Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.
The events of this chapter probably took place several months after Jesus was born (Luke 2:1-21). The Magi were likely Babylonian astrologers with some knowledge of the Scriptures. They would have received this knowledge from Jews who were exiled to Babylon in the sixth century BC. If the Magi came from Babylon, they traveled hundreds of miles. Assuming they came by camel, their journey took several weeks. This is a rebuke to those who will not even drive across town to worship the Lord at a church.
Matthew 2:2 Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
It is hard to know if this was an ordinary star, or something else, but it seems related to the prophecy of Balaam. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17). The scepter refers to a king, and here it is mentioned with a star. The Magi followed the star, and it led them to the king. In fact, he was the king who made the stars, and calls them each by name (Psalm 147:4).
Matthew 2:3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Herod was disturbed because this little king was a threat to his throne. Jesus was born king, and Herod knew it. But Herod liked being king, and would defend his throne at any cost. He had already killed a wife and two sons, so if he had to murder Jesus, he was willing to do it.
But if Jesus was a threat to Herod, he is also a threat to us. [T]hose of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples (Luke 14:33), he said. We must surrender the throne of our hearts or hear him say, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else in the Bible—for a good reason. I heard about God’s love ever since I was a child, but it never led me to surrender my life to him. It was not until I heard about God’s wrath that I understood the importance of surrendering all. Herod refused to give his life to Christ, and it was the worst decision of his life.
Matthew 2:6 But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.
When Herod asked the experts where Messiah would be born, they all agreed on Bethlehem. It had been foretold by the prophet Micah centuries before (Micah 5:2). This is one of the most remarkable prophecies Jesus fulfilled, but there are many more. The phenomenon of biblical prophecy is unique among the world’s religions, and it is sufficient to establish Christianity as true. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come (Isaiah 46:9-10), said God.
Other religions are less convincing. The oracle at Delphi was famous in her day, but her prophecies were always shrouded in mystery. A general asked about the outcome of an approaching battle, and she predicted a day of victory. The general was defeated, but the oracle was not embarrassed, because she had not identified who the victor would be.
There is mystery in biblical prophecy too, but there is also much that is clear. Identifying the little town of Bethlehem as the place of Messiah’s birth is a straightforward prediction. Since Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies regarding his first coming, we can be sure he will fulfill the rest when he returns.
Matthew 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
Mary must have been amazed by this. The prophet Simeon called Jesus a revelation to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). Now these Gentiles were bowing down and worshipping Jesus Christ. This was appropriate since Jesus is God in human flesh; and it was not the last time Jesus would receive worship.
When Jesus came to his disciples, walking on the water, those who were in the boat worshiped him (Matthew 14:33). A man who was healed from blindness said Lord, I believe, and he worshiped him (John 9:38). After Jesus rose from the dead some women clasped his feet and worshiped him (Matthew 28:9). And the prophet Daniel foresaw a time when peoples of every language will worship him (Daniel 7:14). This happens every Sunday as people around the world gather in churches to worship Jesus Christ. This, too, is a remarkable fulfillment of prophecy.
Matthew 2:13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.
Mary and Joseph had no idea they were in danger. But God knew Herod was plotting to kill Jesus, so he told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt. It must have been a vivid dream, since they began their journey that night.
Egypt’s border was about eighty miles away, but they may have gone all the way to the Alexandria, which was about four hundred miles away. That city had a population of about a million Jews, and Mary and Joseph would have felt more at home there.
But travel was not cheap, and it would take time for Joseph to find work. So God provided for their needs through the Magi’s gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). These were expensive gifts that Mary and Joseph probably used to finance their time away. Maybe Jesus was thinking of this when he said, your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:8).
Matthew 2:16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.
The Magi did not return to Herod, as he requested, because God had warned them in a dream not to go back to him (Matthew 2:12). As a result, Herod killed all the little boys in and around Bethlehem, assuming Jesus would be among them. The number of boys killed was likely around twenty, and this murderous act would scar the community for years.
Herod was about seventy years old at this time, and he would be dead within a year. But even at his advanced age, Herod was more concerned about himself, than he was about meeting God. When he was dying, in fact, Herod was afraid that no one would grieve his passing, so he ordered a group of men to be killed. That way, at least there would be grieving at the time of his death, even if it was not for him (Josephus). The order was not carried out, but Herod still went down on the wrong side of history. Worse, by far, he went down on the wrong side of God.
But there is a problem here. If God was able to protect Jesus from being massacred, why didn’t he protect the other children too? It is not a little problem, since the primary argument against the existence of God, is the existence of evil. If God is good and powerful, why doesn’t he prevent evil? Books have been written on this subject, and there are no easy answers. But those little ones who died for the sake of Christ will be known in heaven as the first Christian martyrs. And they will praise God for the honor of that distinction.
Reflection and Review
Why did Herod refuse to honor Christ?
Why is Jesus still a threat to unbelievers?
Why was Jesus willing to receive worship?