As the news about Jesus’ ministry spread—his miracles and teaching—what were the various opinions expressed by the people about Him? See Mar 6:14-15, Luk 9:7-8; cf. Mat 16:13-14. What was Herod’s opinion? See Mat 14:2, Mar 6:16. What does his opinion indicate about his guilty conscience for having put John to death? Cf. Mat 14:9, Mar 6:26. What does this teach us about the power of a person’s conscience to convict even a totally secular and worldly person of sin? What does the widespread opinion that John the Baptist had risen from the dead in the person of Jesus indicate about the esteem people had for John and his ministry? What do Mat 14:1-2 indicate about the clear perception of people in regard to Jesus’ miraculous powers, and how does this refute those today who argue that the gospel writers just embellished the “true” record?
Recall Josephus’ account for the circumstances surrounding John’s arrest. For what reason does the gospel account emphasize that Herod had John arrested? See Mat 14:3-4; cf. Mar 6:17-18. Are these accounts necessarily at odds with each other? Cf. Luk 3:19-20. Which of the two accounts do you suppose Herod would have officially used to justify his putting John to death? What does this indicate about the nature of secular history, and why it is often a poor indicator of the truth? How is Bible history different about revealing people’s heart motives as opposed to just reporting what is politically correct? Are things any different today than they were back then?
What was the two-fold nature of Herod’s sin that John reproved him for? Cf. Lev 18:16, 20:21, Mar 10:2-12, Luk 16:18, Rom 7:1-3, 1Co 7:10-11,39. In light of Deut 25:5-6 which of these two sins is to be considered the greater in the eyes of God? Although Herodias had forsaken Philip and no doubt considered herself free to legally marry Antipas, how does the Scripture describe her in Mat 14:3 and Mar 6:17-18, and why? See again Rom 7:1-3. Because something is lawful in the eyes of men does that necessarily make it lawful in the eyes of God? Consider that John, who was “more than a prophet” (Mat 11:9) and who among those born of women there was none greater (Mat 11:11), was imprisoned and eventually put to death for speaking out against Herod’s adulterous marriage relationship formed after both he and Herodias divorced their former spouses; was he a fool who lost his head because he didn’t know what he was talking about? What does this indicate about the seriousness of this sin in the eyes of God for John to speak out against it at the cost of his life? Why is it so serious? See Deut 31:16, Hos 10:4, Mal 2:10-16, Eph 5:22-32. Is it considered as serious in today’s church? Why not? See Mar 10:5, Mat 5:13, and think: are there still dangers of speaking out against divorce and remarriage today? Are “white collar” sins like divorce and remarriage, “little white lies”, the violation of copyright, or prescription drug abuse any less serious in the eyes of God than “blue collar” sins like adultery, fornication, blatant lies, theft, or illicit drug abuse? Cf. Mat 5:21-22,27-28. What is it within us that makes us suppose they are not? Cf. Mat 23:28. Though mostly unpunished in this world, will these sins be punished any less by God? See Mat 23:33, Luk 16:15. What then is the need for even those who are highly esteemed among men and who suppose themselves to be righteous because they are not guilty of the same crimes as those of baser humanity? See Act 2:37-40.
Why had Herod only put John in prison and did not immediately put him to death? See Mat 14:5, Mar 6:20. What does Mat 14:5 indicate about the nature of worldly politics; i.e., while the multitudes often fear those who rule over them and think of themselves as their subjects, to whom do those who rule over them fear, and to whom are they subject? Whom ought we to fear, whether we are of the multitude or of those who rule? See Ecc 12:13. If we fear God who else is there to fear? Cf. Rom 8:31. If we don’t fear God, are there any bounds to what we will fear? Why does Mar 6:20 say that Herod feared John? Cf. Joh 19:7-12a. What does this teach us about the power that unwavering righteousness and holiness have over even those whom the world thinks of as being all-powerful? Though Herod had John put to death, and Pilate had Jesus crucified, who in the end prevailed? Why is that? Cf. Gal 6:7-9. What does this teach us about the only way to overcome evil? See Rom 12:17-21.
1. Antiquities of the Jews 18:118-119 118 Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him [i.e., about John], for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. 119 Accordingly he was sent as prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the citadel I before mentioned, and was there put to death.↩
2. “Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet the truth alone is strong; Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong, Yet that scaffold sways the future, And, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above His own.” (James Lowell, from the hymn Once to Every Man and Nation.)↩