Click to Change

Return to Top

Return to Top

Printer Icon


Prior Section Next Section Back to Commentaries Author Bio & Contents
The Blue Letter Bible
Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The World into Which Jesus Came

Don Stewart :: Who Were the Herods?

toggle collapse
Choose a new font size and typeface

Who Were the Herods?

The World into Which Jesus Came – Question 6

The family of Herod ruled over the Holy Land, or parts of it, before and after the time of Jesus Christ. Indeed, there are a number of members of the family of Herod that figure prominently in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as well as in the events of the early church.

Since they play such an important role in what took place, it is helpful if we know something about them. We can make the following observations about these Herod’s which the New Testament mentions.

1. Herod The Great

The first Herod we meet in the New Testament is known as Herod the Great (73 B.C. to 4 B.C.). He was not a Jew. His father an Idumean and his mother was an Arabian. The Idumeans were descended from Abraham through Isaac and Esau, rather than through Isaac and Jacob. Thus, he was an Edomite. In other words, they were not part of the “chosen people.”

While the Idumeans looked at themselves as participants in the covenant or agreement which the Lord had made with Abraham, their ancestors had not gone to Egypt with the descendants of Jacob.

Though not racially a Jew, Herod’s Father, Herod Antipater, practiced certain principles of the Jewish religion. His family did not eat pork neither did they allow any images on the coins which they issued. Yet they also followed certain Roman practices including things which were offensive to the Jews.

It was the Roman senate, not the people of Judea, which had made Herod the Great king of Judea in 40 B.C. Herod was a great builder. Although his building accomplishments included the enlargement of the Temple Mount and the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon he eventually lost favor with the Jewish people. His mixed lineage with his Edomite blood would have made him unacceptable to them. Indeed, the Old Testament said of Edom:

If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.” (Malachi 1:4 ESV)

Edom was seen as a place of wickedness. Therefore, Herod would have never gained complete favor with the people.

The Visit of Magi to Jerusalem Encounters Herod

It was during the reign of Herod the Great that the Magi visited Jerusalem. Matthew records the following:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3 NRSV)

Herod was greatly bothered by the idea that a new king was born. Indeed, he wanted nothing to interfere with his rule.

He Ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents

We also find that it was King Herod who ordered the slaughter of the innocents at the city of Bethlehem. Matthew writes,

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16 NRSV)

This behavior was certainly consistent with what we know of Herod.

History tells us that Herod became increasing cruel toward the end of his reign. Thinking that his own family was about to overthrow him, he murdered one of his wives (Mariamne), her mother, two of her sons, and his own eldest son. This led the Roman Emperor Augustus to comment that it would be safer to be Herod’s pig (hus in Greek) than his son (huios in Greek).

Herod Was Buried near Bethlehem

The irony is that Herod died a few weeks after the slaughter of the innocents and was buried in Herodium, near Bethlehem! It seems that someone may have been making a statement about the Messiah in the choice of Herod’s burial place.

As a footnote, the tomb of Herod in Herodium was finally discovered in the year 2007 after years of searching for it.

2. Archelaus

When Herod the Great died, Archelaus, his eldest son, was placed over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. He did not rule over the Galilee. When Herod died, Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus returned to the Holy Land. Matthew writes about Joseph hearing that Archelaus was ruling instead of his father Herod:

But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee. (Matthew 2:22 HCSB)

Joseph went to the one region where Archelaus did not rule, Galilee. The fear of Archelaus was justified. Caesar Augustus withheld the confirmation of his kingship until Archelaus proved himself. The confirmation never occurred because Archelaus began his reign by slaughtering 3,000 prominent citizens.

The Emperor removed him two years later. The Emperor then took away of the rule of Judea from the Herod family.

3. Herod Antipas

Though another son of Herod ruled over the Galilee, Herod Antipas, he was a more tolerant ruler. Galilee became known in his day as a place for revolutionary sentiments. This is something which his father never would have tolerated.

4. Herod Philip

Herod Antipas ruled Galilee when Jesus began His public ministry. Yet he was not the only Herod ruling at the time. Herod Philip was also ruling. He was the son of Herod the Great and the brother of Herod Antipas. We read of both Herod’s as Luke describes for us who was ruling at the time John the Baptist appeared:

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene. (Luke 3:1 NKJV)

Herod Philip ruled over Iturea and the region of Trachonitis. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea. Each is called a tetrarch which means the ruler over a fourth part.

We will find that Herod Philip will indirectly play a part in the death of John the Baptist. However, it was Herod Antipas who had the main role in John’s murder.

Herod Antipas and John the Baptist

John the Baptist spoke out against sin. Among other things, John denounced Herod Antipas because he had taken Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for himself. Herod did not appreciate John saying these things so he had the Baptist arrested. Matthew writes,

For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had repeatedly told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matthew 14:3-4 NET)

However, Herod did not kill John because the crowds considered him to be a prophet. Therefore, Herod did not harm him.

The Daughter of Herodias Dances for Herod

Another family member of Herod enters the picture, the daughter of Herodias. On Herod’s birthday, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced before Herod. This dancing pleased Herod so he told her she could have whatever she wished. Guided by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist.

Herod Antipas though sad because of the rash promise that he made, gave her what she asked for. Mark explains what happened:

The king immediately sent for an executioner and commanded him to bring John’s head. So he went and beheaded him in prison. (Mark 6:27 HCSB)

Therefore, in the death of John the Baptist there were three members of the Herod family involved directly; Herod Antipas, Herodias, and the daughter of Herodias.

Herod Antipas Thought Jesus Was John Risen from the Dead

When Herod heard about Jesus, this ruler thought Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Matthew writes about what happened:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Matthew 14:1, 2 NIV)

This gives us some insight into the beliefs of this man Herod Antipas. He thought someone could come back to life as another person.

Herod Wanted to Kill Jesus

We also find that King Herod wanted to kill Jesus like he did John the Baptist. We read in Luke’s gospel:

On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’” (Luke 13:31, 32 NKJV)

Jesus was unconcerned about what Herod wanted to do. Indeed, the Lord called Herod, “that fox.” This was not a flattering description of the king!!

Jesus Was Brought before Herod for Trial

The New Testament tells us that one of the trials of Jesus was before Herod. Luke records what occurred:

“Oh, is he a Galilean?” Pilate asked. When they answered that he was, Pilate sent him to Herod Antipas, because Galilee was under Herod’s jurisdiction, and Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle. He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer. Meanwhile, the leading priests and the teachers of religious law stood there shouting their accusations. Now Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Then they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day. (Luke 23:6-12 NLT)

Herod was disappointed that Jesus did not perform any miracle or answer any of his questions. Consequently, he sent Jesus back to Pilate.

Herod Was Eventually Exiled

From secular history we learn that Herod Antipas was eventually exiled from the land and sent to what is modern-day France. He died in exile there. The year of his death is uncertain.

Thus, ended the inglorious careers of the Herod’s who figured in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

5. Herod Agrippa I

Another Herod became prominent with respect to the early Christians. Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great. In A.D. 37, this man who had been a prisoner in Rome under Tiberius Caesar was actually put in charge of the area where Herod Antipas had formerly ruled.

Herod Agrippa Put the Apostle James to Death

The New Testament records that it was this same King Herod who ordered the death James, the brother of John. We read about this in the Book of Acts:

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. (Acts 12:1-3 ESV)

Herod found that he could please the Jewish religious leaders in his persecution of the followers of Jesus.

Herod Agrippa’s Death Is Recorded

The Lord did not allow Herod to get away with his evil deed. He died an agonizing death. The Bible records it as follows:

Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they sent a delegation to make peace with him because their cities were dependent upon Herod’s country for their food. They made friends with Blastus, Herod’s personal assistant, and an appointment with Herod was granted. When the day arrived, Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It is the voice of a god, not of a man! Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died. But God’s Good News was spreading rapidly, and there were many new believers. (Acts 12:20-24 NLT)

This man, who put James to death, was eventually judged by the Lord for not giving God the proper glory He deserved.

6. Herod Agrippa II

There is one other Herod who figures into the New Testament story, Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I, and the great-grandson of Herod the Great. He ruled over parts of the Holy Land beginning in A.D. 53 until his death in the 90’s of the first century. He lived a scandalous life by having his sister Bernice living with him as his wife.

It was this Herod along with Bernice whom the Apostle Paul appeared before as recorded in Acts 25 and 26.

Interestingly, it was Herod Agrippa II that used the word “Christian” in describing the Apostle Paul. We read of this in the Book of Acts:

“For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I’m not convinced that any of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner! King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:27-29 HCSB)

Unfortunately, there is no record of Agrippa II ever becoming a believer in Jesus as the Christ.

This briefly sums up the lives of these Herod’s which are mentioned in the four gospels as well as in the Book of Acts. As can be readily seen, none of them lived a life glorifying to God.

Summary – Question 6
Who Were the Herods?

There are a number of members of Herod’s family figure prominently in the life and ministry of Jesus as well as in the history of the early church. From secular history as well as from the New Testament, we can make the following observations about these Herods.

Herod the Great was the king of Judea when Jesus was born. Though he ruled over the people from Jerusalem, Herod was not Jewish but rather an Idumean; a descendant of Esau, not Jacob


Herod was installed as king by the Romans. He is known for the great amount of building which went on during his reign. Among other things, he doubled the size of the Temple Mount.

It was this Herod to whom the message came from the Magi that the Christ had been born. He is the one who ordered the slaughter of the innocents when the Magi did not return to him after they found the Christ Child.

When he died, Herod Archelaus ruled in his place. When Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus returned from Egypt after the death of Herod the Great they settled in Galilee. This was the one area in which Archelaus did not rule over. He is only mentioned in the New Testament in connection of the Holy Family going to life in Nazareth after their return from Egypt.

It was Herod Antipas who ruled Galilee during the time of Jesus’ public ministry. His brother Herod Philip also ruled at this time though nothing is specifically said about him and his rule.

Herod Antipas was the one who had John the Baptist executed at the instigation of his wife Herodias. John had spoken out against the Herod because he had taken Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for himself.

On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before Herod. When he promised to give her anything she wished the young girl asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod sadly agreed. Thus, Herod Antipas, Herodias, and her daughter were directly responsible for the death of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.

The superstitious Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was actually John the Baptist raised from the dead. Herod wanted to kill Jesus as he had done John. The New Testament says that Herod only saw Jesus during His trial but was disappointed that Jesus performed no miracle in his presence. Therefore, he sent Jesus back to Pontius Pilate.

We meet another Herod, Agrippa I, in the Book of Acts. We are told that this particular Herod had James, the brother of John, put to death. After this murderous act, the Lord struck Herod Agrippa down with a painful illness and he soon died.

Herod Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I, eventually came to rule in Jerusalem. He was the king whom the Apostle Paul appeared before. In one instance, Agrippa used the word “Christian” in describing Paul. While Paul attempted to convert Herod Agrippa II there is no indication that this Herod ever believed in Jesus.

Thus, the family of Herod figures prominently into the New Testament story. Indeed, it mentions Herod the Great, Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, Herodias, her daughter, Herod Agrippa I, Herod Agrippa II, and his sister Bernice.

The reason these particular Herod’s and their family members are mentioned in the New Testament is in reference to the ministry of Jesus Christ as well as the spread of the good news about Him to the various parts of the world. Otherwise, Scripture has no interest in them whatsoever.

Though they were important rulers in their day, as far as the Bible is concerned, they are only mentioned in connection with the work of God which was taking place at that time.

Who Was Pontius Pilate? ← Prior Section
What Was the Sanhedrin? Next Section →
BLB Searches
Search the Bible

Advanced Options

Other Searches

Multi-Verse Retrieval

Daily Devotionals

Blue Letter Bible offers several daily devotional readings in order to help you refocus on Christ and the Gospel of His peace and righteousness.

Daily Bible Reading Plans

Recognizing the value of consistent reflection upon the Word of God in order to refocus one's mind and heart upon Christ and His Gospel of peace, we provide several reading plans designed to cover the entire Bible in a year.

One-Year Plans

Two-Year Plan


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.