Matthew 2:1-23


  1. Introduction: This is a very interesting section talking about the miraculous signs that God ordains in order to point to the significance of the birth of His Son Jesus Christ. It's interesting that although God repeatedly condemns sorcery and divination throughout the Bible, He uses astrological signs in this case to impress astrologers. Although God is counter-cultural, He still sometimes uses worldly constructs as an act of mercy to reach out to the lost. Perhaps we would do well to reach the culture where they are (be "relevant") without diluting the message of the cross of course.

  2. Characters

    1. Wise Men [1,2,3]

This is occasionally a term for men who practice magic, divination, etc. The line between genuine knowledge and astrology etc. was extremely vague. Great men of the Bible sought and were trained in this worldly wisdom and it was not frowned upon: Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), Daniel was taught the wisdom of the Chaldeans (Dan 1:4),  However, godly men could be trusted to avoid the moral and religious pitfalls of worldly wisdom. As Christians nowadays, there is nothing wrong with pursuing a worldly career etc. However, we must do everything to the glory of Christ (1 Cor 10:31) and also avoid the moral and religious pitfalls of that knowledge.

The Greek word for the wise men in Matthew 2:1 is magoi is rendered as “astrologers”. The role of these Wise Men suggests a connection with astrology. As the Magi pursued their observations of the stars in the heavens they encountered a sign of God  (Mat 2:2). Their system was misguided yet God used it to make this great event known.

Magi were often employed by royal courts. The fact that they visited the infant Jesus may denote that Jesus came to save all kinds of people from lowly shepherds to greatly powerful (in terms of wealth and influence -- not “magical powers” of course) Magi.

  1. The Star [3]

Modern astronomers can tell exactly the positions of the stars and planets at any given date, even thousands of years ago. Combining that scientific knowledge with astrology, an amazing discovery has been made. In April of 6 BCE, Jupiter was in Aries, indicating to astrologers an important royal event in Herod’s kingdom. But on April 17 of that year Saturn and the sun also entered Aries. Either of these events would portend a major royal birth. On top of that, on that same night there was an eclipse of the moon, indicating the end of a kingdom and the birth of a new one, and at dawn Jupiter emerged as the morning star, also indicating the birth of a mighty king.

So many omens happening at the same time is extraordinarily rare and would have elicited great excitement among astrologers. The average person would have noticed nothing unusual in the sky, but any astrologer would have seen this as a sign not only that there was a king born in Herod’s realm, but that he would be a super-king. If we accept this theory, it would indicate that Jesus was born on April 17, 6 BCE.

  1. King Herod aka ”Herod the Great” [6]

Here is a long introduction video to Herod the Great. I recommend watching the first minute:

Josephus referred to Herod as “Herod the Great”. By the world’s standards, he was great in terms of his capabilities as a politician, soldier, orator, and builder. He renovated the temple in Jerusalem and married a Jewish woman, Mariamme I ,partly to gain favor with the Jews. He was also a paranoid, murderous, tyrant who had close family members killed for fear of losing his kingdom -- including his two sons, his favorite wife Mariamme I, and her parents. Prior to having her executed, he was so “protective” of Mariamme that he instructed his soldiers to kill her if anything were to happen to him while travelling abroad.  

At the end of his life, Herod suffered from severe illness. Josephus described his symtoms as follows: “For a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly as it augmented his pains inwardly; for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating … His entrails were also exulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly” [7]. He issued two commands to be performed upon his death:

  1.      To execute the recently imprisoned Jewish elders so that the people would be mourning during his death.

  2.      To execute his son Antipater.

In Matthew, Herod’s paranoia, jealousy, and tyranny are on full display with his reaction to King Jesus being born where he had all babies up to two-years-old in the region murdered in a vain attempt to murder Jesus the King of Kings (Mat 2:16). As you learned from the celestial signs in the sky pointing to the coming of a “super king”, Herod had reason to be afraid of his kingly authority being challenged (or at least he thought he did because he believed in the symbolism of the stars which was actually true in this case). 

After Herod’s death, three of his sons and his sister Salome were given charge of his kingdom. His son Herod Antipas served as tetrarch over Galilee (Luke 3:1) (tetrarch means “ruler of fourth”). This Herod Jr. is the Herod most referred to in the Gospels. His other son Archelaus was left the throne -- who is mentioned in Matthew 2:22. His other son Philip was the tetrarch of Gaulanitis. Salome was given three cities not mentioned in the New Testament.   


  1. Archelaus [6]

He is mentioned by name only once in the New Testament here in Mat 2:22. Little is known about his rule but we know that it was not positive. He was a self-absorbed tyrant who some people say was the worst of Herod the Great’s sons. All three brothers were unsuccessful in their reigns but Archelaus was the only one who was not allowed to return to their rule and permanently banished. Whatever reason Joseph had in fearing Archelaus but not Antipas seems well-placed from what little we know about Archelaus.


  1. An Angel

This may be Gabriel or it may not be -- we don’t know.

  1. Places

    1. Bethlehem [8,9,10]

This is the birthplace of Jesus Christ in fulfillment of the prophesy in Micah 5:2. The name “bethlehem” means “house of bread”. This is interesting because Jesus Christ is called the “bread of life” and yet he was cradled in a city called the “house of bread”. The city was originally called Ephrath (Gen 35:19) and was also called Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2). This Bethlehem is distinguished from another city called “Bethlehem of Zebulun” by being referred to as “Bethlehem in Judah” (Judg 17:7). Bethlehem is mentioned here in Matthew 2 five times, in Luke twice (Luke 2:4, Luke 2:15), and then never again in the NT. It was referred to in Luke as the “city of David” and members of a crowd in John 7:42 refer to Bethlehem as the city where David lived. It was the ancestral home of David (1 Sam 17:12). Joseph had to go to Bethlehem for the census since he was in the line of David. 

  1. Galilee [11,12]

The name literally means “circle” or “district” with the fuller expression being “district of the Gentiles” (Mat 4:15). This is the highest and northernmost region of Israel with elevations ranging from 3962 feet at Mount Meron to 680 feet below sea level at the Sea of Galilee. It is the coolest and most watered part of Israel. Jesus spent his childhood and much of His public ministry here. The occupants were basically Jewish but were composed of various ethnic elements such as Babylonian, Persian, Greecian, and Syrian. It had many roads of superior construction due to Roman construction and maintenance. It was a bustling area that was perfect for Jesus’s ministry. 

As far as Jesus’s ministry, 19/31 parables were spoken here,25/30 of his great miracles were performed here, and all the Apostles except Judas Iscariot were from here (Peter’s Galilean accent gave him away when he denied Christ in Mark 14:70).

  1. Nazareth [1]

The word means “shoot” or “sprout”. There were about 15000-20000 people living there at the time. Jesus grew up here from infancy to manhood (Luke 4:16) and began His public ministry in the synagogue (Mat 13:54) at which people were so offended that they sought to throw him off a cliff their city was built upon (Luke 4:29). Jesus did not perform many miracles there because of their unbelief (Mat 13:58). It is supposed from John 1:46 that the city was looked down on but it could have also meant that the Messiah could not come from Nazareth (since the Jews thought the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and not come from anywhere else due to Micah 5:2). 

  1. Exposition

Mat 2:1 The Son of God entered the world but instead of all the crowns and sceptres being laid

at His feet, His coming was obscure and hardly noticed. This is part of how He emptied Himself

and  made Himself of no reputation. Yet, there were signs of His immense power here and there

as we see in this chapter with the star(s) and in later chapters with His miracles (Hab 3:4). His

death and resurrection is the greatest display of His power since He proved He has the power

to conquer death and forgive us of our sins (2 Tim 1:10) [14]. Someday when He returns,

He will be as many of those who rejected Him expected. Those who did not believe in Him

when His full power was hidden, however, will suffer God’s wrath (John 3:18).  

Mat 2:2: “rose” is a word that refers to the position of a star in the sky.

Mat 2:6: This is a prophecy from Micah 5:2

Mat 2:11: “they bowed down” means “fall down, throw oneself to the ground” as a sign of


frankincense: aromatic resin of certain trees used as a sweet-smelling incense

myrrh: aromatic resin of certain shrubs; used in preparing a corpse for burial

Mat 2:15: quote from Hos 11:1

Mat 2:18: quote from Jeremiah 38:15

Mat 2:23: Nazareth is not specifically mentioned in the OT but Nazarene might be a reference

to the Hebrew word for branch in Isaiah 11:1. Another possible explanation is that “Nazarene”

is a synonym for someone who is despised or detestable -- which is how people from the

region may have been characterized (John 1:46). If true, then the prophecies fulfilled would

include Psalm 22:6-8, Isaiah 49:7, Isa 53:3 [13].  

False Beliefs

  1. Three Wise Men [5]

Before 225 AD, Tertullian called the wise men “kings” and deduced that there were three of them corresponding to the three gifts. Before 600 AD, the Armenian Infancy Gospel named them: Melkon, Balthasar, and Gaspar. 

  1. Questions


  1. Easton, B. S. (1915). Wise-Men. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 3096). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.

  2. Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

  3. determine the favor or disfavor of the gods before undertaking any important endeavor

  4. Losch, R. R. (2008). In All the People in the Bible: An A–Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture (p. 267). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

  5. Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., & Butler, T. C. (Eds.). (2003). Magi. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 1066–1067). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

  6. Winstead, M. B. (2016). Herod the Great. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

  7. Josephus, Antiquities, 17.6.5

  8. Cazelles, H. (1992). Bethlehem (Place). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1, p. 713). New York: Doubleday.

  9. Easton, M. G. (1893). In Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature (p. 96). New York: Harper & Brothers.

  10. Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

  11. Laney, J. C. (2016). Galilee. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

  12. Holloman, H. W. (1988). Galilee, Galileans. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 835). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

  13. MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1396). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.

  14. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1614). Peabody: Hendrickson.