Lesson 8: Wise Men / Slaying of Infants / Trip to Egypt / Return to Nazareth
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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. Lesson #8. Alright, I'm glad your back. Before we get down to the text, let's broaden our horizon a little. I would encourage you to read more history about the Jewish ancestry and O.T. prophecy. The Jews had been a great nation, many times, in their long history. But at the time of Jesus they were NOT a sovereign nation. By that, I mean they had lost their independence and were subservient to Rome. Thus, they were part of the great Roman empire. But the Jews had been dominated by the Romans for ONLY about a century. That empire of 50 or 60 million people (including the Jews) was scattered all around the Mediterranean Sea. The word "Mediterranean" literally means THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD. According to Malerbe, the Jews were thought to make up about 1% of the Roman empire's population. Palestine was the homeland of the Jews. But, don't get the impression they were hemmed in one little corner of the Roman Empire. At the time of Jesus, more of the Jews may have live outside of Palestine than lived in Palestine. Those Jews outside of the homeland, scattered across the empire, were sometimes referred to as the DISPERSION. But a strong racial and religious bond connected all Jews. The Romans had a very sophisticated cast system. At the top were about 600 senators. At the bottom were the slaves, who made up about one-third of that population. It would appear that the vast majority of Jews fit into that cast system somewhere between the common citizen and the slave, with some Jews overlapping into both categories.
Keep in mind, these Jews were the descendants of Abraham. What we call the O.T. was their Bible. They observed seven different feast days during the year..Deut. 16:16 required all the accountable male Jews to visit the temple three times a year for worship. Some were very devout like Simeon and Anna. Others were corrupt, greedy, competitive and average. Their calendar used a seven day week derived, of course, from creation week in Gen. ch. 1. They did not use names for the days of the week like we do (Sun., Mon., etc.). They used numbers: 1st day of the week, 2nd day of the week, etc.. The seventh day was the sabbath, corresponding to our Saturday. Friday (to them) was the day of preparation, getting ready for the sabbath. The Jewish calendar also contained months. Each month started on a new moon and were 29 1/2 days with a few corrections here and there, similar to our leap-year. The 14th day of each month was a full moon. If you are interested in their calendar, you might want to read Leviticus 25:8-17, which explains sabbatical years and Jubilees.
Now, here is where a lot of confusion comes in, the Romans followed a different calendar, which supposedly began counting with the founding of Rome. It is usually thought that Jesus was born in the year 753 A.U.C, i.e. according to the Roman calendar. Thus, that year (753 A.U.C) would correspond to A.D. 0 on our calendar today which supposedly started counting with the birth of Christ. But, unfortunately the calendar we use was NOT started for 300 or 400 years after Christ. Thus, in adjusting back to that date, it is usually thought that Dionysius made an error of 3 to 5 years; but, by the time the error was discovered, there were so many books and other literature in print, using the date of AD 0 as Jesus' birth that little has been done to try to correct the error. So, in some literature you will find the year of Jesus' birth given as 4 BC. Thus, they're trying to correct for Dionysisus' error. We usually just forget that and say Jesus was born in AD 0, to keep things simple. Thus, Jesus' birthday would be at the beginning of our year, i.e. January 1st. But the fact of the matter is, as I said before, no one knows the day when Jesus was born.
O.K., let's read Matt. 2:1-12. As we read, try to fit this into that Roman world; we have just discussed. Are you ready? "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, and thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."
Alright, this is again supposedly one of those well known passages of the Bible. What does it say? Did you learn the story something like this: Three wise men (on three camels) rode into town one day and went straight to Herod's office and asked for the king of the Jews. Herod called his religious advisors and they said the child would be born in Bethlehem. So the three men hopped back on their camels rode straight to Bethlehem where they found the Christ child in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. Now, is that what happened? If you think it is, you better read it again.
First of all, the text does NOT say THREE men. It says "men". Some have interpreted the gifts: "gold, and frankencense and myrrh." (v.11) to imply three men. But, you see, ten men could have brought gold and the text would read the same. Next, there is nothing in the text to indicate this incident happened while Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger as the so-called nativity scenes usually depict. That's an erroneous assumption. V.11 says, "when they were come into the house." It didn't say a stable and mangers were usually not part of a house. Also, Jesus is referred to as a young child in v.8,9, and 11. Did the wise men go to Bethlehem? Well, they may have, or they may NOT have went to Bethlehem. Our text does not say. It says Herod sent them to Bethlehem, but v.9 says they followed the star and where that star took them, the text doesn't say. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (the city of David), YES! But that doesn't prove he was there when the wise men came. The chief priests and the scribes quoted from Micah 5:2 and that agrees with Luke 2:11; but that says where he was born; NOT where he was when the wise men came. In the KJV, Matthew 2:1 says, "WHEN Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea In the days of Herod the king..." But most other translations say, AFTER Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.
Consider some questions: Who were these wise men? Where did they come from? How did they know about the king of the Jews? Why were they so intent upon worshipping him? Was that a real star that guided them? Why did the star disappear when they got in or near Jerusalem, just long enough to trouble Herod and all Jerusalem with him? (v.3). Why did Herod involve the chief priests and scribes in this (v.4-5)? Why was Herod so jealous of a young child? Why did God warn the Magi to go home another way? The answer to these questions has something to do with the Holy Spirit and what was taking place behind the scenes, as we made reference to before. There was just enough (supernatural sprinkled in to make the truth known and to establish the evidence.
I'm told the word here translated "wise men" in v.1, literally means: an Oriental scientist, i.e. one who studies astrology, medicine, natural science, etc. How did these men know about the birth of Jesus? Now, that's a good question, I can't answer. Between 500 and 600 years before that, Daniel (a Jew in the O.T.) had been made the chairman of just such a group in Babylon (you can read about this in Dan. 2:48). And, Babylon qualifies as being in the east as our text here says. This Daniel by the grace of God had prophesied about Christ and his kingdom. You will remember Gabriel called attention to this same prophecy in his conversation with Mary (Luke 1:33). In connection with your "KINGDOM" WORKSHEET you might observe that in these passages Jesus was called "King of the Jews" (v.2) and the Micah prophecy quoted in v.6 refers to Jesus as "a Governor."
However, there are some things written here between the lines that I would like to call your attention to. It is clear when you study v.3&4 that Herod the king (an old man) knew and understood that a Messiah would come. Simeon and Anna and others there in Jerusalem were expecting this even. Thus, the Christ did not come unannounced. Jesus did not declare himself. It is through Jesus and ONLY through Him that we can know God the Father, that's the last verse in John's prologue.
Alright, let's read the rest of Matt. ch. 2. Beginning in v. 13; have you got your eyes on it? Let's read! "And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Raman was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."
O.K. you will remember in v.8 up above, Herod asked the wise men to report back to him when they found the Christ child. But, God told them NOT to do it (v.12). Then in v.16 it says, "Herod...was exceeding wroth." And he was wroth enough to take his vengeance out on innocent babies. How many were murdered by the sword, we are not told. Did Herod really believe he could out do God? It's amazing how bold some people are. But, of course, the Holy Spirit working behind the scenes had a message relayed to Joseph. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, almost identical wording as ch. 1, v.20. The message was: "Arise...go into Egypt." Joseph obey! They left in the middle of the night, v.14. The angel said, "...be thou there until I bring thee word." That's all we know about that trip into Egypt of about 200 miles (one way). Herod could issue death between his teeth, and I suppose had been doing it for 40 years. But, that same enemy, death, finally caught up with Herod. On this occasion Rome divided the territory. Archelaus Herod succeed his father, Herod-the-great, in Judea but not for long. Another son of Herod-the-great, named Antipas (or Antipater Herod, named for Herod-the-great's father) was given the territory of Galilee where Nazareth was located. Another of the Herod sons, Philip Herod, also received part of Herod-the-great's territory even farther north. We'll meet the Herod boys again.
Right here let's take a moment to reinforce something that has been said before. Matthew knew the O.T. like the back of his hand. And, he wants you to see beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus was the one prophesied in the O.T. hundreds of years before. Matthew belabors this point hard! Please notice how he makes this point over and over as we go through his book. This is what we called Matthew's FULFILLMENT DOCTRINE before. Look at v.15! The prophet had said: "Out of Egypt have I called my son." This is from Hosea 11:1. Then in v.17-18 Matthew quotes from Jeremiah. Ramah was apparently an older name for Bethlehem. Rachel was the wife of Jacob (also called Israel, the grandson of Abraham) in the O.T. She was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph is probably the best known character in the O.T. Rachel died in Bethlehem when Benjamin was born. Then down in v.23, Matthew says that Nazareth was ALSO a fulfillment of prophecy.
Now, for perspective, Matt. ch. 2 ends here with Joseph, Mary and Jesus back in Nazareth of Galilee. Thus Matthew at this point catches up with Luke's account where we left off in Luke 2:40. Luke said "when they had performed all these things [i.e. at the temple]...they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth." Luke said: "the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him." Which as I said, corresponds very closely to v.23 here in Matthew ch. 2; although, Luke didn't tell us about the trip into Egypt. Now in the next verse here, in Matt. 3:1, this writer makes a 30 year transition. He skips over approximately one whole generation. Then Luke also, in Luke 3:1 makes that big 30 year leap and both writer pick up with John the Baptist when John was about 30 years old. Neither Mark nor John cover any of these details in the early life of Jesus or John the Baptist. But, both writers (Mark and John) essentially start where Matthew and Luke pick up with John the Baptist in Matt. 3:1 and Luke 3:1. Thus, at this point we have covered ALL the material, in all four gospels, dealing with the early life of both Jesus and John the Baptist, i.e. with the exception of the genealogy at the beginning of Matt. ch. 1 AND we'll eventually get back to that at the appropriate time. I mention this here, just as a little pointer to hopefully help you in grasping and remembering the outline and lay-out of the four gospels. Matthew and Luke BOTH give us essentially two chapters of up front material and then all four books start together. Now, there IS another 12 verses at the end of Luke ch. 2, (v.41-52) concerning an incident in Jesus' life when he was 12 years old, that we have NOT covered. It's the only incident recorded during that 30 year transition period I mentioned earlier. But for lack of time, we're NOT going to cover those 12 verses in this lesson. We're going to save that for Lesson #9. So, until lesson # 9, have a good day!