Then he [Jesus] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out – and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out right away and began to plot with the Herodians against Jesus, trying to find a way to destroy him. [Mark 3:5b-6 (NTE)]
Rather than a religious sect, the Herodians were a political group who favored Herodian rule over direct Roman rule. Unlike previous kings of Israel, the Herodian kings were appointed by the Roman emperors. It’s been said that “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard,” and it seems that way with the various Herods we meet in the New Testament. It was Herod the Great, ruler of Judea from 37 to 4 BC, who enlarged the Temple Mount and began rebuilding the second Temple around 20 BC. This Herod was the “king of the Jews” who questioned the Magi and sought to kill the Messiah by slaughtering boys under the age of two. [Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BC.] After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided among his sons and Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. This is the Herod who ruled Galilee throughout Jesus’ ministry—the one who married the wife of his brother (Herod Philip II), beheaded John the Baptist, and sent Jesus back to Pilate.
The next king of Judea was Herod the Great’s grandson and Herod Antipas’ nephew, Herod Agrippa I. Ruler from 41 to 44 AD, his story is found in Acts 12. He put the Apostle James to death, imprisoned Peter (who was miraculously rescued from prison by an angel of the Lord), and met a horrible end when he was consumed by worms. The last of the Herodian line to be king was his son, Herod Agrippa II. Mentioned in Acts 25 and 26, this was the Herod who, after allowing Paul to testify in court, said he’d done nothing to deserve imprisonment or death. The main job of all these Herods was to keep the peace in Judea. They had to maintain a delicate balance by bending to the people’s will just enough to avoid being overthrown and yet not allow the Jews so much independence that Rome would step in and take full control.
Seeing Herod and his family as Judea’s salvation, the Herodians submitted to Rome out of political expediency. Afraid that Jesus would cause an uprising, they saw Him as a threat to keeping Herod on the throne. As long as the land remained peaceful, Herod would rule and the status quo would remain. Knowing that any insurrection would cause the Romans to respond with overwhelming force, they wanted to make a pre-emptive strike against any disturbance by killing Jesus.
Even though the Pharisees wanted a descendant of David on the throne and the Herodians wanted to keep Herod there, politics makes for strange bedfellows. Jesus’ miracles caused people to look to Him for salvation—something not on either groups’ agenda. When Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees enlisted the Herodians to help in a plot to destroy Him. Although the Pharisees were popular with the people, they lacked the political clout to carry out their plans. As supporters of Herod Antipas, the Herodians held the political power and these rival forces came together to plot against their common enemy.
The Herodians were willing to settle for temporary salvation and peace but Jesus brought permanent salvation and peace. They looked to politics and people when they should have looked to faith in God!