Who Was Herod the Tetrarch?

Matthew 14 introduces us to Herod the Tetrarch. The text is written in such a way that Matthew assumes everyone knew who he was and the significance of his life and reign. That was true of his day, but it is not true for you and me.

Who was Herod the Tetrarch?

Herod the Tetrarch (also known as Herod Antipas) was one of the many sons of Herod the Great. Herod the Great became the king of Israel in 40 B.C. when Herod traveled to Rome and persuaded the Roman Senate to proclaim him king of Israel. Herod’s persuasion came mainly in the form of a bribe. This decision affected Israel greatly.

Herod the Great was a builder who restored the Second Temple, built the port city of Caesarea and the fortress of Masada. You can read more about Herod the Great here.

He was ruthless and paranoid. He killed the children of Bethlehem.

At his death his will split his kingdom into fourths and left it to three of his sons and his sister.

Herod the Tetrarch (the word Tetrarch denotes one quarter of a kingdom) ruled Galilee and Peraea in the place of his father. This son was a weak man with great ambition–a combination destined to produce disastrous results.

It did so in the case of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas was fascinated with religion without commitment to God. Matthew 14 tells us that Antipas believed that John the Baptist had come back to life.

Antipas arrested John and placed him in the notorious prison at Machaerus. He did so because John had confronted Herod the Tetrarch about his stealing the wife of his brother Philip. Philip’s wife Herodias was strong and ambitious. She goaded and manipulated Herod Antipas to have John beheaded.

Eventually, the Romans deposed Herod Antipas and exiled him to Spain where he died.

The contrast between Herod the Tetrarch and John the Baptist could not be more stark.

One lived by righteousness and justice while the other lived for ambition and self. One obeyed God while the other lived to ‘save face” and to follow rash promises. One goes down in history as the greatest prophet of the old dispensation while the other was deposed because of weakness and inept leadership.

These men show us the power of obedience and righteousness and the weakness of self-fulfillment.

We need to relearn these lessons for our own day.



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