15 July 2012

Mark 6:14-29

"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.'" (vv. 17-18)


The context of this passage in Mark's Gospel is found in the previous few verses, where Jesus' ministry is finding expression in the mission of his 12 closest disciples (Mark 6:7-13). This is a mission of proclaiming, healing and the need for repentance; and almost inevitably brings Jesus and his followers to the attention of those in power.

We read in today's verses just how unsettled King Herod was about this news of Jesus. People around Herod were voicing the thoughts and opinions of the 'man on the street', saying that Jesus may be in the line of the old prophets, or even Elijah - or just possibly John the Baptist raised from the dead (verses 14-16). Why should this be so disturbing to Herod? Mark then tells his readers the story of John's death, on Herod's orders. It was seemingly against Herod's conscience, but deemed necessary in order to maintain prestige amongst the political elite in Galilee (verse 26). Can we be sure that Herod was unduly concerned about what had happened to John? Not conclusively; but Herod's reaction to what Jesus was doing indicates that he was actually very disturbed.

At the heart of this passage is the conflict between knowing the truth and speaking out boldly; and knowing the truth and, for whatever reason, rejecting it. In Herod's case, he had used his power to marry unlawfully; compounded this by imprisoning John, even when "knowing that he was a righteous and holy man" (v. 20) because John dared to speak the truth; and finally Herod had John killed to keep up the appearance of power, honour and prestige amongst his political chums.

Jesus himself will get caught up in the political power game later, and truth will again be on trial. However, from the temptations onwards (Matthew 4:1-11), the Gospels consistently show us that Jesus never played the political power game. Truth was always far more important.


To Ponder

  • What part does truth play in your life and discipleship?
  • Do we know ourselves well enough to understand when we feel able to stand up for what is right; when and why we stay silent; and when, why and with whom we actually do things contrary to our conscience?

Bible notes author

Michael King

Michael King is a Methodist local preacher. From 2000-2011, he was leader of the Methodist Church's World Church Relationships team, and was the vice-president of the Methodist Conference in 2012/2013.