Both Jesus of Nazareth and Herod Antipas had kingdoms—one spiritual and one political. Jesus had no earthly status or title as a ruler granted to him by Rome or another political power, but He had a substantial following as a teacher, worker of miracles, spiritual leader, and to the few who initially recognized it, as the prophesied Christ and Son of God. Herod Antipas the Tetrarch ruled Galilee and Peraea from ca. 4 BC to 39 AD because Rome had bestowed that power upon him, then took it away and sent him into exile when he fell out of favor. Meanwhile, Jesus lived in the regions of Galilee most of the time between 4 BC and 33 AD. Although the period in which Jesus became publicly known and gained a substantial following was only a few years, nevertheless the effects were immense and long lasting. On the other hand, Antipas ruled for over 40 years but went down in history as an insignificant ruler who ended his life in exile and shame. Although the two did not meet until the trial of Jesus in 33 AD, Antipas was intrigued and even threatened by Jesus. John the Baptizer, the herald of Jesus, publically demonstrated the clash of political and spiritual kingdoms by rebuking Antipas for marrying Herodias, who had divorced her former husband, one of his brothers who was still alive. This eventually resulted in the execution of John after the birthday party of Antipas, and the opposition of the political kingdom to the spiritual kingdom was made clear.
The kingdom of Jesus during the 1st century, which He called both the “Kingdom of God” (used 52 times in all four Gospels) and the “Kingdom of Heaven” (used 32 times, but only in Matthew) was a spiritual kingdom (Luke 17:21; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Colossians 4:11). The kingdom of Antipas, on the other hand, was a political kingdom with physical boundaries that could be taken away by the Roman authorities at any time. Jesus used Antipas several times in His teaching as an example of foolishness and worldliness, and to highlight the distinction between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. In the Gospels, Jesus made reference to Antipas multiple times in less than flattering terms. These were veiled statements that Jesus was the true and perfect king, while Antipas was merely a flawed mortal ruler appointed by men. At the feeding of the 4,000, Jesus warned listeners to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod Antipas (Mark 8:15). In so doing, he warned the people to beware of the ideals of men such as Antipas, including hypocrisy, compromise, syncretism, and the dangerous influence of lies and evil seeping out from the culture of Rome that Antipas adhered to and promoted. On one occasion Jesus seems to have compared Antipas to a broken reed shaking in the wind and one who wears soft clothing and lives in a luxurious royal palace (Luke 7:24-25). The soft clothing and palace matches well with Herodian rulers of the time, such as Antipas who had built a luxurious new palace in Tiberias only a few years prior, but the reed shaking in the wind is particularly telling. The reed was probably used as a symbol because it was innocuous to the religious community and also representative of the Galilee region, which Antipas ruled. Many of the bronze coins that Antipas minted show a reed of Galilee surrounded by his name and title. In referring to Antipas as a reed shaking in the wind, Jesus may have implied not only the moral and spiritual weakness of Antipas and his swaying with whatever force is applied to him or whatever is popular at the time, but also that Antipas attempted to falsely depict himself as a strong ruler when in fact Rome was the true political power and Antipas merely a proxy of the Empire. In another instance, Jesus referred to Antipas as a fox, in contrast to Jesus the Lion of Judah, which was an apparent reference to both his continual “hunting” of Jesus and his cowardly character, clearly exhibited by the imprisonment and execution of John who merely rebuked Antipas for violating the Law of Moses (Luke 13:31-35). Later, Jesus may have even referenced the epic military failure of Antipas against Nabatea (Luke 14:31; Josephus, Antiquities 18.111-113). While many scholars place this event after the life of Jesus, the context in Josephus implies that it occurred soon after the execution of John the Baptizer and during the reign of Tiberius, perhaps around 30 AD and the public ministry of Jesus. Like John the Baptizer, Jesus was both intriguing and offensive to Antipas, and Jesus was probably a target for many years (Mark 3:6). As Jesus lived in the region ruled by Antipas and the news of His teachings and miracles spread rapidly, Antipas had attempted to track down Jesus—like John the Baptizer—but always unsuccessfully (Luke 23:8). At one time, Antipas was paranoid that Jesus was John the Baptizer resurrected (Matthew 14:1-2). Herod apparently wanted only to silence John and not execute him, but did because he feared rejecting the request of Salome. Antipas then sought out Jesus but never found Him. Their first and only meeting came at the trial of Jesus, where Antipas questioned and mocked Jesus, but received no answers (Luke 23:7-11). In this clash of kingdoms, Jesus clearly won, as even many in the household of Antipas were becoming followers of Jesus, such as Joanna, Susanna, and later a leader in the church at Antioch named Manaen who had been brought up with Herod Antipas but had become a follower of Jesus (Luke 8:3; Acts 13:1).