Summary: The Kingdom of God goes head to head with the kingdoms of this world.
A CLASH OF KINGDOMS
As a unit, Mark 6:14-29 begins and ends with people “having heard” something. Herod “heard” about Jesus and His disciples (Mark 6:14), and drew his own conclusions from it (Mark 6:16). John’s disciples “heard” about John’s death, and acted accordingly (Mark 6:29).
This was a clash of kingdoms, and part of the fall of a dynasty. Yet all along grace was present for the descendants of ‘Herod the Great’, if they would just swallow their pride. Likewise, we must accept God’s grace with open hands.
Herod the Great could have taken a different path after learning that one “born king” (Matthew 2:2) was to be found in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6). Instead of ordering a massacre (Matthew 2:16), he could have come and cast his crown down at Jesus’ feet. After all, Herod the Great was not even Jewish, and held his ‘kingdom’ only with permission from Rome. After Herod’s death the Romans divided his kingdom between his three sons.
Herod Archelaus ruled over the main part of Judea at the time when Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned from Egypt. They were guided by the Lord, and finally settled in Nazareth of Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23). Herod Archelaus was eventually banished to Gaul.
Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee, and often listened to John the Baptist (Mark 6:20). Yet what we are presented with in this passage is the guilty conscience of a wicked ruler, knowing that he has murdered an innocent man (Mark 6:14; Mark 6:16).
This contest foreshadowed the confrontation between Jesus and Herod (Luke 23:6-7). Jesus had described Herod Antipas as ‘that fox’ (Luke 13:31-33). This was not because Herod Antipas was sly or clever, but because he was rather unnecessarily destructive - like a fox. Herod Antipas was eventually banished to Spain.
It also foreshadowed the contest between Jesus and Pilate, Rome’s representative. Jesus’ kingdom is of quite another order (John 18:36). Proclaimed by the Baptist as the kingdom that was nigh (Matthew 3:2), Jesus proclaimed it as having arrived in His own Person (Mark 1:15).
According to Mark, Herod Philip was the original husband of Herod Antipas’s wife, Herodias (Mark 6:17-18). Herod Philip ruled over the northeast part of his father’s kingdom. Philip was succeeded by his son: Herod Agrippa I.
Herod Agrippa I grew up in Rome with the unlikely Emperor Claudius, and reunited much of his grandfather’s territories. This man persecuted the church, and had James put to the sword (Acts 12:1-2). Luke highlights the arrogance and total lack of humility of the Herod family, and the kind of judgment which inevitably follows (Acts 12:21-23).
Yet grace was always present, even to the end of the dynasty.
Herod Agrippa I was succeeded by his son, Herod Agrippa II, the last ruler in this dynasty. Herod Agrippa II could have taken a different path than being ‘almost persuaded’ by the Apostle Paul (Acts 26:28). So could we.
In discussion with members of a certain Sect back in the 1970s, they suggested that both John the Baptist and Jesus had failed in not having children. In fact, the opposite is the case. John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus (John 1:29; John 3:30; Luke 7:19; Acts 19:3-5): and Jesus brought many ‘children’ to God (Isaiah 8:18; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 2:13; cf. John 1:12).
John the Baptist paid the ultimate price for his faith and faithfulness, as would many after him to this very day. The Cross was already casting its shadow over Mark’s narrative. Jesus died that we might be forgiven of all our sins, and received as full citizens in His kingdom.
Against this background of court intrigue and corrupt rulers, one of the distinguishing marks of Jesus’ kingship was His compassion towards a leaderless people (Mark 6:34).
Let us strive together towards that day when ‘the kingdoms of this world’ will become ‘the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ: ‘and He shall reign for ever and ever’ (Revelation 11:15). Alleluia. Amen.