To be a disciple means taking up the cross daily and following in Christ’s footsteps, even if doing so means death – Mark 6:7-30.
Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God throughout the region. And in Mark, their commissioning is followed by the execution of John the Baptist to prepare the reader for the rejection that will result from following Jesus. To walk in his footsteps, one must first count the cost to have any hope of seeing that journey through to the end.
TWELVE SENT. Jesus sent the disciples out to proclaim the arrival of the “kingdom,” to cast out demons, and to pray for the sick, and he gave them his authority to do so. Just as he was the representative of the Father, so the Twelve became his envoys – (Mark 6:7-13).
“He summoned the twelve and began to send them out two by two.” This was in accord with the Mosaic Law that required a man’s testimony to be corroborated by two or more witnesses, for the twelve would do more than simply teach his religious principles. Effectively, they would be witnesses to how the Jewish people responded to the Messiah of Israel – (Deuteronomy 19:15).
Jesus “began to send them forth.” The verb rendered “began” indicates that he sent them to preach on more than one occasion. The Greek verb apostellō or “send forth” is related to the noun apostolos from which the noun “apostle” is derived.
“Put on sandals…do not put on two tunics.” This refers to the inner garment worn by the men of Judea beneath their outer cloaks. The items the twelve were to carry – staff, belt, sandals, tunic – correspond to the instructions given to Israel by Moses on the night of Passover in Egypt – “In this manner, you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is Yahweh’s Passover” – (Exodus 12:11).
The disciples were to announce something to Israel of far more import than the original exodus from Egypt. Like the ancient Israelites, they were to be unencumbered with anything that might impede their journey. Just as there was urgency in Israel’s flight from Egypt, so there was urgency in the mission of the twelve to proclaim the kingdom to the villages of Galilee.
“And shake off the dust under your feet for a witness.” It was the common practice for Jews traveling through Gentile lands to shake the dust off their feet when they arrived home to the land of Israel so that no “unclean” pagan soil would pollute the land of Israel. For the disciples to do this was tantamount to declaring the offending village Gentile territory, and therefore, that it was ritually unclean. With the coming of the Messiah, there could be no presumption of salvation based on geography, nationality, or ethnicity.
HEROD AND JOHN. The Gospel of Mark inserts the story of John’s execution between the sending of the twelve and their return to Jesus. The unjust death of the Baptist provides an example of the very real cost of becoming Christ’s disciple (Mark 6:14-29).
Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great and the tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa, and he ruled as the faithful vassal of Rome. “Tetrarch” means the “ruler of a fourth.” Following his death, Herod the Great’s domain was divided between four of his sons. And as the ruler appointed by Rome, Herod Antipas had the authority to execute a prisoner convicted of a capital crime in his realm.
Herodias had divorced the half-brother of Herod Antipas to marry him, a violation of the Mosaic regulations regarding incest. And though a wife could divorce her husband under the laws of Rome, the Mosaic Law did not allow a wife to initiate divorce – (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21).
In the eyes of John, Herodias was still married to the half-brother of Antipas, making her an adulteress. In his turn, Herod Antipas had divorced his previous wife so he could marry Herodias. In the passage, her daughter is unnamed, but the Jewish historian Josephus identified her as ‘Salome,’ the daughter of Herodias and her first husband.
The execution of John foreshadowed the death of Jesus. Like John, he was executed by the representative of Rome. Like Herod, Pontius Pilate hesitated to execute the prisoner that he knew to be righteous but did so anyway.
And like the Temple authorities that demanded the death of Christ and manipulated the crowds to demand it, Herodias got her way through her machinations behind the scenes.
And the disciples of John came for his body and buried him, just as Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus from Pilate, prepared it carefully, then buried it.
- (Mark 6:30) – “And the apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus. And they told him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught.”
By embedding the execution of John in the story, Mark has linked the gospel mission of the disciples with the opposition from the religious and political authorities of Judea. The story highlights the hard truth that, to become a disciple of Jesus, one must be willing to follow in his footsteps even when doing so leads to inevitable and foreseeable death.