This is only a preliminary survey of Sunday’s Bible class.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (NAS95)
Interesting in chapter 1 and 2, while the birth of Jesus is central, the birth even itself is not recorded. In Matthew 1, the only indication that something happened is the announcement that Joseph did not “know” Mary
until after the birth of Jesus, with the further announcement of his naming. Now in Matthew 2 the story continues “after Jesus was born,” almost like an afterthought.
“Bethlehem of Judea” — from a modern standpoint this helps us distinguish this Bethlehem from the identical named town in Galilee (associated with the tribe of ), ~7 miles northwest of Nazareth. However, that is not Matthew’s purpose. Rather this identification connects Jesus with the City of David, which also connects to the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in this specific town (2:4-6).
“Herod” — see the discussion from 10/26/2011 regarding Herod.
We focused more attention on the “magi” and on the phrase “in the east.” A question arose as to whether the magi could have been Jews coming from the east (Babylon, Persia), perhaps descendants from the Jews who did not return to their homeland. It seems more likely that they would be Gentile. Yet they would have had some contact with Jews in captivity. Namely, Daniel was a leader of the one of the major divisions, which included the “wise men and advisors to the king.” These men were learned in the key points of astronomy and astrology. Yet with the Jewish influence would likely have heard the promises from the Jews Scriptures (including Numbers 24:17). Note, however, that reference points to a person, and not to a literal star. And yet, the star does point to the one born.
From the standpoint of Matthew’s Gospel, the coming of the magi presents a nice bookend with the Great Commission. As in the Old Testament, the nations are to come to Jerusalem to seek God. The magi represent the last of such action. With the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, and his fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, the focus changes, no longer “to Jerusalem” but now outward “from Jerusalem.” This is consistent with the Great Commission (28:18-20), in which the disciples are to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
Another reason for not considering the magi Jews would be the unlikely circumstance where a Jew would “worship” a king. That was something reserved for God alone. Even when Jesus comes and those who think so highly of him would still consider “worship” beyond an appropriate response. For a Gentile hearing the promises of a “Messiah” or “king” would be at least consistent with the background and desire to worship. Can you imagine the response as they ask around about the-born-king of the Jews? For a Jew to ask that question would be out of character.
“In the east” or “rising” — the Greek word (ἀνατολῶν, anatolen) can be translated either as “east” or as “rising” or even “sunrise.”
The “star” is unusual. And then in 2:2, they call it “his star.” No mention that they see it while in Jerusalem, yet when they take the six mile journey to Bethlehem, they see it again and it resumes its pointing function.