King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
If we learn anything from Herod it’s not to promise to do something before you know what it is. What a recipe for disaster! Although, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Jesus says not to swear at all, but to let your yes be yes and your no be no. Even so, saying “I’ll do anything you ask” is pretty universally a bad idea.
But mostly I feel that John’s death is meant to be foreshadowing for what will happen to Jesus. This story shows us that no matter how beloved a prophet is, he is sure to make enemies. People don’t like to hear that they shouldn’t do things, and those in power are always afraid of others gaining power. And enemies with power are usually deadly enemies.
As far as we know, John the Baptist was extremely popular among the Jews, even with the Pharisees and Scribes. (At least, nothing in Matthew or Mark seems to show that the Scribes hated him.) That’s one of the reasons Herod didn’t want to kill him. Yet with all that popularity, John was killed anyway. What hope, then, can Jesus have? He’s already more popular than John as the gentiles have been coming to Him too. Yet He has also already made some real enemies in the Pharisees. And now Herod knows who He is and is afraid of Him. In many ways, to the modern reader who knows how the story ends, Jesus’s death seems inevitable. Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him, and it affected everything He did. And I think that’s a big part of why this story was included in the Gospel of Mark.