The Childhood of Christ: His Reception and Persecution
Matthew 2
Messianic prophecy fulfilled in ch.2 by Jesus;
  1. to be born in Bethlehem (vv.5-6)
  2. to be worshiped by gentiles with gold & incense (v.11)
  3. to be called up out of Egypt as the true Israel (v.15)
  4. to dwell in Nazareth & be called the BRANCH (v.23)
A Dispensational Outline. a summary of god’s dispensational ways is illustrated in matt. 2. the details of this dispensational change are not fully defined until Romans 9-11.
  1. Israel’s rejection of the Messiah (vv.1-11) – the messiah is not known or acknowledged in the city of the king, but SOUGHT BY a few GENTILES.
  2. the period of gentile blessing (vv.12-18) – the messiah is taken away to Egypt for a time, then the Jews pass through terrible persecution. this lasts “until the death of Herod” who is a figure of Antichrist.
  3. Restoration of Israel in the Millennium (vv.19-23) – finally, the Lord returns to Nazareth (the faithful remnant) and is named “the branch” – the one who would bring in the millennial kingdom blessings. 

Worship and Persecution of the Messiah (2:1-15)

Magi from the east seek the birthplace of the messiah (vv.1-2)

 Now Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judaea, in the days of Herod the king, behold magi from the east arrived at Jerusalem, saying, v.1 the words “when jesus was born” should be “jesus having been born”. These events transpired sometime after the birth of Christ, perhaps 2 years (v.16). these wise men are not to be confunsed with the shepherds of Luke 2. the magi from the east were from occultic peoples (modern day yemen, or saudi arabia). but there were some whom God had quickened. there was perhaps quite an entourage, because Isa. 60 says “A multitude of camels.”
2 Where is the king of the Jews that has been born? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to do him homage. v.2 god had somewho revealed to these wise men that the messiah of the jews would be born at a certain time, and that his place of birth would be marked by a certain distinct star. when the star appeared, they began their journey which could have taken up to two years (see v.16).
Knowledge of the magi. where did they learn about the king of the Jews? was it through dreams or visions? perhaps their understanding came from Daniel’s prophecy when he was in Babylon and Persia; that the messiah would be on earth after 69 weeks of years? or perhaps it came from Balaam’s prophecy to Moab and Midian in Num. 24:17, “There cometh a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel”? perhaps a combination of both? they had only a little light, but they acted on it and they were greatly rewarded. this was a long and expensive journey. The Jews had a tremendous amount of light – even the birthplace – but they rejected and persecuted the child. it is better to have less knowledge and a seeking heart than great knowledge with a cold heart (Matt. 12:42, Psa. 25:14).

The star. The star – a meteor of some kind – appeared at the time of Christ’s birth. those from the east were great observers of the heavens, and were very sensitive to any uncommon appearance. it doesn’t say they followed it directly from Midian to Judea. They knew the star meant the Messiah was born, but they traveled all the way to Judea on faith. then they asked Herod and the Jews where the child was. what a surprise to the Jews and Herod that the Messiah had already been born! What a surprise to the magi that His own people were not expecting him. The star did not start leading them until they had left Herod’s presence. This is because God wanted Herod and the Jews to have this testimony of the gentile wise men, and a proof that the Messiah had come.
calculating the time of the messiah’s birth. if the RABBIS HAD been diligent in the scriptures, they could have told herod what he now asks the magi from the east. by reading daniel 9:26 they could have learned that sixty-nine weeks would expire after nehemiah’s wall was completed (483 years), and then the Messiah would be cut off. then, by comparing with Psalm 102:24, which says that the messiah would be killed halfway through his lifespan (or, 70 years total, Psa. 90:10), they could have deducted 35 years to get 448 years after the completion of the wall. if the wall was completed in 455 B.C. then they could have expected the messiah to be born at some point after 6 B.C.! he was born two years later in 4 b.c.

Herod’s treacherous agenda (vv.3-8)

 3 But Herod the king having heard of it, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; v.3 this entourage made a big impact on the city. the jews – and especially herod, who considered himself “king of the jews” – were upset. it shows that there was something wrong with the state of Israel, that the city of the king would be upset with news that the king had been born.

Rejected from birth. The Lord had not begun his public ministry, he had not said anything that would offend the Jews… but they were already troubled by his presence and tried to have him killed.
herod the great. The fact that Herod the king was ignorant of this prophecy is not surprising, for he was no Israelite but an Idumean, a descendant of edom. yet when told of the magi’s mission, he immediately view this as a rival claimant for his throne. recall The “great red dragon” (Rev. 12:3-5) of the Roman Empire, the power of which was vested locally in Herod, which was just ready to devour the “Man Child.” herod was a usurping king of the jews under the influence of the western powers, and in conjunction with the religious heads of Israel… a clear type of the antichrist.
vv.4-5 these verses show (1) that that birthplace of the messiah was known to the responsible jewish leaders, and (2) that they rejected the coming of the King in their hearts.
4 and, assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. v.4 herod is interested in two great questions concering the birth of the messiah: (1) where, v.4; and (2) when, v.7.
5 And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea; for thus it is written through the prophet: v.5 it does not say “that it might be fulfilled” because the final fulfillment of this will be at the Lord’s second coming, when he takes his title of Governor, and “rules” israel. but the declaration about where the messiah would come from, “out of” bethlehem certainly marks his place of birth, so it says “thus it is written”.
6 “And “thou” Bethlehem, land of Juda, art in no wise the least among the governors of Juda; for out of thee shall go forth a leader who shall shepherd my people Israel.” [Micah 5:2] v.6 this is a quotation from micah 5:2. We find the lord jesus now under a new title, “Governor”.
  1. In JESUS we see God come forth to save (Matt. 1:21).
  2. In EMMANUEL we see God come forth to dwell (Matt. 1:23).
  3. In GOVERNOR we see God come forth to rule (Matt. 2:6).
it is in this capacity of governmental authority that the false king herod (and the apocalyptic antichrist) take issue with the man child, and with the remnant of the israel. (note: in v.23 we get a fourth title; “THE NAZARAEAN“.)
 7 Then Herod, having secretly called the magi, inquired of them accurately the time of the star that was appearing; v.7 when. Herod needed to know the moment of the star’s appearance to make his calculations (v.16). the wheels are already turning in his mind. if the RABBIS HAD been diligent in the scriptures, they could have told herod what he now asks the magi from the east. see note above on “calculating the time of the messiah’s birth.” Not all diligence is good.
8 and having sent them to Bethlehem, said, Go, search out accurately concerning the child, and when ye shall have found him bring me back word, so that “I” also may come and do him homage. v.8 his statement “that I may come and worship him also” was a lie. Herod was an edomite, but he had adopted judaism for political reasons. he had to be nominally Jewish to maintain his popularity with his political party, the herodians (Matt. 22:16), who were a group of worldly, business minded jews that were content to have a hater of Jehovah in control.

how do they end up in Bethlehem again? The Lord was born in bethlehem (Luke 2:4), the city of david, coinciding with the decree from Caesar Augustus, which was when the shepherds came. then days later he was brought over to Jerusalem (Luke 2:22). then we read (Luke 2:39) that they returned into Galilee, 70 miles north, to their own city Nazareth. how do they end up in bethlehem again? Bethlehem is not far from Jerusalem, and we know that they went there every year to the feast of the passover (Luke 2:41). the visit of the Magi took place at another visit to bethlehem. the star led the magi to the “house” where the little child was.

the magi worship the messiah (vv.9-12)

9 And they having heard the king went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went before them until it came and stood over the place where the little child was. v.9 the star didn’t step-by-step guide them unitl they had gotten out of herod’s presence. they had seen it before in the east, and now it re-appeared and went before them. this was a secret intended only for those of faith, for those who are true to the light, even though it be ever so little. it was a definite leading, for the star led the magi to the “house” where the little child was. (compare. “it came and stood over” with “over his head,” Matt. 27:37). see note on “how do they end up in bethlehem again?”
10 And when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. v.10 their hearts must have quickened when they saw the star descend and hover over a certain house! is my heart filled with joy as the prospect of being in the lord’s presence?
11 And having come into the house they saw the little child with Mary his mother, and falling down did him homage. And having opened their treasures, they offered to him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. v.11 note that while they saw the child “with Mary his mother” yet they fell down and worshipped Him, and offered their gifts to Him. mariolatry is completely unsupported by scripture. when they so the star they rejoiced… when they say the child they worshipped. this event would be a partial fulfillment of Isa. 60:6; “A multitude of camels shall cover thee, young camels of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall publish the praises of Jehovah.”
  1. gold – divine righteousness; his divinity
  2. Frankincense – the moral beuties of Christ as a man
  3. myrrh – the atoning sufferings of christ.
12 And being divinely instructed in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. v.12 the Lord provides a path for the magi to return to the east without crossing herod… a path which no foul knoweth, etc. (Job 28:7). There is a nice moral application of this; if we spend time in the Lord’s presence, we will go home in “another way” from how we came in. there will be an effect on our lives from being in his presence. another thing is that they are “divinely instructed”… god’s direction for our life is a result of communion.

the flight to egypt (vv.13-15)

 13 Now, they having departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph, saying, Arise, take to thee the little child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell thee; for Herod will seek the little child to destroy it. v.13 joseph’s second dream. see note on ch.1 on four dreams or visions given to joseph. why was it necessary for the Lord to Go into Egypt? Why didn’t twelve legions of angels protect the child in the land? it was because God saw fit that Christ would pass though everything his people is israel did as a nation. Christ Himself is carried into the very place that had been the furnace of Israel. He knows what it is to be carried into Egypt, and in a far more painful way than Israel had experienced. the rejection of Christ was from His own people, and from an edomite king that had usurped his throne. sometimes the ways of god seem difficult or complicated… but God wants us to pass through circumstances to mold and shape us for his purpose.
14 And, having arisen, he took to him the little child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. v.14 how sad to think that the king of Israel, as a little child, was hunted by the leader of his own people. what a welcome he could have expected… instead he had to be taken to Egypt in the darkness of night. that “night” of Christ’s rejection has rolled on since that day… but one day it will break as the son of righteousness arises, with healing in his wings!

15 And he was there until the death of Herod, that that might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” [Hos. 11:1] v.15 he had to go to Egypt before he could come up out of Egypt. Christ had to be rejected by the nation of Israel (at the cross) to complete the testing of the first man, so that the second could come forth in perfection, and the true Israel. See note above. “that might be fulfilled” – this tells us that this is the object of hosea’s prophecy, the fulfillment of it. See helpful encyclopedia entry on Old Testament prophecies quoted in the New Testament.
Christ replaces Israel. Israel was God’s firstborn, in Egypt. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” (Hos. 11:1). Rom. 9:4 says “to them pertaineth the adoption” in a national sense (ex. 4:22, Deut. 14, Deut. 7:6). Israel means “a prince with god” (Gen. 32:28). in Isa. 49, the nation of Israel was, as the servant of Jehovah, intended to bring him glory. but in that chapter the Christ replaces the nation as Jehovah’s Servant, gathering a faithful remnant that become the nucleus of the new nation of reborn Israel. we see that very thing is this chapter; Christ as the true fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy; he is morally the new stock from which they spring. The same substitution of Christ for Israel is found in John 15. Israel had been the vine brought out of Egypt (Psa. 80:8). Christ is the true Vine (john 15:1). the history of Israel as the witness for Jehovah is continued in the person of Christ. in a wider sense, as son of man, the history of man is continued in Christ as the second Adam in relation with God.

Herod’s massacre of the innocents (2:16-18)

16 Then Herod, seeing that he had been mocked by the magi, was greatly enraged; and sent and slew all the boys which were in Bethlehem, and in all its borders, from two years and under, according to the time which he had accurately inquired from the magi. v.16 Herod felt that he was thwarted by the magi, but in reality he was being mocked by God… “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Psa. 2:4). how could God allow all these children to die? instead of these children being among the future rejecters of the messiah as part of the apostate nation, these ones were cut off and taken directly to heaven (Matt. 18:10). It was Bethlehem’s connection to Christ that made them object of Satan’s animosity, the great red dragon of Rev. 12.

Two years. Herod knew it was important to “accurately inquire” about the time of the star’s appearance (v.7). he then calculated a time window that would cover the possible AGE RANGE of the young messiah. he was probably only around a year old, but Herod wasn’t taking any chances.

17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremias the prophet, saying, v.17then was fulfilled” – this prophecy is being quoted because the event in time is an illustration of the prophecy, although not the object of it. See helpful encyclopedia entry on Old Testament prophecies quoted in the New Testament.

18 “A voice has been heard in Rama, weeping, and great lamentation: Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” [Jer. 31:15] v.18Rama” – is basically the same area as Bethlehem. the final fulfillment will be the two tribes (Rachel) weeping for the ten before they return to the land (Jer. 31:15). the two tribes will be so touched, so repentant, so restored to the Lord that the absence of their Long lost brethren will make them weep. after this, the Lord will comfort them, and bring a remnant of the ten tribes home. the weeping of the mothers of Bethlehem for their murdered children is a picture of this lamentation that the two tribes will make.

Joseph, Mary, Jesus come to Nazareth (2:19-23)

Joseph. the Lord’s earthly father quickly dissapears from the pages of scriture, apparently set aside in some way, we arent told, but likely by death. This would have happened when the Lord was somewhere between twelve (Luke 2:42) and thirty years of age (Luke 3:23). this was convenient because the Lord would shortly commence his public ministry in which he would speak constantly of “my father”… there could be no confusion that he was referring to God.
 19 But Herod having died, behold, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, vv.19-20 joseph’s third dream. see note on ch.1 on four dreams or visions given to joseph.
20 Arise, take to thee the little child and its mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they who sought the life of the little child are dead. v.20the land of Israel” – note that is it is not called “judea” or “Galilee”, but “the land of Israel”, a name that reminds us of the privileges bestowed by God on that people which represented him. Now christ has replaced israel in the sight of God, and he returns to his own land… mark his reception, v.22. “they are dead” – so it will be with the enemies of the Jewish remnant when they are called out of the mountains back into the land of Israel.
21 And he arose and took to him the little child and its mother, and came into the land of Israel; v.21 it is wonderful to see Joseph’s obedience. he does word-for-word what the angel of Lord commanded in v.20. Note: ‘the little child and its mother” not “the mother and her little child” (and all though ch.2)… it guards the preeminence of christ. mary was nothing more than the vehicle used by god to bring the savior into the world. Mary herself needed a savior (Luke 1:41).
22 but having heard that ‘Archelaus reigns over Judaea, instead of Herod his father,’ he was afraid to go there; and having been divinely instructed in a dream, he went away into the parts of Galilee, v.22 joseph’s fourth dream. see note on ch.1 on four dreams or visions given to joseph. he had good reason to be wary of Herod Archelaus (see note). god takes care of every concern, but the way he does it brought the son of david into a place of reproach. the parts of Galilee” – galilee is that region to the north of the Land that always speaks of the faithful jewish remnant. They were despised by those who dwelt in Jerusalem. the Son of David, entering his own land, could not approach the throne of His fathers… instead He must take the place of a stranger among the despised of His people.

Herod Archelaus (23 B.C. – 18 A.D.) was ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea, the son of Herod the Great, and brother to Herod Antipater. he was appointed by Augustus Caesar, He was known for his pride and cuelty; his masacre of 3000 Jews in the temple. when he married another king’s wife, the jews complained to Caesar. he was banished in 6 A.D.

23a and came and dwelt in a town called Nazareth; v.23a nazareth – the Lord’s home until the death of john the baptistm at which time he moved to capernaum and commenced his public ministry.

23b so that that should be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazaraean.” v.23b The way this is cited is important… not one particular prophet, but “the prophets”, the spirit of the prophets who spoke of Him. to be called “a Nazarene,” was to be an object of contempt, and more than one prophet said that christ would be despised rejected of men (See Isa. 53). but “Nazarene” is really the Greek reading of the Hebrew word “the branch“, a messianic title for the blesser of the earth in the millennium, and a common name for the Lord Jesus in prophecy (Read Isa. 11:1-10). see note below:

the Nazaraean. In these verse we add a 4th name (c.p. v.6). earlier we have had: (1) Jesus; (2) Emmanuel; (3) governor; now: (4) in Nazaraean we see God come forth to bless (Matt. 2:23).
The Branch“, just as a branch supplies and carries the fruit on a tree, so the Lord Jesus will be the source of blessing to the millennial earth. In the New Testament it is translated “Nazarene”. while on one hand he is the despised Nazaraean, on the other he is the one in whom Israel and the nations hope. It is used to portray Christ in four aspects:
Matthew Mark Luke John
the King of Israel the Perfect Servant the Son of Man the son of God
Jer. 23:5 Zech. 3:8 Zech. 6:12 Isa. 4:2
“…unto David, a righteous branch, and a King…” “…behold, my servant the branch…” “…the man whose name is The branch…” “…the branch of the LORD for beauty and glory…”

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