Matthew 2:1-19, Mark 6:14-29, Leviticus 20:21, Luke 23:7-12
Summary: The story of Herod Antipas is one of treachery, murder, lust, cowardice, deceit, and perversion. He was responsible for the murder of John the Baptist and ridiculed Jesus on the day of His execution. The family of Herod had no redeeming qualities and are examples of unredeemed humanity.
It would make sense to say that the ministry of the Lord Jesus was attracting a great deal of attention and some scrutiny by virtue of His wondrous teachings, His compassion to all who came to Him in faith and trust, the way He handled the criticisms and pettiness of the Pharisees, His ability to cast out demons and heal the sick, and His authority over the forces of nature. All of this caught the attention of one of the lowest of the low in terms of evil deeds and intentions; that was the ruler of the region of Galilee, Herod Antipas, son of the founder of the royal dynasty, Herod the Great, who had ruled the region of Judea from 40 -4 B.C. as a vassal state of Rome and with the approval of the Caesars.
Mark gives us some details about this puppet of Rome who exercised his authority over the area where Jesus had grown up and lived. From 4 B.C., when Herod the Great died, Antipas received control over this region and was, for the most part, an oblivious governor who kept the peace and crushed all potential rebellion against not just him but the Roman Empire itself. He debuts in Scripture in Mark 6:14-16 when he first hears of Jesus and His work, believing that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist, whom he had put to death earlier. John’s death haunted him, for it had occurred as the result of a foolish vow he made while under the influence of too much wine and underlying lust for his teenage niece. This guy was a piece of work, and that is the best one can say about him.
Antipas was one of the numerous sons of Herod the Great, whose mother was the fourth of his ten wives, two of whom Herod murdered for alleged insurrection, along with one of his sons. Herod had been appointed the ruler of the area in 40 A.D. by Mark Antony, a friend of Julius Caesar and co-ruler of what was the expanding Roman Republic. After Antony’s defeat at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. by the forces of Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, Herod decided to get on the good side of Octavian and swear allegiance to him in order to keep his kingdom. The plan worked in his favor, and Octavian, who became the first Roman emperor Augustus Caesar (27 B.C. -14 A.D.), gave him a free hand in running the region under the watchful eye of Rome.
Herod began to build cities, ports, and the Temple in Jerusalem as a way of appeasing his Jewish subjects who despised him, seeing him as a usurper of the rightful Davidic dynasty from whom their Messiah would come according to the Scriptures.
Herod the Great’s last years were spent in increasing paranoia and physical suffering to the point where his body was infected with worms and gangrene, along with other diseases that rendered him putrid and miserable, which affected his sanity. Matthew 2 tells of his false claims before the Magi to worship the newborn King of the Jews when in reality he wanted the child dead, seeing Him as a threat to his rule.
One of Herod’s final acts of barbarity was the slaughter of the infants within the region of Bethlehem. At his death in 4 B.C., he was buried near the fortress of Masada, and no one mourned for him. His son Archelaus ruled for a short time but was so incompetent that he was deposed a short time later by the Romans, and Herod’s kingdom was divided into four regions, each ruled by one of his sons. Antipas’s region was ratified by Augustus Caesar.
Antipas’ accomplishments were, at best, mixed. He governed the area for forty-two years (4 B.C.-39 A.D.). He built the cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias and oversaw other projects. As mentioned earlier, he gave approval to the execution of John the Baptist and sought to do the same to Jesus, who referred to him as “that fox” (Luke 13:31-33), an adequate description for an underhanded animal. Antipas mocked Jesus on the day of His trial, which led to a friendship between himself and Pilate (Luke 23:7-12). He had all the potential and position to be a man of worth and substance but squandered it and ended as a failure.
Antipas was a man possessed by superstitions, as he thought that John the Baptist had come back from the dead in the person of Jesus. The guilt he felt over the deed continually haunted him. He was also an immoral man as far as his marriages went. He had first been married to the daughter of King Aretas IV of Arabia but divorced her to marry Herodias, his half-niece who had been wed to his half-brother Philip. The two had fallen in love while in Rome together, agreeing to divorce their respective spouses to marry each other. This was an unlawful union and was nothing more than rank adultery (Leviticus 20:10), being that it was a violation of the prohibition against marrying a brother’s wife (Leviticus 20:21). Because of this act, John had called it out and rightfully condemned it, and for this, they wanted him dead (Matthew 14:5; Mark 6:19).
Antipas also had the liability of being easily manipulated. He feared his people who saw John as a prophet of God (Matthew 14:5). While he feared John, he would also visit and listen to him while the Baptist was in prison, yet never repented of his sins. He had been sexually aroused by his stepdaughter, Salome, who had danced for him at his birthday party. She was believed to have been fourteen years old at the time (Mark 6:21-23). He had incestuous feelings towards her and would have been arrested for pedophilia today, not to mention murder and adultery. He foolishly promised her anything she wanted. Herodias persuaded Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter (6:24-25). Not wanting to lose face, he ordered John’s execution and had his head brought before the crowd. Later, John’s disciples came for his body and buried it in an anonymous place.
Antipas’ demise came about when Herodias began to be jealous and vindictive towards his nephew Agrippa’s success in ruling Judea. She attempted to turn Emperor Caligula (37-41 A.D.) against Agrippa, but the plot backfired, and Caligula had both Antipas and Herodias exiled to rural Gaul (modern-day France), where he died two years later. She lived an obscure life afterward and faded from the history of Rome and the stories of the Bible. It is sufficient to say that they both got what they deserved. His time of manipulation and murder left him without anything of merit or use. He is a villain in the account of Jesus’ life and ministry and a waste of life who would not even be remembered save for his mention in the Gospels.
Tyrants never last, and evil never triumphs. Now he and the Herodian dynasty are most likely in hell awaiting the final judgment along with every individual who has rejected and mocked the offer of the Gospel and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Let Antipas’ life serve as a call to repent and not waste what God has given you in terms of life and potential.
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