Matthew’s infancy stories are different from Luke (who does not record the visit of the Magi, the flight to Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocents). Matthew stresses God’s protection of the child Jesus. Chapter
The chapter begins with the visit of the Magi—the mysterious wise men from a distant land who have come to worship the newborn king. By their visit, Matthew will show that Jesus is Lord of all people—both Jews and Gentiles since important men came from a distant Gentile country to worship the infant Jesus.
On the other side, it is the chosen people, the Jews, and their king Herod, who neglect Christ, while the Gentiles come to worship Him. Even the religious leaders, who knew the most, still failed to act upon what they knew (
Now after Jesus had been born Jesus had already been born when this episode occurs. How long before, we do not know.
in Bethlehem This is the first indication of a place name in Matthew. He now tells us where Jesus was born—Bethlehem, the city of David, as opposed to another Bethlehem located in the Galilee (
of Judea This indicates the southern part of the Holy Land as opposed to Samaria. Judea can also refer to the territory east of Jordan (
in the days of Herod the king Herod the Great (73 B.C. to 4 B.C.) was not a Jew—his father an Idumean and his mother Arabian. The Roman senate had made him king of Judea in 40 B.C. Although Herod was a great builder (including the enlargement of the temple) and had been occasionally generous to the Jewish people he eventually lost favor with them. His mixed lineage with his Edomite blood would have made him unacceptable to the people (see
Herod became increasing cruel toward the end of his reign. Thinking that his own family was about to overthrow him he murdered one of his wives (Mariamne), her mother, two of her sons, and his own eldest son. This led the Roman Emperor Augustus to comment that it would be safer to be Herod’s pig (hus in Greek) than his son (huios).
Generally he is thought to have died in the year 4 B.C. but E. L. Martin (The Birth of Christ Recalculated, 1978,) has recently argued that Herod’s death was in 1 B.C. and Jesus birth in the late summer of 2 B.C.. The date of 1 B.C. for the death of Herod is also held by Jack Finegan in the revision of his standard work “Handbook of Biblical Chronology.”
Our system of dating, B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (the Latin Anno Domini —in the year of our Lord), was worked out by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus at the beginning of the sixth century. This change in the calendar moved the western world away from the previous dating—according to the founding of Rome. He appears to have been about four years off in his calculations.
Herod was a tyrant but he earned the title of “the Great” by being a great builder. He rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (20 B.C.), rebuilt Samaria (which he renamed Sebaste in honor of the emperor) and other significant works. The title “king” here and in verse three stands in contrast to the Magi’s reference to the king of the Jews.
behold, Magi The word Magi has four general meanings:
- Members of the Persian priestly class
- Possessors of supernatural knowledge and power
- A magician
- A deceiver or seducer
Here the word probably denotes astrologers, men who gained special insight into world affairs from their observation of the planets and stars (hence the common translation “wise men”) These men were students of the stars.
The emphasis in Matthew, however, is on the fact that they were Gentiles. To the Jews the Gentiles were to be foreign to God’s plan and purposes. In his gospel, Matthew will repeatedly call attention to the Gentiles responding where the Jews do not (
The word “magi” is also used in
arrived from the East They came from the direction of the East, therefore they were moving West. Their exact location is left unstated. Three possibilities are usually given:
- Parthia (Modern day Iran)
Babylon had a settled Jewish community and seems the most likely candidate (cf.
The Magi are unfamiliar the Micah passage in gives the birth place of the Messiah. This Scripture was cited by the High Priest and scribes. The Magi make the natural assumption that the new king was to be born in the capital city, not in some small village.
Later tradition pictured these wise men as kings, three in number matching the three different gifts they brought. The Armenian Infancy Gospel (late 6th century A.D.) gives them names: Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchoir.
The visit of the Magi is commemorated in the celebration called Epiphany (January 6). This is also referred to as the Twelfth Day of Christmas.
into Jerusalem. Therefore they went to Jerusalem. They do not go to Herod, but are only summoned to do so (vs.
saying, “Where is He? This sentence is the only recorded utterance of the Magi. This is the first question recorded in the New Testament. Compare this to first question God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?”
When Adam sinned he attempted to hide from God, but God came after the straying sinner and asked him his whereabouts. Now the answer to the sin problem, that brought about by Adam, is found in the One whom the Magi ask His whereabouts, “Where is He?”
who has been born king of the Jews? Jesus is the true king of the Jews. He is not “born to be king” but He is the newborn king. We find phrase “king of the Jews” again in the passion narrative when Jesus is ridiculed (
The title of king has political overtones because of the Jewish expectation of a political Messiah. This, however, will go against the angel’s explanation of Jesus’ coming (
Here it has obvious Messianic significance. Herod will rephrase the question, “Where is the Christ to be born?” The scriptural answer is then given.
For we observed His star The ancients believed that comets and falling stars were omens of the fall of rulers. There are cases where some Roman emperors were banished because of the predictions by the astrologers. By this time, many Jews accepted this idea that the stars could accurately predict the future. Though these Magi were pagans, God used this method of revealing Himself in this one specific instance though the Scriptures clearly forbade any type of predicting from the stars (
The star refers to some unknown astronomical phenomena that linked this star with the king of the Jews. The Magi do not explain the link. The star could have been some natural phenomena. Suggestions along this line include:
- The conjunction of planets (Jupiter and Saturn came into line in 7-6 B.C. in the constellation of Pisces).
- A comet (Halley’s passed in 12-11 B.C)
- A supernova (exploding star).
- E.L. Martin attempts to account for this by the movement and standing still of Jupiter.
There is, of course, always the possibility, that the star was a strictly supernatural phenomenon and that people look in vain for some natural explanation.
Whatever the case may be, the Magi understood it as a sign of the fulfillment of the promise of a coming Jewish king. Hence, they set off for Jerusalem. Jesus is referred to elsewhere in the New Testament as “the rising star” (
Matthew may have had in mind the story of Balaam’s prophecy of the rising star out of Jacob (
at its rising, This is not the direction (East). This is the unique astronomical feature that convinced them something special had happened.
and we have come to worship Him.” In the New Testament the word translated worship can be an act of reverence to a great man (
Note on a variant reading: One manuscript does not have all.
When King Herod heard this The repetition of the word ” highlights the problem. Another king? The non-Jew Herod had been made king by the Romans and now the genuine king of the Jews may have arrived.
he was troubled King Herod’s later years were plagued by fear of rivals and the idea of a new king being born would have upset him greatly. Furthermore, at that time, there was a widespread expectation that a universal king would appear and bring about an age characterized by peace and prosperity.
and all of Jerusalem with him . The city here is personified as it often is in the Old Testament. It is unknown why the whole city was also troubled. It is possibly because of Herod’s reaction or they may have expected trouble immediately before the reign of the Messiah. Whatever the public excitement around the arrival of the Magi and their question about the newborn king, it leads to nothing for we read of it no further in the narrative.
This may refer to the Jewish leaders who would later reject Jesus, persecute Him and eventually hand Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. If this is what is in mind, then this phrase could anticipate the eventual rejection of Jesus by the nation (cf.
Note on a variant reading: A few manuscripts do not have the phrase from them.
And after gathering together It is unlikely the term for gathering together is a reference to the Jewish synagogue. There is nothing sinister here, as some people have tried to argue.
all the chief priests The term is used for more than just the one high priest. It can have reference to the captain of temple, the leader of weekly priests, the past high priests, or the family of ruling high priest. We learn from Josephus there were 28 High Priests from the time of Herod until the fall of Jerusalem. They were appointed by either the Romans or the Herodian princes. Herod himself appointed seven. These High Priests were chosen, for the most part, from a few aristocratic families—the Sadducees. According to the usual chronology of the life of Jesus, the High Priest at His birth was either Matthias son of Theophilus or Joasar son of Boethos (Josephus, Antiquities , XVII, iv. 2, vi. 4).
and scribes of the people The scribes could be learned scholars of the law they were experts in the law of Moses. Herod assembled these experts with whom he was on bad terms. The fact that Matthew speaks of Herod assembling the Sanhedrin has caused some to doubt the truthfulness of this passage as McNeile notes:
The summoning of the whole Sanhedrin for this purpose is open to grave doubt. Not only is Herod said to have begun his reign with a massacre of its members (Jos. Ant. XIV. ix. 4), —he certainly reduced its importance and influence to a minimum—but he could have easily asked the question privately of a single Scribe. The narrative emphasizes the zeal of the foreigners who sought the Messiah, in contrast with the indifference of the official rulers (McNeile, p. 15).
he began to inquire from them. Herod was inquiring, or continued to inquire (the imperfect tense in Greek refers to continuous action in past time).
where the Christ is to be born. Not the king but where the Messiah is to be born. The verb is in the present tense in Greek with the emphasis on the certainty of the event.
Note on a variant reading. Some manuscripts have the word Micah after the word prophet. One Latin manuscript reads through Isaiah the prophet saying.
And they said to him, “In Bethlehem Notice they do not consult the stars, but rather the Scriptures when they want to find where He will be born. They knew the predicted place for the Messiah’s birth, so their failure to believe was not due to ignorance.
of Judea This is contrasted to the Bethlehem in the Galilee area.
for thus it is written by the prophet: This Scripture is found in
Note on a variant reading. Some manuscripts read of Judea instead of land of Judah. A few manuscripts read land of the Jews.
And you Bethlehem, They quote Scripture for the answer—
in the land of Judah, Again to make the distinction between the other Bethlehem located in the Galilee.
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; This word is inserted by Matthew to show Bethlehem’s greatness. It is not part of the prophecy from Micah or 2 Samuel.
for out of you No other city had this promise. This one city was singled out from all the cities on earth.
will come a ruler The Messiah would come out of Bethlehem.
who will shepherd The leader is not specified as the Messiah but as the one who will shepherd Israel.
My people Israel.’ Jesus, the Son of David, was born in the city of David, and like David, He will ruler over God’s people.
Though the religious rulers knew where the Messiah was to be born they acted neither positively (as did the Magi,
Then Herod, after he had secretly summoned the Magi Herod summons them privately, he wants no undue publicity, and finds out the exact date when the star made its appearance.
found out from them the time the star appeared. He gives no reason why he asked, but obviously it is to determine the age of the young child.
And he sent them to Bethlehem Herod dispatches them to Bethlehem—the place where the Scripture says the Messiah will be born.
and said, ”Go and search carefully for the child; The question arises as to why Herod did not send troops. Most likely, he had no doubt the Magi would return and tell him the exact location of the child. Furthermore, the sight of soldiers coming with them would have jeopardized their chances of finding the child.
and as soon as you find Him, report to me, He wants to know the exact location and identity of this new king if indeed He does exist.
so that I too may come and worship Him.” The Magi have no way of knowing that Herod is lying about his intent.
Note on a Variant Reading: Instead of the place where the child was two manuscripts read of the child.
And after they heard the king, they went away; The Magi, not knowing the real intentions of Herod, go their way to find the Christ child in accordance with the kings’ wishes. We note the irony of the situation—the Jewish religious leaders made no attempt to follow through on the possibility that this child might be the long-awaited Messiah. The first to understand were Gentiles who came from a far away land. Even at this early stage of Matthew’s gospel we see the universal implications of Jesus’ coming to the earth. He will be the Savior of the entire world.
and behold the star which they saw at its rising The astronomical phenomena they saw in their own country again appeared to them.
was going before them The fact that it was going before them (imperfect tense in Greek which indicates continuous action in past time) denotes something supernatural. No natural phenomena could explain this.
The text may be implying that the star only appeared to move due to the movement of the Magi. Since Bethlehem was only a few miles from Jerusalem any distance the star moved would have been unnoticeable unless it was only about a mile high. The point is that the movement was supernatural.
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. Again, there is no way to explain this on a natural level. The idea that the star would lead them to the very house where Jesus was living was no problem for the ancients—a star was said to lead Aeneas to the spot where Rome was founded (Virgil, Aeneid 2.694ff.).
The idea of a supernatural sign leading the Magi would have the Matthew’s readers recalling how the Israelites were led in the Exodus by the cloud and the fire (
Justin Martyr said Jesus was born in a cave that served as a stall for cattle and donkeys. It would have been beneath the inn on the side of a hill (Mounce, p. 20).
And when they saw the star, The star now reappears.
they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. They were exceedingly happy that their long journey was over.
Note on a Variant Reading: Instead of they saw a few manuscripts read they found.
And when they came unto the house, They are now in a house, not in the manger. Matthew tells us nothing about the manger story or that the previous residence of Joseph and Mary was in Nazareth (
they saw the child The child is mentioned first, before His mother. The Greek word translated child can refer to an infant. Jesus was not necessarily an older child at this time. The same term used in
with Mary His mother, There is silence concerning Joseph. Matthew emphasizes Mary’s special importance (see
and falling down they worshipped Him. Though not specifically alluded to by Matthew,
And then they opened their gifts These are gifts fit for a king. All nations will serve the king and offer Him gifts.
of gold, Gold is mentioned in
and of incense,
and of myrrh. Myrrh is also a gift fit for a king (
The decoding of the gifts, i.e. gold and incense means Deity, and myrrh is equal to suffering, is not relevant to Matthew’s intention though it remains a popular way of viewing the gifts brought by the Magi.
Then, being divinely instructed This is a common term used of divine revelations, injunctions, and warnings.
in a dream not to return to Herod, Matthew stresses the continuing control of God’s providence. Revelation by dreams was a regular feature in the culture to which these Magi belonged. God’s use of their astrological and cultural background does not imply His endorsement of their practices. The star initially did not lead them, the star only got their attention as to the fact that the Messiah had been born.
they departed through another way into their own country. They went back to their unknown country through an unknown way. The key thought is that they bypassed Jerusalem. Mounce makes the following interesting observation:
By secular observation these gentile astrologers had discerned the coming of the Jewish Messiah, sought him out in order to worship him, and now in obedience to a divine visitation return home without making contact with the religious authorities. All this time the religious leaders of Jerusalem know from their own Scriptures where the Messiah is to be born. But not even the visit of foreign dignitaries piques their curiosity enough to find out if there is any truth in the report. As Jesus later said, “I have come into the world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (
John 9:39) (Mounce, p. 16).
The story of the Magi shows that Gentiles, unlike the Jews, were receptive to the Jewish king. This speaks of the future blessing for all nations, not just Israel which is in keeping with God’s promises to Abraham (
The church in the West did not miss the importance of the Magi’s visit. Before they began to celebrate Christmas, they already celebrated Epiphany (January 6) which celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
This introduces a theme that will occur throughout the Gospel—the presence of the Messianic king demands decision and therefore causes division between the ones who reject and accept Him. We note, for example, the opposite reactions of Herod and the Magi. Furthermore this passage stresses the link with David by showing His birth to be in David’s city Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy though His home will be in Nazareth (explained in the next passage).
The narrative of the Magians is rich in spiritual significance. It affords a type of early history of Christianity: the Son of God was revealed ‘to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile’—to the mother and Joseph first, and also to the foreign astrologers. This, as Zahn says, is heard throughout the gospel,
7:10-12; 12:18-21; 15:24-28; 24:14; 28:19. He was revealed to the humble and ignorant first, and then to the honorable and learned; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26. To the poor first, and then to the rich; to the West first, and then to the East. It also has other lessons: He was revealed to astrologers by a method suited to their habits and understanding. And their object in coming to Jesus was not personal advantage, but solely to give Him homage (McNeile, p. 22).
After the Magi depart Joseph is warned in a dream to take his family and leave Bethlehem for Egypt. They will remain there until the death of Herod.
Note on a variant reading: One manuscript (Vaticanus) has into their country after departed.
Now when they had departed, With the Magi now gone, God will providentially intervene with Joseph.
behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, Joseph is again warned in a dream. This is a recurring theme in the first two chapters. In the ancient world dreams were viewed as a form of communication with the unseen realm. Ancient cultures had professionals who would interpret dreams (see
saying, “Get up and take the child and His mother, The child and his mother is a stock phrase.
and flee into Egypt, This was out of the jurisdiction of Herod. Egypt, particularly since the days of the Maccabees was a place of asylum for Jews.
and stay there until I tell you; They would be divinely instructed when to return.
for Herod is about to search for the child There is immediate danger.
to destroy Him. The threat is consistent with what we know of Herod’s character. This same verb, translated “destroy”, also occurs in the passion narrative
And he arose, took the child and His mother As always, Joseph’s obedience is immediate. Note the order in which they are listed; even in His infancy Jesus is given priority over everyone else.
by night, This stresses the immediacy of the need. The fact that they left by night would have made their escape impossible to trace. Leaving at night would also evoke memories of the night Exodus (
for Egypt. At this time every large city in Egypt had a group of Jews living there.
Note on a variant reading: One Syriac manuscript reads through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet instead of the prophet.
And he remained there He refers to Jesus.
until the death of Herod, This would have occurred some years later. “Herod died shortly before Passover, in March-April 4 B.C. According to apocryphal tradition, the sojourn in Egypt lasted seven years” (Hill, p. 85). It is possible that Jesus could have been born as early as 7 B.C. The fact that Herod ordered the slaughter of all the children two years and under lends possibility to that date.
that it might be fulfilled This is the third of Matthew’s fulfillment quotations.
that which was spoken by the Lord The ultimate source.
through the prophet, The prophet is the intermediate source.
saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” The reference is
Hosea is referring to the actual Exodus and not making a prophecy about the future. Therefore the fulfillment would be typical of two great moments of redemptive history: (1) the Exodus of the nation from Egypt and (2) the Exodus of the Holy family from Egypt. Matthew connects them to form a larger unity.
The earlier is a foreshadow of the latter. Israel, and God’s Son Jesus are both in Egypt of necessity and are both delivered by divine provision. Matthew sees Jesus living out and summing up the history of Israel.
In Egypt, in the Exodus, and in the wilderness, Jesus is the embodiment of Israel. He not only anticipates her victories but He also shares in her sufferings (cf.
It should also be noted that the place where the Lord was crucified (Jerusalem) was spiritually called Egypt (
The murderous king Herod, seeing that the Magi tricked him, now orders the slaughter of the innocent male children in the area of Bethlehem.
Then Herod, after seeing that he had been tricked by the Magi, After some time had elapsed, Herod realized that the Magi were not returning.
became exceedingly angry, Herod’s anger is not solely based on the Magi’s failure to return. His evil intent began the first time he heard of the rival king being born. Obviously this anger intensified when they did not return.
and then he sent out Notice Matthew places the responsibility for these murders directly on Herod.
and killed all the male children in Bethlehem Since he was unable to determine whether the child actually exists and, if so, where he might be found, Herod takes no chances. He sends his troops to kill every male infant.
and in all their regions, Herod gives himself an extra measure of assurance.
from age two and beneath, The total dead would be about 20 male children, given a population of about 1,000 at that time along with the infant mortality rate.
The early church tended to exaggerate the number (Byzantine tradition set it at 14,000, Syrian at 64,000 and some even equated it with the 144,000 of Revelation 14!).
Herod’s ruthlessness knew no bounds when it came to protecting his throne. He had already executed his own wife Mariamne and his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus in 6 or 7 B.C.
Thereafter he executed his son Antipater (Josephus, Antiquities 16.11.7; 17.7) as well as a large group of conspirators.
So there would be widespread mourning at his death, Herod ordered that a member of every family was to be killed when he died (Josephus, Antiquities 17.6.6.). Fortunately, this order was never carried out.
according to the time he had ascertained from the Magi. Two years was probably more than sufficient time, allowing for the time the Magi originally had seen the star. The Magi may have observed it long before they arrived in Jerusalem.
Mounce comments upon the lack of historical corroboration to the slaughter of the innocents.
That Herod would certainly carry out such a savage plan is not surprising. We already know that he murdered members of his own family, and, after all, Bethlehem was a tiny little village with not more than twenty or thirty children of that age. That Josephus the historian (or any other early writer) neglects to mention the slaughter tells us more about the cruelty of that day than it does about any lack of historicity of the event. Such purges were simply not noteworthy (Mounce, p. 18).
Note on a variant reading: Two manuscripts have by the Lord after spoken.
Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, Herod’s wrong action is seen as fulfilling prophecy. The quotation is introduced with a fulfillment statement with one part obviously missing, “in order that.”
All other formula quotations of Matthew have this word (“in order that”) which expresses the purpose. The only other exception is
Note on a variant reading. Many manuscripts have lamentation before weeping and great mourning.
A voice was heard in Ramah, Ramah has no importance as a place name. The tomb of Rachel is in Ramah (cf.
weeping and great mourning. The quotation is from
There is also another tradition, possibly current in Matthew’s day, that Rachel’s tomb was on the outskirts of Bethlehem (see
If Matthew had this also in mind, then Rachel was weeping for the slain infants in Bethlehem in the larger context of joy because the Messiah has been born in the same small town.
Rachel weeping for her children Rachel weeps bitterly because of the fate of the exiles. Yet the larger context in Jeremiah is one of hope, deliverance, and fulfillment (
and not willing to be comforted, No one could console her at the loss of these infants.
because they are no more.” As there was deliverance from the Exile patterned after deliverance from Egypt in the Exodus, so God now brings Messianic deliverance. The weeping mothers of Bethlehem and Rachel’s weeping for the exiles corresponds to the larger context in each story that the Messiah will deliver His people. Again we have Jesus summing up the whole experience of Israel. Note further the geographical significance of the first three quotations of Matthew. They involve the city of David (Bethlehem), the land of the Exodus (Egypt), and the mourning of the exiles to Babylon.
Note also that Matthew also highlights the differences between two kings, the pretender and the rightful one. Herod was selfish while Jesus was self-denying and self-sacrificing (
After Herod’s death the family returns to Israel. However because Herod’s son is ruling Judea in his father’s place Joseph takes the family and settles in Nazareth.
But after the death of Herod, Approximately 4 B.C. but of the exact time we are not certain. It could have been closer to 1 B.C.
behold, the angel of the Lord Again the angel of the Lord appears.
appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, His death signified not only the return of the Holy Family but also of others who had fled from his tyranny. We find similar language is used to refer to the death of Pharaoh (
saying, “Arise and take the child and His mother, Joseph is commanded to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel.
and go to the land of Israel; From Egypt back to Israel just like the Exodus.
for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” This statement is almost verbatim with
Note on a variant reading: Many manuscripts read came instead of entered into.
And he rose up and took the child and His mother, Joseph again immediately obeys.
and entered into the land of Israel. They go back to the land they started from.
But when he heard that Archelaus When Herod died Archelaus, his eldest son, was placed over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea.
was ruling in Judea His rule, however, did not extend to the Galilee.
in place of his father Herod, These kings were succeeded by their own relatives.
he became afraid to return there. The fear of Archelaus was justified. However confirmation of his kingship was withheld by Augustus until Archelaus proved himself. The confirmation never occurred because Archelaus began his reign by slaughtering 3000 prominent citizens. He was removed by the emperor two years later. Though another son of Herod ruled over the Galilee (Herod Antipas) he was a more tolerant ruler. Galilee became known in his day as a place for revolutionary sentiments. This is something his father never would have tolerated.
And having been warned in a dream The recurring theme of the dreams continue.
he withdrew into the region of the Galilee. Matthew again stresses God’s providential protection. The geographical sequence is Israel‐Galilee‐Nazareth. It is in Galilee where Jesus will begin His ministry (
Note on a variant reading: Nazareth is spelled differently in some manuscripts.
and he came and lived in the city called Nazareth, The family now settles in Nazareth. Matthew has already accounted for Galilee as the place where Jesus’ ministry began. He is now going to account for Nazareth as the place where He lived.
Nazareth is never mentioned in Scripture apart from the gospels. It was located in the hills in Galilee and looked down upon two of the most important caravan routes in the ancient world—one from the seacoast to the territories to the east and the other from Egypt to Damascus. However Nazareth was looked down upon by those from Judea as is seen by the response of Nathaniel to his brother Philip, Nazareth! Can any good thing come out from there? (
Jesus was called a Nazarene and
that it might be fulfilled Another fulfillment quotation.
which was spoken through the prophets, We note that there is not one specific prophet mentioned. Furthermore, the word prophets is plural.
He will be called a Nazarene. This statement is not found in the Old Testament and has led to much speculation as to what Matthew meant (see question at end of chapter).
The fact that Luke mentions that Mary and Joseph originally came from Nazareth is seen as a contradiction by many commentators. Matthew seems to know nothing of this fact. Matthew, however, narrates that which is relevant to his purpose in the fulfillment quotations. There is nothing in his narrative that precludes their previous residence in Nazareth. It is possible that Mary and Joseph had decided to settle in Bethlehem—it was their ancestral home town. The events surrounding the Magi, Herod the great, the slaughter of the innocents, and Herod Antipas caused them to change their plans and move north again. The angel that appeared to Joseph confirmed the need to leave this region.
The same problem is often raised by those commenting on Luke. Luke records nothing of the flight to Egypt and return. Yet
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.
This certainly does not preclude the events that led them to Egypt.
The first section of chapter two (verses
They ask the question about the location of the newborn king of the Jews. Some extraordinary celestial phenomenon, which they had seen in their own country, had convinced them that the Messiah, the king of the Jews, had been born. The exact nature of this star is unknown. It is also not known how the Magi connected it with the birth of Christ. What is known, however, is that they came from a great distance to worship the newborn king. But first they must locate Him.
The murderous King Herod was troubled by their arrival as well as the rest of Jerusalem.
The king wants to know where this new king will be born. Consequently a meeting of the religious leaders determined that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem—as it is written in the Scriptures (
Once the king has this information he has a secret meeting with the Magi. He does not tell them his real intention but rather pretends he also wishes to worship this new king. He seeks further information from them about the time of the star’s appearance. Armed with the information, he tells them to go to Bethlehem, find the child, then return and tell him so he can join in the worship.
The Magi leave Herod and experience divine guidance that leads them to the very house where the child is staying.
They enter the house and see the child and His mother. They prostrate themselves before the newborn king in worship and then open the gifts which they brought. To what degree they understood who they were worshipping is not known. It is also unknown how much they understood the significance of the gifts they brought.
As was the situation with Joseph, God speaks to the Magi in a dream. They are instructed to return home without informing Herod concerning the whereabouts of the Messiah. They heed the warning and return home through a different route.
The next section is the flight into Egypt (
Matthew sees the flight to Egypt as a fulfillment of
Once Herod realized the Magi were not returning he became furious and ordered the slaughter of the innocents (verses
The last section deals with the return of the holy family and the settlement in Nazareth (verses
The response of Herod to the baby Jesus is sharply contrasted with that of the Magi. In Herod’s attempt to kill the infant King we encounter evil for the first time in Matthew’s narrative. Matthew will show throughout his gospel that evil continually stands in opposition to God’s kingdom which comes through Christ. This reaches a climax in the crucifixion narrative. Thus the slaughter of the innocents anticipates the eventual slaughter of the innocent Jesus on the cross.
There is, however, God’s providential protection of the Holy Child. God’s purposes cannot be stopped. It was not thwarted by Egyptian nor by the exile of the chosen people to Babylon. In Israel’s history God repeatedly brought salvation to His people. He has now brought to them the one who relives their history, sums it up, and brings it to a fulfillment. The events surrounding the Christ child are related to all that preceded. They are fulfillments of earlier events. The Messiah, the promised descendant of David toward whom all thins are pointed, is now in the world. As did His people, He comes out of Egypt to the Promised Land and settles in Galilee. He brings forth light to those who sit in darkness as the prophet had foretold. He will dwell in the unlikely town of Nazareth and be called a Nazarene. As Matthew clearly shows, this is God’s eternal plan, nothing has happened by accident.
We find some striking parallels between the two stories. The information given in parentheses is derived from Jewish sources at the time of Jesus that are testified by the writers Josephus and Philo.
- Pharaoh killed all male Hebrew infants
Exodus 1:22(having been forewarned, either by scribes or through a dream, of a newborn Hebrew who was a threat to his kingdom and this possibility filled him and Egypt with terror).
- At a later time Moses fled to Egypt because his life was threatened by Pharaoh
Exodus 2:15(the infant Moses deliverance is due to his parents actions).
- At the death of Pharaoh Moses was directed to return and he obeyed,
- In addition to these general similarities there are some striking agreements in language. In
Exodus 2:15he was seeking to kill Moses is close to Matthew 2:13he was seeking to destroy the child. Exodus 2:15he fled is identical to Matthew 2:14In Exodus 2:23the king of Egypt died is close to Matthew 2:19. Most impressive of all is the nearly verbatim agreement between Exodus 4:19and Matthew 2:20.
- Jesus came to save His people from their sins (
1:21) as Moses saved Israel from the of Egypt.
Clearly Matthew had in mind the story of Moses as he tells the story of Jesus. Herod is the antitype of Pharaoh and Jesus is the antitype of Moses.
Though there is not a neat one to one correspondence between the two accounts there is rather a series of allusions that would make it clear to the Jewish reader that Jesus is the new Moses.
Did Matthew make a mistake by saying the Old Testament predicted the Messiah would come out of Nazareth? The answer is no. Matthew does not quote a particular prophet but says the prophets (plural) predicted this. He probably did this because his reference is to several Old Testament prophets though none would have his exact wording. His use of the plural is not quoting a specific utterance of one of the prophets. He is not saying this fulfills a direct statement from the Old Testament but rather it sums up the Old Testament teaching on the identity of the Messiah.
Yet Matthew probably meant more than this with his emphasis of fulfillment in Jesus growing up in Nazareth. The two main views are:
- Jesus Was A Nazarite
A Nazarite was one who took a special vow of separation to the Lord (
Number 6:1-21; cf. Judges 13:5, 7). A person abstained from cutting his hair, strong drink, and avoided contact with the dead. Although this description may fit John the Baptist (cf. Luke 1:15) it is inappropriate for Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners ( 11:19) and who raised the dead by touching them ( 9:23-26).
- Jesus Was The Promised Messianic Branch (Hebrew Netzer).
Most likely we have a play on words here in Hebrew between the word for branch and Nazareth. The quotation in
Isaiah 11:1speaks of a branch (netzer) coming out of Jesse. This passage is Messianic in content and is related to Isaiah 7:14(quoted in Matthew 1:23). The Messianic figure in Isaiah 11:1is Emmanuel (God with us) of Isaiah 7:14.
Matthew’s readers would not realize the wordplay until they understood the meaning of netzer in Hebrew but the primary meaning would have been evident to the Greek reader—that Jesus was called a Nazarene since He was from Nazareth.