A simple outline of the gospel of Mark looks something like this:
1. The Galilean Ministry of Jesus
2. Withdrawal from Galilee
3. Journey to Jerusalem
4. Jerusalem Ministry
5. Death and Resurrection
What escapes the casual reading of Mark is the reason why Jesus withdrew from Galilee to minister elsewhere. Joseph Tyson, in his article “Jesus and Herod Antipas” (JBL, 1960), suggests the reason for Jesus’ withdrawal from Galilee was that He was fleeing Herod Antipas. He writes, “The itinerary of Jesus can, in its broadest outline, be accounted for as a flight from Antipas.”
In Mark 6, we read that John was beheaded by Antipas at the request of his wife’s daughter. But before the gospel writer recounts the story, the reader learns about the Sending of the Twelve (Mark 6.6-13) where the apostles were sent out to the villages, preaching the gospel, driving out demons, and healing many sick people. Then we read these words:
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.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6.14-16)
In the eyes of Antipas, Jesus was continuing the ministry of John the Baptist, and Antipas was not just against John but against his movement. Therefore, Antipas had to stop the ministry of Jesus, too.
The chapter ends with Jesus feeding the 5000, and then Jesus immediately leaves the territory of Antipas and begins to minister in the territory of Philip. According to Tyson, “Jesus was known to Herod, but Herod paid him little attention until after the mission of the Twelve.” It surely didn’t help matters that some of Herod’s inner circle were following and supporting Christ. The wife of the manager of his household (Luke 8.3) and a childhood friend (Acts 13.1) are mentioned in the biblical narrative, and there might have been more.
So, Antipas sets out to arrest Jesus. Consequently, Jesus left Antipas’ territory. He even warned His disciples to “watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” (Mark 8.15).
In the fullness of time, Jesus turned His eyes toward Jerusalem and toward the cross. On the way, He was warned by the Pharisees,
“Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13.31-33)
These events might not amount to much, except for the fact that the life of Christ is moving towards one climatic weekend, the weekend of his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. And as part of that climatic weekend, Jesus and Herod Antipas will meet face to face for the first time. Herod Antipas will bring to that encounter his assumptions about Jesus, and more importantly, he will bring with him his curiosity. He wants something from Jesus…