Why was Pilate in charge?
First, two Bible questions which you may have never thought to ask. Question 1 (Matthew 2): after King Herod died, why was Joseph afraid and decided to move from Egypt to Nazareth instead of Bethlehem? Question 2 (from Luke 3:1-2): When Jesus was active in his ministry, one of Herod’s sons was in charge of Galilee, another was in charge of the area north of Galilee, and the Roman governor Pilate was in charge of Judea (where Jerusalem was located). But why was a Roman governor in charge of Judea instead of one of Herod’s sons? Herod had had three sons and one of them had ruled Judea. Now for the answers, and it involves a lot of history and dates, but the two are connected.
The Romans conquered Israel in 63 BC. The Roman Army was so strong that the Jews simply surrendered; think if America invaded Cuba. The general in charge of that conquest was Pompey. At that time two brothers, Hyrcanus II and Artistobulus II from the Jewish royal family, disagreed over who should be ruler. They decided to ask Pompey to choose; he chose Hyrcanus II, the older son. Aristobulus II was poisoned in 49 BC.
Hyrcanus II ruled from 63 – 40 BC. He was not king, though; at first he was High Priest and then Julius Caesar made him ethnarch in 47 BC. He had an advisor from Idumea (just south of Israel) named Antipater: remember this man. An ethnarch was a ruler of an ethnic group, like the Jews; it differed from a king in that a king had sole authority, an ethnarch had to please Rome.
Then Julius Caesar and Pompey began fighting. Caesar led an army to Egypt to fight Pompey in 48 BC. But Pompey was murdered before they could fight. Hyrcanus II and Antipater aided Caesar. Caesar was murdered in 44 BC. Antipater was poisoned in 43 BC. Antipater’s son, Herod, fled to Rome: remember that event.
Back to Israel. Aristobulus II’s son, Antigonus, attacked Hyrcanus II in 40 BC and won. Hyrcanus II fled and lived among the Jews in Babylonia. Meanwhile in Rome, the Roman Senate made Herod king of the Jews in 40 BC. Herod and a Roman army returned to Israel and defeated and executed Antigonus in 37 BC. Herod ruled as king from 37 BC to 4 BC.
This was the Herod who the Wise Men (Magi) met. When Herod died in 4 BC, his kingdom was split between his three sons: Herod Antipas became tetrarch (level below ethnarch) of Galilee (to AD 39), Philip became tetrarch of the region north of Galilee (to AD 34)(both in Luke 3:1), and Archelaus became ruler of Samaria and Judea, where Bethlehem and Jerusalem are located (to AD 6). Archelaus was a cruel leader, so much so that he was deposed and forced to leave Israel in AD 6. And that answers the first question: why was Joseph afraid of Archelaus?
At that point, instead of bringing in another local leader, the Romans decided to take charge of the southern part of Israel themselves. They installed a Roman governor of that region in AD 6, a man named Coponius. He ruled until AD 9 and was followed by a succession of Roman governors: Ambibulus (AD 9-12), Annius Rufus (AD 12-15), Valerius Gratus (AD 15-26), and Pontius Pilate (AD 26-36). Yes, that Pontius Pilate. And so that answers the second question: why was a Roman governor in charge of Judea instead of one of Herod’s sons?
Actually, Luke 23:5-12 speaks of Herod Antipas. After Jesus was arrested and taken to Pilate, Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee. Herod Antipas (who was tetrarch or ruler of Galilee) just happened to be in Jerusalem (because of the Passover?) and so Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas. He hoped Herod would deal with Jesus so he wouldn't have too. Herod Antipas interviewed Jesus and sent him back to Pilate. Verse 12 states that Herod Antipas and Pilate had been enemies before this, but at that point became friends because Pilate had sent Jesus to Herod Antipas.
And so it was a Roman governor who had decide Jesus' fate and not one of Herod's sons.
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