The sermon series I am working on for this Christmas season is entitled, “A Herodian Christmas Carol: Meeting the One Who Was, And Is, And Is To Come.” The series will examine four rulers who bore the name of Herod and who experienced first hand the gospel story. Each of the Herods had a unique encounter with “the One who was, and is, and is to come.” This week, our focus is on Herod Antipas.
When Herod the Great died in 4 BC, he left behind no small amount of confusion. Apart from the fact that he had executed his three eldest sons, he also left behind a couple of divergent wills. In the end, Herod’s territory was divided into parts with his son, Archelaus to be King of Judea and Antipas and Philip to be governors, or tetrarchs, over two regions. Archelaus was not much better than his father, which is why Mary and Joseph did not resettle in Bethlehem but chose a town under the control of Antipas (see Matthew 2.21-23). After ten years, Archelaus was ruled incompetent to rule by the Emperor and sent into exile. Herod Antipas was now the most prominent descendant of Herod the Great.
Herod Antipas was an effective ruler. He ruled over his territory (Galilee and Perea) for almost 40 years. We was sensitive of the Jewish traditions, and unlike Pilate, refused to put images on coins or standards that might upset the Jews. His major achievement was the to build the city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.
The current ruling Herod had always been a source of trouble for the family of Jesus. Herod the Great caused them to leave for Egypt. Herod Archelaus forced them to resettle in Nazareth. And Herod Antipas would be no exception.
Herod Antipas divorced his wife to marry the wife of his half-brother, Herodias. This caused problems within Antipas’ extended family, but also with the extended family of the woman he divorced, the King of Nabatea (which bordered the southern part of Antipas’ territory). If Antipas was hoping that the issue would just go away, John the Baptist was not helping the situation. John was a popular preacher/prophet in Antipas’ territory who was not afraid to speak out against Antipas’ divorce and remarriage. Herod eventually put John in jail, and had him executed at the request of Herodias (through their daughter, see the story in Mark 14.6-12).
Unfortunately for Antipas, this did not put an end to the ministry of John. Another popular preacher took his place. But this second preacher was rumored to also perform miracles. Antipas thought he might even be John come back to life (Mark 6.16). He was told that his name was Jesus.
What does all of this have to do with the gospel story? More on that tomorrow.