free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
The Magi From the East
King Herod is in power. That indicates what time it is in Israel when the Lord Jesus is born. Herod is the symbol of the human being who only seeks his own honor, a picture of the antichrist, who assumes power. At the second coming of the Lord Jesus, His return in power and majesty, this false king, the antichrist, will sit on the throne and will be judged by Him.
The birth of Christ passes unnoticed in Israel. The people did not expect Him. However, God makes sure that He is honored. For this He uses people from the Gentiles who come from a faraway country. We have already seen God’s attention for the Gentiles in this Gospel, which is written especially for the Jews, in the genealogy. It mentions two Gentile women: Rahab and Ruth.
The magi think that Jerusalem is the place where the King was born. He will reign there, but He was not born there. God leads the magi. He uses various means to this end, making it clear that everything is at His service. He uses a star, a jealous Herod, insensate religious leaders and Scripture.
God has shown the magi the star, “His” star, which is the star of Christ, which would rise: “A star shall rise from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). They make the long journey to honor the new born King of the Jews. Their wisdom is evident from their actions.
Reaction of Herod
Herod sees a threat to his position in what he hears about a newborn King. That is understandable with this wicked king. But not only is Herod troubled, all Jerusalem is troubled with him. Instead of jubilation there is consternation when they hear of His birth! Their whole attitude is dismissive. The religious leaders have made their choice. They are on the side of Herod, not on the side of Christ. The newborn King is an unwanted intruder and not the fulfilment of a cherished hope. The Messiah is still a Baby, He has done nothing. Yet they feel that His coming will mean a disturbance to their pleasures.
All who live in Jerusalem are the descendants of those who once returned from Babylon to Israel. They should have looked forward to the Messiah. But the Savior has been among them for over a year and they have not noticed it because their hearts do not go out to Him.
Herod lets “all the chief priests and scribes”, the religious leaders, come to him and asks where the Christ – in Hebrew Messiah; the meaning of both words is ‘anointed’ – would be born. It is the first appearance of the chief priests and scribes in this Gospel. Here they are still indifferent, but that indifference will grow into hatred as the Lord does His work in Israel.
The leaders know how to answer the question immediately and precisely. They know the Scripture, at least as far as what the letter says, and only use it as that which provides information. What they know, they put at the service of the adversary. With the help of Scripture, they tell Herod the way. They themselves refuse to take even one step down that road, even though that way leads to the Bethlehem of their prophet. While the magi have come to honor the Messiah, they are conspiring together with Herod who has the plan to kill the King.
After being led by the star, the magi are now led by the Word. The leaders indicate the place of the Messiah’s birth by citing what the prophet Micah has said (Micah 5:1). Micah speaks of him as a Ruler Who will simultaneously shepherd His people, so He will be a Shepherd. Both aspects of this magnificent combination come only fully into their own in God’s Son (cf. 1 Chronicles 11:2).
Herod now knows the place of birth, but he wants more information to carry out his murderous plans as effectively as possible. He therefore deceptively enquires of the magi the course of the birth. He subsequently sends them to Bethlehem and they unintentionally become a signpost to the Child. He wants them to come and tell him when they have found the Child. He asks them with the hypocritical statement that he also wants to honor the Child.
The Magi With the Child
Without saying a word to Herod, the magi go their way. When they are outside, they see again the star they have seen at the moment of the birth of the Lord Jesus. That star led them to depart, but the star did not lead them along the way. The star now goes before them to the place where the Lord Jesus is. Seeing the star brings them great joy. God always provides guidance for all who walk according to the light they have, even if it is so little. The present and added light always leads to Christ and gives great joy.
They come into a house and not into a stable (cf. Luke 2:7). This is also an indication that quite some time has passed since the birth of the Lord Jesus. They see “the Child with Mary His mother” and worship the Child. Mary is not an object of worship. The treasures they have brought are opened. They offer gifts to the Child. These gifts fit this Child and symbolically point to the glory of His Person and to both the excellence and end of His life on earth. Gold represents His Divine glory. The frankincense is the sweet-smelling savor that emanates from His life to His surroundings and ascends to God. The myrrh speaks of the suffering and death which He will undergo.
Christ is found in a house. We can apply this to God’s house in this time, that is the church of God (1 Timothy 3:15). The Spirit always leads people who seek Him to the church. He is only to be found there. There He is the object of worship. The magi represent the nations. Christ is “the hope of glory” for the nations (Colossians 1:27). This scene also looks forward to the time after the church, when the nations come to honor Him (Psalms 72:11).
After their tribute to the born King of the Jews, the magi receive direction from God not to return to Herod. Here too they are allow themselves to be led by what God says. That’s why they don’t go via Jerusalem again, but return to their country on another way.
Flee to Egypt
Joseph receives from God – again in a dream (Matthew 2:13; Matthew 1:20) – the command to flee to Egypt. He must remain there “until I tell you”. This is an important message for every believer. It means that he should only act when God says something. Here Joseph is still the person to whom God gives His commands.
Joseph is obedient and immediately, the very same night, does what God has said to him. Thus the Lord Jesus, while He is still only a Baby, must already flee. Angels, who have announced His birth, do not form an escort to protect Him. He is here in humility. Never has He used His power to protect Himself from evil. He flees or He hides Himself. He does not take a special place here among the children of men, but shares in their general fate. He undergoes every humiliation, for He does not want His people to suffer anything without His sharing in it.
Only when Herod has died does Joseph return. He does not challenge the danger. And when he returns, a prophetic word is fulfilled again. Again, we see how God uses the enemy to fulfil His Word. God knows how to link the actions of man and His own actions, which are so opposing to each other, to fulfil His plans. This is a great encouragement to all who belong to Him.
The prophetic word is a quotation from Hosea. It is a word that Hosea has spoken in view of Israel and the calling of the people out of slavery in Egypt. God calls Israel “My son” (Hosea 11:1; Exodus 4:22-Isaiah :). Matthew now applies it to the Lord Jesus. This makes it clear that Christ wants to start His history on earth where His people started. He identifies Himself with them.
But how different is His path from theirs. Where the people have failed in their calling as sons, Christ will answer perfectly to this calling. Thus in Isaiah 49 He becomes the true Servant and in John 15 the true Vine – positions in which Israel once was, but did not live in accordance with them. He is the true Israel. In a broader sense, He begins the history of the first man, that is of all mankind, anew. He does so as the second Man and as the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-2 Corinthians :) in relationship with God.
Herod is furious when he notices that he has been misled by the magi. In him we recognize the dragon that is looking for the male Child to devour it (Revelation 12:3-Deuteronomy :). His hatred of the born King is expressed in a terrible massacre. Innocent children fall prey to the hatred directed against Christ. Here we see that the slightest connection with a Christ Who is present makes satan active in his hatred. The children of two years and younger are so similar to Him that they share in the fate that is being devised for Him. God does not prevent Herod from becoming a child murderer. All these young children are saved from growing up to later murder the Lord Jesus with the people. They are in heaven.
With his massacre Herod fulfils a word from the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:15). Great is the pain on account of the death of these children. The children are attributed to Rachel, the wife of Jacob, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She is inconsolable because of this loss. It seems everything is over. But it does not get out of hand with God. He holds His protective hand over Him through and in Whom all His promises to His people will be fulfilled.
In the future, during the great tribulation, many who are connected with Him will also be killed and there will also be great mourning. Then the Lord Jesus will appear and bring salvation and lead His people into blessing.
Back in Israel
When Herod, the child murderer, has died, Joseph is given the command to go back to Israel in another dream. God encourages him by telling him that those who were seeking the death of the Child have died (cf. Exodus 4:19). God calls the land “the land of Israel” because He has taken up the thread of it again by visiting it. This name recalls the promises given by God.
As always Joseph again obeys directly. But when he hears who Herod’s successor is, he becomes afraid. Then God meets him in his fear in another dream with a new instruction. God also meets us in our weaknesses when we are not at the level of His thoughts. This new instruction fits in with His Word and serves to fulfil it, because Joseph will live with the Lord Jesus and Mary in Nazareth, which lies in the regions of Galilee.
Now nowhere in the prophets is it written that Christ would live in Nazareth. Several prophets, however, have spoken about the fact that He would be despised. This is fulfilled from the start by living in Nazareth. After the rejected King – He had to flee – He is now the despised One by living in the most despised city in the most despised province (John 1:46).
By living in Nazareth he will be called Nazarene. This word is derived from the Hebrew word nezer meaning ‘sprout’ or ‘shoot’. This is the word that the prophet Isaiah uses for the Messiah to announce His birth as the descendant of Jesse, thus as the true David (Isaiah 11:1). Also in this sense, His living in Nazareth is a fulfilment of what was proclaimed by the prophets.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany