Why does Matthew need to specify Bethlehem of Judea?
There was also a Bethlehem located in Galilee about 7 miles northwest of Nazareth.
Who was this Herod?
This is the same Herod commonly referred to as Herod the Great.
What year did this Herod die?
Josephus says that he died in 4 BC. He died in Jericho.
What year might Jesus have likely been born?
4 BC which was the year of Herod’s death.
Does Matthew indicate the date of year Jesus was born?
No. He only indicates that Jesus was born in the days of Herod.
The Greek word Matthew uses for the visitors from the east is magos. Strong defines it as follows:
Of foreign origin [H7248]; a Magian, that is, Oriental scientist; by implication a magician: - sorcerer, wise man.
Who were these people?
There was understood to be such “magi” in both cultures at the subject time. The nature of their profession and practice is actually unknown.
Does Matthew indicate how many magos were visiting Jesus?
No. There could have been quite a few to support the long journey.
From where do the magos come from?
Matthew says they came from the east. Generally speaking the east is considered the vicinity of the Chaldeans and Persians.
How might the magos know the prophecies concerning the Messiah?
Even if they were astrologers or Zoroastrians as many commentaries intimate, they would still need some definition on who they were looking for and some reason of value to look for one that was newly born. They would have needed to have writings from the Jews consistent with the pre-captivity texts, particularly the minor prophets and Psalms. They could have had knowledge from texts supported by the Jews in captivity since these would likely have been sanctioned by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), Darius (Daniel6), and Cyrus (Daniel 10, Ezra 1). Many credit the magi as astrologers because they identified the star as the signal. But, there only need be an understanding that they were to look for a predetermined star that has an appearance based on the particular birth of the “king of the Jews”. There was certainly no possibility that there was interpretation of stars, or otherwise extra-revelation beyond that of God’s Spirit, to give indication of the birth of the Messiah. The scriptures, Old and New Testament, actually forbid such sorcery which could only come by the help of Satan and his dominion which could only involve lies and deceit. We have to remember that God interceded on behalf of the magi once they were in Judah, why wouldn’t he tell them before the birth what to look for. I think the better question is about God’s choosing these people to honor the Lord and their conviction to follow-up on some degree of faith to obey God.
What lead the magos to Judea?
The star’s appearing is stated by the magi as leading them to the land of Judea. This is evidently a star with its appearance only warranted by the birth. In other words, a star of miraculous origin.
Why would the group from the east go to Herod?
This would likely be a combination of respect and ignorance. On the one hand, respect for the governorship of Herod as appointed by the government in Rome and on the other hand likely simply hoping that the authority of the Jews would be able to expedite the purpose of their journey.
What faithful person was once appointed by a great king as leader of all the king’s magos (Daniel 5:11-12)?
Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians.
How did the magos refer to the one they sought?
They referred to the Lord as the King of the Jews.
What interest would these magos have in a ruler of Israel?
Matthew indicates they were seeking the King of Jews to worship Him. This must be based on knowledge gained from the prophets and Psalms. To worship the babe would be to acknowledge authority vested in the child. The context of the faith they bore is not revealed by Matthew directly.
What interest did Herod have in the quest of the magos?
Herod tended to guard his authority at great risk to those around him, especially potential successors, even heirs.
Why would all Jerusalem be disturbed about the quest?
Some would associate the distress of Judah to the peoples’ understanding of the paranoia of Herod. But, Matthew says this is a manner that equals the trouble of Judah to that of Herod. In other words, the news of the birth of the King of the Jews was very distressing. Likely, because of the consequences on the population that could come with a perceived usurper of authority. Not just from Herod, but more certainly from Rome. Herod was pro-Roman because of the security it offered what nobility and authority he garnered. Keep in mind, Herod’s claim to king was sanctioned and established by Marc Antony and two Roman Legions (III Gallica and VI Ferrata) versus the Parthians in 37 BC by order of Octavian and the Senate. Shortly, after Marc Antony and Octavian warred and Herod found himself seeking the benevolence of Octavian, who not only confirmed Herod’s claim to the throne of Judah but also gave Herod the coast lands and Samaria. All this, by the time of Christ’s birth had established a leadership in Judah and Samaria and also an economy associated with Rome. If there is to be a new “king of the Jews” then there would likely be a civil war within Judah and also a war against Rome and its allies. This can certainly make a populace nervous.
What did Herod direct them to do for him?
He wanted the magos to bring back word to him concerning the child and the child’s location. Herod claimed he wanted to worship the child but this was obviously a feigned request. Herod had already executed many to keep his power, such as his wife’s father.
Why would Herod be concerned about the time at which the magos sighted the star?
Given the coming events in Herod’s attempt to assassinate the child, Herod was likely trying to glean more information to determine the likely age of the child and begin the hunt.
Who indicated to Herod where the Messiah would be born?
All the chief priests and scribes. It is interesting that the scriptures do not indicate if any of them actually had any knowledge of the birth. This is interesting because the magos weren’t the only ones expecting and looking for the Messiah. There are some we are told of in Jerusalem that, by faith based on their attention to scripture were expecting the Lord, but were not chief priests, scribes, kings, or higher educated individuals like the magos.
From what prophet did the priests and scribes determine the place of Jesus’ birth?
Micah. The scripture referenced by Matthew is Micah 5:2.
Where was Bethlehem of Judea relative to Jerusalem?
The birthplace of Jesus is commonly understood to be about 6 miles south west of Jerusalem.
What gifts did the magos present to the child?
They presented the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
What is the significance of the gifts?
The practical answer, to start, would be the value of the three items in the homeland of the magi along with the customs of presenting such gifts to people understood to be royalty. There can be some perception of symbolism for the gold relating to kingship, the frankincense relating to Deity (incense relating to prayers to God by the priests), and the myrrh relating to one subject to death (myrrh being used in burials). Of course, there is certainly the significance of the practicality of having these assets given the necessity of Joseph’s family traveling to Egypt. God thereby provided through the honest, honorable, and faithful gift of these men.
Why didn’t the magos return to Herod with report as Herod directed?
God directed them not to return to Herod. In fact, they went home by a different route. They were instructed through a dream concerning Herod.
What does the name Bethlehem mean?
Bethlehem means “house of bread”. It was the birth place of David also, hence being a descendent of David they had to be in Bethlehem for the census. Of course, there are many that do not let the fact that Christ is the true manna of heaven escape notice.
How does this birth place relate Jesus to the others in the scriptures?
There were various leaders that were born in certain places that use that home place as some form of relevance to some perceived authority. The Jews expected the Messiah to come from a kingly and holy (by their definition, not God’s) origin such as the very site of the temple itself if possible. But God chose the humble town of Bethlehem to send forth the Word of Life. Even the town chosen for Jesus to grow up in was considered as humble a place as any when it comes to the grandeur credited to the enlightened of God, according to the Scribes and Pharisees, of course (John 1:46). The proud will be humbled and the humble lifted up by God.