Who Was Herod Antipas and What Did He Do in the Bible?
- Lisa Loraine Baker Contributing Writer
- 2021 17 May
History tells us the Roman Empire dominated life in the first century AD. After a time of unrest and upheaval in the first century BC, Rome changed from a Republic to an Empire and, in 45 BC, Julius Caesar surfaced as Rome’s dictator for life. Less than a year later, he was assassinated, and a second triumvirate followed. By 29 BC, Octavian assumed sole emperorship, and in 27 B.C., he assumed the title of Augustus (majestic, great). Octavian instituted a long period of peace called pax Romana, and he ruled at the time of Jesus. Reporting to him were governors and tetrarchs.
When Pontius Pilate ruled Judea as governor, Herod the Great’s son (born to Malthace, a Samaritan woman), Herod Antipas, reigned over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC-AD 39. Matthew refers to him as “king” (Matthew 14:9) because it’s what the Galileans called him, even though he indeed was tetrarch. An interesting note: “Herod” means son of a hero and “Antipas” can either mean for all or against all. Herod seems to have been a passive ruler and did not enjoin numerous building projects, as did his father, although he did build the cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris.
What Happened between Herod Antipas and John the Baptist?
John the Baptist knew of Herod’s incestuous relationship with his half-brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. The union was complete debauchery, not only because she was Philip’s wife, but also because Philip was her uncle, as was Herod Antipas!
John rebuked Herod for his heinous liaison, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4). In effect, John was calling the one who wielded the law unlawfully. Herod threw John into prison, and, although he wanted to have John put to death, he did not, for he feared “the multitude, because they counted him (John) as a prophet” (Matthew 14: 5). Herodias sought to have him killed, but Herod Antipas “feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed and yet he heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20).
During his birthday celebration, however, Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod, and she so well pleased Herod he promised to give her anything she desired (Matthew 14:6-7). Mark’s account includes, “up to half my kingdom” (Mark 6:23). Herodias proved her devious nature and prompted her daughter to ask, “for the head of John the Baptist here on a platter” (Matthew 14:8, Mark 6:24-25).
Herod was troubled by the request, but because of his oath and the presence of his guests (his nobles and high officers), gave the order to have John the Baptist beheaded. John’s head was delivered to Herodias’ daughter on a platter who then gave it to her mother.
When the disciples became aware of it, they “came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb” (Mark 6:29). When Jesus heard of it from His disciples, he departed the area by boat and went to a deserted place (Matthew 14:13).
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What Happened between Herod Antipas and Jesus?
No direct confrontations between Herod Antipas and Jesus occurred before the time Jesus was subjected to the trials preceding His crucifixion. All incidences before then were reports from others to either Jesus or Herod, and their replies.
When confronted with reports about Jesus and what He was doing, Herod feared John the Baptist had been raised from the dead (Mark 6:14). He said, “That is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him” (Matthew 14:2). Jesus, in Mark 8, warns His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod (Mark 8:15). What He means in this passage is the Herodians, followers of Herod Antipas, who sought a further encompassing rule for him beyond the confines of Galilee and Perea. They were corrupted by Herod’s sinful and immoral lifestyle.
In Luke 13:31, the Pharisees came to Jesus and told Him to depart from where He was (on the way to Jerusalem) because “Herod wants to kill You.” Jesus then told them to tell that “fox” what He was doing and, in His own timetable, would be perfected (Luke 13:32).
What Did Herod Antipas Have to Do with the Crucifixion?
Because Herod Antipas ruled the region which included Jerusalem, he oversaw the actions which led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Matthew 27:1-2,11-14; Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:1-16, and John 18:28-38 all record the events of Herod Antipas’ involvement with the crucifixion. We will look at Luke’s record of events.
After Christ was taken before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council), the “whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate (Luke 23:1). Pilate, upon finding no fault in Him, and realizing Jesus was a Galilean, had Jesus taken before Herod, who at that time was in Jerusalem.
When Herod first encountered Jesus, he was delighted. “Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him” (Luke 23:8). Herod questioned Him and Jesus said nothing, all while in the presence of the chief priests and scribes, who “stood and vehemently accused Him” (Luke 23:9-10).
Herod, with his “men of war,” mocked Jesus and, in a crass move, arrayed Him in “a gorgeous robe” (Luke 23: 11). He then sent Jesus back to Pilate, both of whom found nothing done by Him which deserved death. Afterward, Herod and Pilate “became friends with each other” (Luke 23:12). Therein lies the extent of Herod Antipas’ dealings with Jesus.
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How Does God Use Men like Herod in His Plans?
Our sovereign God’s plans involve every person in all of history; nothing and no one exist who can thwart them. At any point, God may choose to intervene, and every act of His will is always first for His glory.
Everything Jesus did and said was of consequence, and that He said nothing to Herod when questioned by Him speaks volumes, for why would He justify anything to that corrupt man when Herod would not even listen to John the Baptist? And yet Jesus did no sinful thing. Jesus also respected the governing authorities. While here on earth, He subjected Himself to their rule (John 19:11). Jesus, at one point in His ministry, said to “render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Herod was one such governing authority, and yes, God used him even in his sinful state. Herod was part of Scripture’s fulfillment when Jesus stood before him and said nothing (Isaiah 53:7), which provides proof that Jesus is the Messiah.
As a ruler, Herod would have maintained order within the regions of Galilee and Perea, for a nation cannot thrive in chaos. Yet Herod Antipas’ kingdom was earthly and subject to his corrupt nature. Jesus’ kingdom is holy, righteous, and eternal, immovable by the evil wiles and ways of man. Herod serves as a model of the dichotomy between good and evil, and as an example of God’s justice in that He brought Herod, a sinful, unrepentant man, to an empty end. Evil people do not get away with any sinful acts they commit (Psalm 73).
Part of our role as Christ’s ambassadors is to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). Paul wrote this letter (Romans) to the Christian church in Rome while Nero reigned. Nero is the infamous Roman emperor who set the city on fire and blamed the Christians for it, thereby instituting a whole new wave of persecution, which included the contests in the Coliseum where Christians were ripped apart by wild animals (among other monstrous acts). The meekness (forbearance under pressure) displayed by the Christians proved a bold witness which led to many proclamations of faith in Jesus. What Nero meant as an effort to suppress Christianity, God used to grow His kingdom.
We can go as far back as Egypt when the pharaohs ruled and enslaved the Jewish nation who worshiped God over the self-proclaimed god the pharaohs said they were. God kept His people together and grew them as a nation, dependent on Him for their very lives. Pharaoh tried his best to frustrate their growth and keep them in bondage, but God revealed Pharaoh for what he was, a false god (Exodus 6-12).
In modern times, God has and will use all rulers and forms of government to order the world according to His purposes and grow His kingdom (Colossians 1:16). Adolf Hitler comes to mind as one of the most malevolent rulers who ever lived. Chancellor and Führer of Germany in the twentieth century, Hitler ordered the systematic execution of nearly six million Jews. But because of Hitler, we have the chronicle of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What he did as a Christian in the face of such persecution is still being used by the Lord for His kingdom.
We know God is always at work (John 5:17), even how He works through the earthly powers-that-be, such as He did Herod. We may not realize the how of God working in our lives as He enacts His will, but we can rest in the fact that He does all things for His glory and for our good (Romans 8:18, 28)!
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Lisa Loraine Baker is a rock & roll girl who loves Jesus. She and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis. Lisa is co-author of the non-fiction narrative, “Someplace to be Somebody” (End Game Press, spring 2022). She has also written for Lighthouse Bible Studies, and CBN.com,