14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
(Mark 6:14-16 NIV)
In the previous passage, Jesus had sent His disciples out in pairs to minister in various Jewish villages (verses 6b – 13). In Mark’s storytelling pattern, he begins a story, interjects another story, then comes back to the conclusion of the first story.
In this case, Mark begins the first story by telling about Jesus sending out His disciples to minister. Mark will conclude this first story in verse 30.
In verse 14, Mark begins his “story-within-a-story”, telling about Jesus’ misunderstood identity beyond Capernaum and the Galilean region. Mark traces Jesus’ notoriety all the way up to the Roman regional ruler, Herod.
Since Mark was writing for a mixed Jewish and Gentile audience, he shares the three common but misunderstood viewpoints of Jesus’ identity. With the focus on Herod’s viewpoint, Mark then goes on to explain in detail the relationship between Herod and John the Baptizer in verses 17 – 29.
The three misunderstood viewpoints about Jesus were that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected, or that Jesus was really Elijah coming back as prophesied, or that Jesus was a prophet like those of long ago when God talked to His people through the prophets.
John the Baptist’s name and ministry had spread far and wide during his active days. To those that had never met John or Jesus, the conjecture was that they were one in the same person. They thought that his name was “John” while he was still alive and was preaching repentance and baptizing for repentance. The people then thought that John the Baptist arose from the dead as some form of spiritual being and was now able to perform miracles under his new name of Jesus.
Other people thought that Jesus was the great prophet Elijah coming back to fulfill God’s promise of sending Elijah to mark the end of time and usher in peace and the overthrow of human government once and for all.
Other folks thought that Jesus was God’s messenger in the tradition of the historical prophets from centuries before. After all, it had been four hundred years since God had spoken to His people via a prophet. Could it be that God was stirring in the hearts of men? Was it too much to think that God was going to rescue His people from their current plight, just as God used Moses to bring His people out of Egypt?
Mark concludes by giving Herod’s viewpoint on Jesus. Herod’s viewpoint was also speculative, as he had met John, but had not yet met Jesus. Herod’s viewpoint was not hopeful or optimistic as were the other viewpoints expressed by the Jewish people. Instead, Herod’s viewpoint was driven by fear and a guilty conscience, since he was the one that had given the order to decapitate John the Baptist.
Herod felt his worst nightmare was coming true. Because Herod had issued the command to execute John, he thought that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected and now coming back to torture him for his sins. As we shall see in the next section, Herod was intrigued with John and talked with him while he was alive, even though he disagreed with what John was saying to him.
So who do people say that Jesus is today? Was He just a good moral person, providing an example for us to live by? Or was He a prophet, just like Elijah, Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha, Gandhi, the Dali Lama, or any number of other religious people throughout the centuries that have nice words for us to contemplate as we figure out life on our own?
Or was (and is) Jesus who He said He was, God come to earth to save humanity from their sins and provide the gift of eternal life to all who will accept His offer?
What’s your response? Who is this Jesus?