Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. - Psalm 119:105

Bible Study Notes

Matthew 14: 1-12

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
John the Baptist is Martyred

John the Baptist is Martyred

General Idea: Who is this Jesus? John the Baptist caused quite a stir in the Herodian household. He cut across his social and cultural status and directly challenged Herod Antipas the Tetrarch (ruling governor of Israel), who was the son of "Herod the Great." Antipas divorced his wife and married his niece, Herodias, who was also married to his brother, Philip. This is the stuff that even American soap operas do not touch-incest combined with adultery. The reason why John verbally pronounced judgment? Because, they were still Jews, bound to the law, and representing the Jewish nation-just  as its former leaders who were steeped in sin. Perhaps this scandalous deed was hidden from the public, and somehow John found out by a "word of knowledge," which is basically an insight or proclamation from God. Thus, the public now had knowledge of this scandal; John just blew the whistle and aired their dirty laundry. The result is the entire Herodian household went to war with Israel's most popular sideshow, John the Baptist. Even though John was very popular and Herod seemed to like him by both fear and novelty, he subjected himself to family pressure and imprisoned John.  

Later, at a dinner feast for Herod's birthday, where many guests and dignitaries were, he was tricked into having John killed because of his boasting and pride. Herodias' daughter-probably his brother's daughter danced, and received his attention and blessing. Her mother asked for revenge against John, so John's head was brought to them. Then, when Jesus shows up, performing miracles and getting even more popular than John, Herod becomes fearful that this may be John the Baptist coming back from the dead to get him.  

1.   Heard the report. Jesus was making a name for Himself with popularity that the governor was surprised and fearful of. Herod becomes convinced that this may be John the Baptist.

a.   Most Jews did not believe in reincarnation; however, the Greeks did. So, Herod had influences outside of the Jewish faith which would later cause dire consequences.

b.   Mark adds more of the responses from the people, such as, he is Elijah, a prophet (Mark: 6:14-19). Elijah never died, and many Jews believed he would come back (Matt. 27:47). Ironically, John's role was the same as that of Elijah in power, conviction, and proclamation (Matt. 17:12; Luke 1:17).

c.   Herod indicated a complex Jewish monarchy, riddled in sin, including marrying each other (close relatives,) deception, betrayal, and incest (See our Mathew 2:13-23 study for more info on the Herodians).

d.   Tetrarch was originally a Roman appointed governor, governing 1/4 of the land. At Herod's time, the term referred to the central governor of Galilee and Perea.

e.   It is not lawful for you to have her. A major scandal occurred in the governor's mansion. Herod had an affair with his sister-in-law, who was also his niece! John the Baptist tells Herod in power and in Spirit how bad this is (Lev. 18:16; 20: 14, 21). Herod listens but refuses to repent (Ezek. 33:31-33). This begins a series of circumstances, eventually leading to the crucifixion of our Lord.

f.    First century Roman historian, Josephus, gives more details on this scandal. He states that Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch, and the "paramour" (wife of Philip) divorced their spouses to marry each other's spouse, and by doing this, Herod insulted his former father-in-law, the king of Nabatean.  Nabatean then goes to war with Herod, during  which he receives little Roman support, and his reputation diminishes with Rome and the people. Ironically, he is believed to have been later poisoned by his wife.  

2.   Herod laid hold of John. Herod did not want to kill John; he wanted to stop his preaching, which he took as a political and personal attack against himself.

a.   Birthday. It is interesting that most Jews then did not celebrate birthdays; however, the Romans did. Mark reads, on his birthday he gave a feast for his noblemen (City officials), the high officers (Romans), and chief men (those who were rich and powerful, but did not hold an office). So, this must have been a political party due to the guest list of important people (Mark 6:14-29 gives more details). Thus, as Herod was boasting about himself, he overstepped his own wishes. We have to take this as a stern warning. How do we represent ourselves to others, and how is Christ glorified or subdued by our actions?

b.   The daughter of Herodias. Herod's daughter, intermixed into a inter-twining confusing relationship of being a daughter and/or step-daughter, who is also his brother's wife…Salome is perhaps 12-14 years old-of marrying age.

c.   Promised an oath. Herod makes a bold statement that results in John's death. He cannot, under the code of Roman honor, take back an oath, even if he was drunk. As a Jew, he could have had the Jewish elders absolve it.

                                                  i.   Herod allowed his paranoia, insecurity, and pride get the best of him. He boasted about his kingdom to a little girl whose mother used it to her own advantage.

                                                ii.    This serves to caution us about how we use our words, who is listening, and who will use our own misguided words against us.

d.   Immediately sent an executioner. To prevent further embarrassment, Herod forsakes a trial-as suggested by Roman law, and required by Jewish law-and has John killed. Here we see a shadow of how Christ will be treated!

e.   Did not want to refuse her. Archeological evidence suggests that men and women in Herod's palace, Machaerus, dined and partied in separate rooms, so Herod had to send for her (extra info from Josephus) and then she made her way back to her mom. Herod's behavior toward Salome (some scholars say she is a young women possibly married to Philip-more incest), seems to be incest oriented; thus she may have run from him, and her mother used this against him. Since Herod was not a man of honor, he chose to do what he had promised rather than risk embarrassment in front of the officers whom he lorded over. Heed another warning to us on the importance of living a clean life that is above reproach, so no one can blackmail us or use our own misguided actions against us!  

3.   Mark adds, up to one half of my Kingdom. Herod is an appointed vassal of the Roman government; thus, he has no authority to divide up the land. This is an example of how intoxication affects the mind so one's speech does not match the normal will or desires.

a.   Beheaded. A trained Roman solder using a sharp sword. Most doctors and many civic leaders over the centuries will say this is the fastest and most painless way of execution; however, some medical evidence indicates all the neurons fire all at once which would result in extreme pain for up to five minutes or more. The French discovered in the French revolution that people can blink and answer yes or no questions up to a minute after a beheading. Only the Greeks beheaded at that time.

b.   Platter. This is where it gets real ugly; this, culturally, refers to a "dinner menu." Although not necessarily cannibalism, it was further mockery.

c.   They came and took away his corpse. In Jewish tradition, it is the eldest son's responsibility to take care of the father's body and the arrangements. For the Jews-and most ancient cultures-forsaking a proper burial was one of the most disrespectful things to do to a family member. This would indicate John had no family, or was estranged from his family. So, his disciples took up the role of family. It is also possible Herod prevented the family from taking the body to further display his scorn of John. This is also an echo as to how Jesus' body would be treated!

d.   Went and told Jesus. The language refers to being stunned! They did not expect this. However, Jesus, being God, did. This is also a model of intimacy, as they shared their grief with Jesus. For us, this is a testament of how we are to handle grief and disappointments-by going to Jesus, who is our Savior as well as our God and Lord, and who will help us (Psalm 55:22; 1 Pet. 5:7). 

          This passage has a lot of examples on how not to live, and how a poor self-esteem, riddled with paranoia and pride, can result in very bad decisions. It is an example of how drunkenness will cause us to lose control of our thinking ability, which will cause bad reasoning and thus bad decisions, affecting us as well as all those around us. This is also a testament of the fact that when our faith is idle or absent, other things will fill the role that only Christ should fill. For Herod, it was sin, paranoia, and drunkenness. For many Christians, it can be the same-along with drugs, bad relationships, and wrong decisions that skew our life in Christ, and negatively affect all those around us. Without a firm faith in Christ as Lord, our imaginations will take over as they did for Herod. These loose thoughts will lead us to make bad choices. We will not practice our faith by obedience, so we become slaves of other influencers, superstitions, presumptions and pride.  

 

 
Questions:  

1.   If someone said to you, "You can have anything for your birthday," what would you ask for?

 

2.   Why do you suppose Herod feared Jesus and John so much?

 

3.   Why would John take such a risk to verbally pronounce judgment against Herod?

 

4.   How would you describe Herod's character and ability to rule?

 

5.   Why do you suppose that Herod became convinced that Jesus might be John the Baptist?

 

6.   If the Herodian household was made into a TV show, would it be too risqué for even today's loose morals audience?

 

7.   Have you ever had to confront someone's sin? Without names what generally happened and what did you do, and how did they respond? What would you do differently now?

 

8.   Do you believe it is important to confront sin? Why or why not? What happens when we do not?

 

9.   Why do you think that Herod did not want to kill John?

 

10. How did Herod allow his paranoia, insecurity, and pride get the best of him?

 

11. When have your pride or insecurity gotten the best of you? What happened? What did you do? What would you do now?

 

12. How is this passage a warning to us about how we use our words, who is listening, and who might use our own misguided words against us?  

 

13. Intoxication by drinking, drugs, or any other means will affect your mind so your speech and actions do not match your normal will and desires. Why does this not scare some people? Does it scare you?

 

14. If John had family, why do you suppose they did not take care of his body? Keep in mind that Jesus' own family was related to John, so, Jesus' brothers would fill that role if John had no male relatives.

 

15. Why were the disciples of John stunned? After all, he was in prison and had publicly humiliated the king. 

 

16. Our handling of grief and disappointment by going to Jesus, who is our Savior as well as our God and Lord, will be the crucial key that will help us (Psalm 55:22; 1 Pet. 5:7). Why, then, would a Christian not do this?  

 

17. Without a firm faith in Christ as Lord, our imaginations will take over as they did for Herod. How so?

 

18. Read Romans 6:5-18: What controls and dominates you?

 

19. Who and what we yield to will control us, whether it is drugs, power, money, alcohol, dysfunctional relationships, or uncontrolled imaginations. How have you seen this in your life or in the lives of others?

 

20. What can you do to control your imaginations so you master them rather than having them master you? What would that mean?  

 

 

© 2003 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org  

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