`.To return to work page.

The death of John the Baptist

Query for the Month

of July 2002

Next up-date: August 1st 2002 (God willing).

Previous "Queries" are available. Click here to access.

Some perpetual questions ....

Is there really an immortal soul?

What does it mean to "be led by the Spirit"?

Do you know the difference between the "love" that is of Christianity
and the "love" that is of the world?
Click here to find out!

To obtain a free programme to translate some of this page
into another language  click here

Click on the link for a good book on the character of our God which you can download for free and share amongst your friends.  An animated dove It's called "Light on the Dark Side of God" and is one of the best on this subject that I have ever read!


Matthew 14:

3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife. 4 For John said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” . . .

10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. . . .  

12  And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.

Matthew 11:

11 [He replied] “Verily I say to you, Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” 

If John was so great a worker for God then why did he end up in prison and then have his head cut off?  Why did God not protect or at least release him?



John the Baptist had been first in announcing Christ's kingdom, and he was first also in suffering.

From the free air of the wilderness and the vast throngs that had hung upon his words, he was now shut in by the walls of a dungeon cell. He had become a prisoner in the fortress of Herod Antipas. In the territory east of Jordan, which was under the dominion of Antipas, much of John's ministry had been spent. Herod himself had listened to the preaching of the Baptist and had trembled under the call to repentance.

Mark 6:20

"Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy; . . . and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly."

John dealt with him faithfully, but loudly or publicly, denouncing his sinful alliance with Herodias, his brother's wife. Luke 3:18-20. For a time Herod feebly sought to break the chain of lust that bound him; but Herodias fastened him the more firmly in her toils, and then found revenge upon the Baptist by persuading Herod to cast him into prison.

The life of John had been one of active labour, and the gloom and inaction of his prison life weighed heavily upon him. As week after week passed, bringing no change, despondency and doubt crept over him. His disciples did not forsake him. They were allowed access to the prison, and they brought him tidings of the works of Jesus, and told how the people were flocking to Him. Matthew 11:2. But, like us, they questioned why, if this new teacher was the Messiah, He did nothing to effect John's release. How could He permit His faithful forerunner to be deprived of liberty and perhaps of life?

These questions were not without effect. Doubts which otherwise would never have arisen were suggested to John. Satan rejoiced to hear the words of these disciples, and to see how they bruised the soul of the LORD's messenger. Oh, how often those who think themselves the friends of a good man, and who are eager to show their loyalty to him, prove to be his most dangerous enemies! How often, instead of strengthening his faith, their words depress and dishearten!

Like the Saviour's disciples, John the Baptist did not understand the nature of Christ's kingdom. He expected Jesus to take the throne of David by force; and as time passed, and the Saviour made no claim to kingly authority, John became perplexed and troubled. See Acts 1:6-7. He had declared to the people that in order for the way to be prepared before the LORD, the prophecy of Isaiah must be fulfilled; the mountains and hills must be brought low, the crooked made straight, and the rough places plain. He had looked for the high places of human pride and power to be cast down violently. Isaiah 40:1-5. He had pointed to the Messiah as the One whose fan was in His hand, and who would thoroughly purge His floor, who would gather the wheat into His garner, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Matthew 3:11-12. Like the prophet Elijah (and John and James, Luke 9:54-56), in whose spirit and power he had come to Israel, he looked for the LORD to reveal Himself as a God that answers by fire.

Unlike the prophet, he had failed to learned the lesson that God is NOT in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the still small voice. 1 Kings 19:9-14.

This simply means in this case that God does NOT publicly expose our sins so that we become ashamed before others. He brings them to our attention in a quiet but direct way. This is what Jesus did.

John 8:

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4 they say to Him, "Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what say You?"

6 This they said, tempting [testing] Him, that they might have to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground, as though He heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He lifted up Himself [looked up at them], and said to them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

8 And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground [He was writing out a list of each one’s sins! As each read He erased and rewrote.].

9 And they which heard it [and read the list], being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even to the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those your accusers? Has no man condemned you?"

11 She said, "No man, LORD." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you [or expose your sin to others]: go, and sin no more."

When Jesus later pronounced the "woes" on the Pharisees, He did it to them as a group, not specifying the sins of individuals. Matthew 23:1-39. And He only did this because He needed to turn the loyalty of the listening people from their church leaders back to God on His last day as a free agent.

In his mission the Baptist had stood as a fearless reprover of iniquity, both in high places and in low, and for this his God blessed him. He had dared to face King Herod with the plain rebuke of sin even if it was done in a misunderstood way. Like Paul, he had not counted his life dear unto himself, that he might fulfil his appointed work (but this was NOT the will of the LORD although Paul’s companions thought so. Acts 21:12-14.)

God’s words are:

Ezekiel 18:

32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the LORD GOD: wherefore turn yourselves [repent and come to Me], and live you."

Job 36:

1 Elihu [God's witness] also proceeded, and said,

2 Suffer me a little, and I will show you that I have yet to speak on God's behalf. 3 I will fetch my knowledge from afar [from the Spirit of God], and will ascribe righteousness to my Maker. 4 For truly my words shall not be false: He that is perfect in knowledge [One who understands God’s way] is with you [speaking through me].

5 Behold, God is mighty, and despises not any: He is mighty in strength and wisdom. 6 He preserves not the life of the wicked: but gives right to the poor. 7 He withdraws not His eyes from the righteous: but with kings are they on the throne [they are the head and not the tail – Deuteronomy 28:13]; yes, He does establish them for ever, and they are exalted.

8 And if they [the righteous] be bound in fetters [chains], and be held in cords of affliction [persecutions]; 9 then He shows them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded [which has caused the problem]. 10 He opens also their ear to discipline, and commands that they return from iniquity [repent].

11 If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures [and die of old age].

12 But if they obey not, they shall perish by the sword, and they shall die [the first death] without knowledge.

And because of his neglect of this word, John must pay the penalty of those who live by the sword, for violence in words is no less a sin than violence with a weapon. Matthew 26:52. This did not mean that he was in danger of losing his eternal life – it was only his physical one which was in jeopardy.

And now from his dungeon he watched for the Lion of the tribe of Judah to cast down the pride of the oppressor, and to deliver the poor and him that cried. He had read:

Leviticus 26:

13 I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright [in righteousness].

14 But if you will not hearken to Me, and will not do all these commandments; 15 and if you shall despise My statutes, or if your soul abhor My judgments [daily advices], so that you will not do all My commandments, but that you break My covenant: 16 I also will do this to you;

I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 And I will set My face against you, and you shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and you shall flee when none pursues you.

18 And if you will not yet for all this hearken to Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. 19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass: 20 and your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.

21 And if you [continue to] walk contrary to Me, and will not hearken to Me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. 22 I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways [of worship] shall be desolate.

23 And if you will not be reformed by Me by these things, but will walk contrary to Me; 24 then will I also walk contrary to you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.

But Jesus (who had also read these words) seemed to content Himself with gathering disciples about Him, and healing and teaching the people. He was eating at the tables of the publicans, while every day the Roman yoke rested more heavily upon Israel, while King Herod and his wife worked their wicked will, and the cries of the poor and suffering went up to heaven.

To the desert prophet all this seemed a mystery beyond his fathoming. There were hours when the whisperings of demons tortured his spirit, and the shadow of a terrible fear crept over him. Could it be that the long-hoped-for Deliverer had not yet appeared? Then what meant the message that he himself had been impelled to bear?

John had been bitterly disappointed in the result of his mission. He had expected that the message from God would have the same effect as when the law was read in the days of Josiah and of Ezra (2 Chronicles 34; Nehemiah 8, 9); that there would follow a deep-seated work of repentance and returning unto the Lord, or else a wholesale rejection by God. For the success of this mission his whole life had been sacrificed. Had it been in vain?

The short answer is NO, it had not been in vain.

It had not been done in the right way, but the LORD who sees into the intents of our hearts accepted it and has used it mightily since as a lesson in submission. Hebrews 4:12. BUT, and it is a big BUT, the results of wrong doing must follow every sin unless passed on to our Saviour. Because he did not see that it was wrong (in fact, he thought it was very good behaviour), John had not confessed it and therefore he had to pay the penalty himself. Herodias’ anger could not be bypassed.

That’s why Jesus, when He heard of John’s imprisonment, left the area and went off to Galillee. Matthew 4:12-13. He could not help His helper!

The Son of God (and His word) is so misunderstood.

Where we want something, or cling to something, He is helpless against our choice. So, in effect, John the Baptist caused his own death. What Jesus has done since is use that death so that it is not wasted.

But the Baptist did not surrender his faith in Christ. The memory of the voice from heaven and the descending dove, the spotless purity of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit that had rested upon him as he came into the Saviour's presence, and the testimony of the prophetic scriptures,--all witnessed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Promised One. So he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask "Why?"

How short the time since John had pointed to Jesus, and proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world." "He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me." John 1:29, 27. And now the question, "Are You He that should come?"

It was keenly bitter and disappointing to Jesus’ human nature. If John, the faithful forerunner, failed to discern Christ's mission, what could be expected from the self-seeking multitude?

The Saviour did not at once answer the disciples' question. As they stood wondering at His silence, the sick and afflicted were coming to Him to be healed. The blind were groping their way through the crowd; diseased ones of all classes, some urging their own way, some borne by their friends, were eagerly pressing into the presence of Jesus. The voice of the mighty Healer penetrated the deaf ear. A word, a touch of His hand, opened the blind eyes to behold the light of day, the scenes of nature, the faces of friends, and the face of the Deliverer. Jesus rebuked disease and banished fever. His voice reached the ears of the dying, and they arose in health and vigor. Paralyzed demoniacs obeyed His word, their madness left them, and they worshipped Him.

While He healed their diseases, He taught the people. The poor peasants and labourers, who were shunned by the rabbis as unclean, gathered close about Him, and He spoke to them the words of eternal life.

Thus the day wore away, the disciples of John seeing and hearing all. At last Jesus called them to Him, and bade them go and tell John what they had witnessed, adding, "Blessed is he, whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in Me." Luke 7:23, R.V. The evidence of His divinity was seen in its adaptation to the needs of suffering humanity. His glory was shown in His condescension to our low situation.

The disciples bore the message, and it was enough.

John recalled the prophecy concerning the Messiah, "The LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the meek; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." Isaiah 61:1-2. The works of Christ not only declared Him to be the Messiah, but showed in what manner His kingdom was to be established.

John at last saw the same truth that had come to Elijah in the desert, when "a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire:" and after the fire, God spoke to the prophet by "a still small voice." 1 Kings 19:11-12. So Jesus was to do His work, not with the clash of arms and the overturning of thrones and kingdoms, not with wordy condemnation, but through speaking to the hearts of men by a life of mercy and self-sacrifice.

The principle of the Baptist's own life of selflessness was the principle of the Messiah's kingdom. John well knew how foreign all this was to the principles and hopes of the leaders in Israel. That which was to him convincing evidence of Christ's divinity would be no evidence to them. They were looking for a Messiah who had not been promised. John saw that the Saviour's mission could win from them only hatred and condemnation. He, the forerunner, was but drinking of the cup which Christ Himself must drain to its dregs. Matthew 20:22-23.

The Saviour's words, "Blessed is he, whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in Me," were a gentle reproof to John. It was not lost upon him. Understanding more clearly now the nature of Christ's mission, but not applying it to his own behaviour, he yielded himself to God for life or for death, as should best serve the interests of the cause he loved.

And God loved him for it.


John the Baptist:

It was really John’s choice that left him in prison and allowed him to lose his head. The Son of God would willingly have released him, but, not having applied the lesson to his own behaviour, John would soon have found himself in a similar situation again. So the best action on Jesus’ part was to leave him and use his fate as a warning and comfort for those who were to come after him!


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Next thought. To be discussed from August 1st 2002.

Habakkuk 1:

1 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.

2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear! Even cry out to You of violence, and You will not save!

3 Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are [they] that raise up strife and contention [in the church]. 4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment does never go forth: for the wicked does compass about [surround] the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceeds.

[God’s answer]

5 Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which you will not believe, though it be told you [even though it is Me that says so!].

The prophet Habakkuk had a problem which is still with us today. What was in God's answer that Hab would not believe?

Anyone interested?

  • Like to E-mail me and give me your ideas?

Send in your thought on this current query.

or to add your comment to the next one.

Pose a query for us to look at

Back button To return to Homepage.

Look in the Spiritual "Dictionary"