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The Death Of John The Baptist

Updated on December 31, 2012
" 'Are you the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?' " Matthew 11:3
" 'Are you the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?' " Matthew 11:3

John Does Not Understand

John the Baptist has spent most of his time in the area east of the Jordan River, an area ruled by King Herod Antipas. Even Herod had listened to John's preaching and had felt his call to repent and change his ways.

John hadn't changed his warnings to impress the king. He spoke out against Herod's relationship with Herodias, the wife of Herod's brother. For a time, Herod listened to John and tried to break the chains of lust that tied him to her. But in the end, Herodias trapped him even more tightly. Her revenge on John was to persuade Herod to throw him into prison.

From the wide-open spaces of the desert where great crowds hung on his every word, John became a prisoner trapped in the dungeon of Herod's palace. As weeks went by in the quiet darkness and small space, John experienced doubt and depression. His disciples were allowed to visit and they brought news about Jesus and how the people were flocking to Him. "If he is the Messiah," they asked, "why hasn't he done anything to help you?" Satan enjoyed seeing their words bruise John's heart. Too often, the friends of a good person speak words that depress and discourage instead of strengthening faith.

Like Jesus' disciples, John the Baptist did not understand the Messiah's mission. He expected Jesus to drive out the Romans and take the throne. He had preached with the spirit of Elijah - he expected Jesus to show Himself as the God who speaks with fire from heaven.

John waited for Jesus to stand up for the poor and pitiful, to give them honor and power. All Jesus did was heal the sick, teach the crowds, and eat with tax collectors while the Romans dominated Jewish life and Herod and his wicked mistress partied.

Could It Have Been A Mistake?

John couldn't understand it. Through the long hours, he was tortured by a most frightening thought - what if Jesus weren't the Messiah? Was it possible that he had made a mistake? And what did that mean about his own mission? Had he wasted his whole life?

He couldn't shake the thought. After all, if Jesus was the Messiah and if John had done his work well, why hadn't Jesus come to free him from his prison?

In spite of his doubts, John didn't give up. He remembered the Voice from heaven, the power of the Spirit that had touched him when he announced Jesus, and the promises of the Scriptures. He sent two of his disciples to Jesus with a special mission.

When they found Jesus they asked, "Are you the Messiah or should we look for someone else?" Their question must have been bitterly disappointing to Jesus. If John, His faithful prophet, didn't understand His mission, how would anyone?

Jesus didn't answer them right away. As they stood nearby, waiting for His reply to John, other people were pushing their way forward to Jesus. Blind people groped their way through the crowd. The sick and crippled, often carried by friends, pressed closer, and Jesus healed them. When His voice reached the ears of the dying, they jumped to their feet like children. When His hand touched the blind, they saw the light of day for the first time. People possessed by demons found their sanity again at His command. But that wasn't all. As He healed the people, He taught them. He shared God's love with these poor peasants and workers that the priests and teachers wanted nothing to do with.

Jesus Shows The Evidence

All day long, John's disciples watched Jesus. Finally, He said to them, "Go tell John what you saw and heard here."

They carried the message and John understood. He began to realize that Jesus' kingdom was not about swords and armies, but about changing people's lives and hearts. He also saw that the Jewish leaders would never accept that kind of Messiah. He knew that his own prison sentence was a small taste of how Jesus would someday suffer. Once again, John surrendered himself - in prison or out, in life or death - to God's plan.

Jesus' heart went out to John. After his disciples left, Jesus talked to the crowd about him. He didn't want people to think that God had forsaken him or that John had given up his faith. Jesus compared the rabbis, who criticized John's work, to "reeds shaken by the wind." But John had always stood firmly and spoken plainly - to the Pharisees, King Herod, soldiers, tax collectors, and peasants. Even in prison, his loyalty to God and commitment to his principles were firm as a rock.

Jesus said, "I tell you, no one has ever done greater work or been a greater person than John." How does heaven measure greatness? Not by wealth or fame or family name or intellect. God values love and purity - moral worth. John's greatness came from pointing to Jesus as the Promised One with no thought of himself.

John didn't call fire down from heaven or raise the dead to life, but he did the work he was given. Years later, people said, "John never did a miracle, but everything he said about Jesus was true."

Because so many knew and loved John, there was great unhappiness when Herod had him thrown in prison. But everyone knew that he wasn't guilty of anything, so they assumed he would soon be released.

John's Fate

Herod believed that John was a prophet and he intended to set John free quickly. But he was afraid of what Herodias would do, so he waited. Herodias hated John, but she knew that the king would never willingly agree to have him killed. So she plotted to force Herod's hand. The king's birthday was coming soon and all the officers and noblemen of the country would join him for a great party of feasting and drinking. Herodias planned to take advantage of the occasion.

When the birthday arrived and the party was in full swing, Herodias sent her daughter, Salome, in to dance for the king and his guests. Now, it was very unusual for a lady of the royal court to make an appearance at this kind of party. And to have her dance was a real compliment to the king and his guests.

Salome was young and beautiful and her sensual dance held the attention of every man in the room. Herod, drunk with wine and the girl's beauty, wanted to impress the important men in the room. He swore before all his guests to give the girl a present. "I will give you anything you ask for," he told her.

Salome ran to consult with her mother and quickly returned with her answer. "I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

At those words, the drunken laughter of the room faded to silence. Herod was shocked and horrified. But he had promised in front of these guests, and unless one of them insisted that he not do it, he would have to deliver what she asked. His guests had all heard John preach and knew that he wasn't guilty of any crime, but they were too drunk to think it through and speak up.

Herod couldn't see any way out. He ordered the execution. Soon the prophet's head was delivered as promised. Herodias celebrated her victory, but she failed to stop John's influence over the king. Herod was now tormented more than ever by guilt. No torture is worse than a guilty conscience. There is no way to escape from it day or night.

Why Jesus Didn't Rescue John

Jesus cound't rescue John without risking His own mission, but that didn't mean He didn't care. He felt the pain of John's death. Satan had failed to make Jesus sin, so he caused John's death to make Jesus suffer.

Many wonder why John was left to die in prison. His fate won't shake our confidence in God if we understand that John was honored to share the suffering Jesus went through to save humans. Everyone who follows Jesus will suffer in the war agains Satan.

John wasn't forgotten. Angels kept him company, helping him understand the prophecies and promises of Scripture. John would be an example and an encouragement to the thousands through the centuries who would suffer in lonely prison cells, or die by the sword, by fire, or by torture. John's story would reassure them that God had not forgotten them either.

God never allows things to happen to His children that they would not choose for themselves if they knew the end from the beginning and could understand their part in His plans. Neither Enoch nor Elijah, both of whom went to heaven without dying, were greater than John the Baptist who died alone in a dungeon.

Of all the gifts heaven can give us, the heaviest trust and the highest honor goes to those who share Jesus' suffering to save the human race.

Leaning On The Everlasting Arms


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      thanks we are learning a lot

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I commented earlier regarding this being a lesson to Christians that God will save us from eternal death but not always from physical calamities.

      I shuddered when I mentally pictured the bloody head of John on a platter being displayed as if it were a trophy. John who lived a very spartan and plain life devoting all his time and energy to preparing the way of Jesus. He who did so much and asked so little treated like a common criminal.

      It took a dreadfully cold hearted and evil person to even think of such a thing.

      After thinking a bit longer it also occurs to me that perhaps God allows bad things to happen to good people as a means of demonstrating to all, both faithful and UNfaithful, just how evil and untrustworthy Satan really is.

    • eHealer profile image


      6 years ago from Las Vegas

      Very interesting hummdinger, you are a good writer, and well done. Salome was an evil girl, she liked the power she had over the king. Voted up!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This was very interesting. I hope you will write about Enoch and Elijah going to heaven without dying. Thank you...

    • Cherry4 profile image

      Cherry Ann 

      6 years ago from New York

      I read this today from on my phone and this is an inspiring message for all.

      "If he is the Messiah," they asked, "why hasn't he done anything to help you?" Satan enjoyed seeing their words bruise John's heart. Too often, the friends of a good person speak words that depress and discourage instead of strengthening faith."

      From the verse you wrote above I thank you especially for these lines because many times our friends who know our walk in Christ will challenge us when they see things not going to well with us.

      Here is a testimony of mine. I was out of work for a short time and one of my friends who could have helped me get a job called me and said " do not worry I know you are a strong Christian and a praying soul, so I am sure God will help you get a job soon." She said it in a mocking tone but I was set out to prove her right. I went straight to God about it and did get a job. However even if I did not get a job I was already set in my ways to still praise and thank God no matter who laughed at me. I refused to be discouraged.


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