The Visit of the Magi (2:1-12)
1 Bethlehem was a small town in the province of Judea (southern Israel) about five miles from Jerusalem.8 It was the town where King David had been born (1 Samuel 16:1). Although Joseph and Mary lived in the town of Nazareth in the northern province of Galilee, they had gone down to Bethlehem to register for the census, because they were descendants of King David (see Luke 2:4). This census took place during the reign of King Herod, a puppet ruler who had been given the title “King of the Jews” by the Roman Emperor. Herod’s kingdom was part of the Roman Empire9 and included the province of Judea and its capital Jerusalem (see Luke 1:5). Herod reigned from 40 B.C. to 4 A.D. Most modern scholars believe that Jesus was born in the last year of Herod’s reign, that is, in 4 A.D.
2 At the time of Jesus’ birth, some Magi, or astrologers, from the east saw a very bright and unusual star rising in the east. They interpreted this to be a sign that a great king had been born. These astrologers knew that the Jews were expecting a Messiah to come, so they traveled to Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, thinking that the Messiah had now been born. “Where is the one who has been born king of the JEWS?” they asked.
3 King Herod was not happy to hear that there was now another “king of the Jews” besides himself. Matthew repeatedly reminds us that Christ was indeed born a king, who would inherit the kingdom of David. The Jews thought that this would be an earthly kingdom; however, Christ came to establish a spiritual kingdom.
4-6 According to the prophecy of Micah (Micah 5:2), this Christ, or Messiah, was to be born in Bethlehem10 (John 7:42). Here in verse 6, through the prophet Micah, God says that Christ “will be the shepherd of my people ISRAEL” (see John 10:11; 1 Peter 5:4). Israel is the name of the Jewish nation.
7-8 Herod asked the astrologers to find out where Jesus had been born so he could go and worship him. Of course, he really intended to go and kill Him.
9-12 The amazing star led the astrologers right to the place where Jesus was. No doubt they were surprised to find the king of the Jews born in such humble circumstances (Luke 2:7).
The Escape to Egypt (2:13-23)
13-15 An angel told Joseph to take his wife and child and flee to EGYPT. As is recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus, Egypt had once been a land of bondage and oppression for the Jews. Now it had become a place of safety for Jesus. Just as MOSES led the Jews out of bondage in Egypt 1400 years earlier, so Christ will lead His people out of bondage to sin. Just as Moses led the Jews to the land of Israel, which God had promised to them, so Jesus will lead His people into the kingdom of heaven. In verse 15, Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea: Out of Egypt I called my son (Hosea 11:1). In saying “son,” Hosea was referring to the Jews, to the nation of Israel. In Exodus 4:22, Israel is called God’s first-born son. Matthew considers Jesus to be the representation of the nation of Israel, so he applies Hosea’s words to Jesus Himself.
16-18 Herod had found out from the astrologers exactly when they had seen the star (verse 7). Therefore, when some months had passed and the astrologers had not returned as he had requested (verse 8), Herod gave orders that all male children near Bethlehem under two years of age should be killed (verse 16). In that way, he thought, Jesus would surely be among those who were killed.
Matthew then quotes from Jeremiah 31:15. Rachel was the wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, two of the twelve sons of Jacob. She was buried at Ramah near Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19). In this verse Jeremiah was describing the time when the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon and on the way passed by Rachel’s tomb. Rachel is a symbol for all the mothers of Israel who were weeping at the loss of their sons. In the same way the mothers of Bethlehem mourned the loss of their sons killed by Herod. In the next two verses in Jeremiah, following the verse quoted here, the Lord said, “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded … there is hope for your future” (Jeremiah 31:1617). And indeed the exile of the Jews was followed by the reestablishment of a new and purer kingdom of Israel. In the same way, the death of the infants of Bethlehem was followed by the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. God brings great blessing out of suffering. There can be no resurrection without death; there can be no crown without a CROSS.
19-23 After Herod died. … How quickly God punished Herod. Herod thought to prolong his reign by killing Jesus. But, in fact, he quickly lost his reign and his life.
Again, angels guided Joseph by means of dreams (Matthew 1:20; 2:13). God will always give guidance to those who seek to do His will. Usually He guides by means of His word, the Bible, or through Christian family members and friends, such guidance being confirmed by the Holy Spirit. But sometimes He guides directly through visions and dreams. Such direct guidance may be more common among those who cannot read.
An angel told Joseph to return to Nazareth, his own home town in the district of Galilee, which was not under the authority of Herod’s son Archelaus. Matthew says this was to fulfill the prophecy: He will be called a Nazarene (verse 23). This prophecy is not written in the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets prophesied that Jesus would have humble origins and be despised (Isaiah 53:1-3). People raised in a Galilean11 town like Nazareth were despised by other Jews (see John 1:46). Therefore, to be called a “Nazarene” would fulfill prophecies such as Isaiah 53:3.