When King Herod heard of Jesus, he said, ‘John whom I beheaded, has been raised.’ 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.... And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.... but an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.
When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’
The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.
(Church in Wales Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)
We haven't heard of John the Baptist for some time. We saw how his father Zechariah was told by an angel that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son, and that he would call the people back to God and prepare the way for Jesus. As an adult we saw John calling the people to repentance, baptizing Jesus, and now we hear of his imprisonment and death.
But first, let's look at Herod. There were five leaders called Herod. King Herod the Great, was an Arab Jew, and was the king who sought to kill the baby Jesus. The Herod who imprisoned John and had him killed was Herod Antipas (21 BCE-39 AD). The Emperor Augustus made him Tetrarch over a quarter of his father's empire. He was a shrewd ruler and built the city of Tiberius. He married the daughter of the Nabatean King Aretas IV, but then he divorced her in order to marry Herodias, who was the daughter of his late half-brother, Aristobulos. She had also been married to another half-brother, Philip. John condemned him for this action, and indeed Jesus called him "that fox". Having sworn a formal oath in front of the leaders of Galilee, he was forced to kill John.
John's death is shocking and it foretells the death of Jesus which would be equally shocking, But John had completed his work in breathtaking fashion - he had stirred the people to rethink their relationship with God making the way for the work of Jesus.
we thank You for the work of John the Baptist
in preparing the way for Your Son, our Lord.
We thank you also for his courage
in speaking out and calling
the people to repentance.
May we learn from his obedience to Your call
to do Your work in the world.
Britannica looks at John the Baptist as shown by the different Gospel writers: