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Students will be able to:

  1. Distinguish between titles of rulers and specify the area where each governed.
  2. Identify the rulers during Jesus' lifetime.

Content of Lecture:

The Roman Empire during Jesus' day tried to accomplish four goals:

  1. The unification of the Mediterranean world,
  2. safe and easy communication over the empire,
  3. a universal language, and
  4. Roman Peace (sax Romana)

It was under these guidelines that Jesus lived. The Jewish people looked for the deliverer of their own race. Roman rule limited the power of the Sanhedrin (Jewish court with legislative and judicial authority.). Most of the names of secular rulers in the New Testament appear in the Gospels and Acts. It is these leaders that we will review in this lecture.

"All the action of the New Testament takes place in lands of the Roman Empire. That was the 'world' of such references as Acts 17:6 . . . The land of Palestine was a small part of the Roman Empire, but a key part, because of its strategic location." (Jensen 1981, 56)

The ruler of the empire was the emperor. All other rulers in the empire were accountable directly to the throne. At Jesus' birth, Augustus was the emperor.

During the New Testament time the following formed the political setting.

"Titles of Rulers - The provincial system set up by Augustus involved rulers over countries and over provinces of these countries.

1. Emperor -

The emperor was the absolute ruler of the Roman Empire. A surname of the early Roman emperors was 'Caesar'. When Paul said, 'I appeal to Caesar' (Acts 25:11), he was referring to the emperor who at that time was Nero. (Jensen 1981, 57) At the end of the first century, Christians struggled with the loyalty statement of Rome " (Caesar is Lord!) ". While not wanting to appear disloyal to Rome, many Christians refused to associate the designation of Lord with anyone except Jesus. This caused some to see Christians as enemies of Rome.

Listing of Emperors:

  1. Augustus (30 B.C. - A.D. 14) Jesus' birth (circa 5 B.C.) (Luke 2)
  2. Tiberius (AD. 14-37) Jesus' Public Ministry (Luke 3)
  3. Caligula (A.D. 3741) Wanted status of deity
  4. Claudius (\D. 41-54) Expelled Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2)
  5. Nero (A.D. 5468) Probably responsible for deaths of Peter and Paul
  6. Galba (AD. 68-69), Otho (A.D. 69), Vitellius (AD. 69)
  7. Vespasian (A D. 69-79) Led in the sedge of Jerusalem
  8. Titus (A D. 79-81) Destroyed Temple (A.D. 70)
  9. Domitian (A.D. 81-96) The New Testament book of Revelation may have been written in this period.

2. "Kings -

Kings were the highest local rulers of the territories in the Roman Empire, subject to the central authority of the emperor at Rome. The King's office was approved by the Roman senate. During New Testament times Palestine, whole or in part, was ruled by the kings of the Herodian dynasty.... The dynasty began with Herod the Great in 37 B.C. and ended with the death of Herod Agrippa 11 in A.D. 70." (Jensen 1981, 57)

Herod the Great was the most notorious of the vassal kings. He governed the Jewish people in behalf of Rome. At his death, his kingdom was sub divided among three surviving sons: Archelaus over Judea - Samaria (4 B.C. - A.D. 6); Antipas over Galilee and Perea (4 B.C. - AD. 39); end Philip over the area northeast of Palestine (4 B.C. - A.D. 33).

Antipas is the Herod most frequently mentioned during Jesus' public ministry since many of the events took place in and around Galilee.

Eventually, Rome chose to address their puppet rulers as Tetrarchs rather than as Kings to avoid overstating the limited authority of their local leaders.

Rulers of Herodian Family:

  1. Herod the Great - (Matthew 2:1-19, Luke 1:5) - Authority over Palestine at tine of Jesus' birth
  2. Herod Antipas - (Mark 6:14-29, Luke 3:1, 13:31-35, 23:7-12) - Controlled Galilee and Perea during Jesus'; public ministry
  3. Archelaus - (Matthew 2:22) - Replaced by procurator in A.D. 6
  4. Herod Phillip - (Luke 3:1) - Ruler of territory around Caesarea Philippi
  5. Herod Agrippa 1 - (Acts 12:1-24)
  6. Herod Agrippa 2 - (Acts 25:13-26:32)

3. "Governor -

Governors (procurators) were rulers of designated territories, appointed by the emperor and directly responsible to him. Much of their work involved finances, such as taxes. They also had supreme authority, such as Pilate used regarding Jesus. The Procurator who ruled over Judea and Samaria had an official judicial residence in Caesarea . . . at the same time Herod Antipas was a tetrarch of Galilee, Pilate was governor of Judea, Samaria, and Old Idumea . . . Most of the New Testament references to governors are to Pilate, Felix, and Festus." Jensen 1981, 59)

Pilate was governor from ~D. 26-36; therefore, his reign paralleled the ministry of Jesus.

He became involved with the trial of Jesus in Jerusalem only when members of the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of claiming to be King If true, this would have mace Jesus a potential threat to the emperor's authority.

4. "Other titles -

Proconsuls were deputy consuls serving in the Roman provinces for one year, with unlimited power in military and civil situations. Two New Testament references are Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7) and Gallio (Acts 18:112)." (Jensen 1981, 59)

The chart below may help students visualize the political structure in Palestine during the New Testament era:

World Ruler (1)
Roman Emperor

Local Rulers
vassal kings (Herod)
Procurators (Pilate)

Jewish Authority
had limited authority over Jewish religious matters


From a Bible dictionary define the following words or names:


Pharisees adduces Zealots

High Priests



Caiapha s


Discussion Questions
  1. In what ways would you consider Herod the Great an effective leader? INeffective?
  2. Why would the Roman authority be concerned if Jesus s aid He was King but not if he said He was God?


Teacher's Notes
  1. A map will be helpful in identifying the areas governed by Herod, Antipas, Phillip and Pilate. (Note map at end of this lecture.)
  2. Ask students if they can identify the following rulers in relationship to the chart above: Augustus, Herod the Great, Tiberius, Antipas, Pilate, Caiaphas.


Updated Thursday, February 24, 2000
Converted August 27, 1998

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