About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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ch. 2:1-12  ch. 2:13-18   ch. 2:19-23

The Visit Of The Magi  (ch. 2:1-12)


Chapter 2 verse 1 begins with the words “after  Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea”.  For more of Jesus’ actual birth you can read Luke and Mark.  Matthew skips this part and goes right to “after” his birth, which is most likely months after, maybe even 2 years after.


The town of Bethlehem was a small town south of Jerusalem .  It was known for sheep raising.  The sheep that were killed for sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem were raised in Bethlehem .  The word Bethlehem means, “house of bread”.  Bethlehem is also known in Old Testament times as “the city of David ”, a phrase that is important in prophecy.


It is very interesting to note that Jesus, the real sacrificial lamb was born in Bethlehem where the less important sacrificial lambs were born.  Also interesting is that Jesus ended up being killed just outside of  Jerusalem . The lambs were killed in Jerusalem at the Temple .


Also in verse 1 are the words, “during the time of Herod”.  Much can be said about Herod which I will not get into.  He was known as Herod the Great, and also known to be called King of the Jews since his sphere of authority was over the Jews, thus helping us to understand why he wanted the newly born Jesus killed.


Herod died in 4 BC so we know that Jesus was probably born in or around 2 or 4 BC, not in 1 AD as you might expect.


Herod was a pretty evil man.  He actually killed many people in his own family, sons, wife, and in-laws, so he had no problem trying to kill all children under the age of two years old in Bethlehem .


We see the word “magi” in verse 1. These men were astronomers and astrologers who were known to be very wise in their day.  These men would have been well esteemed in the country they came from and also throughout the east. Matthew tells us that they came from the east.  Because these men were seen as wise men they were rulers or shepherds over the people in which they lived among.


These wise men came to Jerusalem asking where the one known as king of the Jews was recently born.  You can well imagine what kind of reception these men received from the Jews.  In the next few verses we will see what kind of reception these men received from Herod who represented the Gentiles.  Right off the bat, soon after Jesus was born, He presented a problem to both Jew and Gentile alike.   


Also in verse 2 we see that these wise men claimed that they saw “his star” in the sky and came to “worship Him”.  There’s been much discussion concerning this star.  Was this a miraculous star, or some natural star?  History does tells that sometime around the birth of Jesus there were 3 planets that lined up together that would have looked like one bright star in that part of that world, but that doesn’t really answer the question.  I’m not sure there is a logical answer to this question.  It might well have just been a miracle star from God for the miracle baby.


Also note that the wise men wanted to worship baby Jesus.  That would be blasphemy to any Jew.  Also, just imagine what  Jews would think when a Gentile comes to them announcing that their Messiah had been born.  I don’t think they’d receive such information from a Gentile source. 


Verse 3 tells us that when Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem was disturbed as well.  We’ve already noted why this was so.  Herod felt he was the  real King of the Jews since they were under his authority  He didn’t want any one else making this claim. 


We know why the Jews would have been disturbed.  They did not picture their Messiah being born into humanity in such a way.


In verse 4 we see that Herod knew where to turn to when having questions about the Jewish Messiah.  He called in all the teachers and priests to ask them where they thought their Messiah would be born. 


Their reply is found in verse 5.  They told Herod that the Messiah would be born in “Bethlehem of Judea” because that is what the Scriptures say.  I note again that Matthew is a very educated Jew and is directing his writing mostly to Jews, so he often brings in Old Testament writings to prove Jesus is the Messiah, and that is what he is doing here.  This might well be why Matthew doesn’t go into great detail about Jesus’ birth.  He wants to get right to the issue that Jesus is the Messiah.


The Jews answer Herod by quoting Micah 5:2.  The Messiah would truly come out of Bethlehem of Judea.   This prophecy tells us that the Messiah would “rule’ over His people.  The Greek word “poimaino” is translated as rule.  This Greek word means “to shepherd” and is translated as “shepherd” or “to feed” throughout the New Testament.  So when we see the word “rule” in this case, part of what is important to know is that Jesus rules as a shepherd would rule over his sheep.  In this sense we see the caring aspect to Jesus’ leadership which is fundamental to the way He rules and should be fundamental for the way church leaders rule. 


Note also that Bethlehem is from the line of Judah .  Judah was one of the two tribes that wasn’t lost in the disbursement after the Babylonian captivity.                   


In verse 7 we see that after Herod spoke to the Jews, he called in the wise men and asked them at what time they

saw this star.  He called them in “secretly”.   I’m sure the Jews would not have been all that happy with Herod speaking to foreign  astrologers.  They would have viewed these wise men as worshippers of a foreign god. 


In verse 9 Herod tells these wise men to go to Bethlehem to find this young child known as the King of the Jews and once they found Him they should return to Herod and tell him where the boy is.  Herod says that he wants to worship the baby boy as well, although we know that was not true.  Herod only told the wise men that so they’d help find Jesus.  Herod wanted Jesus dead, but he couldn’t tell the wise men that.


The question is sometimes raised, “how did these wise men even know about Jesus in the first place”?  Did they know about Him before the angel spoke to them”?  Men like these magi knew lots about many religions and it is most likely that they knew of the Jewish Messiah that would come some day.  These men were from the east.  This means that they were from the eastern side of the Jordan River towards Babylon .  There’s a good chance that these wise men would have known about the Messiah through the writings of Daniel 


Numbers 24:17 is interesting in relation to the star the magi saw.  This verse says that a “star will come out of Jacob”.  Some commentators suggest that the star in the sky is alluded to in Num. 24:17.  It is clear to me that the star referred in this verse refers to Jesus.  I’m not sure it refers to the star in the sky, but it might well be that the star in the sky was a type of Jesus.  


In verse 9 we see the magi leaving Herod and following the star that stopped right over where Jesus was. One might ask, “did others see this star”?  “Could have Herod seen the star as well and followed it’?   Some might suggest that only the wise men saw the star and that is the miracle of the star, but we don’t know the answer to this for sure.


Also in verse 9 we see the word “child”.  Jesus is described here as a child, not a baby, because he was no longer a baby at this point. 


Verse 10 says that the magi were “overjoyed” when seeing the star.  Maybe the star had actually stopped shining for them while they were in Jerusalem talking to Herod and to others, and now it has re-appeared when they start their search in earnest once  again.


In verse 10 we note that the wise men found the child, not the baby, in a house with his mother Mary.  Note that Mary and Jesus were in a house.  They were not in the barn or stable where Jesus was born.  Many have gotten this point wrong.  The wise men did not come and visit Jesus in the stable.


Verse 11 says that they bowed in worship.  This is what worship is all about.  It is bowing, bowing our knees, and most of all bowing our hearts and lives.  Bowing suggests submission and reverence to the one that is being worshipped.  This in fact is what the magi were doing  They were recognizing that Jesus was in fact the King of the Jews, and they showed this in their worship.


Part of their worship consisted of presenting Jesus with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.  It is commonly understood that the significance of these gifts are as follows.  Gold points to the kingship of Jesus.  Incense points to the priestly aspect to Jesus as being our great High Priest.  Incense is burned by priests.   Myrrh, once it is crushed gives forth a perfume like fragrance.  This might well have spoken to the death of Jesus. Once He was crushed as was predicted in Isa. 53, Jesus became a sweet smelling fragrance to the Lord.   Jesus’ death that was a sacrifice, an offering made by God to God, is often seen as a sweet smelling offering in the Bible.


Verse 12 ends this section.  These men had a dream about the scheme Herod was planning.  In the dream they were told not to go back to Herod, so they didn’t.  They returned to their country a different way than which they came.


I think there’s something to be said about these magi coming to worship Jesus.  These were Gentiles.  Jesus was a Jew and came to the Jews as their Messiah.  Yet the work of Jesus, especially the cross, was for all people, not just the Jews.  These magi represented all the Gentile world that would be given the opportunity to worship Jesus along side Jews.  So from the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, we see both Jews and Gentiles associated with  Him.  In the end, as Paul says, Jesus broke down the wall between these two groups of people.


The Escape To Egypt (ch. 2:13-18)


At this point in verse 13 Mary, Joseph and Jesus are still in Bethlehem .  How much time has passed since Jesus’ birth is unknown.  In a dream the Lord told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt .  This was because Herod was going “to search for the child and kill him.  His family would stay in Egypt until the Lord told them to leave.


It is interesting to note that Joseph, Mary and Jesus are following a similar route that Israel of old took.  Both Israel and this family left the area around Jerusalem , went to Egypt and then returned upon hearing from the Lord. 


Verse 14 tells us that they all left during the night, presumably so they would not be seen.


Verse 15 tells us that they stayed in Egypt until Herod died, which would have been only a few months. 


Another one of the 37 Old Testament quotes is found in verse 15.  Hosea 11:1 is quoted. “Out of Egypt will I call my son”. Prophecy is hard to understand at times before its fulfillment.  There are a number of Old Testament passages that speak about the Messiah in respect to certain localities.  For example, Scripture speaks of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem and this one says He will come out of Egypt .  One might be confused because if you put these two prophecies together you have a hard time reconciling them.  But now we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem , moved to Egypt until God told them to leave, or “called Him out” as Hosea 11:1 puts it.


It is interesting to me that Matthew being  a Jew working for the Roman government, who would have been despised by the rest of the Jewish population knows all these Scriptures.  He was educated in the economics of the day.  He was probably banned from the synagogue, but he sure knew his prophetic Scriptures.


In verse 16 we see that Herod is furious.  He waited for the magi to return to him and tell him where the baby Messiah was, but they never came.  They had gone home in a different way in which they arrived.  So Herod sent out the order to kill all baby boys under the age of 2 in and around Bethlehem .  This might give us a rough time frame when Jesus was born.  We know when Herod died from history, and we know that Herod must have thought that Jesus was at least under 2 years old.  This among other things brings us to the point that Jesus was born around 2 to 4 BC.


We can’t say for sure if Jesus was 2 years old at the time.  He might well have been a year and a half.  I’m sure that Herod chose 2 years and under just to make sure Jesus got killed.  Now many historians feel that there might have only been 20 to 30 boys under the age of 2 in that area.  This is somewhat of a guess, but understanding the population of the area at that time would suggest that the numbers wouldn’t be in the hundreds.


Yet another Scripture is quoted next, from Jer. 31:15. This passage speaks of Ramah weeping and mourning, and also Rachel weeping for her children that were no more.  The connection between Rachel and Ramah is most likely due to the tradition that Rachel, Jacob’s wife was buried in Ramah.  This is symbolic of all the women in the area weeping over  the loss of their young baby boys. 


Once again we see the work of satan in trying to destroy Jesus from an early age, something that satan continued to do up until the end.  In the process of trying to kill Jesus, satan killed many other little boys.  Satan may be well prepared and have his plans well thought out but this goes to show that he is reckless and uncaring in how he tries to destroy Jesus and now Jesus’ followers.


The Return To Nazareth (ch. 2:19-23)


Verses 19 and 20 tell us that God spoke to Joseph once again in a dream.  He told him to take his wife and Jesus back Israel because those who had tired to kill Jesus were dead.  This might well imply that more than Herod died. 


In verse 22 and 23 we see Joseph, Mary and Jesus head back into Israel .  Yet upon their return they found out that Herod’s son Archelaus was now in charge in Judea and Joseph was afraid of him.  Therefore in another dream Joseph was told to move north into Galilee . They went to Nazareth where Jesus was raised.  Nazareth was yet another fulfillment of Scripture, saying that the Messiah would be known as a Nazarene.


Nazareth was a hill town in Galilee .   Galilee is north of Jerusalem , and Jerusalem is in Judea .  Nazareth was known as what we might call a “hick town”.  It was a rough place for a child to group.  Crime was high.  It was not a cultural place to live. So the place in which Jesus was raised was not conducive to raising a nice young family.  It had it’s challenges.

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