Lesson 22 | Sabbath, 2 June 2018
“To many minds a deep mystery surrounds the fate of John the Baptist. They question why he should have been left to languish and die in prison. The mystery of this dark providence our human vision cannot penetrate; but it can never shake our confidence in God when we remember that John was but a sharer in the sufferings of Christ. All who follow Christ will wear the crown of sacrifice. They will surely be misunderstood by selfish men, and will be made a mark for the fierce assaults of Satan. It is this principle of self-sacrifice that his kingdom is established to destroy, and he will war against it wherever manifested.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 223.
John the Baptist’s encounter with Herod the tetrarch
1. Who was in power in Galilee during the ministry of Jesus and of His predecessor, John the Baptist?
Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene.
“Herod Antipas (born B.C. 21; died A.D. 39), son of Herod I the Great, who became tetrarch of Galilee and ruled throughout Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry. In The Gospel According to Luke (13:32), Jesus is reported as having referred to him with contempt as ‘that fox.’ ” –Encyclopaedia Britannica, Online Edition, article “Herod Antipas, Ruler of Galilee.”
2. What did this king do, regardless of divine warnings? With the same holy motives he had used with others, how did John the Baptist admonish the king?
Mark 6:17, first part, 18 … Herodias…, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. 18For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.
“Herod was affected as he listened to the powerful, pointed testimonies of John, and with deep interest he inquired what he must do to become his disciple. John was acquainted with the fact that he was about to marry his brother’s wife, while her husband was yet living, and faithfully told Herod that this was not lawful. Herod was unwilling to make any sacrifice. He married his brother’s wife, and through her influence, seized John and put him in prison, intending however to release him.” –Early Writings, p. 154.
3. Was Herod ready to acknowledge his sin and depart from it?
Matthew 14: 3, 4 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. 4For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
Luke 3:19, 20 But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
“John the Baptist had been first in heralding Christ’s kingdom, and he was first also in suffering. From the free air of the wilderness and the vast throngs that had hung upon his words, he was now shut in by the walls of a dungeon cell. He had become a prisoner in the fortress of Herod Antipas. In the territory east of Jordan, which was under the dominion of Antipas, much of John’s ministry had been spent. Herod himself had listened to the preaching of the Baptist….
“Through the vast throngs that had listened to John’s preaching, his fame had spread throughout the land. A deep interest was felt as to the result of his imprisonment. Yet his blameless life, and the strong public sentiment in his favor, led to the belief that no violent measures would be taken against him.” –The Desire of Ages, pp. 214, 220.
Hearing the Lord’s messenger
4. Nevertheless, what was Herod’s opinion of John the Baptist? After he put the prophet in prison, what did Herod do occasionally? How did his wife Herodias feel about the Lord’s messenger?
Mark 6:20, 19 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly…. 19Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not.
“[Mark 6:19 quoted.] John dealt with him faithfully, denouncing his iniquitous alliance with Herodias, his brother’s wife. For a time Herod feebly sought to break the chain of lust that bound him; but Herodias fastened him the more firmly in her toils, and found revenge upon the Baptist by inducing Herod to cast him into prison.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 214.
5. What happened on the birthday of Herod the tetrarch, ruler of Galilee? What unthinking, extravagant promise did he make to his wife’s daughter Salome following her entrancing dance?
Mark 6:21-23 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; 22And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. 23And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
“When the great day arrived, and the king with his lords was feasting and drinking, Herodias sent her daughter into the banqueting hall to dance for the entertainment of the guests. Salome was in the first flush of womanhood, and her voluptuous beauty captivated the senses of the lordly revelers. It was not customary for the ladies of the court to appear at these festivities, and a flattering compliment was paid to Herod when this daughter of Israel’s priests and princes danced for the amusement of his guests.
“The king was dazed with wine. Passion held sway, and reason was dethroned. He saw only the hall of pleasure, with its reveling guests, the banquet table, the sparkling wine and the flashing lights, and the young girl dancing before him. In the recklessness of the moment, he desired to make some display that would exalt him before the great men of his realm. With an oath he promised to give the daughter of Herodias whatever she might ask, even to the half of his kingdom.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 221.
6. What was her terrible request, perpetrated by her mother Herodias, who hated John the Baptist?
Mark 6:24, 25 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.25And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.
“Salome hastened to her mother, to know what she should ask. The answer was ready–the head of John the Baptist. Salome knew not of the thirst for revenge in her mother’s heart, and she shrank from presenting the request; but the determination of Herodias prevailed. The girl returned with the terrible petition, ‘I will that thou forthwith give me in a charger the head of John the Baptist.’ Mark 6:25, R.V.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 221.
The warning voice silenced forever
7. Although he was shocked and saddened by the girl’s unbelievable request, what horrible order did Herod give? What satanic activities and atmosphere contributed to this great prophet’s death?
Mark 6:26-29 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. 27And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. 29And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
“Herod was astonished and confounded. The riotous mirth ceased, and an ominous silence settled down upon the scene of revelry. The king was horror-stricken at the thought of taking the life of John. Yet his word was pledged, and he was unwilling to appear fickle or rash. The oath had been made in honor of his guests, and if one of them had offered a word against the fulfillment of his promise, he would gladly have spared the prophet. He gave them opportunity to speak in the prisoner’s behalf. They had traveled long distances in order to hear the preaching of John, and they knew him to be a man without crime, and a servant of God. But though shocked at the girl’s demand, they were too besotted to interpose a remonstrance. No voice was raised to save the life of Heaven’s messenger. These men occupied high positions of trust in the nation, and upon them rested grave responsibilities; yet they had given themselves up to feasting and drunkenness until the senses were benumbed. Their heads were turned with the giddy scene of music and dancing, and conscience lay dormant. By their silence they pronounced the sentence of death upon the prophet of God to satisfy the revenge of an abandoned woman….
“Jesus did not interpose to deliver His servant. He knew that John would bear the test. Gladly would the Saviour have come to John, to brighten the dungeon gloom with His own presence. But He was not to place Himself in the hands of enemies and imperil His own mission. Gladly would He have delivered His faithful servant. But for the sake of thousands who in after years must pass from prison to death, John was to drink the cup of martyrdom. As the followers of Jesus should languish in lonely cells, or perish by the sword, the rack, or the fagot, apparently forsaken by God and man, what a stay to their hearts would be the thought that John the Baptist, to whose faithfulness Christ Himself had borne witness, had passed through a similar experience!” –The Desire of Ages, pp. 221, 222, 224.
- What nefarious personal quality of Herod did this crime reveal?
- What can one say about the testimony John the Baptist gave to Herod?
- If John had been one to compromise the truth easily, would he have given such a rebuke to Herod?
- What important lesson is there for us in the death of a faithful minister like John?
For additional study
“Herod waited in vain to be released from his oath; then he reluctantly commanded the execution of the prophet. Soon the head of John was brought in before the king and his guests. Forever sealed were those lips that had faithfully warned Herod to turn from his life of sin. Never more would that voice be heard calling men to repentance. The revels of one night had cost the life of one of the greatest of the prophets….
“Oh, how often has the life of the innocent been sacrificed through the intemperance of those who should have been guardians of justice! He who puts the intoxicating cup to his lips makes himself responsible for all the injustice he may commit under its besotting power. By benumbing his senses he makes it impossible for him to judge calmly or to have a clear perception of right and wrong. He opens the way for Satan to work through him in oppressing and destroying the innocent. ‘Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.’ Proverbs 20:1. Thus it is that ‘judgment is turned away backward,… and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.’ Isaiah 59:14, 15. Those who have jurisdiction over the lives of their fellow men should be held guilty of a crime when they yield to intemperance. All who execute the laws should be lawkeepers. They should be men of self-control. They need to have full command of their physical, mental, and moral powers, that they may possess vigor of intellect, and a high sense of justice.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 222.