“But when Herod heard [about Jesus and His mighty miracles], he said, ‘John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!’”1
t was Herod’s birthday, and the celebrations, undoubtedly, went into the wee hours of the night. Food was everywhere; booze flowed in abundance; and the lavish banquet hall brimmed with “high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee”2—all poised for an evening of dazzling entertainment.
We don’t know her name—that alluring damsel who danced before them. But for Herod, her (illicit) stepfather, she was sensational! Drooling—perhaps literally, the inebriated ruler “promised . . . with an oath” to give the youthful dancer “whatever” she asked. “Up to half my kingdom,” he vowed.3
The girl’s answer was not long in coming. But her request was not for silver or gold or diamonds; not for some luxury villa overlooking the Mediterranean; nor even for a fleet of trading vessels doing exotic business with foreign lands. Instead, prompted by the cunning woman she called mother, her words emerged from trembling lips: “I want . . . right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”4
Those were bloody times, when life was cheap and rulers killed at random with impunity. The Baptist’s preaching had irked both Herod and Herodias. Their marriage wasn’t lawful, John had said. Herod would have killed him straightaway, but fearing a political backlash, imprisoned him instead. That’s where he was when the executioner, a man with iron for muscles, lopped off his head in one fell swoop and brought it on a serving dish into the banquet hall. What kind of humans would not lose their dinner at such a ghastly sight?
I’ve often wondered about the eyes on that severed head—those eyes that had stared down the immoral couple. Were they still open when the vengeful lady received the morbid gift—open and staring her down still from that bloody platter? How could she ever sleep again? What nightmares must have invaded her sleep in the midnight hour? Like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, did she find herself walking the halls in the dead of night, her mind deranged with guilt?
John’s disciples recovered their leader’s body and buried it, but how about his head? How long did Herodias keep it? Where did she keep it? And what did she do with it eventually—simply toss it? Thousands had responded to John’s feisty preaching. What were they thinking now? Is this how it ends for those who stick their necks out for God?
The experience of Job in the Old Testament has helped to steady countless Christians facing tragedy. But however horrible the crisis Job faced, there’s a sense in which what happened to John is closer to us. For in the case of Job, one can reason—humanly—that God was way up there, where angels present themselves before Him,5 far from the earthly scene. But in the case of John, Jesus, God in human flesh, was actually here—in the same town, so to speak. But He did not move to stop the cruel tragedy.
In that sense, John’s predicament contains a special relevance for all who, passing through their own calamity, cry out in utter desperation: O God, where are You? And the answer from the Baptist’s story is that God is right there—in your country, in your town, in your village, on your street, in that lonely, desperate room where you are. But the case of John reminds us that God, though very near—and for reasons that are inscrutable—does not always shield us from the deadly blow.
We follow in John’s footsteps, regardless of misfortune, because of what lies beyond the darkness. Herod had it right about John’s rising from the dead, though his timing was a little off. The man he beheaded will surely live again. On that day this intrepid herald of the gospel will struggle to recall how his fiery ministry ended—what happened on that terrible night so long ago. But he won’t remember. Nor will he need to. On that day his dismembered body will be whole again. Those eyes that stared down evil will see again! And the first object they’ll behold will be the face of God.
Roy Adams is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.