For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.Matthew 14:3-5
For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.Mark 6:17-20
These verses give us a clear understanding of why Herod was so anxious about the appearance of Jesus. He knew what he had done to John was wrong, and now he felt John was coming back to haunt him!
So, what exactly happened?
The easy answer is that the Herods were one seriously messed up family.
Three sons of Herod the Great are involved in this horrible event. (There are more wives and more sons but we just need these three for now.)
- Herod the Tetrarch is the Herod in the verses above. His mother was a Samaritan woman named Mathace.
- Philip was the half brother to Herod. His mother was Cleoptra of Jerusalem. He was the first husband of Herodias.
- Aristobulus IV was another half brother to Herod and Philip. His mother was Meriamne I. Aristobulus married his cousin, Berenice. They are the parents of Herodias.
Yes, that looks horrible, and it was!
To sum this up Herodias was first married to her Uncle Philip. When Philip went away on a journey, her other Uncle, Herod, decided to take her as his wife. So, this family was involved in multiple cases of incest and adultery.
John the Baptist was preaching righteousness. This family’s actions were against the laws of God clearly stated:
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness.Leviticus 18:16
This scripture and others were the foundation for John’s rebuke of Herod and Herodias.
Herod wants John put to death for this rebuke but, like a typical politician, he is more afraid of the people than God. He is also torn because he has liked some of the other things that John has preached.
Herodias, on the other hand, wants John dead and she wants him dead immediately!
So, what it ultimately boiled down to was that Herod was more concerned about his position as Tetrarch and being Herodias’ husband than he was about honor and the word of God that John had faithfully preached. Therefore, Herod decides to put John in prison for an indeterminate amount of time.
Like I said before, what a mess!