Matthew 2


‘After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

The Magi Visit The Messiah

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judges 17:9 / Judges 19:1 / 1 Samuel 17:12 / Micah 5:2. David, the king of Israel, was born in Bethlehem, and so, this city was referred to as the city of David, 1 Samuel 16:1 / 1 Samuel 16:19.

At the time of the decree of Augustus Caesar, Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth, Luke 1:26-27 / Luke 2:1-5. And so, they made the long journey to Bethlehem of Judea, not Bethlehem in Zebulun Joshua 19:15, in obedience to the law of Augustus.

There are a lot of theories concerning the date of Jesus’ birth and it’s here in Matthew where we find the closest reference we can actually find. Matthew says that Jesus was born ‘during the time of King Herod’.

Herod the Great was the son of Antipater, an Idumean and descendant of Esau. He was proud, cruel, bloodthirsty and unmerciful as a ruler of the Jews. Herod the Great as he was called, cruelly reigned from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. according to our calendar today.

And so this establishes the date of the birth of Jesus about two years earlier than 4 B.C., for Herod had sent out a decree before his death to kill all children under two years of age. But knowing the exact date of Jesus’ birth isn’t important, what is important is that He was born.

These magi were possibly Gentile astronomers from Arabia, Persia, Parthia, or even India. And unlike most of the nativity plays we see today where they always have three wise men, we actually don’t know how many there were. I guess most people presume three because there were three gifts, but we simply don’t know.

Some translations use the words ‘wise men’ which is the Greek word for ‘magi’. We can imagine the truly wise of all ages are indeed those who bow down and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. But the fact that these wise men came from a great distance to see Jesus indicates that they had possibly received a revelation of some kind concerning the birth of Jesus.

Now isn’t it interesting that the Old Testament opens with a question when God is seeking man, He asks in Genesis 3:9, ‘Adam, where are you?’ The New Testament opens with a question when man is seeking God, and man asks, ‘Where is the one?’ Where is which one? The magi say, ‘the one born to be king of the Jews.’

The Jews hoped that the Messiah would come into the world. It was believed by many that the Messiah would supposedly reign as king on earth and restore national Israel to her former glory. But as the Jews were soon going to discover, not this King, His reign and rule and His kingdom were going to be spiritual, not physical.

And so the magi say, ‘we saw his star’. This star the magi saw was not a natural phenomenon, this star was a miraculous signal sent by God to the Magi to alert them of the birth of the Messiah for whom they hoped. And there is a possibility that this was a fulfilment of prophecy but we can’t be certain, Numbers 24:17.

We don’t have to be dogmatic about what this star was or what it looked like but we mustn’t lose sight of Who this star is hovering over, Jesus, the King of the Jews.

‘When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2:3-8

It’s very obvious that Herod didn’t want a rival king in his kingdom and so his pride and arrogance moved him to scheme against any possible contender for the crown.

Herod may have been ignorant of the prophecy of Micah 5:1-2 which spoke of Bethlehem as the place of the birth of the Messiah. But he went ahead and called a meeting with the chief priests and the teachers of the law.

The chief priests were the principal leaders of the Jewish religious system who were in charge of the temple, 1 Chronicles 24:6 / 2 Chronicles 34:13 / Malachi 2:7.

The teachers of the law were the educated men of the Jewish law and it was their responsibility to preserve and interpret the Old Testament law for the people, Ezra 7:6 / Matthew 23:34 / Luke 10:25 / Acts 5:34.

Herod has probably heard over and over again talk about a coming Messiah and so he wanted to know where this Messiah was to be born, Jeremiah 23:5 / Jeremiah 30:9 / Zechariah 9:9 / Matthew 27:11 / John 1:49 John 18:37 / Luke 19:38 / Luke 23:38.

The magi more or less say to the Herod, ‘O King, we don’t really know anything about it, but there is, it so happens, a verse in one of the prophecies that speak of the birth of the Messiah, and that says it is to take place in Bethlehem.’

But as we know it was not Herod’s plan to worship, but to destroy the newly born child whom he saw as a possible competitor for his throne. He knew the birthplace, he thought he knew the child’s age and he only needed to find out the exact location of the Christ in order to kill him.

‘After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.’ Matthew 2:9-10

It’s obvious here that the star in question was miraculous in nature because it appears again. And it appears here for the second time to make it possible for the Magi to find the baby without drawing attention to the birthplace by making inquiries.

And notice this time, the star came and stopped over the place where Jesus was. And what was the outcome of them seeing the star again and it stopping? It was pure joy, there is always joy when we come to meet Jesus.

‘On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.’ Matthew 2:11-12

By the time the magi had arrived Jesus had been moved from a manger into a house. We don’t know how old Jesus would be at this point in time but He would only be a few weeks old at the most.

But notice ‘they bowed down and worshipped him,’ they didn’t bow down and worship Mary or Joseph but Jesus. Jesus is always the main focus of our worship and it’s to Him that every knee in heaven and earth and every demon in hell will have to bow down to one day, Romans 14:11 / Philippians 2:10.

It was a custom of the orient to bring gifts to the newly born and such gifts were commonly given to those who were considered noble. Some commentators believe that the three gifts symbolised the three works of Jesus, that is, His kingship, His divinity, and His sufferings.

The gift of gold would certainly provide money for the fleeing to Egypt which is going to happen soon. The buildings and treasures of kings and pharaohs from the ancient past have left reminders that gold was the prize of rulers and kings.

Men such as King Solomon and King Nebuchadnezzar treasured gold. We know that while gold can be a gift for anyone, gold was a gift, especially for kings, Isaiah 60:6.

Frankincense was incense that was made from the sap of a tree that grew both in Arabia and India. Frankincense was once greatly valued throughout the Middle East, from Rome to India.

It was very expensive and a gift having a wonderful fragrance, it was used for a variety of purposes such as incense, medical treatment, and perfume. It was used in worship and so frankincense speaks of the worship of God.

The myrrh was also a perfume that was made from the sap of a tree and although it was less expensive than frankincense, it was still highly valued.

Myrrh was used for a variety of purposes, such as perfume, an anaesthetic, and burial embalming, and it was used as an ingredient in anointing oil and to deodorise clothes. We also know that John 19:39 records that myrrh was used in Jesus’ burial. In the New Testament, myrrh is primarily associated with death.

We cannot come to worship Jesus without giving. Those who worship Christ give and those who don’t or won’t give do not worship either. In other words, true worship simply can’t exist if there is no sacrifice.

In everything surrounding the birth of Jesus, God was directing the movements of the Magi in order that they not be discovered by Herod. God warned them in a dream and they listened which means the wise men refused to cooperate with Herod.

Dreams were often a vehicle of revelation among the Hebrews and they were considered inferior to visions but often played a vital role in protecting the chosen people.

But as we know God doesn’t operate through dreams and visions today, Hebrews 1:1-2. God used to speak through the prophets, He used to speak through visions and dreams but now He speaks through Jesus.

Notice that the magi returned another route which is what God offers all to come to Him in worship. The new and better route is that route through Jesus, a route where sinners don’t have to live in sin anymore without any hope for eternal life in heaven.

The Escape To Egypt

‘When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2:13-15

As Egypt wasn’t under the derestriction of Herod, an angel, possibly, Grabrail again, tells Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt because Herod was planning to kill Jesus. And so, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were told to stay in Egypt until Herod had died, this would be on April 1st, 4 B.C.

Just as God called his ‘son’ Israel out of Egypt when they were released from slavery, Exodus 4:22-23 / Numbers 24:7-8 / Numbers 24:17, so now calls His Son, Jesus out of Egypt, as Hosea as prophesied, Hosea 11:1.

‘When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:16-18

After realising that the magi had tricked Herod, he became furious and then proceeds to order that all babies two years of age and under were to be killed in Bethlehem and the vicinity. This tells us that Jesus was born at least within the two year period before Herod’s death on April 1st, 4 B.C.

Jeremiah’s prophecy was of the Israelites who were carried away to the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah 31:15. The second fulfilment of the prophecy is here realised in the death of the babies of Bethlehem. Rachel was related to Benjamin and she was the wife of Jacob whose tomb was in Ramah near Bethlehem.

The Return To Nazareth

‘After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.’ Matthew 2:19-23

After Herod’s death an angel of the Lord appeared again in a dream to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to the land of Israel, Matthew 1:24 / Luke 2:39. It was now safe to return because those who were trying to take Jesus’ life were now dead.

When Herod died, Augustus Caesar of Rome divided his kingdom among Herod’s three sons, Philip, Herod Antipas and Archelaus. Philip and Antipas received Galilee and Perea, and Archelaus received Judea, Idumea and Samaria.

Understandably, Joseph was frightened to go to Judea because Archelaus had a reputation for being ruthless, hence, why Rome itself got rid of him in A.D. 6.

There was nothing special about Nazareth and at this time it was known as a place of contempt, John 1:46 / John 7:52. It was the place where Joseph was raised, John 1:45-46, and some suggest that Mary was raised there too, Luke 1:26-27. We do know that Jesus was raised as a child there and grew in wisdom and stature, Luke 2:40 / Luke 2:52.

No recorded prophet mentions that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, but this is mentioned to tell us of Jesus’ humble beginnings, Isaiah 11:1 / Isaiah 53:1-4.

The town of Nazareth was named after the Nazarites, and so, because Jesus lived there, He was called a ‘Nazarene’, Mark 1:24 / Acts 22:8.

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