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Who Was King When Jesus Was Born? Meet King Herod!

Who Was King When Jesus Was Born? Meet King Herod!

Who Was King When Jesus Was Born?

Ever wondered who was in charge when Jesus entered the world? It’s a question that holds immense historical significance, offering insights into the political context surrounding his birth. Understanding the rulers at that time, such as Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Emperor Augustus, helps us grasp the challenges faced by Mary and Joseph during this pivotal period. Delving into this topic not only sheds light on biblical narratives but also uncovers their historical backdrop as documented by Jewish historian Josephus.

Unraveling this mystery takes us on a captivating journey through time, where we can explore the events that shaped Jesus’ life. So, let’s cut to the chase and delve into the intriguing tale of who held power when Jesus was born. Prepare to be amazed as we uncover secrets from centuries past, painting a vivid picture of an era filled with intrigue and wonder. We will examine the reigns of Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas, as detailed by the Jewish historian Josephus, and how they are connected to the New Testament.

Buckle up for an adventure that combines history, religion, and a touch of mystery—let’s dive deeper into understanding who reigned during one of humanity’s most significant moments. Explore the Roman ruler mentioned in the Bible Gateway and discover the impact they had on the Romans and the spread of the gospel.

King Herod the Great and His Reign

King Herod the Great, a ruler of Judea during the time of Jesus’ birth, had a significant impact on the region both politically and culturally. His reign, which lasted from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC, influenced Galilee, Josephus, Hasmonean, and the Romans.

Herod, the Hasmonean king of Israel, was known for his ambitious building projects in Galilee. He sought to solidify his power by constructing grand structures that showcased his wealth and authority. One of his most famous projects was the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which he transformed into a magnificent architectural marvel. This endeavor aimed to gain favor with the Jewish population and reinforce his position as a legitimate king, following in the footsteps of Josephus.

However, despite his efforts to win over the people, Herod’s rule faced constant challenges from the Romans, Jews, and Josephus. The Hasmonean dynasty, who were previous rulers of Judea, resented him as they believed they were the rightful heirs to the throne. There were internal power struggles within Herod’s own family, with his sons Herod Archelaus, Herod Agrippa, and Herod Antipas all vying for control over different regions within their father’s kingdom.

During Herod’s reign, the political landscape in Judea was heavily influenced by external forces, specifically the Romans. Emperor Augustus, the Roman ruler, oversaw this region, and Herod, as a client king, had to carefully navigate relationships with Rome to maintain stability in his kingdom.

Furthermore, during this period, Cleopatra VII of Egypt also played a role in shaping events in Judea. She formed alliances with various members of Herod’s family to advance her own interests and exert influence over regional politics. The Romans and Josephus, a Jewish historian, documented these alliances and their impact on the Jews and the reign of Augustus.

Geographically speaking, King Herod, a ruler over the Jews in the 1st century BCE, governed not only Judea but also Galilee. His jurisdiction extended across these territories within the larger Roman Empire, as mentioned in the historical accounts of Josephus, a Jewish historian.

Significance of King Herod in Relation to Jesus’ Birth

King Herod, a prominent figure among the Jews in the 1st century BCE, played a crucial role in the story of Jesus’ birth as depicted in the Bible. The Gospel of Matthew provides us with valuable insights into how Herod’s actions and fears shaped the events surrounding Jesus’ arrival.

According to Matthew, King Herod became aware of the birth of a potential rival king when wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem seeking information about “the one who has been born king of the Jews.” This news troubled Herod greatly, as it posed a direct threat to his position and authority. The wise men’s arrival happened during the reign of King Herod, who ruled Judea from 37 BCE until his death in 4 BCE.

In an attempt to eliminate this perceived threat to the Jews, Herod cunningly summoned the wise men and instructed them to find the child Josephus so that he too could “go and worship him.” However, this was merely a ruse to gain knowledge about Josephus’ whereabouts. The wise men, guided by a star, eventually found Josephus in Bethlehem before his death in 1 BCE.

Herod’s fear of losing his power led him down a dark path. When he realized that the wise men did not return to inform him of Jesus’ location, he resorted to extreme measures. In what is now known as “the Massacre of Innocents,” King Herod ordered the execution of all male infants under two years old in Bethlehem and its surrounding regions. This horrific event stands as a chilling testament to how threatened those in positions of authority can become when faced with potential challengers. The josephus death occurred around 4 BCE.

The Massacre of Innocents, as recorded by Josephus in the 1st century BCE, serves as a stark reminder of the lengths some individuals will go to protect their own interests and preserve their hold on power, even at the cost of death.

The significance lies not only in the tragic loss of innocent lives but also in its connection to Jesus’ birth narrative. By surviving these perilous circumstances orchestrated by King Herod, Jesus emerges as more than just an ordinary child. His survival becomes a testament to his divine purpose and the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. The death of innocent lives and Jesus’ birth narrative are intertwined, showing the significance of his survival amidst the dangers orchestrated by King Herod in 1st century BCE.

Furthermore, this event foreshadows the challenges Jesus would face throughout his life, including his eventual crucifixion and death in BCE. It sets the stage for a narrative in which Jesus’ teachings and actions threaten the established religious and political order.

Historical Context: Herod’s Rise to Power

Before becoming king, Herod served as governor under Roman authority. He was a skilled politician and military leader who knew how to navigate the complex dynamics of power in the ancient world. In 40 BC, with Roman support, he captured Jerusalem and established himself as ruler over Judea.

Herod’s rise to power in the BCE era involved strategic alliances with influential figures such as Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII. These alliances allowed him to gain favor with Rome and secure his position as king. By aligning himself with these powerful individuals, Herod ensured that he had the backing of Rome, which was crucial for maintaining control over his territory during the BCE period.

One of the key aspects of Herod’s rise to power in the BCE era was his ability to manipulate both Roman and Jewish politics. He understood the importance of appeasing Rome while also gaining the support of the local Jewish population. To achieve this delicate balance, he employed various strategies.

Firstly, Herod presented himself as a devout follower of Judaism, even though he was not ethnically Jewish himself. He built grand temples and sponsored religious festivals in an effort to win over the Jewish people. He appointed high priests who were loyal to him, ensuring that religious leadership aligned with his rule during the BCE era.

Furthermore, during the BCE era, Herod used his wealth and influence to invest in infrastructure projects throughout Judea. He constructed impressive fortresses, palaces, and public buildings that showcased his power and wealth. These constructions not only served practical purposes but also acted as symbols of his authority.

To solidify his position within the Roman Empire in the 1st century BCE, Herod maintained close ties with Rome’s ruling elite. He cultivated relationships with influential figures like Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII by offering them lavish gifts and demonstrating unwavering loyalty. In return, these alliances provided him with political protection from potential rivals within Rome itself.

The Visit of the Wise Men: Herod’s Reaction

When wise men from the East arrived seeking “the one who has been born king” in BCE, they went to Jerusalem first. These wise men, also known as magi, were highly respected scholars and astrologers who studied the stars for signs and prophecies. They had seen a unique star in the sky that indicated the birth of a significant ruler.

Upon hearing about the birth of a potential rival in the BCE era, Herod, the reigning king at that time, felt threatened and troubled. As a ruler known for his paranoia and ruthless nature, any news of someone claiming to be a king in the BCE era would naturally cause him great concern. After all, he was appointed by Rome and any perceived challenge to his authority in the BCE era could have dire consequences.

In an attempt to gather more information about this newborn king, Herod summoned the wise men to inquire about the child’s whereabouts in 4 BCE. He cunningly pretended that he wanted to worship this child as well. However, his true intention was far from genuine worship; it was to eliminate any perceived threat to his reign.

Herod’s plan was simple yet sinister. He instructed the wise men to find the child and report back so that he too could go and pay homage during the bce era. Little did they know that Herod had ulterior motives lurking behind his seemingly innocent request.

As fate would have it, these wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod after finding Jesus. This divine intervention saved them from unknowingly becoming accomplices in Herod’s wicked scheme. Instead, they chose another route back home without disclosing Jesus’ exact location. This event occurred around the 1st century BCE.

Enraged by their disobedience and unable to locate Jesus himself, Herod devised a diabolical plan B – ordering the massacre of all male children under two years old in Bethlehem and its surrounding regions during the BCE era. His desperate attempt at eliminating any potential threat resulted in unimaginable tragedy for countless families who lost their innocent children.

The reaction of Herod to the news of Jesus’ birth in BCE highlights the fear and insecurity that power-hungry leaders often face when their authority is challenged. It also serves as a reminder of the lengths some individuals are willing to go to maintain control, even at the cost of innocent lives.

Architectural Legacy: Herod the Builder

King Herod, a great builder during the BCE era, left an indelible mark on the architectural landscape of Judea. His colossal building projects throughout the region showcased his ambition, wealth, and desire for political legitimacy.

One of King Herod’s most renowned architectural achievements was the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which came to be known as Herod’s Temple. This grand structure, built around the 1st century BCE, became a symbol of Jewish religious identity and played a significant role in the religious life of the people. The temple’s magnificence attracted pilgrims from far and wide, solidifying Jerusalem’s status as a center of worship during the BCE era.

Not only did King Herod construct impressive fortresses such as Masada, but he also focused on religious structures. Perched atop a steep hill overlooking the Dead Sea, Masada served both as a defensive stronghold and a luxurious palace for Herod during the bce era. Its strategic location allowed him to monitor activities in the surrounding area while enjoying breathtaking views.

Herodium is another remarkable palace-fortress built by King Herod. Situated southeast of Bethlehem, this complex boasted lavish living quarters, gardens, and even its own private theater. The imposing structure was crowned with an artificial mountain that served as Herod’s final resting place—a testament to his grandiosity and desire for eternal fame.

To better understand King Herod’s impact on architecture during Jesus’ birth era, we turn to historian Josephus. In his writings, Josephus describes how King Herod sought favor from Mark Antony and Octavian (later known as Augustus) by rebuilding cities across Judea with Roman influence. These cities included Caesarea Maritima along the coast and Sebaste in Samaria.

King Herod’s architectural endeavors were not limited to grand public buildings; he also focused on enhancing his family’s prestige through monumental tombs. One notable example is the Tomb of Absalom located in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley. This elaborate tomb, adorned with a conical roof and intricate carvings, was intended for Herod’s son, Absalom. Other ce family members were also buried in monumental tombs within the same vicinity.

Herod’s building projects extended beyond Judea’s borders as well. He constructed palaces in other parts of the Roman Empire, including Antipatris in modern-day Israel and Herodion in present-day West Bank. These structures served as symbols of his power and influence, showcasing his reach beyond his immediate kingdom.

Controversies and Reputation Surrounding Herod

Despite his impressive building projects, King Herod had a controversial reputation among his subjects. Many viewed him as a puppet ruler serving Roman interests rather than representing Jewish autonomy. His harsh rule and suppression of dissent led to widespread discontent among the population. The Massacre of Innocents further tarnished his legacy, solidifying him as a symbol of cruelty.

King Herod’s association with the Sadducees, a powerful Jewish sect known for their collaboration with the Romans, contributed to the negative perception surrounding him. The Sadducees were seen as compromising the interests of the Jewish people in favor of maintaining their own privileged positions within society. As an ally of this influential group, Herod was often seen as prioritizing Roman authority over Jewish welfare.

Furthermore, Herod’s family members played significant roles in perpetuating controversy during his reign. His wife Mariamne and her family were staunch supporters of Jewish independence, which put them at odds with Herod’s pro-Roman policies. This familial tension spilled into public view and fueled rumors about Herod’s loyalty to Rome.

Herod’s harsh rule only served to exacerbate these controversies. He maintained control through fear and intimidation, suppressing any form of dissent or opposition that threatened his power. His paranoia led to acts such as executing several close family members whom he suspected of plotting against him.

One particular event that stained King Herod’s reputation was the Massacre of Innocents. In an attempt to eliminate any potential rival claimants to his throne, he ordered the execution of all male infants in Bethlehem who were two years old or younger at the time Jesus was born. This brutal act shocked both Jews and non-Jews alike and cemented Herod’s image as a heartless tyrant.

The controversies surrounding King Herod have persisted throughout history due to the lasting impact they had on both Jewish and Christian narratives. While some argue that his impressive building projects, such as the reconstruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, should be recognized, his legacy remains overshadowed by the atrocities committed under his rule. However, it is important to acknowledge the significant architectural achievements of Herod, including the ce of the Second Temple.


In conclusion, the mystery of who was king when Jesus was born revolves around King Herod the Great. He played a significant role in relation to Jesus’ birth and left a lasting architectural legacy. However, Herod’s reign was not without controversies and a tarnished reputation.

Despite his accomplishments as a builder and ruler, Herod is best known for his reaction to the visit of the Wise Men. Fearing that this newborn “King of the Jews” would threaten his own power, he ordered the massacre of all male infants in Bethlehem.

Herod’s rise to power took place within a complex historical context. He aligned himself with Rome and implemented policies that allowed him to maintain control over Judea. This political maneuvering ensured stability during his reign but also led to resentment among his subjects.

While King Herod’s actions were driven by fear and self-preservation, they ultimately failed to prevent Jesus from fulfilling his divine purpose. The birth of Jesus marked a turning point in history and brought hope to countless individuals.

As we delve into the story of who was king when Jesus was born, it is important to consider the broader significance beyond historical facts. It reminds us that even in times of darkness and oppression, there is always hope for redemption and renewal.

So, let us reflect on this profound tale and seek inspiration from its message of hope, love, and faith. Let us remember that no matter our circumstances or challenges, there is always an opportunity for transformation.


How do we know King Herod was ruling at the time of Jesus’ birth?

Historical records indicate that King Herod the Great ruled over Judea during the period when Jesus was born. These records include accounts from various sources such as Josephus Flavius’ writings.

Why did King Herod feel threatened by Jesus’ birth?

According to biblical accounts, when the Wise Men visited Herod and inquired about the newborn “King of the Jews,” he became fearful that this new ruler would challenge his authority. This fear led to his drastic measures, including the massacre of infants in Bethlehem.

What was King Herod’s architectural legacy?

King Herod was known for his ambitious building projects, including the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which is commonly referred to as Herod’s Temple. He also constructed fortresses, palaces, and other grand structures throughout his kingdom.

How did King Herod’s reputation become tarnished?

Despite his achievements as a builder and ruler, King Herod’s reputation suffered due to his ruthless nature and oppressive rule. His paranoia and violent actions, such as ordering executions within his own family, contributed to a negative perception among both contemporaries and historians.

What can we learn from the story of who was king when Jesus was born?

The story reminds us of the resilience of hope and faith even in times of darkness. It encourages us to seek inspiration from Jesus’ birth as a symbol of renewal and redemption. It also serves as a reminder that power and wealth are fleeting compared to enduring values such as love, compassion, and spiritual growth. | Website | + posts

Ethan Davis, the founder of Jesus Salvation, transformed his life from hardship to faith after a significant encounter at age 32. After earning a Communications degree from Kansas State University, he established to help others towards salvation, sharing inspiring stories, scriptures, and prayers.