7604 - John the Baptist Imprisoned

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It was with great tragedy that the courageous life and ministry of John the Baptist came to an end.

In Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Luke we are given much insight into John the Baptist. It is interesting that Luke, being the only Gentile writer in the New Testament, is the one who gives a great deal of insight into the conception, birth and early life of both John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus.

Today we want to focus on the ending of John the Baptist’s public ministry which, came about by his imprisonment.

Luke records this event in two brief verses in Chapter 3:19 and 20.

But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

John demonstrates that he was very brave and courageous in standing for truth through this scene in his life. He believed that the Scriptures were the guide to life and that everyone should live in obedience to God’s precepts.

There is more intrigue in this scene than Luke reveals. History tells us that Herod Antipas, who is in the spotlight in this passage, was the ruler of Galilee from 4 B.C. until 39 A.D.

This passage relates that John the Baptist had rebuked this ruler because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done.

There was deceit and treachery in this Herod family. Herod Antipas was married to the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian King of Petraea, but Antipas did not let the fact that he was married interfere with his infatuation for a woman named Herodias. Now Herodias was the wife of Philip I, his half-brother. An additional encumbrance was that Herodias was a blood relative, being his own niece.

But neither of these facts stopped Herod Antipas who was at that time a guest in Philips house, from scheming with Herodias to elope. They each left their present spouses and ran away together and became married. So Herod Antipas was committing both adultery and incest. This conduct was a great affront to the Jews over which he ruled.

This drew from John the Baptist a public criticism of Herod Antipas. Herod retaliated by having John the Baptist locked up in prison on the East side of the Dead Sea in a place called Machaerus.

The effect was to bring to an end the public ministry of John the Baptist. Although he still had contact with some of his disciples, and he continued to affirm Jesus as the Son of God, he was never allowed to leave prison.

The timely record of when John the Baptist was killed is never given. In both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospel accounts we are shown a flash-back of the demise of John the Baptist.

Both Herod and Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist.

Herod was restrained from fulfilling his desire by his fear of the people. The people considered John the Baptist to be a prophet, and the esteem in which they held John kept Herod from taking his life.

The record says that Herodias nursed a grudge against John. Her opportunity to take John’s life came when her daughter, Salome, danced before a throng of nobles who had assembled at Herod’s palace to celebrate Herod’s birthday. Salome’s performance pleased Herod and his guests, so he made a rash promise to give her whatever she asked, even up to half of his kingdom. Under the prompting of her mother, Herodias, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

Although this distressed Herod, he fulfilled Salome’s request, which also fulfilled Herodias’ desire.

The rough and rugged life of this prophet, John the Baptist, came to an end.

We can be confident that John the Baptist had fulfilled his lifetime commission of preparing people for the appearance of the Messiah. His disciples buried his body and reported his death to the Lord. The emphasis of the gospels now turns to the life and ministry of Jesus.