When Jesus comes to His own hometown, He is rejected by the people there. After this, He sends out His disciples to preach on His behalf, but before they return we hear a parenthetical explanation of the death of John the Baptist.
“And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. ” (Mark 6:1-30)
Jesus was a home town prophet, and had some of the problems of a home town prophet. As He traveled through Galilee, Jesus came to the high country of Galilee, and His own home town of Nazareth (v. 1). He taught in the synagogue (where He had grown up), and the result was astonishment. But this was no positive astonishment (v. 2). The wisdom and mighty works were acknowledged, but the source of them still rendered them contemptible. Jesus was known by them as a carpenter (v. 3), and as the son of Mary, and the brother to many brothers and sisters, known to them all. So they were offended (v. 3).
Jesus cites this as yet one more example of a proverbial truth. Familiarity does breed contempt. A prophet is usually not respected among those who used to babysit him (v. 4). Because of their unbelief, Jesus could do no great work there, apart from a few healings (v. 5). And just as they were astonished at Him, He marveled at them (v. 6). And so Jesus moved on.
Jesus then sent out the twelve in six bands. He gave them authority over unclean spirits (v. 7). He began teaching them the difficult lesson of trusting God for all things; they were not to provide for themselves (vv. 8-9). Neither were they to make ministerial nuisances of themselves (v. 10). Those who rejected His disciples were incurring a fearful judgment which the disciples were to demonstrate through prophetic action. Sodom and Gomorrha will have it easier than those cities (v. 11). And so the disciples went out and preached repentance (v. 12). Accompanying this, they also cast out demons, and healed the sick through anointing them with oil (v. 13).
We then turn to the story where the prophet meets the king. Mark’s use of “king” here for Herod may be ironic, given his subsequent history. He was actually a tetrarch (v. 14). Although Herod had killed John, his conscience still bothered him, and he thought Jesus was John back to haunt him (vv. 14, 16). Others thought of Jesus as a prophet, or as Elijah. But actually John the Baptist had been Elijah, another great prophet who faced down a weak king married to a vicious woman (v. 15).
But you can’t tell the players without a scorecard — many people mix up their Herods. Herod the Great was the one who attempted to kill Jesus as an infant. This man in this passage was Herod Antipas, not to be confused with his nephew, Herod Agrippa, the one known to the apostle Paul. Herodias had been married to the brother of Antipas (v. 17), but was also the niece of Antipas. Their marriage was incestuous (Lev. 18:16, 13), and John rebuked it (v. 18). Josephus identifies the daughter of the story as Salome. Antipas had ditched his wife the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabatean kingdom, who (after John’s death) had sent an army which destroyed the army of Antipas. John’s rebuke was not just a moral issue; it was politically volatile.
Herodias wanted to kill John but Antipas protected him (v. 19), and liked to listen to him (v. 20). Herodias thought her plan through carefully (v. 21), and saw an opportunity in Antipas’ birthday. Given the context, the dance of Salome was unquestionably lascivious. Herodias knew her husband well, and had set the trap with the right bait (v. 22). Herod makes a rash vow (v. 23). The girl asks her mother who is ready with her answer (v. 24). Salome has no problem with this because she comes back in promptly and adds her own macabre detail — she wanted the head of John the Baptist on a dinner platter. Remember the occasion; it is a birthday feast. “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord” (Ps. 14:4).
Herod was grieved over this, but did not reject her. Notice that he has John killed for the sake of his vow. What had John rebuked him for? For breaking his marital vow. He is the kind of man who breaks his right vows, and keeps the wrong ones. Consider opposite in David, who vowed rashly that he would kill Nabal, but was persuaded by the godly Abigail to break his vow.
John was beheaded in prison (v. 27), and his head was brought, and given to Salome on a platter. She in turn gave it to Herodias (v. 28). Herodias was a striving, ambitious woman who later persuaded Antipas to start calling himself a “king.” This got the two of them exiled to Spain, where they both died. The “king” was deposed, and the prophet still speaks. To the end of the world men will know that it was not lawful for Antipas to have her.
The disciples of John came for John’s body, and buried him in a tomb (v. 29). And those sent out by Christ returned to Him, and reported on what had happened (v. 30).