King Herod heard about these developments, Jesus' name having become well known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." Others said, "He is Elijah." And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago." But when Herod heard this, he said, "It's John, the man I beheaded, who has been raised from the dead!" Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." And he promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" "The head of John the Baptist," she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the King with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a plate." The King was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl; she gave it to her mother and on hearing this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Ever turn the page to a new chapter and wonder if it is the same book? You don't get it. The writer seems to know but you can't figure out why there has been a change, and it is only later that you realise why the change took place. Well that's a bit like this part of Mark's gospel. I have read this passage over and over again, and it is still hard to understand. Why does Mark tell us this here? Why not at the beginning, back in Mark 1 when Jesus started His teaching work "after John was arrested". Why was this terrible and terrifying story inserted here?
Mark tells us that Herod greeted news of Jesus' growing influence with his own distorted conviction that judgement was on the way.
There are a few things we can say here. Mark describes the growing opposition to Jesus. The opposition was in His hometown but not just there. The opposition was also political, among the rulers of the land and powerful groups who influenced the Romans. King Herod had heard about Jesus who was becoming well known. Some thought He was John the Baptist; others that He was Elijah, others a prophet. And Herod thought it was John raised from the dead!
Jesus and John were cousins, and after John's imprisonment, Jesus started His teaching work in Galilee. Herod was a powerful ruler who could call upon the might of the Roman Empire if he needed to but now he was scared. It had something to do with his belief in the resurrection from the dead. Was he friends with the Pharisees? The Pharisees did believe in a resurrection, unlike that other group - the Sadducees - who didn't. Herod and the Herodians were very chummy with the Sadducees and Herod seems to have had an eclectic adherence to many different beliefs. Maybe this helped him keep in touch with a wide cross-section of Jewish people. He seems to have used his contacts with the Sadducees for political reasons. So maybe he had ideas of using John in some way.
Mark tells us that at the time Jesus sent His disciples out to do teaching work, Herod was watching. So, Jesus was not only facing home-town opposition. Mark also tells us how Herod's friends were involved with John's execution: … On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. The leading men of Galilee were happy to go to Herod's birthday party and they hadn't lifted a finger to save John.
My hunch is that Jesus realised the difficulties He faced, and the difficulties His disciples would face. He kept on teaching them; He didn't waste time. He could rely on Herod to be unstable, erratic, self-serving and unjust. Jesus the Rabbi adjusted His work, no longer travelling the Galilee shoreline by boat. He took to the highways and byways but kept on teaching those who came to hear Him.
Herod was afraid, worried that the Day of Judgment was getting closer. On that day the books would be opened and he would face the Governor of Governors, the Lord God of Heaven and Earth. Then he would have to explain, among other things, what he had done to John the Baptist. Herod's fear did not lead him to repentance. It just made him more unreliable. Meanwhile, Jesus continued to teach.