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    Chapter 5—The Death of John

    The spirit of reform stirred the soul of John. The light of wisdom and the power of God were upon him. Inspiration from Heaven kindled a holy zeal that led him to denounce the Jewish priests, and pronounce the curse of God upon them. They made high pretensions to godliness while they were strangers to charity, mercy, and the love of God. They sought, by the gorgeousness of their apparel and their lofty manners, to inspire awe and command the respect of men, while they were abhorred by the Most High.2SP 74.2

    Though their hearts and lives were contrary to the will of God, they deceived themselves with the vain supposition that eternal blessings were theirs by virtue of the promises made to Abraham, the father of the faithful. They were not clothed with humility. They were destitute of the faith and piety of Abraham. They had not earned by integrity and purity of life, the moral worth which would ally them to him as his children, yet they expected to share the promises given him of the Lord. The fearless manner in which the prophet John had denounced the Pharisees and exposed their iniquity and hypocrisy, startled those who had been accustomed to seeing them honored and exalted.2SP 75.1

    His preaching had aroused intense interest everywhere. His earnest appeals and denunciations had stirred the consciences of men. People had flocked from towns, cities, and villages, attracted to the wilderness by his earnest and fervent exhortations, his courageous warnings and reproofs, such as they had never before heard. There was no outward display in the dress of John to attract, or to awaken admiration. He resembled the prophet Elijah in the coarseness of his apparel, and in his plain and simple diet. He fed upon locusts and wild honey, which the wilderness afforded, and drank the pure water flowing from the eternal hills.2SP 75.2

    Yet so great had been the crowds that listened to him that his fame had spread throughout the land. And now that he was imprisoned, the people waited with interest to see what would be the result, never thinking that he would be visited with any severe punishment, as his life was without blame.2SP 75.3

    Herod's purpose to release John from prison was delayed from time to time through fear of displeasing Herodias, who was determined he should be put to death. While he was delaying, she was active, planning how to be revenged in the most effectual manner on the prophet, because he had ventured to tell the truth, and reprove their unlawful life. She knew that although Herod kept John in prison, he designed to release him, for he honored and feared him, and believed that he was a true prophet of God. John had made known to Herod the secrets of his heart and life, and his reproofs had struck terror to the guilty conscience of the king.2SP 76.1

    In many things Herod had reformed his dissolute life. But the use of luxurious food and stimulating drink was constantly enervating his moral as well as physical powers, and warring against the earnest appeals of the Spirit of God, which had struck conviction to his heart, and was urging him to put away his sins. Herodias was acquainted with the weak points in the character of Herod. She knew that under ordinary circumstances, while his intelligence controlled him, she could not compass the death of John.2SP 76.2

    She had tried, but unsuccessfully, to gain the consent of Herod to have John slain. Her revengeful spirit was now at work to accomplish her inhuman design by strategy. She knew that the only way to accomplish her purpose would be through the gratification of the king's intemperate appetite. So she covered her hatred as best she could, looking forward to the royal birthday, which she knew would be an occasion of gluttony and intoxication. The king's love of luxurious food and wine would give her an opportunity to throw him off his guard. She would entice him to indulge his appetite, which would arouse passions of the baser order, subvert the finer sensibilities, produce a recklessness of consequences, and an inability to exercise his proper judgment and decision.2SP 76.3

    She was acquainted with the effect of these carnivals upon the intellect and morals. She knew that the unnatural exhilaration of the spirits induced by intemperance lowers the moral standard of the mind, making it impossible for holy impulses to enter the heart and govern the excited passions, that festivities and amusements, dances, and free use of wine, cloud the sense, and remove the fear of God; therefore she prepared everything to flatter his pride and vanity, and indulge his passions. She made the most costly preparations for feasting, and voluptuous dissipation.2SP 77.1

    When the great day arrived, and the king with his lords was feasting and drinking in the banqueting hall, Herodias sent her daughter, dressed in a most enchanting manner, into the royal presence. Salome was decorated with costly garlands and flowers, sparkling jewels and flashing bracelets. With little covering, and less modesty, she danced for the amusement of the royal guests. To their perverted senses, she seemed a vision of beauty and loveliness, and charmed away the last remnants of self-respect and propriety. Instead of being governed by enlightened reason, refined taste, and sensitive conscience, the baser qualities of the mind held the guiding reins. Virtue and principle had no controlling power.2SP 77.2

    The mind of Herod was in a whirl. His faculties were confused, judgment and reverence were dethroned. He saw only the hall of pleasure, with his reveling guests, the banquet table, sparkling wine and flashing lights, and the young girl in her voluptuous beauty dancing before him. In the recklessness of the moment he was desirous to make some display which would exalt him still higher before the great men of his kingdom; and he rashly promised, and confirmed his promise with an oath, to give the daughter of Herodias whatever she might ask.2SP 78.1

    The object for which she had been sent into the royal presence was now gained. Having obtained so wonderful a promise, she ran to her mother, desiring to know what she should ask. The mother's answer was ready—the head of John the Baptist in a charger. Salome was shocked. She did not understand the hidden revenge in her mother's heart, and at first refused to present such an inhuman request; but the determination of the wicked mother prevailed. Moreover, she bade her daughter make no delay, but hasten to prefer her request before Herod would have time for reflection. Accordingly Salome returned to Herod with her terrible petition: “I will that thou give me, by and by, in a charger, the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.”2SP 78.2

    Herod was astonished and confounded. The riotous mirth ceased, for his guests were thrilled with horror at this inhuman request. An ominous silence settled down upon the scene of revelry. The king, though drunken and confused, endeavored to summon reason to his aid.2SP 79.1

    He had been exalted for constancy and superior judgment, and he did not wish to appear fickle or rash in character. The oath had been made in honor of his guests, and had one of them offered a word of remonstrance against the fulfillment of his promise, he would gladly have saved the life of John. He gave them opportunity to speak in the prisoner's behalf. They had traveled long distances to the mountains in the wilderness to listen to his powerful discourses, and they knew he was a man without crime, and a prophet of God. Herod told them if it would not be considered a special mark of dishonor to them, he would not abide by his oath.2SP 79.2

    But though at first they were horror-stricken at the unnatural demand of the girl, they were so far intoxicated that they sat in silent stupor, without reason, reverence, or thought. Though they were invited to release the monarch from his oath, their tongues were dumb. No voice in all that company was raised to save the life of an innocent man, who had never done them harm. Herod, still under the delusion that, in order to maintain his reputation, he must keep an oath made under the influence of intoxication, unless formally released from it, waited in vain for a dissenting voice, but there was none. The life of God's prophet was in the hands of a company of drunken revelers. These men occupied high positions of trust in the nation, and grave responsibilities rested upon them, yet they had gorged themselves with dainty food, and added drunkenness to surfeiting, until their mental powers were enervated by the pleasure of sense, their brains turned with the giddy scene of music and dancing, and conscience lay dormant. By their silence they pronounced the sentence of death upon the anointed of the Lord, to gratify the horrible caprice of a wicked woman.2SP 79.3

    Too often in these days the most solemn responsibilities rest upon those who, from their intemperate habits, are not in a condition to exercise the calm judgment and keen perceptions of right and wrong with which their Creator endowed them. The guardians of the people, men in authority, upon whose decisions hang the lives of their fellow-creatures, should be subject to severe punishment if found guilty of intemperance. Those who enforce laws should be lawkeepers. They should be men of self-government, in full harmony with the laws governing their physical, mental, and moral powers, that they may possess full vigor of intellect and a high sense of justice. In the martyrdom of John we have a result of intemperance among those invested with great authority. This eventful birthday feast should be a lesson of warning to the lovers of pleasure, and an exhortation to Christian temperance.2SP 80.1

    Herod waited in vain to be released from his oath, then reluctantly commanded the executioner to take the life of John. The head of the prophet was soon brought in before the king and his guests. Those lips were now forever sealed that had faithfully declared to Herod the reform he must make in his life, when that monarch inquired why he could not be the prophet's disciple. Never more would that voice be heard in trumpet notes calling sinners to repentance. The frivolities and dissipation of a single night had caused the sacrifice of one of the greatest prophets that ever bore a message from God to men.2SP 80.2

    Herodias received the gory head with fiendish satisfaction. She exulted in her revenge, and thought that Herod's conscience would be no more disturbed. But her calculations were greatly in error; no happiness resulted to her through her crime. Her name became notorious and abhorred because of her inhuman act, while the heart of Herod was more oppressed by remorse than it had been by the condemnation of John. And the very act which she imagined would rid the world of the prophet's influence, enshrined him as a holy martyr, not only in the hearts of his disciples, but of those who had not before ventured to stand boldly out as his followers. Many who had heard his message of warning, and had been secretly convinced by his teachings, now, spurred on by horror at his coldblooded murder, publicly espoused his cause and declared themselves his disciples. Herodias utterly failed to silence the influence of John's teachings; they were to extend down through every generation to the close of time, while her corrupt life and Satanic revenge would reap a harvest of infamy.2SP 81.1

    After the feast of Herod had ended, and the effects of his intoxication had passed away, reason again resumed her throne, and the king was filled with remorse. His crime was ever before him, and he was constantly seeking to find relief from the stings of a guilty conscience. His faith in John as an honored prophet of God, was unshaken. As he reflected upon his life of self-denial, his powerful discourses, his solemn, earnest appeals, his sound judgment as a counselor, and then reflected that he had put him to death, his conscience was fearfully troubled. Engaged in the affairs of the nation, receiving honors from men, he bore a smiling face and dignified mien, while he concealed an anxious, aching heart, and was constantly terrified with fearful forebodings that the curse of God was upon him.2SP 81.2

    When Herod heard of the wonderful works of Christ in healing the sick, casting out devils, and raising the dead, he was exceedingly troubled and perplexed. His convictions were that God, whom John preached, was indeed present in every place, and that he had witnessed the wild mirth and wicked dissipation in the royal banqueting room, and that his ear had heard his command to the executioner to behead John, that his eye had seen the exultation of Herodias, and the taunting and insult with which she had reproached the severed head of her enemy. And many things which he had heard from the lips of the prophet now spoke to his conscience in louder tones than the preaching in the wilderness. He had heard from John that nothing could be hidden from God, therefore he trembled lest some terrible punishment should be visited upon him for the sin he had committed.2SP 82.1

    When Herod heard of the words of Christ, he thought that God had resurrected John, and sent him forth with still greater power to condemn sin. He was in constant fear that John would avenge his death by passing condemnation upon him and his house. “And king Herod heard of him [Christ] (for his name was spread abroad); and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead.”2SP 82.2

    The Lord followed Herod as is described in Deuteronomy: “The Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind. And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear, day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.”2SP 83.1

    In these words is presented a vivid picture of the criminal's life. His own thoughts are his accusers, and there can be no torture keener than the stings of his own guilty conscience, which give him no rest night nor day.2SP 83.2

    The prophet John was the connecting link between the two dispensations. He was the lesser light which was to be followed by a greater. He was to shake the confidence of the people in their traditions, call their sins to their remembrance, and lead them to repentance; that they might be prepared to appreciate the work of Christ. God communicated to John by inspiration, illuminating the understanding of the prophet, that he might remove the superstition and darkness from the minds of the honest Jews, which had, through false teachings, been gathering upon them for generations.2SP 83.3

    But the least disciple who followed Christ, witnessing his miracles, and receiving his divine lessons of instruction and the comforting words that fell from his lips, was more privileged than John the Baptist. No light had ever shone or ever will shine so clearly upon the mind of fallen man, as that which emanated from the teachings and example of Jesus. Christ and his mission had been but dimly understood and typified in the shadowy sacrifice. Even John was for a time deceived, and thought he would become a temporal ruler over subjects who were just and holy, not then fully comprehending the future immortal life through the Saviour. “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”2SP 84.1

    Although not one of the prophets had a higher mission or greater work to perform than had John, yet he was not to see even the result of his own labors. He was not privileged to be with Christ and witness the divine power attending the greater light. It was not for him to see the blind restored to sight, the sick healed, and the dead raised to life. He did not behold the light which shone through every word of Christ, reflecting glory upon the promises in prophecy. The world was illuminated with the brightness of the Father's glory in the person of his Son; but the solitary prophet was denied the privilege of seeing and understanding the wisdom and mercy of God through a personal knowledge of the ministry of Christ.2SP 84.2

    In this sense, many who were favored by the teachings of Christ and saw his miracles, were greater than John.2SP 84.3

    Those who were with Christ when he walked a man among men, and listened to his divine teachings under a variety of circumstances—while preaching in the temple walking in the streets, teaching the multitudes by the way, and by the sea-side, and while an invited guest at the table of his host, ever giving words of instruction to meet the cases of all who needed his help; healing, comforting, and reproving, as circumstances required—were more exalted than John the Baptist.2SP 85.1


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