But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch, because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.” (Luke 3:19-20
John the Baptist was never known for being subtle. Or gentle. Or tactful for that matter. But that is not the way of the prophets of the Most High.
John stands in a long line of prophets commissioned by God to speak his word into the world. John spoke out against the sin of the people of Israel, calling them back to the Lord. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and ‘made ready a people prepared for the Lord’ (Luke 1:17). His message struck the hearts of the people and people from across the nation came out to be baptized.
While speaking God’s truth changed the lives of many, it also had a cost for John. He couldn’t pick and choose when to speak. He couldn’t let something slide just because of who did it. Like many prophets before him, John’s mission brought him into conflict with those in power. Herod Antipas (son of Herod ‘the Great’) had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. Sinful and shameful, John rebuked Herod for his actions. Even more than others, as a leader of the people, Herod would be called to account for his moral leadership. Instead of realizing his error and repenting, Herod adds to his list of crimes by throwing John into prison.
In the gospel of Luke, this is the last event in John’s public ministry. John confronts the leader of Galilee on his moral failing, knowing the possible cost. It costs him his freedom, his ministry, and eventually his life. The cost was steep. But Jesus himself later said of John, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
After this episode, John fades into the background as Jesus moves to the fore. He had finished his mission. The Messiah had come.