Matthew 2:1-12 (The Visit of the Magi)

Mat 2:1-12:   What does Mat 2:1 teach us about the date when Jesus was born?[1] Who were the magi, and where were they from?[2] What significance would the inclusion of the coming of the (Gentile) magi have held for Matthew’s readers at a time when the gospel was spreading rapidly among the Gentiles and generating conflict with the Jews?  What did the coming of the Magi demonstrate about the expectancy at that time, even outside of Judea, that a remarkable person was to come forth from among the Jews?[3] See Num 24:17.  Why was Herod “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mat 2:3)?[4] What do Mat 2:4-8 teach us about the way the rulers of this world will feign religion and use the pious to further their own evil ambitions?  Is this true even today?  What is the significance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus?  See Mat 2:6, Ruth 1:22, 4:11, 1Sa 17:12.  What is meant by “His star” that the Magi had seen in the east (Mat 2:2)?  What might it have been, considering that it “went on before them” and “stood over where the Child was” (Mat 2:9)?  Cf. Rev 1:20, 2:1,8,12,18, 3:1,7,14, 8:10-11, 9:1, 12:4, 22:16, Luk 2:8-9.  What does the appearance of the star in the heavens teach us about how God has so ordered all of creation to bear witness to His unfolding revelation of Himself?[5] See Gen 1:14-15, Psa 19:1-6, 147:4.  What was the response of the magi when they finally saw the Child and His mother Mary?  Are the gifts they gave Him significant?  Note: Gold speaks of royalty and Christ as King and Redeemer (see Isa 59:20-60:6).  Frankincense and myrrh were key ingredients of the holy anointing oil (Ex 30:23-25) and incense (Ex 30:34-35) and they speak of Him as priest.  They also speak of Him as the bridegroom of the Church (Song 3:6-7) and his intimate love for His bride (Song 4:5-6, 11-15, cf. Prov 7:17-18).  Frankincense was also sprinkled on the grain offerings (Lev 2:1-2) and on the sacred bread of the Presence (Lev 24:6-9), and so speaks of Christ as the Bread of Life (Joh 6:35,51).  Myrrh was also important for burial customs (Joh 19:39-40), and so speaks of Christ’s death.

 


1. According to the historical records of Josephus, Herod died in 4 B.C. by our traditional calendar; assuming their accuracy, Jesus would had to have been born before this, c. 5-7 B.C.

2. See NASB textnote: a caste of wise men specializing in astrology, medicine and natural science.  Herodotus speaks of a tribe of Magi among the Medians. Among the Persians there was a priestly caste of Magi like the Chaldeans in Babylon (Da 1:4). Daniel was head of such an order (Da 2:48). It is the same word as our “magician” and it sometimes carried that idea as in the case of Simon Magus (Ac 8:9,11) and of Elymas Barjesus (Ac 13:6,8). But here in Matthew the idea seems to be rather that of astrologers. Babylon was the home of astrology, but we only know that the men were from the east whether Arabia, Babylon, Persia, or elsewhere. The notion that they were kings arose from an interpretation of Is 60:3; Re 21:24. The idea that they were three in number is due to the mention of three kinds of gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh), but that is no proof at all. Legend has added to the story that the names were Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior as in Ben Hur and also that they represent Shem, Ham, and Japhet. A casket in the Cologne Cathedral actually is supposed to contain the skulls of these three Magi. (Robertson’s Word Pictures)

3. Suetonius, a Roman historian, speaking of this rumor, says :–“An ancient and settled persuasion prevailed throughout the East, that the Fates had decreed some one to proceed from Judea, who should attain universal empire.” Tacitus, another Roman historian, says:— “Many were persuaded that it was contained in the ancient books of their priests, that at that very time the East should prevail, and that some one should proceed from Judea and possess the dominion.” Josephus also, and Philo, two Jewish historians, make mention of the same expectation. (Barnes Notes).

4. Although famed for his magnificent building projects, Herod was infamous and hated for his ruthless cruelty and jealous rages to maintain his rule: he had murdered his wife, 3 sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, etc…  His paranoid instability caused him to change his will numerous times. (Robertson’s Word Pictures).  As he was dying “he sent orders throughout Judea requiring the presence of all the chief men of the nation at Jericho. His orders were obeyed, for they were enforced with no less penalty than that of death. When they were come to Jericho he had them all shut up in the circus, and calling for his sister Salome and her husband Alexis, he said to them, ‘My life now is short, I know the Jewish people, and nothing will please them better than my death. You have them now in your custody. As soon as the breath is out of my body, and before my death can be known, do you let in the soldiers upon them and kill them. All Judea, then, and every family, will, though unwillingly, mourn at my death.’”  (Barnes’ Notes).  The people well knew the rage into which news of the expected Messiah’s arrival would throw the jealous madman.

5. Among the ancients, the appearance of a star or comet was regarded as an omen of some remarkable event. Many such appearances are recorded by the Roman historians at the birth or death of distinguished men. Thus, they say, that at the death of Julius Caesar a comet appeared in the heavens, and shone seven days. (Barnes Notes).  Cicero (De Divin. i. 47) “refers to the constellation from which, on the birthnight of Alexander, Magians foretold that the destroyer of Asia was born” (McNeile, as quoted in Robertson’s Word Pictures).  See also E.W. Bullinger’s The Witness of the Stars and Joseph Seiss’ The Gospel in the Stars.

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