Herod the tetrarch had jurisdiction over the territory of Galilee during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Sometime not long after Jesus’ ministry was launched, Luke tells us that Herod shut up John the Baptist in prison because he had reproved him for marrying his brother Philip’s wife (Luke 3:19-20). King Herod knew John was a righteous man and because he was thought to be a prophet by most of the people, Herod didn’t kill John, but kept him in prison and listened to him preach with pleasure (Mark 6:20). That is, until his birthday, when Herod was enticed into beheading John in order to satisfy the wish of his step-daughter, who had danced for Herod and all his officials at a birthday supper (Mark 6:21).
Herod’s lack of moral conviction was revealed by his decision to grant his step-daughter’s request rather than be embarrassed in front of his dinner guests. Herod’s demonstration of his low regard for John’s life also showed that his teaching had not penetrated Herod’s hardened heart. Mark’s description of the situation suggested that Herod’ was glad when his step-daughter asked him to kill John because that meant he wouldn’t have to take the blame for his death. Mark said it was “a convenient day,” meaning it was well timed that is opportune (2121) for Herod to do what his step-daughter asked him to.
It’s possible that Herod staged the whole birthday incident, just so that he could get rid of John without any reprisal from the people that recognized him as a prophet. Matthew’s account of John’s death says that when Herod asked his step-daughter what she wanted for her service to him and his guests, “she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger” (Matthew 14:8). More than likely, it was not Herod’s opportunity, but that of his wife, Herodias that was taken advantage of that night. After Herod was asked for John’s head on a platter, Matthew said, “And the king was very sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be giver her” (Matthew 14:9).
The tragic death of John the Baptist was a major setback for Jesus’ ministry in that it hurt him and his disciples deeply and discouraged them from preaching the gospel in public. Matthew stated, “When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart” (Matthew 14:13). The Greek word translated apart, idios (id’-ee-os) suggests that Jesus was looking for some privacy so he could mourn the loss of his cousin John. In spite of his effort to get away for awhile, the people followed Jesus and his disciples on foot and met them when they landed on the opposite shore (Matthew 14:13-14). Later, when Herod heard of Jesus’ fame, he said, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him” (Matthew 14:1-2).