[Note - This is the combined, revised version of two pieces I posted seperately in January. It's longer, but it's better. This is a preview of the central parts of Year-by-Year, Volume Two.]
If anyone other than Tiberius Caesar had been Emperor in those days, the Lord Jesus Christ might not have been crucified! He might have been beheaded.
[We have to back up a bit first, to 4 years before the cross.]
In May of 29 AD, Jesus was in Judea, preaching and watching his disciples baptize people. At that same time, John the Baptizer was not too far away, in someplace with a lot of water, baptizing and preaching to others. John’s ministry was just over one year old. Jesus’ ministry had just begun. People were flocking to both men.
And the Jewish authorities were powerless to stop it.
In Judea, Pontius Pilate would not let the Sanhedrin execute anyone. They could have arrested Jesus, but what then? If they held him for no good reason, people might start to protest. They didn’t want to make him MORE popular. So they left him alone.
Until John popped off at the mouth.
John the Baptizer accused Herod Antipas of adultery – which was true. But Herod’s fling (his niece, Herodias) had become Herod’s new wife, and she was furious! So Herodias got Herod to arrest John… which gave the Sanhedrin an idea!
Herod Antipas DID have the power to execute prisoners – in Galilee!
The Sanhedrin figured out that if they arrested Jesus, they could give him to Herod. And then (as long as there was a justifiable charge) Herod could kill him. The Romans wouldn’t know or care.
Jesus, of course, knew this was a danger. So he got out of Judea, fast.
From June of 29 AD until September of 31 AD, Jesus stayed around Lake Galilee. The Judean Jews couldn’t get him there. He became very popular with the Galileans. And somehow, Herod Antipas didn’t even know who he was!
Still – just to be safe – Jesus spent most of his time close to the border of Philip’s tetrarchy. It wasn’t just a safety/exit plan. Making lots of trips across the sea was one more way to stay beneath Herod’s notice.
In all that time, a few Pharisees came around. But mostly, the Sanhedrin was happy enough to see Jesus staying in Galilee. The Judean Jews were especially happy that Jesus basically stayed away from Jerusalem for two whole years…
But all of that changed the day John died.
That night came in early March of 31 AD. Herod threw a party. His stepdaughter danced. And somehow, John got beheaded. Herodias had her revenge. And then, the news got out.
People everywhere were outraged.
Over the rest of spring and summer, that outrage spread. All of the common people thought John was a Prophet. Even in Judea, most Jews were upset with Herod Antipas for killing the Baptizer. And the Sanhedrin couldn’t say anything about it.
For Jesus, this was an opening.
John’s death was fresh on people’s minds. The Sanhderin didn’t want to give the people a second martyr in less than a year. So, Jesus waited until the Fall Festival of Tabernacles, in September of 31. Then he finally got down to Jerusalem again. (He'd actually snuck into the fall festival of 30 AD, but only for a day or so; he healed one guy and got out of there - quickly and safely!)
This year, Jesus stayed around Jerusalem for over two months, through Chanukah, in early December. More than once, he was almost stoned or arrested. (John’s death made that less likely, but not impossible!) Still, each time, Jesus escaped. And when tempers died down, the arrest plans were cancelled again.
The Jews of Judea were just too enamored, this time, with the One John had spoken about.
This was really important. It had been three years since his baptism. The people of Judea hadn't had much of a chance to see the Lord until now. They deserved his time, too.
After those two months, from the Tabernacles to Chanukah, Jesus made one more trip thru Galilee - mostly North Galilee. And after that trip, the Lord spent most of his final year in Judea – from May 32 until April 33, when they crucified him.
But that cross was almost a beheading. The Jews first option for killing the Lord SHOULD have been the axe-man of Herod Antipas. And that’s where we (finally) come back to Tiberius Caesar, again.
In 31, 32 and 33 AD, things were happening in Italy that made it impossible for Antipas to execute Jesus...
BEGIN PART TWO:
To explain the last bits of Part One, we have to back up in time a few decades...
It was 6 BC when Tiberius Caesar retired... the first time! He was only 35 years old, but he had to get away from Rome. Nine years later he was back, and next in line to be Emperor. But it was another ten years after THAT before he actually took power!
Tiberius Caesar was nearly 55 years old when Augustus died. On the day he “accepted” his power, he made a speech to the Senate, hoping they’d let an old man have some rest, before long. And he meant it. He was eager to “retire” again.
Unlike other men, Tiberius really didn’t want to rule the world.
In 26 AD, the old Army General finally found a way to step down – sort of. By that time, Tiberius had a strong right hand man, named Sejanus, the Prefect. Sejanus had been running things for Tiberius, like a manager runs a shop for an owner. It was going well. So Tiberius left Rome… forever.
The Emperor of Rome moved to the Italian Isle of Capri, and stayed there.
For five years, Sejanus managed Tiberius’ Empire. But the more time went by, the more Sejanus began to want power for himself. His official status rose quickly, up the ranks. He commanded the city guards, and controlled powerful senators. He was openly living with Livilla (the mother of Tiberius’ pre-teenage grandson).
Sejanus thought this connection to the Imperial bloodline would make him Emperor.
By late 30, AD, Sejanus had a plot underway to kill Tiberius and seize the Empire for himself. But Livilla’s mother (Antonia, Mark Antony’s daughter) told Tiberius about the plot. And the old Emperor (now 71) had Sejanus caught and executed by the Senate.
Now as horrible and dramatic as all that was – it’s not the main point. This is:
Sejanus died on October 18, 31 AD. But the rumors of Sejanus' destruction began at the beginning of that year. Now, those rumors that started in Rome would not have reached Galilee before March.
Now, Herod Antipas killed John just before he learned Sejanus was in trouble. Otherwise, Antipas might not have done it. Promise or no promise, Antipas relied on Sejanus' support. They had an understanding.
If Sejanus was about to go down, that was a major concern for Herod Antipas. But we'll come back to Antipas.
Jesus was still at Chanukah in November/December when all Israel learned of Sejanus' death. Up until that point, Jesus was safe from Herod because of John's martyrdom alone. But after this point, Herod Antipas has two good reasons to let Jesus live!
When Sejanus died in Rome, that October, Tiberius seized direct power again. But everyone guessed the old man wouldn't stay totally active for so very long. The world watched all winter and spring, but Tiberius never even left the Isle of Capri. He just sent orders to Rome.
So the main question was, "Who would take Sejanus' place as the true power in Rome?" But for those who'd been close with Sejanus, there was another question: "Will I be punished and killed for my alliance with the fallen Prefect?"
Herod Antipas had to worry about both questions.
This is what really tied Antipas’ hands, in Israel.
Sure enough, Tiberius stayed in Capri. A man named Macro had taken Sejanus' place as Praetorian Prefect.
So the Emperor put his trust in the hands of his new Prefect, Macro.
Officially, Macro was in charge. But practically, there was still some doubt.
Tiberius was notoriously fickle. Actually, he wasn't, but he made himself seem to be fickle so no one could ever tell what he was going to do. There was no immediate guarantee Macro was going to keep his position. So Herod Antips didn't know whether to pursue good relations with Macro or whether he needed to wait and see, for now, if Macro stuck around awhile, politically.
For that matter, almost no one in Rome had a secure position at that time. The new bloodbath was against former allies of Sejanus. As mentioned, Herod Antipas had to worry about this in particular. If anyone in Rome knew of Antipas secret alliance wtih Sejanus, the parties could have all been over for the tetrarch of Galilee.
In 32 and 33 AD, each of these two concerns - Macro's viability and Antipas' past alliance - had a specific problem element, making it worse.
Macro’s biggest threat in 32 was a granddaughter of Augustus – Agrippina (“the elder”, widow of Germanicus, mother of Caligula, and Caligula’s older brothers). Basically, Agrippina was a mighty woman to have to deal with, and there were powerful Senators willing to support her, to get her son (named “Nero-Julius”) on the throne.
Caligula was younger than Nero-Julius, so Caligula took up with Macro. By mid to late 33 AD, Macro & Caligula had secured their own future. By then, Nero-Julius and Agrippina were both dead. But until then, Nero-Julius and Agrippina were still a major threat, if only a potential one.
Senators were getting skewered all the time. Any of them could have rallied around Augustus' great-grandson Nero-Julius.
Macro & Caligula played it well, but it took them some time.
For over two years, the general political situation in Rome was still somewhat unstable.
Now, as for Herod's secret alliance with Sejanus, there was also one specific problem. It wasn't just a general fear. There was one potential leak in particular - Herod's brother-in-law!
Less than six months after Sejanus' fall, Herod Antipas got into a fight with his wife's brother, Herod Agrippa. Agrippa left Israel and made his way to Rome. Agrippa was crafty, but broke. He borrowed money to get to Rome and he only had one friend there. (Antonia, his mother's good friend from decades past.)
Agrippa is a whole other story, really, but he was a threat to Antipas for one reason alone.
Agrippa knew about Antipas' secret alliance with Sejanus. Antipas knew Agrippa knew. And they both knew that people in Rome were falling all over each other to inform on each other.
In 32 AD, Agrippa went to Rome planning to inform on Antipas. Agrippa had everything to gain. Antipas had everything to lose. But Antipas couldn't do anything but wait. Agrippa was either going to tell or he wasn't. The only thing Antipas could do was hope to make a good defense, if he got accused. So he waited.
In early 33 AD, Antipas was still waiting to hear whether Agrippa had said anything.
By mid to late 33, things would be clear. Caligula teamed up with Macro against his own mother and brother! Macro held onto power. Agrippa got to Rome but Antonia took care of all his financial needs, so Agrippa found out he could afford to keep the info against Antipas for a later time. Herod Antipas' worries turned out to be nothing. But it took time for that to become clear.
By mid to late 33, Herod Antipas would know all this. But for the better part of three calendar years (31, 32, 33), things were hazy.
Herod Antipas didn’t know who would win out. He didn't know if he'd be on the blacklist.
The Tetrarch did know he would need to earn his way into the winner’s good graces, whenever it was over. And he'd need to have a good defense if he got accused as Sejanus' ally. Now that all meant a lot of things… but mostly just one thing. Every overseas Governor or Tetrarch knew there was only one way to earn or keep the good favor of Rome.
He had to govern well.
This is the major point. For two years, Antipas had to make sure he governed well.
Extremely, cautiously well.
That meant no riots. That meant no uprisings. That meant no chaos. That meant that Herod Antipas had to be very careful to run a clean, tight, tribute-paying region. He had to keep Galilee peaceful and profitable. He had to make sure he looked like an asset… to whomever came out of those hazy days in Rome with all the power.
But it was actually twice as bad as all that, for Antipas, in this case. Remember, in early 31 AD, when Antipas got the news about Sejanus… John had just died!
The timing is remarkable.
One day, Herod stirs up popular outrage by killing John, and a short while later, he finds out his main ally in Rome was on the hot seat! Six months after that his ally was dead, and for the next almost-two-years after Sejanus was dead, Herod Antipas was hamstrung for prophet killing!
It was rotten timing for Antipas. It was wonderful timing for Jesus.
Things may or may not have been building towards rebellion… but Antipas couldn’t risk anything that was anywhere close to an uprising.
So Antipas couldn’t risk getting involved with the Jesus drama in Judea.
So Jesus was finally able to go back into Judea, after 28 months away! In fact, Jesus was finally able to spend about thirteen months in Judea, altogether.
Remember, the Jews could arrest Jesus. But they needed Antipas to kill him. Rome’s Governors never let City Councils use the death penalty, but Antipas was technically independent, in his Tetrarchy. Without Antipas, the Sandedrin was going to need a perfect storm to accuse Jesus before the Romans.
That storm took two years to develop. (Then it came to a head in one week!)
In Autumn 31 and May of 32, Jesus made trips to Judea. The first time, he stayed two months. The second time, about 11 months. Since John was a martyr, the people flocked to the Lord more than ever. For a long time, the Sanhedrin did their best to hold themselves back, for fear of the people. But that wasn’t the only reason…
If Antipas had been willing to help, the Sanhedrin could have given Jesus to Herod. The people would have been outraged, but at least Herod could have drug Jesus over to his fortress on the Dead Sea – Macherus, where John was beheaded. The people could be dealt with. It might just have worked…
If Antipas hadn’t been worried about Rome, Jesus could have been beheaded!
But that wasn’t how it was meant to be.
Shortly after dawn, very early on Friday, April 3rd, 33 AD, Jesus Christ stood before Herod Antipas. It was the only time the two men ever met, face to face. Herod asked all kinds of questions, but got no answers. He let the priests and lawyers threaten and accuse. He let his soldiers tease and make fun. But Herod knew he'd better not do anything. And Herod knew that Pilate felt the same way!
Pontius Pilate was in the same boat as Antipas. Neither one of them wanted to be held responsible if trouble broke out, over this. Both men were still being cautious, while the political drama was trying to work itself out in Rome. (Soon after, their shared problem actually drew Pilate & Herod into a friendship. But that’s another story.) Pilate tried to give up jurisdiction. But Herod basically said, “It happened here, man.”
Herod Antipas wanted nothing to do with the execution of Jesus. So Jesus was crucified. Not beheaded.
If Sejanus had still been in power, protecting his ally Antipas, the Tetrarch might have done a quick favor for the Sanhderin, some time in 32. But then Jesus would have died much too soon.
If Macro had no potential rival in Agrippina (and her allies) – that is, if Rome had been perfectly and clearly stable – or if Agrippa hadn't been in Rome with a threat to expose Antipas - then Jesus might have been beheaded. Or burned. But that wasn’t how it was meant to be.
If Tiberius had never retired to the Island of Capri, Jesus might not have died on a Roman Cross.
But that wasn’t what the Father wanted.
This stuff may not matter, but then again, it may.
History happens very slowly. Most big things usually take years. In Italy, Tiberius retired. Sejanus plotted and died. Agrippa learned about a secret alliance. Macro & Caligula plotted against Caligula's brother and mom. Meanwhile, in Israel, a teenager danced for Antipas. The old Tetrarch beheaded the Baptizer. And Jesus got to spend the better part of two years in Judea, which had stayed closed to him for so long. But that’s far from all…
Because of all this, Jesus was not beheaded. Because of Sejanus and Macro, Antipas and Tiberius, Agrippa, Agrippina and Caligula, the Sanhedrin and Salome… the Lord Jesus Christ died on a Cross.
This is what the Father wanted.
When the timing was just right, Jesus went to Jerusalem and got executed, Roman style. He was not beheaded. He was crucified. It was not in a dungeon. It was public. People saw the sky go dark. They saw how unjust it all was. The World system AND Religious system worked together, to kill him. And the death was unendingly memorable. But the main thing about it... was simply one thing.
God got what he wanted.
The Son of Man was lifted up.