To reinforce his main point, Matthew draws many parallels between the early life of Jesus and the Old Testament: Jesus is the Christ, the son of Abraham and son of David, who will fulfill God’s promises. These promised blessings are not just to the Jews, but to the entire world.
God caused Mary, a virgin, to miraculously conceive a son. Assuming Mary was unfaithful, Joseph planned to quietly divorce her, but God speaks to Joseph in a dream. God tells Joseph that Mary has not been unfaithful and that her son would be the promised Messiah who would save his people from sins. Joseph takes Mary as his wife and accepts Jesus as his own son, making Jesus his legal heir and putting Jesus legally in the line of David.
This podcast covers all of Matthew 2. Later podcasts will cover the “fulfillment” passages.
1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; – Matthew 2:1-3
- Jesus was born in Bethlehem which is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. King David was born in Bethlehem.
- Maps: Israel in NT Times and Kingdom of Herod the Great
- Joseph and Mary had lived in Nazareth before the census, but they stay in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:4).
- The “wise men from the east” were priests and rulers from the region that used to be the Babylonian empire.
- Approximately 500 years earlier when the prophet Daniel lived as an exile in Babylon, he became chief prefect over the wise men of Babylon.
- God gave Daniel visions concerning the coming king of the Jews. These later wise men are familiar with Daniel’s visions, recognize the signs that the king has been born and seek him out.
- At this time the nation of Israel is ruled by Herod the Great, who was a ruthless and paranoid king. He lived in constant fear that someone was plotting to take his throne.
- Through treachery and murder, Herod the Great systematically removed all possible rivals, including his wife and a number of his sons.
3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:3-6
- It seems to be common knowledge the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, the city of David (Micah 5:2; John 7:40-43).
- Matthew explains how it came about that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but raised in Galilee.
7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. – Matthew 2:7-9
- Herod tells the magi to return and tell him when they found the child, so he can worship the child too, which is a lie.
- Herod also asks them about the sign so he can calculate how old the child is now.
- According to Luke the shepherds arrived on the day Jesus was born and did indeed see him lying in a manager. But the magi come much later. They probably saw a toddler
10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 13Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” – Matthew 2:10-15
- The wise men do not worship Jesus; they bow down to him as they would to a superior king.
- The wise men bring Jesus kingly gifts.
- The angel warns Joseph that Jesus’ life is in danger and the family flees to Egypt.
- When Herod discovers that the wise men tricked him, he forms a more evil plan.
16Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:16-19
- Considering what history records of Herod the Great, this action is very characteristic of him.
- Herod regularly executed anyone he felt was a threat to his throne.
- Secular history does not record this event, but that is not surprising. Bethlehem was a small village. This is a small tragedy in comparison to Herod’s other atrocities.
19But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:19-23
- Joseph stays in Egypt until he has another dream.
- Herod the Great died in 4BC. Jesus was probably between 1-2 years old when the family fled to Egypt. He was probably between 3-4 years old when they returned. However, there are several conflicting theories about how to date these events.
- Herod the Great’s kingdom was split among his sons after his death.
- Archelaus who reigned over Judea (including Bethlehem) was such a tyrant that the people eventually revolted and the Romans deposed him. This is why by the time Jesus is grown Judea is ruled by a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, not a Jewish king.
- Galilee was controlled by a different son of Herod, Herod Antipas, who was not as much of a tyrant.
God plays an active supernatural part from beginning to end.
- It’s been 100s of years since there was a prophet in Israel, but now God is active again.
- God causes a virgin to conceive.
- God gives Joseph a dream explaining the importance of this child.
- God arranges for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem through the census.
- God arranges for pagan wise men to understand the significance of the star and know that the king has been born.
- God warns both Joseph and the magi in dreams to keep the child safe.
- God gives Joseph a dream to let him know it’s safe to return to Israel.
Matthew includes geography that will become important.
- Matthew explains how it came to be that even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was raised in Galilee.
- Matthew explains how Jesus fled to Egypt, but God brought him out of Egypt, a story with echoes of the Exodus.
- Matthew explains why Jesus was raised in Galilee.
- Matthew organizes his gospel as Jesus’ journey form Galilee to Jerusalem.
Matthew portrays the birth of Jesus as both big deal and not a big deal.
- On the one hand, God is actively supernaturally involved in the story. This is clearly a monumental event in redemptive history.
- On the other hand, Jesus’ miraculous birth leaves him open to charges of illegitimacy, few people know he’s even been born, he has to flee the country and then he’s raised in the middle of no where.
Matthew draws many parallels to the Old Testament.
- Matthew compares the flight to Egypt with the Exodus.
- The city of Bethlehem is David’s birthplace but also the place of tragedy when Herod kills the boys under age 2.
- The fact that Jesus is from Nazareth has prophetic significance.
- The Old Testament Joseph saves the family of Jacob (that will become the nation of Israel) by bringing them to Egypt. God accomplishes this in part through dreams.
- The New Testament Joseph saves the child Jesus (the hope of Israel) by taking him to Egypt. God accomplishes this in part through dreams.
- Ultimately in the Old Testament, a child (Moses) is born who will lead the people out of Egypt.
- Like Jesus, Moses’ life is threatened at birth.
- Like Jesus, Moses must also flee the land of his birth and live apart from his people because the rulers are trying to kill him.
- Compare Exodus 4:19 and Matthew 2:20.
- The story of the wise men echos 1 Kings 10:1-2; Isaiah 60:1-6.
- God has promised that the nations will bring tribute to the Messiah, just as earlier the Queen of Sheba brought such gifts to Solomon. In the magi, we see a foreshadowing of the day when all the nations will proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord and pay him tribute.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast