Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
(a) Bethlehem; see entry for Matt. 2:5.
(b) Herod the king. There were many Herods, but this Herod was Herod the Great (37–4BC), one of the most ruthless and ambitious politicians in the Bible. Governor of Galilee and then king of Judea, Herod had ten wives, lots of sons, and all the paranoia that comes from being surrounded by people with a claim to your throne.
Ruling the Jews was always going to be a tricky business for Herod since he was believed to be an Idumean, a descendent of Esau. Yet he impressed the Jews with his industry and political savvy. He built fortresses, palaces, aqueducts, and he completed construction of the massive temple complex in Jerusalem – truly one of the architectural wonders of the first-century. He kept the Romans from raiding the temple, but in his later years he became increasingly cruel.
(c) The magi or wise men are among the most mysterious men in history. We know almost nothing about them except they came from the east and they studied the stars. Whether they were Persian astrologers, Chinese astronomers, or something else, we do know that God miraculously conveyed to them the good news of his Son. Their reverent and joyful response to Jesus has been emulated by wise men and women ever since.
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
(a) King of the Jews. The angel Gabriel may have been the first New Testament figure to recognize Jesus as a king (Luke 1:32–33), but the magi were a close second. Others who recognized Jesus as a king included the disciples (Luke 19:38), the palm-waving people of Jerusalem (John 12:13), Paul and Silas (Acts 17:7), and the seventh angel (Rev. 11:15).
During his earthly ministry, Jesus rarely referred to himself in such royal terms (Matt. 21:5, 25:34, Mark 15:2, Luke 22:29-30, 23:3, John 18:36-37).
(b) His star. Was the Star of Bethlehem a comet, a supernova, or a conjunction of planets? Was it an angel or a piece of literary license? Nobody knows, but these are just some of the explanations that have been explored by scientists and artists. What most Christians can agree on was that the star was a miraculous sign that brought the wise men to the very door of the newborn king.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
Bethlehem. The village of Bethlehem is known as the Cradle of Christianity because Jesus was born there (Matt. 2:1). Bethlehem was also the home of King David (1 Sam 16:1, 17:15) and Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth (Ruth 1:1, 19).
The prophet. The religious leaders understood that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem in the district of Ephrathah because of a 700-year-old prophecy from Micah. “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times” (Mic. 5:2).
After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
(a) Mary His mother. All four Gospel writers refer to Mary as the mother of Jesus. See entry for Matt. 1:18.
(b) Gifts. When Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary were too poor to bring anything but a poor man’s offering to the temple (Luke 2:24). But they did not remain poor for long. The lavish gifts of the wise men would have supported them for years easily providing for their flight to and from Egypt.
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.
(a) The magi; see entry for Matt. 2:1.
(b) Bethlehem; see entry for Matt. 2:5.
(c) Two years old. Jesus was born during the final years of the reign of Herod the Great. Herod probably died in 4BC, but this is far from certain. There is also some debate whether the wise men visited Jesus when he was a newborn or an infant. Since Herod ordered the murder of boys aged 2 years and younger, it’s possible that Jesus was no longer a newborn by the time the magi visited.
Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
Jeremiah spoke of “Rachel weeping for her children” because her children were no more (Jer. 31:15). Rachel is another name for Bethlehem, the burial site of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel (Gen. 35:19). The children who are no more are the infants slaughtered by Herod.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee,
(a) Archelaus. Herod Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great who was appointed ethnarch of Judea by Caesar Augustus. Prior to being crown, Archelaus had order the slaughter of 3000 “seditionist” Jews at the temple. Consequently, when Archelaus sailed to Rome to have his coronation confirmed, but his own brother Antipas, along with many of the Jews in Rome, opposed him. Jesus seems to have alluded to this event in his parable of the minas (Luke 19:14).
(b) He was afraid to go there. The Herodians were no friends of Jesus. Herod the Great had tried to murder him and Herod Antipas would later try to do the same (see Luke 13:31).
(c) His father Herod; see entry for Matt. 2:1.
and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
(a) A Nazarene was someone from Nazareth, a Galilean town of little consequence, and another word for branch or root. In Judea, Jesus was known as the Nazarene (Mark 10:47, 14:67, 16:6, Luke 24:19, John 18:5, 7, 19:19, Acts 2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14). Jesus referred to himself as the Nazarene (Acts 22:8).
(b) The prophets. Isaiah said the Messiah would come from the stump of David’s father Jesse (Is. 11:1).
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