Returning to our exposition of the gospel of Mark, we pick up our study in Mark 6:14–16. These verses introduce a section of text that deals primarily with John the Baptist, who has been absent from Mark’s narrative since chapter 2. We will soon learn what happened to John and the price he paid for his faithfulness to the Lord.
Mark 6:14 opens with a reference to King Herod. The evangelist is not referring to Herod the Great, who was the Roman-appointed ruler of the Holy Land when Jesus was born (Matt. 2:1–12). Herod the Great’s ruthlessness was well known. In his desperation to retain power, he was willing to have his own children killed, including Aristobulus IV, the father of Herodias, who will also appear in Mark’s account. The Herod of Mark 6:14–29 is Herod Antipas, one of Herod the Great’s surviving sons, who inherited control of onefourth of his father’s kingdom after the death of Herod the Great.
As we consider today’s verses, we see that it was not until after Herod Antipas executed John the Baptist that the ruler first heard of Jesus. In fact, news of Christ’s ministry was spreading throughout Herod Antipas’ territory such that people were speculating as to the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. They knew little more than that a miracle-worker was living and working in the area, so their speculations that Jesus could be a resurrected John the Baptist or Elijah were not entirely off the mark, since both were holy men through whom God had worked. To suggest that Jesus was possibly John the Baptist or Elijah was to put Him in the category of some of the greatest men who had ever lived. Even Herod Antipas, who had John killed, had enough respect for John that he could identify the attention-grabbing, miracle-working teacher with John. Dr. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary Mark, notes that Herod Antipas’ respect for John shows the strange fascination that people have with the presence of the holy. Even the most outspoken rebels against God often feel something of a pull toward holiness when they encounter it. Sinners find holiness to be intriguing and somewhat engaging even as they do not want anything to do with it. Thus, we cannot equate the draw we feel to the divine as proof of saving faith. We surely do not have faith if we feel no pull, but that is not enough; we must trust Christ in order to be saved (John 14:6). Let us not only find holiness and truth compelling, but let us rest in Jesus alone for salvation.