ADD 200, Questions and Herods

The Gospel of Matthew
"Ch-2 Topics for Discussion and The Herods"

The Book of MATTHEW



Ch-2 Topics for Discussion and The Herods



Now, this Jesus, after having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the reign of Herod the king, behold, certain magi (learned men from the east) arrived in Jerusalem, saying,


The Time of the Visit of the Magi and First Appearance of the Star


Q.      When did the wise men's visit take place?

Certainly not on the night of our Lord's birth! No, very probably about 3 to 6 months later.


A.      Here is how we arrive at that figure.

Our Lord began His public ministry when He was about 30 (Luke 3:23). This about six months after the ministry of John the Baptist began, because Jesus was six months younger than John (Luke 1:36). From Luke 3:1, we find John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar.


No matter what chronological scheme we adopt, we cannot allow more than 30 years between Jesus' birth and the beginning of His public ministry (Luke 3:23) (remembering also that one is thirty years old for a whole year). Many authorities place the beginning of Tiberius's reign around AD 11 or 12 at the earliest (he shared the throne for the first two years of his reign). Add 15 years to that and we get AD 26 or 27. Deduct 30 years from AD 26 and we arrive at around 4 or 5 BC.


Now we know that Herod the Great, who received the wise men and later sought Jesus' life, died in late March or early April, 4 BC. Evidently shortly after the Bethlehem massacre. The wise men of necessity arrived before the massacre, hence before late March or early April, 4 BC, but just as obviously after Jesus was presented at the temple when He was 40 days old (Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus 12:1-4; Numbers 8:17). We say this because it would have been fatal for Joseph and Mary to take Jesus up to the temple after Herod's jealousy and fury had been aroused by the possibility of a rival king.


So, how long after Jesus was 40 days old and how long before the massacre, we do not know. But the time area is restricted by the time of Herod's death.



But because of the time of the death of Herod (late March or early April, 4 BC) and the time of the beginning of John's ministry (AD 26 or 27), and hence Jesus' ministry, the period between Jesus' birth and the incidents of the arrival of wise men and the massacre, the death of Herod could not have been more than ten months later than Jesus' birth and possibly less. At any event the family were no longer in the inn's grotto or stable but in a "house" (V. 11).


C.      A common fallacy in the this matter has been the assumption that the FIRST appearance of the star signaled the time at which Jesus was born. The Scripture nowhere says this. Certainly Herod assumed this, but Herod is not a safe guide! Now, it is evident that the time the wise men first saw the star (V. 7) was the guiding factor in Herod's decision to slay all male children two years old and under (V. 16).


But it is apparent from the dates cited in the paragraph above that the appearance of the star could not have been the time of the birth of Jesus, for that would have made His birth take place in 6 BC or after, and AD 26 would have been when He was 32 years of age instead of 30 when He began His public ministry (Luke 3:23). That would also throw in an extra monkey wrench making Jesus at least two years of age at the time of the Bethlehem massacre, thus allowing too wide a margin for error in the selection of children at two years of age.


So, it becomes evident that the star's first appearance was God's way of alerting the wise men. First, they had to decide what it meant (according to Numbers 24:17). Then, they had to choose those who would make the journey and prepare for it. Finally, they would have to travel the long distance, at least from Persia ("magus" means "great" and is a Persian title for teachers or wise men), visit Herod at Jerusalem, and go to Bethlehem. Then, Herod would have to wait for them to return, discover his command was ignored, and order and carry out the massacre.


This would take a substantial amount of time and account for perhaps 1 to 1 1/2 years. Since Herod was cunning and eager to destroy any possible rival to the throne, he no doubt added a margin of perhaps six months to the time the wise men said the star had appeared (V. 16) as a safety precaution to be sure to include Jesus in the slaughter. This would obviously be necessary both because it is difficult to distinguish a child's exact age at 18 months to 2 years (especially for an 14 to 19 year old soldier), and mothers would certainly lie about a son's age. Thus a sufficient margin would be necessary to assure success of his plan.[1]




6 b.c.

John The Baptist


5 b.c.  Earliest Date for Birth of John the Baptist, January 1, 5 b.c.



          Earliest Date for Birth of Jesus, June 1, 5 b.c.



          Latest Date for Birth of John the Baptist, October 1, 5 b.c.



4 b.c.  Herod "The Great" died in late March or early April



          Latest Date for Birth of Jesus, April 1, 4 b.c.



3 b.c.



2 b.c.



1 b.c.



1 a.d.



2 a.d.



3 a.d.



 4-9 a.d.



10 a.d. Earliest year for beginning of Tiberius Caesar



11 a.d.



12 a.d. Latest year for beginning of Tiberius Caesar



13 a.d.



14 a.d.



15 a.d.



 16-23 a.d.



24 a.d.



25 a.d. Earliest

John The Baptist public ministry begins (15th year of Tiberius Caesar) somewhere between January and October)



Jesus' public ministry begins six months after his cousin, John The Baptist (between June a.d.25 and April a.d. 27)



26 a.d.



27 a.d.     John The Baptist's Death (date?)



28 a.d.     Earliest date for Crucifixion (April Probably)



29 a.d.



30 a.d.     Latest Date for Crucifixion (April Probably)








  • John's Birth: Earliest:

First possible date for the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius minus thirty years 11 months and 30 days or Jan 1, 5 BC.

  • Latest:

The last possible date for the death of "Herod the Great" minus six months or early Oct, 5 BC.

  • Jesus' Birth: Earliest:

Six months after John's earliest date or June 1, 5 BC.

  • Latest:

The last possible date for the death of "Herod the Great" or early April 4 BC.

            (NOTE: The "Thirty Years" is just short of the 31st year)


The Earliest Dates are recommended.


This would place Jesus at about the age of ten months when Herod had all the children of Bethlehem slaughtered. Since Herod's troops would be from fourteen years of age and up, you can see why he placed an age limit at two years. Any child whose age wasn't easy to ascertain would be killed.


Now would perhaps be a good time to consider the purposes of the slaying of the children. Was it only the rage of an earthly king who was protective of his throne? Of course not. It was clearly the rage of the "Prince of darkness" who sought to destroy the Savior of mankind before He could mature and complete His mission.


It was only the intervention of God Himself, through His archangels that prevented the Son of God from being slain amongst the others. Instead He was sent away to Egypt with his family. The gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh were well used for providing His family's financial needs while in Egypt. Oh, the provision of God. How wonderful He is, indeed.


Place the blame for this massacre upon Satan himself, and consider the lengths he has gone, as in this instance, the murdering of hundreds of innocent children, to prevent the lost from knowing their Savior. Never forget Satan's power, his motivation, or his hate for our precious savior.





"Where is the one born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the East, and have come to worship Him."


Where was this Star?


Looked East and saw the Star - NO!

While in the East, we looked and saw His star !


It is an interesting fact that the people whom God was preparing for their Savior, namely the Nation of Israel, did not recognize the signs or the times for the coming of their Messiah. Instead, men who were searchers of truth, and not just the Hebrew Scriptures, from far away in the East (Asians or Oriental) knew enough about the signs and times to understand that something of great significance was either happening or about to happen. They were acquainted with the scriptures enough to know of the coming of the King of Israel. And God's very own people did not. What a sad commentary on the spiritual condition of that nation.


See also Numbers 24:10-17 and Daniel 9:24-26a.


But in like manner, how many of us know the scriptures well enough to put our finger on the prophecies concerning His first coming? Or, perhaps even more important, how many of us know the Scriptures well enough to put our fingers on the prophecies of His Second coming? How many of us will He find unprepared? Or will His second coming be totally unknown and appreciated by the Church like His first coming was by Israel?



Now, hearing this Herod the king was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.


Why was everyone Troubled?


No king wants to hear of the birth of a new king in his own land. Especially when this new king is not of your family. And not only is he not of your family but he is Born King of the Jews. Rome had just finished conquering this land and this people. The last thing Herod would want is for these conquered people to have a Rightful King Born unto them. And again, especially a Born King who has come through the prophecies. "My job, my position, my kingdom!"


But, what about "all of Jerusalem?" Why are they so troubled? Wouldn't you think the city would be shouting for joy? The only answers I can think of have to do with human greed. Who wants a new king, when prices are down, interest rates are high, and big business is booming. Who wants national struggle, change, revolution, etc., when things are pretty good right now. Who wouldn't want a Messiah King? Big business, Big money, and Big government, that's who.


Q. Would you please distinguish between the different "Herods" in the New Testament?


The rulers who went by the name of "Herod" were descended from the Idumaeans, the ancient Edomite people who had been forcibly converted to Judaism around 200 B.C.


Herod The Great, who ruled Judea from 37-4 B.C., was the most famous of the Herodian dynasty. He was the great builder of theatres, hippodromes, and temples -- the most famous of which was the great Temple at Jerusalem. In his latter years he became very afraid of usurpers to his throne, and, therefore, he murdered many of his family members. this attitude fits in well with his infamous act of slaughtering the innocent children of Bethlehem for fear that the "King of the Jews" would depose him (Matthew 2:1-12).


The other "Herod" in the Gospels is Herod Antipas, who ruled areas of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. - 39 A.D. He was responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist, who had condemned his adulterous marriage (Matthew 14:3-12). Jesus referred to Herod Antipas as "that fox" (Luke 13:31-33), and it was this Herod who "tried" Jesus (Luke 23:6-12).


The next "Herod" in the New Testament was Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, who ruled as King from about 37 - 44 A.D. He is known for his persecution of the early church by killing the Apostle James and imprisoning Peter (Acts 12:1-19). He died a horrible death in Caesarea, described both by Luke in Acts 12:20-23 and the historian Josephus (Antiquities 19.8.2)


The last of the "Herods" was Herod Agrippa II, the great grandson of Herod the Great, who ruled from 50 - 100 A.D. He is the "Agrippa" before whom Paul preached in Acts 26. He was notorious for his incestuous relationship with his sister, Bernice, and for his rejection of the Gospel presented by Paul.


Each of the "Herods" mentioned figures prominently in the story of the New Testament. It is striking that each of them faced the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and having rejected it, died shameful deaths, in spite of all the "glory" of their reigns.[2]



But after Herod's death, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared by a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 2:20 "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead." 2:21 So he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there; and being warned by God in a dream, he withdrew for the regions of Galilee, 2:23

and came and established his home in a city called Nazareth; that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled (Isaiah 40:3), "He shall be called a Nazarene."


Of interest also is the fact that Herod's oldest son Antipater, at the time of Jesus' birth (or at least just before the time of Herod's death) had been jailed on suspicion of trying to poison Herod. Herod, near death himself due to illness (perhaps Antipater was poisoning him !!!) tried to commit suicide with a knife as he peeled an apple with it. An alert cousin screamed out an alarm. Antipater, hearing the screams, thought that Herod had finally died and tried to bribe his jailor to get out and seize the kingship. Later when Herod heard of this he had his son put to death. Five days later, Herod himself died.


If you are interested in the History of Herod, try this on for size. In the year 198 B.C. Palestine had become subject to Syria. Syria had been ruled by Rome for some time and was having trouble collecting and paying tribute. Syria's answer was to place a heavy tribute upon the Jews.


About 175 B.C. Antiochus Ephiphanes became King of Syria. While he was leading an expedition into Egypt the Jews rejoiced when a false rumor of the king's death gained currency. When Antiochus returned he massacred thousands and sold others into slavery for their mockery.


With several of his next attempts to take Alexandria he again returned and slaughtered thousands of Jews in his anger. It was Antiochus Ephiphanes who sacrificed swine on the Altar of God, defiling it, and they burned every copy of the Holy Writings they could find.


In return the Jews mounted the "Maccabean Revolt", a civil war against their occupiers. Two great names come to mind for their military genius, Mattathias and his son Judas. Through their efforts, and the lives of many thousands, their lands were once again returned to them. It was then that the temple was cleansed and rededicated to the Lord. Celebrated as "The Festival of Lights," or commonly, Chanukah.


The leaders who followed were (and some may be missing):

Jonathan - eventually outwitted by the Syrians and put to death.

Simon - Slain by his son-in-law

John Hyrcanus - was also the high priest and very secular

Alexander Janneus - was far worse

he appointed Antipas as governor, Antipas had a son Antipater, and Antipater had a son ... Herod !!

Alexander's widow Alexandra


At Alexandra's death, her son Hyrcanus II, and her son Aristobulus, and a third party of anti monarchists appealed to Rome to arbitrate who would take the throne.


Aristobulus tried to force Rome into a decision and encouraged Pompey to invade Judea and capture Jerusalem in 63 B.C.


Now Judea came under Roman rule and under the governorship of Antipas (Herod's father). When the Jews became unable to rule themselves (Roman style) Rome made Antipas Procurator of Judea. He then appointed his son Herod as tetrarch of Galilee. This happened in the year 47 B.C.


In 40 B.C. Palestine was invaded by the Parthians and Herod fled to Rome. Later the Roman senate proclaimed Herod "King of Judea." Herod was 69 or 70 when the wise men came to Jerusalem.


Somewhere around 37 B.C. Roman Emperor Augustus increased Herod's territory until it included all of Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. He had indeed become "The King of the Jews."


Remember Alexandra, she had two children. Hyrcanus II and a boy named Aristobulus. Hyrcanus II had a girl named Alexandra named after her Grandmother. Aristobulus had a boy named Alexander after his Grandfather. The Grandchildren, cousins, married each other and had two children Mariamme and Aristobulus (Lost yet ?).


Mariamme marries Herod.


Aristobulus was comely and was appointed to the office of High Priest. Herod saw this move as a threat to his kingship, and had Aristobulus drowned at a party throne for him. Herod, of course, publicly mourned his passing.


Alexandra writes a letter to Queen Cleopatra, the Egyptian, informing her about the murder of Aristobulus. Cleopatra, in turn, tells Mark Antony (they were married in 31 A.D.) (Mark Antony, 83?-30 B.C.. Roman orator, politician, and soldier. His love affair with Cleopatra split the triumvirate he had formed with Octavian and Lepidus and led to war. In 31 B.C. the forces of Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian at Actium, and both subsequently committed suicide), who orders Herod to meet him and give an account. Before departing he tells his servants to kill Alexandra if he doesn't return.


Herod has Alexandra's grandfather, Hyrcanus II, put to death, as he sees him as a threat to his throne. By this time Mariamme has lost whatever love she had for Herod, for she saw him now as the murderer of her brother Aristobulus and of her grandfather Hyrcanus II.


In September of the year 31 B.C. Anthony marries Cleopatra (the former mistress of Julius Caesar). By August 30 B.C. Both Antony and Cleopatra have committed suicide. These deaths were a severe blow to Herod, as he had consistently taken their side of every dispute. Herod again flees to Rome to lobby for his throne rights and when he goes he again instructs his servants to kill Mariamme and Alexandra in the event that he, the king, should not return. But this time she learns of his wicked plot against her and that he had her grandfather and brother killed. Herod finds all this out and has her put to death in 29 B.C. In 8 B.C. he had two more of his sons put to death (possible threats to his throne), and finally five days before his own death, he has his last son murdered.


[1] Mason, Dr. Clarence E. Jr. Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Professor Emeritus, Philadelphia College of Bible, (c.1971) New Testament History: The Book of Matthew. Class Notes

[2] Question and Answer column, Israel My Glory, Published by the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Bellmawr, NJ