The Childhood of Christ: His Reception and Persecution
Matthew 2. Four of the ten major tenets of messianic prophecy are shown to be fulfilled by Jesus in the second chapter:
See full list.
- Worship and Persecution of the Messiah (2:1-15)
- Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents (2:16-18)
- Joseph, Mary, Jesus come to Nazareth (2:19-23)
A Dispensational Outline. Before we dive into the chapter, if we step back and look at an outline, we can see in it a summary of God’s dispensational ways illustrated by the details of the chapter. The full teaching of this dispensational change is more fully developed in Romans 9-11.
- Israel’s rejection of the Messiah (vv.1-11) – In this period of time the Messiah was not known or acknowledged in the city of the king, but was sought and worshiped by a few Gentiles.
- The period of Gentile blessing, trouble for Jews (vv.12-18) – In this period the Messiah is taken away to Egypt for a time (2000 years), and meanwhile the Jews pass through terrible persecution. This persecution lasts “until the death of Herod” who is a figure of Antichrist.
- Restoration of Israel in the Millennium (vv.19-23) – Finally, the Messiah returns to Nazareth (a picture of the faithful remnant) and is named “the Branch”, or the One who will 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 translated in some versions as “when Jesus was born” should really be “Jesus having been born”. These events transpired sometime after the birth of Christ, perhaps two years later (v.16). These wise men are not to be confused with the shepherds of Luke 2. The magi from the East were from occultic peoples (modern day Yemen, or Saudi Arabia). These were some whom God had quickened, and was leading to do homage to His Son. Perhaps they formed a substantial entourage, because Isaiah 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 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 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 sixty-nine weeks of years? Or perhaps it came from Balaam’s prophecy to Moab and Midian in Numbers 24:17, “There cometh a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel”? Perhaps it was a combination of both? They had only a little light, but they acted on what they had and were greatly rewarded. This was a long and expensive journey. The Jews had a tremendous amount of light – even had scriptures telling them the birthplace of Messiah – 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 – possibly 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. 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 asked 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 in death. 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 very 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 even 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! “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).
Herod the Great. The fact that Herod the king was ignorant of this prophecy is not surprising, because he was not an Israelite but rather an Idumean, a descendant of Edom. Yet, when told of the magi’s mission, he immediately viewed this child as a rival claimant to his throne. Recall the “great red dragon” (Rev. 12:3-5) of the Roman Empire, the power of which was vested locally in Herod, and was just ready to devour the “man-child”. Herod was a usurper. He was only king of the Jews under the influence of the Western powers, and in conjunction with the religious heads of Israel. He is a type of the apocalyptic Antichrist. Read more…
4 and, assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. 5 And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea; for thus it is written through the prophet: 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] vv.4-6 These verses show: (1) that the birthplace of the Messiah was known to the responsible Jewish leaders, and (2) that they rejected the coming of the King in their hearts. Herod was interested in two great questions concerning the birth of the Messiah: (1) where, v.4; and (2) when, v.7. Notice that 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, and therefore it says “thus it is written”. The Spirit of God in the New Testament is very precise in marking out which prophecies are partly fulfilled, and which are completely fulfilled at the first coming of Christ. Read more… This is a quotation from Micah 5:2. We find the Lord Jesus now under a new title, “Governor”.
It is in this capacity of governmental authority that the false king Herod (and the apocalyptic Antichrist) takes issue with the man-child, and with the remnant of 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 Herod needed to know the moment of the star’s appearance to make his calculations (v.16). The wheels were 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 (v.2). He was diligent in plotting the death of the child. 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 Herod’s 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 appear nominally Jewish to maintain his popularity with his political party, referred to elsewhere as the Herodians (Matt. 22:16), who were a group of worldly, business minded Jews that were content to have a leader such as Herod in control.
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 magi weren’t guided step-by-step by the star until 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. God reveals His truth to those who fear Him – for those who are faithful to the light, even though it be just a little; “the secret of the LORD is with them that fear him” (Psa. 25:14). It was a definite leading, for the star led the magi to the “house” where the little child was.
How did they end up in Bethlehem again? The Lord was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4), the city of David. His birth coincided with the decree from Caesar Augustus, at which time the shepherds came from the fields. Just days later, Jesus was brought over to Jerusalem (Luke 2:22) where He was blessed by Simeon. Then we read (Luke 2:39) that they returned into Galilee, seventy miles north, to their own city Nazareth. How did they end up in Bethlehem again? Bethlehem is not far from Jerusalem, and we know that the Lord’s family 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” (not a barn or stable) where the little child was, now two years old.
10 And when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. v.10 How their hearts must have quickened when they saw the star descend and hover over a certain house! Our hearts ought to rejoice “with exceeding great joy” at 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 While they saw the child “with Mary his mother” yet they fell down and worshiped Him, and offered their gifts to Him. Mariolatry is completely unsupported by scripture. When they saw the star they rejoiced… but when they saw 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.” The gifts presented by the magi have symbolic meaning:
- Gold – represents the glories of His Person; His divinity.
- Frankincense – represents His pathway; the moral beauties of Christ as a man.
- Myrrh – represents 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 provided a path for the magi to return to the East without crossing paths with 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 in our lives from being in His presence. They were “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. This is the second of 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? Perhaps it was because God saw fit that Christ should pass through everything His people 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 Sun 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 (formally at the cross) to complete the testing of the first man, so that the Second man could come forth in perfection (1 Cor. 15:46), as the true Israel. The expression “that might be fulfilled” tells us that this event 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, Christ replaces the nation as Jehovah’s Servant, gathering a faithful remnant that become the nucleus of reborn Israel. We see this very thing in this chapter. We see 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 the objects 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, 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] vv.17-18 The expression “then was fulfilled” shows that 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. “Rama” is basically the same area as Bethlehem. The final fulfillment will be the two tribes (Rachel) weeping for the ten tribes 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 the lamentation that the two tribes will make.
Joseph, Mary, Jesus come to Nazareth (2:19-23)
Joseph. The Lord’s earthly father quickly disappears from the pages of scripture, apparently set aside in some way, we aren’t 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). Also, the Lord would shortly commence His public ministry in which He would speak constantly of “my Father”… there could be no confusion that Jesus was referring to God.
¶ 19 But Herod having died, behold, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 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. vv.19-20 Joseph’s third dream. This is the third of four dreams or visions given to Joseph. It is called “the land of Israel”, not “Judea” or “Galilee”. Israel is a name that reminds us of the privileges bestowed by God on the people that represented Him. Now Christ has replaced Israel in the sight of God, and He returns to His own land. What of the antagonists? “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 did word-for-word what the angel of Lord commanded in v.20. Note that the expression in v.21 is properly translated “the little child and its mother” not “the mother and her little child” (and so 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. This is now the fourth dream or vision given to Joseph. He had good reason to be wary of Herod Archelaus. 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, and was known for his pride and cruelty, preeminently his massacre of 3000 Jews in the temple. When he married another king’s wife, the Jews complained to Caesar. Archelaus was banished in 6 A.D. God takes care of every concern, but in this case, the way He did it brought the Son of David into a place of reproach. “The parts of Galilee” refer to that region to the north of the land that speaks of the faithful Jewish remnant (Isa. 8 – 9). Those who lived there 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.
23 and came and dwelt in a town called Nazareth; so that that should be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazaraean.” v.23 Nazareth was known as the ‘scourge of Galilee’… it was the lowest of the low, and yet it was the Lord’s home until the death of John the Baptist, at which time He moved to Capernaum and commenced His public ministry. The phrase “He shall be called a Nazaraean” is cited from the prophets. However, the quotation is not found in 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 and 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). In this verse we add a fourth name to the list (c.p. v.6). Earlier we have had: (1) Jesus; (2) Emmanuel; (3) Governor; and now: (4) Nazarene.
The Nazarene, “The Branch”. As the Nazarene we see in the Lord Jesus, God come forth to bless (Matt. 2:23). 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 Jesus is the despised Nazarene from Nazareth, on the other hand He is the one in whom Israel and the nations hope. It is used to portray Christ in four aspects:
|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…”|