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Matthew 2:1-10 by Robert Dean
Evil, paranoid King Herod comes face-to-face with his worst fears when Persian king makers, called the Magi, inquire about a newborn king. Listen to this lesson to learn how these wise men may have known about the King of the Jews. Find out about the supernatural star which guided them to the very house where Jesus lived. See how the ghosts of Herod's past sent him into an insane rage and how he ordered the ruthless slaughter of young boys. Gain a thoughtful perspective on the religious leaders' indifference to the birth of the Messiah. Discover how God provided for Jesus' escape to Egypt and how God is still supplying all our needs today.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:53 mins 15 secs

Reception and Rejection of the King
Matthew 2:1-10
Matthew Lesson #006
October 6, 2013

In Luke chapter two we see the arrival of Jesus, the birth, His placement in a manger, which was not in a barn but in a house. That is not something that has been traditionally taught because only within the last twenty or thirty years as there has been more investigation from archaeology, the structure of homes from the first century, and also even today in the homes of many in the Arab world and in the Middle East there has been a place within the home where the prized possessions, the prized animals, will be brought in in inclement weather where they will have a place to bed down, and there is a feed trough there, which is what a manger is. So it is not necessary for Jesus to have been born in a barn or a cave.

In Matthew chapter two the emphasis continues to be on the royalty of Jesus, as opposed to Luke where the emphasis, by virtue of the shepherds coming, is more on His humanity. The genealogy in Luke traces Jesus' heritage all the way back to Adam, whereas the genealogy of Matthew just traces it back through David to Abraham. There is a different emphasis. In Luke Jesus is presented as the Son of Man, which emphasizes His universal role as savior, whereas in Matthew the emphasis is on Jesus as the Messiah, the son of David—His royalty. There are more quotes and allusions from the Old Testament in Matthew than in any of the other Gospels. We have to keep this in mind as we look at the episode of the visit of the Magi.

As we survey this chapter we see that these Magi arrive in Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews, and they go to Herod assuming that he might know where this child might be born. They show up on Herod's doorstep and this just scares paranoid Herod to death. He invites all of the religious leaders to come and answer the question as to where this child, this Messiah, would be born. They all say it is one place, which is a clear indication that in the first century Jews understood Micah 5:2 as a prophecy of location of the birth of the Messiah. It is very clear that they all agree upon that, but it doesn't get them very excited. They are not curious. They don't want to go along with the Magi to learn anything about this child. So we see an indifference on the part of the religious leaders to the arrival of the King. And that goes along with the hostility of the rejection of Herod of the arrival of the King.

Then as they focus on the location Herod enters into a little conspiratorial secret conference with the Magi, and in a very self-righteous and deceptive way tells them to go find Him and then come back and tell him so that he can worship Him too. They little knew that his real plan was to assassinate this little child so that there won't be any rivals to the throne. The Magi find the location of the child, and they worship Him, bringing gifts fit for royalty. They are warned by an angel of Herod's plot and go home by a different route. This is the overview.

There are several things to focus on here. There is an apparent indifference and lack of concern on the part of the religious leaders, which shadows their eventual hostility and rejection toward Jesus. We see the hostility and antagonism of Herod which foreshadows the future antagonism and rejection of the political and religious leaders in Israel. But both of those also foreshadow the ultimate hostility and rejection of much of the world down through the church age of the claims of Jesus of Nazareth. But on the other side we see the welcome reception of the Magi who are Gentile leaders. They represent a priest class. They came out of Persia and represent the positive response toward Jesus.

Matthew 2:1, 2 NASB "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, '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 couple of things are important in the structure here. This is all one sentence, at least down to the question mark. Then in the second half of verse 2 we have an explanation that tells us why they were looking for the King of the Jews. They had seen a star in the east, and their purpose is to come and worship Him. It is not clear in the English but if you have a knowledge of Greek it begins with a somewhat unusual grammatical construction which emphasizes a temporal marker. There is a similar construction at the beginning of verse 13, which tells us that basically this section should be broken into two dramatic episodes, the first emphasizing the arrival and the adoration of the Magi and the second dealing with the rejection of the Messiah from verse 13 down to the end of the chapter.

What happens at the beginning is that we are told, "after Jesus was born in Bethlehem." One of the issues that has come up over the years just what is the time relationship between the arrival of the Magi and the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the shepherds? Often when we look at nativity scenes everybody is there at the same time. Nobody knows how many Magi were there but the early church and the Eastern Orthodox Church says that there were twelve. There is no basis for twelve either but that works well with the twelve tribes of Israel, it is a biblical number that is used a lot. We don't know how many there were; we don't know when they arrived.

Traditionally there have been several arguments made that there was a large time difference between the birth of the child and the arrival of the shepherds and the Magi. One of those arguments is based on the word "child." The word "child" is paidion, which can refer to any child from the moment of birth up until early adolescence. So that doesn't indicate anything. Some have said that the word "infant", brephos, is used at the very beginning and then "child" indicates He has grown a little bit. It doesn't do that at all, the word paidion is used of Jesus after a week when He is taken into the temple for His circumcision. So that doesn't tell us anything.

The second argument is that the difference between being born in a manger and being in a house indicates again that time has transpired. That doesn't really work either.

Then the third argument is that Herod wants to assassinate every child from the age of two down. That is probably the strongest argument because as we read this particular story, when Herod goes into his conspiratorial conference with the Magi in v. 7 he wants to know when the star appeared. On the basis of that he determines to kill every infant from two and below. He exaggerates the age a little bit just to make sure that he gets the child. That is very possible. It is also likely that the star did not appear in the east to the Magi at the time of the birth, but preceded the time of the birth as an announcement that this is about to happen, giving them time to organize their caravan and to travel from Parthia to Jerusalem and Bethlehem for the time of the birth. The time of the appearing of the star really doesn't give us much of an indication.

The strongest indication is the grammatical construction at the beginning of the chapter—"After the birth of Jesus." But we don't know. It could have been a week, a month, six months or a year. It is doubtful that would be longer than that. The longer we put the timeframe here the more of a problem we have with Herod's life. Herod died in 4 BC and this means that Jesus was a year and a half then He was born close to five or six. Luke says later that Jesus began His public ministry when He was about thirty years of age. A lot of people haven't recognized the importance of the word "about" there and there are those who have taught that Jesus began right when He was thirty as a fulfillment of the Mosaic Law that priests begin their ministry at thirty. But priests did not have to begin their ministry on the day of their birthday, they just could not serve at a time when they were younger than thirty. So Jesus was somewhat more than thirty years of age when He began His ministry, but not so much closer to 35 or 40 because that "about thirty" wouldn't work.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and it is said "in the days of Herod the Great." Herod is called the Great primarily because of his mammoth architectural accomplishments. He was a master builder. He was also known for his severe paranoia. In the last few years of his life he was extremely deranged mentally. He believed that many of his relatives were conspiring against him and seeking to kill him. But one of the groups with whom he had his greatest fears, because of what had happened early in his reign, were the Parthians.

The Parthians were the heirs of the ancient Persian empire off to the east of Judea and Galilee. The Persians had been allied during the time of Daniel will a smaller ethnic group called the Medes. Among the Medes were various tribes, one of which was called the Magoi—the Magi. They were a priestly tribe that by the time of the Babylonian empire and the Persian empire had risen to a position of significance and prominence, in the political structure especially, of the Parthian empire. We see an indication of their presence in Jeremiah 39:3, 13 at the time of the Babylonian empire. They are coming to Jerusalem to besiege it, and in Jeremiah there is a list of the leaders who came to present their mandates to the leaders in Jerusalem. Among these titles of the leaders in the Rabmag, and also another title, Rabsaris. It is that first part of the word Rab which indicates the chief, the leader. The second syllable, mag. Is the abbreviated form of Magi. Later it is translated in Daniel as the chief of the magicians. It is really the chief of the Magi.

The Magi tribe was part of their priestly religion focused upon astrology, astronomy and mathematics, and they studied the stars and predicted the future. In Daniel 4:9 the Aramaic name given to Daniel by the Babylonians was Belteshazzar. And after he successfully interpreted the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar he was elevated to a position over all of what is translated as magicians instead of the Persian word Magi. But that is the same word. He is the Rabmag. He becomes the chief of the Magi. That is important because when we get to the time of Jesus we ask how these men find out about Jesus. How did they find out about the Jewish Messiah, and why did they want to come and worship the Jewish Messiah? The answer is that there was a tradition within their tribal history of Daniel who at one time had been the chief of the Magi. And from what we know about Daniel, Daniel would not have died without teaching them about Hebrew prophecies about the Messiah and communicating the gospel as he knew it from within an Old Testament framework. So there would have been a tradition of Old Testament Gentile believers within the tribe of the Magi in the Old Testament period.

Bringing this forward into the time of Herod we need to understand some things that happened in Herod's past. Herod was the grandson of Antipater an Idumean. He's an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Edom was another name for Esau, the brother of Jacob. Herod's father had married a Jewish woman and because of that is half Jewish and half Idumean, but he wasn't well loved by the Jews.

In 63 BC, some 60 years before Jesus was born, the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem. Then he went on east and attacked the Parthians. By 55 BC when Crassus came along and followed him and then attacked the Parthians, the Parthians cleaned the Roman clock, and the Romans were never able to push east and defeat the Parthians. By 40 BC the Parthians gained control of Jerusalem and established a Jewish leader by the name of Antigonus as a puppet ruler in Jerusalem. Herod had been appointed ruler. Antipater died and Herod became the ruler. Now Herod has to flee for his life: the Parthians had a price on his head. Herod went first to Masada where he put his family, and then he went to Egypt and entered into an alliance with Cleopatra. Then he left there and went to Rome to get Caesar's help and came back with an army. As a result of his victory Augustus gave him the title King of the Jews. But he is not a Davidic king. He had no right to that title; he wasn't a descendant of king David at all. 

He had a remarkable rule for a number of reasons. He was also rather harsh and paranoid. But he always had this paranoid fear about the Parthians. There were a lot of conspiracies that would take place. There were a lot of Jews who hated Herod and so they would constantly get involved with conspiracies with the Parthians. And there were two or three times when the Parthians attacked the Romans and tried to regain control of Judea and Galilee, and so Herod was just scared to death of the Parthians.

Going back to the Magi, what happened through the Parthian empire was that as things developed the Magi became more and more powerful until they became a sort of council which elected or approved the election of each new king of Parthia. So they became known as king-makers. No one gained any power politically without the approval of the Magi. And now we have a scenario in 4 BC when the Magi show up in Jerusalem and these Parthian king-makers knock on Herod's door.

Some have suggested that there may have been as many as fifty to one hundred in the party because they would have been travelling through hostile territory and they were going into Jerusalem and into the Roman empire which was an enemy. And so they would not have been just three men travelling alone but there would have been a sizeable group with armed men in order to provide protection and security.

Herod gets this knock on the door and it is these Parthian king-makers whom he is scared to death of. They are looking for the king of the Jews and it is not him! How is he going to react to that? There were always these Jewish conspiracies to get rid of him, and now this.

We also read that these Magi (translated wise men in the KJV and NKJV) were from the east. That is a key word because later on they say, "We saw a star in he east." There is all this debate that the star arose in the east. If they were in Parthia how would a star in the east get them into the west? All of these references to east are talking about these Magi are from somewhere in the east. What got their attention, we see in Matthew 2:2, is that they saw His star in the east. This star that they saw was not an astral phenomena because eventually it is this start that is going to point out a particular dwelling place where the Messiah is located. This is a different kind of star because it is going to indicate a specific house, and individual house, without any confusion. That shows that it is not something that is natural or normal. It is something that is supernatural, and I believe that the best explanation is that this start is a representation of the Shekinah glory that marks out the exact location of the birth of Jesus. 

At times some people have suggested that the star in the heavens when it first appeared was different. But when we look at verse 9 we are told: "After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east …" This clearly identifies it as the same star, the one they had seen in the east that had started them upon their journey.

This star is related to an Old Testament prophecy. Numbers 24:17 NASB "Num 24:17 "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth."

This is a messianic prophecy. There are two or three different views of this but in the ancient Targums and rabbinical literature going back to the second temple period this was clearly understood as a messianic prophecy. It wasn't talking about the house of David, it wasn't talking about any other event; it was specifically talking about the Messiah. Judah was one of Jacob's sons, and Judah is the one of whom it is predicted that the scepter will not depart from his tribe. So we now see a scepter will rise out of Israel. We know from Genesis chapter forty-nine that this scepter comes out of the tribe of Judah, so Numbers 24 is borrowing imagery from Genesis 49. "… and crush the forehead of Moab." This, too, is borrowing from ancient prophecy that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. So these prophecies that we see in the Old Testament tend to pick up and borrow imagery and language from previous messianic prophecies to enable us to put the picture together.

There are two allusions here that are clearly messianic, the scepter and crushing the forehead of Moab. Moab and Edom are closely related in biblical prophecy. In the ancient world during the time of the Old Testament Israel defeated Moab and Edom on several occasions but there was never a final and total defeat of Moab and Edom. In fact, at the time of the birth of Jesus Herod is an Edomite. But this prophecy in Numbers written by Moses around 1404 BCerod is an Edomote. Is then echoed and the themes are picked up in Amos 9:11, 12, which again is a messianic prophecy (and also in Acts 15). NASB "In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David [Davidic dynasty], And wall up its breaches …" The damage is the split between the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. So the Messiah is going to come and repair their damages, the disunity of the northern and southern tribes.  " … I will also raise up its [singular masculine] ruins …" That is, the ruins of the Davidic dynasty. " … And rebuild it as in the days of old …" So there is a significant messianic prophecy here that the Davidic king is going to come and restore the nation in unity, and reestablish the Davidic dynasty.

What is the purpose for this? " … 'That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name,' Declares the LORD who does this." Edom and Moab go together. This represents the final defeat of Edom and Moab. When does that occur? It is still in the future when the Messiah comes to establish His kingdom.

So this star is a significant prophetic sign of the arrival of the messianic King who will restore unity to Israel and establish His kingdom. 

Matthew 2:3 NASB "When Herod the king heard {this,} he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." The word "trouble" in the Greek is tarrasso, which indicates worry and anxiety. It is used at times in the book of Acts to describe when the Jews would stir up the crowds against Paul and his associates for proclaiming the gospel. Herod just goes off the charts. And all Jerusalem with him, because they know that if Herod is upset who knows what is going to happen? 

Matthew 2:4 NASB "Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. [5] They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet.'" There is no sign of dispute. They all agree. This tells us that in he first century they understood Micah 5:2 to be a messianic prophecy. [6] 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'"

Micah 5:2 NASB "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, {Too} little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel…" That is all Matthew quotes. That part comes from 2 Samuel 5:2, also a messianic prophecy, "You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel." The last part, "His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity", isn't quoted.  

Once Herod learned this he entered into a little conspiracy. He gathered the Magi together to enquire when the star appeared because he is going to kill all the babies.

Matthew 2:9 NASB "After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over {the place} where the Child was. [10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."

Matthew 2:11 NASB "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."

This would be the same place where Jesus born, it doesn't have to be a separate location. They fell down and worshipped Him; they didn't fall down and worship Mary. Mary is superficial to the events of what is taking place. The Bible presents Mary as just another human being. It doesn't give any special significance to Mary other than the fact that she was chosen by grace to be the mother of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word for worship means to bow the knee. It is not just saying that they bowed the knee because falling down would cover that. Bowing the knee emphasizes their act of obedience and submission to the authority of Jesus as the King.

The gifts of frankincense and myrrh were extremely rare and expensive in the ancient world. And it is vey likely that the possession of these extremely expensive items is what enabled Joseph and Mary to live because right after this Joseph is warned by an angel to leave Bethlehem because of Herod, and they go to Egypt. This is another indication that God is the one who supplies our needs, takes care of us, and provides the resources we need in order to fulfill His plan for our life. The primary emphasis here is that these were gifts for royalty. Jesus is a King and He is being worshipped by these king-makers from Parthia.

Matthew 2:12 NASB "And having been warned {by God} in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way [13] Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.'"

Herod is going to send his army down into Bethlehem to kill every infant under the age of two. But God protected the young infant Jesus. That very night Joseph and Mary departed for Egypt, and they were there until the death of Herod as a fulfillment of prophecy. 

Mathew emphasizes Jesus as the King. If Jesus is the King, He is the boss. That means He is the one who has authority over our lives. Just as these Parthian king-makers were submissive to Jesus and the authority of God, the primary lesson for us is that we too need to make sure that we are submissive to God's authority in our lives. That means we need to know the Word, and we need to keep His commandments in the Word—not the Ten Commandments but the mandates for church age believers in the church age.