John the Baptist in Prison
John the Baptist is one of the most well-known New Testament figures. John the Baptist had been prophesied to come before Jesus and preach about His coming to help prepare the way for Jesus. Born from a miracle, John the Baptist did exactly as had been prophesied and gathered many disciples who believed in his prophecies of Jesus. John the Baptist was also a relative of Jesus, and he was the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. At the baptism, John the Baptist received confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah when a dove descended from heaven.
But John the Baptist’s story didn’t stop there. He was later put in prison, struggled in prison, and was eventually executed. Why was John the Baptist arrested and why was he in prison?
Why Was John the Baptist in Prison?
To understand how John the Baptist went to prison, it’s important to understand some of the political context in Galilee at the time. During the lifetime of John the Baptist, a man named Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee as a Roman client state. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, who was the ruler at the time of Jesus’ birth. The new King Herod had been married to Phasaelis. But when Herod was visiting Rome, he fell in love with his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Herodias came to Galilee and married Herod. Most scholars believe she married Herod before her husband had died.
John the Baptist was actively ministering and teaching at this time, and he told Herod that his new marriage was against Jewish law—since marrying a family member while Philip was still alive was technically considered incest, which was against Jewish law. John preached around the area and taught many about Herod’s marriage. Some scholars believe that Herodias had a grudge against John because of his criticism and convinced her husband to have him arrested. Other scholars believe that Herod cared less about what John thought of his marriage and was much more concerned about the potential for a rebellion. John the Baptist was highly influential among the Jews, and Herod could have been worried about John influencing the Jews to be against him.
Herod had John the Baptist arrested and imprisoned in Herod’s palace Macherus, located about 24 kilometers southeast from the Jordan River where John had baptized Jesus. The palace acted as both Herod’s ruling seat in Galilee and a prison. Many scholars believe John the Baptist was imprisoned underground in Macherus, which would make his prison dark and dank. But how long was John the Baptist in prison? Scholars aren’t sure how long John remained in prison, but most estimate that he was imprisoned for less than two years before being executed.
What is the Significance of John the Baptist’s Time in Prison?
John the Baptist had been righteous and had followed the gospel as well as he could, but he was still imprisoned for some time. While in prison, John heard about Jesus’ miracles. John the Baptist hadn’t witnessed Jesus’ miracles before this point because Jesus’ ministry hadn’t fully begun yet. But he heard about how Jesus was healing people, yet nothing changed for John. He had been faithful, and he was still suffering. During this time, John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus with a question: “Art thou he that should come? Or look we for another?”
Many believe that in this moment, John had begun to doubt if Jesus was the Messiah. John had received a sign of Jesus’ divinity before, but in his moment of great suffering, he may have begun to wonder if Jesus was who he hoped. Jesus answered John’s question by performing many miracles and sent John’s disciples to tell him what they had seen. The men returned to John and told him of Jesus’ miracles and provided a reminder of the importance of having faith in Jesus—even when the world seems dark.
See Andrew visit John the Baptist in prison in Season 3 Episode 1 of The Chosen.
If you haven’t already, check out Angel Studios’ The Chosen to view the first-ever multi-season show about the life of Jesus. This historical drama set in Judaea and Galilee in the first century CE follows Jesus and those whom He met and ministered to.