When Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Palestine was part of the Roman Empire. According to Roman practice, local leaders were allowed to retain their title as long as they kept the peace and paid their allegiance to Rome.
Antipater (or Antipas), son of the king of Idumea, had embraced Judaism though he was not an Israelite. Having gained the favor of Rome, he was made governor of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C. He immediately divided his power among his four sons, and Herod received Galilee.
By 40 B.C Herod had proved his ability to suppress revolt, and the Roman Senate made him king of Judea. The reign of Herod I (or Herod the Great) was marked by bloodshed and strong rule. In 37 B.C. he firmly established the Herodian dynasty in Jerusalem by slaying all but two members of the Jewish Sanhedrin. He put to death anyone who opposed him, including one of his ten wives and a number of his sons. His bloodthirstiness is remembered by Christians in his Massacre of the Innocents when, in trying to destroy the Messiah, he ordered the slaughter of all the children under two years of age in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
Upon the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided among three of his sons; they were reduced in rank by Rome from kings to governors.
Archelaus received Judea, including Samaria and Idumea—the prize portion. He was a cruel ruler, so feared that after Mary and Joseph returned from the flight into Egypt, they did not go back to Bethlehem but settled in Nazareth. By A.D. 6, Archelaus was deposed by Rome and exiled. Judea then came under direct Roman rule, Pontius Pilate being the Roman governor at the time of the crucifixion of Christ.
Herod Philip, another son of Herod the Great, received Iturea, Trachonitis, Batanea, Gaulanitis, and Auranitis. His rule until his death in A.D. 34 was peaceful and just. (He was not the husband of Herodius. That Philip, another son of Herod the Great, had been disinherited because of his mother’s treason.)
Herod Antipas, also a son of Herod the Great, was made ruler of Galilee and Perea, which he governed until he was exiled by Rome in A.D. 38. Because Jesus spent most of his life and ministry in the Galilean area, Herod Antipas is the governor most mentioned in the New Testament story. Reportedly called a “fox” by Jesus, Antipas ruled with cunning and close alliance to Rome. He was censured by John the Baptist for his incestuous marriage with his brother’s wife Herodias. She managed to get John beheaded. A close friend of Tiberius, he fell out of favor with Caligula and was banished.
Perhaps a study of the following charts and maps dealing with Christ and the world in which he lived will give us a better understanding of the Savior.