The Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2)

It is common on Christmas cards to see the wise men and the shepherds visiting the newly born infant lying in a manger. Yet it is very unlikely that the wise men visited Jesus and his parents on that date, or even within a few weeks of his birth. Can we say when Jesus was born? We know that Herod died in 4BC, so Jesus must have been born in about 6BC if we add the two years deduced by Herod since the wise men initially saw the star. What else can we say about this visit?

To try and work out an order of events connected to the birth of Jesus we must compare Matthew’s account with that of Luke. If we do so, we will see that Luke says that Joseph and Mary went to live in Nazareth after they had performed various requirements of the Jewish law. What Luke does not include in his account is why the family went back to Nazareth. Matthew tells us why they went to live in Nazareth.

What else is Matthew doing in this chapter of his Gospel? It is not difficult to see that he is contrasting two kings. One of the kings is Herod and the other king is Jesus. In the Gospel by Matthew, Herod receives a few verses in one chapter whereas the story of Jesus requires the whole book. In this way Matthew is showing how much greater Jesus is. Maybe he is wanting his readers to observe that the rule of Herod involves cruelty and deceit, whereas the reign of Jesus includes blessing and truth. Herod was known as the builder of the temple which disappeared whereas Jesus is known as the builder of the church that will last forever. Herod’s death is not even described (he died shortly after the terrible events he organised in Bethlehem) by Matthew because neither his life or death helped anyone, but it is the opposite with regard to Jesus.

One of the obvious matters detailed in this incident is the way that the coming of Jesus brought blessings to Gentiles. This had been predicted in the Old Testament as one of the things that the Messiah would do. Probably most people would have expected this to happen after the Messiah had commenced serving God as an adult. Matthew wants his readers to know that blessing came to Gentiles from the early days of the life of Jesus. Presumably the wise men told people about the arrival of Jesus when they returned to their homes.

Another detail that Matthew brings to the attention of his readers was the state of organised religion in Israel at that time. Why were the leaders not excited about the birth of the Saviour? They showed no interest despite knowing the fact that travellers had come saying that they had supernatural information about the birth of a special King. Instead of going with the wise men, they stayed where they were and presumably never had another opportunity of meeting Jesus.

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