For some time I have been convinced that Herod Antipas in Mark 6 is intended to stand as a sort of anti-king of a worldly kingdom in contrast to Jesus as king of the Kingdom of God.
There are a few ways that Mark signals this.
First, Mark juxtaposes Herod’s birthday feast with Jesus’s setting a feast for the people in the wilderness.
Second, both stories are replete with royal imagery.
Herod (who was not, in fact, a king) is called “king” several times in the story. And the story takes its dire turn when he promises to give his step-daughter up to half his kingdom.
When Jesus, in turn, confronts the crowd in the wilderness, he has compassion on them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. This means (a) they don’t have the shepherd-king they should, and (b) Jesus steps in to fill this role.
Third, the stories both tell of banquets. Herod’s is a birthday feast with all of the important people. Jesus is with hoi polloi. But when Jesus has the people sit for their meal, we are told that they sit in banqueting parties (symposiai).
One key component to Jesus’s feast is that the disciples are involved in the distribution of food. The disciples, in fact, directly feed the people: Jesus took the bread and gave it to his disciples, and they gave it to the people.
The final “course” of the meal is not a final course at all–it is abundant leftovers. The kingdom of God overflows with life-giving goodness.
Recently I noticed that this pattern of giving and giving again is repeated in the Herod story.
Herod takes the head of John the Baptist and he gives it to his step-daughter and she, in turn, gives it to her mother.
The dessert course of Herod’s banquet, the final thing to come out on a serving platter, is John’s head.
And so in a grisly, perfect, antithetical juxtaposition, death is served by the would-be king who has no kingdom while the kingdom-bringing Jesus serves life to the many.