourful style. The king did not always follow John or grasp what he said - but found him quite entertaining.

John persevered hoping to reform the king and persuade him to live by Kingdom of God values. In this he was unlike Jesus. On one occasion Jesus referred to Herod as a fox or jackel. See Lk13v32. When Pilate sent Jesus to be tried before Herod, the king plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. Lk23v8to12.

Jesus knew that Herod was not going to change and so was unwilling to waste his time over him. This is, perhaps, a truth we would rather not acknowledge.

(4) Revered.

John had a band of loyal followers who made sure his body had a decent burial. Then they went to Jesus with the sad news of his death.


Today it requires considerable courage to speak out on certain issues. If you believe homosexuality is immoral and abortion little better, if better at all, than infanticide, you had better not say so publicly in modern Britain. People lose their jobs or get taken to court for sticking up for Christian values.

I believe there are folk who quite enjoy stirring up a Christian and listening to his or her views with amusement. Many years ago now, when I was a student at UCL, another Geography undergraduate loved to get me going on sin in its various guises. He had no intention of committing his life to Jesus. He was just looking for some cheap entertainment - like Herod of old. I was wasting my time talking to him and eventually gave up.

So I am sure Jesus, rather than John the Baptist, was right in his approach to Herod. There are folk who have hardened their hearts to the gospel, and all things Christian, to the point that they are beyond redemption. Reluctantly, they must be abandoned to their disbelief just as Jesus abandoned Herod.

I have two brothers with whom I am no longer willing to discuss Christianity because they are so hostile to God's truth. It is a waste of time and results in ill will. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to be proved wrong!