This history of Herod Antipas and his imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist tells of the conscience, both its power and weaknesses. Here are lessons for believers and seekers from Herod, Herodias and ‘Salome’, far richer than the dramas from successful Hollywood screenwriters.
‘And King Herod heard of him [Christ], for his name was spread abroad, and he said that John the Baptist was risen from the dead and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.’ And our subject is ‘Natural or Spiritual Convictions?’ People may experience either. Natural convictions: a great pressure on the conscience, a great concern about eternal life, concern for spiritual things, but sadly, these may turn out to be entirely natural fears and feelings, and they will, in the course of time die and disappear. Or it may be that they are convictions that turn out to be spiritual convictions, and the Spirit of God is at work and there is a real concern about standing before God, and readiness to hear the message of salvation, the preaching of the gospel, and there is a deep longing and hungering and thirsting after salvation and for Christ. And we speak of spiritual convictions, and the call of Christ is heard, and the person will bow the knee and come to him in repentance and faith, and be surely converted and changed by the power of God. That is our subject: natural or spiritual convictions.
Now we read here in verse 14 of Mark 6 of King Herod, Herod the tetrarch, ruler over Galilee on behalf of Caesar, part of the Roman Empire. ‘And King Herod heard of him.’ ‘Of him’ is in italics; it isn’t in the original Greek. Our King James translators are supplying these words to make good grammar and be helpful. But the word is better as it stands, ‘and King Herod heard.’ ‘Heard of him’ turns out to be a little misleading, because he would by now have known all about Christ; he was the tetrarch. Christ was preaching and great crowds were attending him in his very area, in Galilee, part of the area over which Herod ruled – this is Herod Antipas, one of the four sons of Herod the great, so-called, and he would have known all about Christ. What King Herod heard was of his many miracles and of the substance of his message and his preaching. At first when he heard of Christ, he probably paid little attention. And then he paid a little more when he heard of the great crowds. Could this be some manifestation of extreme nationalism? Was there going to be a rebellion and insurrection? That would always be the mind of a tetrarch, ruling on behalf of Rome.
But then when he heard of the miracles and how many there were, and how remarkable they were, and how sudden, how powerful, and how the people were reacting, he began to think much more deeply and become more concerned to find out. ‘King Herod heard of him, for his name [and his works particularly] were spread abroad.’ And his reaction – well it’s somehow summarised here by Mark. He said that John the Baptist was risen from the dead. When you read Matthew and Luke – although Mark’s is the longest account of this episode – you have just a little more information about how Herod came to hear, because what happened in verse 15 happened next. ‘[Some] said, this is Elijah risen from the dead. Others said, it is a prophet, a great prophet, who has come’ – for 400 years the Jews hadn’t had a wonder-working prophet – ‘or one of the old prophets who was risen again.’
And some said, according to Luke, ‘it’s John the Baptist who is risen’, and Herod Antipas chose the last explanation. Yes, it must be John the Baptist risen from the dead. That was the one that he selected out of the different explanations that were on offer.