Kingdom: A long-anticipated reality (Matthew 2:2, 6)
Beginning our investigation of the Gospel of Matthew, with eyes wide open for any reference to the “kingdom” of God…
we first become aware of the notion of a kingdom through a passage we hear every year around Christmas time.
As Matthew recounts the story of Jesus, he describes the visitation of the guys we have come to know as the “wise men.”
And while they don’t mention the “kingdom” specifically, they are focused on the one thing that makes a kingdom a kingdom at all — the reality of a KING.
Here’s how Matthew describes that event…
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Quotation from Micah 5:2)
SO MANY QUESTIONS arise from this simple account!
Who ARE these wise men?
Where did they come from (besides “the east”)?
HOW did they know a “king of the Jews” was expected at all?
How and WHY did they connect the appearance of a new “star” to the newborn Jewish king?
What gave them the idea that this newborn Jewish king was worthy of WORSHIP?
Let’s take those one at a time, realizing that scripture itself may not give us complete understanding on some of those questions.
Who are the wise men?
To be honest, we don’t specifically know. There are actually a number of legends about their origin and identity that can’t be verified or debunked.
At the very least we know that they were some sort of seers or advisors in their land. The words “Magi,” “Kings” and “Wise Men” are used to describe them, all which seem to indicate some sort of recognized position of influence.
What we learn from Matthew’s recounting of their arrival is that they came to see the “king of the Jews” who was born, that they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and that they knew to come because they saw “his star in the east.”
Where did they come from?
Somewhere east of Israel… that’s the best answer we have. There’s been speculation over the years that this could have been Persia (modern-day Iraq) or even the far east (China, Korea, etc.). We have no real evidence of any conclusion.
Some feel that the gifts they brought indicate a place of origin much closer to Israel, perhaps even in Arabia, since it was and areas known for its gold mines and Boswellian and Commiphora trees — from which frankincense and myrrh are derived.
How did they come to know a “king of the Jews’ was to arrive?
The assumption is that they were students of Jewish prophecy and therefore knew that a coming “messiah” figure was foretold. We find ample evidence of the Old Testament prophets’ anticipation of the Messiah.
The first glimpse of this Messianic expectation shows up as early as Genesis chapter 3 and continues throughout the Old Testament. It’s too much to unpack here but you can find a great summarization and overview of the concept in this Bible.org article.
The title “king” may be the wise men’s word choice to describe this anticipated person. But it’s also possible they derived it from a particular passage in the Old Testament or non-biblical Jewish account.
Regardless of how they chose to describe the Messiah and why, it’s intriguing to me that the concept of a coming Jewish “king” or “ruler” was clearly known about even outside Israel.
How did they connect a star to the arrival of this newborn Jewish king?
Again, we don’t know. They were clearly interested in stars, planets, etc., so perhaps were well-educated in astronomy, possibly even astrology. But the connection of a star to the prophesied Jewish king is not something we’re aware of.
There is a prophecy about a “star” coming out of the tribe of Jacob (Numbers 24:17) but this clearly refers to the PERSON of the Messiah, not a literal star appearing in the heavens.
What gave them the idea that this newborn king was worthy of worship?
To me, this is the most intriguing of all the questions. I have to assume that along with their understanding from the Old Testament Jewish prophecies that a Messiah was coming, they also understood from the same prophecies that He would be divine.
Again, this is speculation but given what we see and what they say, it’s one of the only sensible conclusions I can come to. Isaiah 9:6 is one of a handful or prophesies that describe the Messiah in divine terms…
Jealousy from the sitting king (Herod)
Herod the Great (what he was called) wasn’t a legitimate king of Israel. By the time he rolled around the geneological succession of kings in Israel was long gone. Herod wasn’t even Jewish by lineage, but was rather born of an Idumean man and an Arab woman. His appointment to the role of “king” in Israel was not well-received by the Jewish people.
Herod was as pro-Rome and a vassal king could be. Since Rome gave him his authority and power, it was, politically speaking and humanly speaking, in his best interest to be pro-Rome. But don’t let my description of him as a vassal king mislead you, he had plenty of power and he wasn’t afraid to use it. He engaged in extensive building projects — a new wall around Jerusalem, the Fortress of Antonia, marketplaces, an ampitheater, a new building for the Sanhedren (Jewish ruling council), many regional fortresses, and the elaborate Jewish temple, often referred to as “Herod’s temple.”
It makes perfect sense to me that Herod would be a bit threatened to learn that foreign wise men had entered the land looking for a newborn, prophesied king. But he didn’t have the first clue about how to go about locating the child. He was a purely secular leader, who, like most secular leaders, connived and positioned to protect his power at all costs.
So, seeking information about where to find this child-king, Herod discovers from the Chief Priests and Scribes that the prophecies pointed to Bethlehem.
I’m intrigued that Herod, not being Jewish in the first place, took the prophecies so seriously. Perhaps it was nothing more than a reflection of his insecurity and lust for power. But it seems to have been more. He murders all the baby boys in the region of Bethlehem (probably up to 100 children) to root out the threat. That’s a pretty extreme course of action which indicates he felt the threat was serious.
The concept of a coming King was nothing new to Matthew’s readers
It’s clear that many people, not just wise men from the east and not just figurehead regional kings, knew about and were awaiting the promised Messiah.
The Jewish culture as a whole was anticipating the arrival of the Messiah. They were just clueless about the timing (but perhaps shouldn’t have been… Daniel 9 provides a divinely accurate timeline regarding His arrival).
So for us, the idea of a King and Kingdom (of God/heaven) should not be a surprise either.
Our faith in Jesus is rooted in the Old Testament accounts of the coming Messiah. Jesus came in fulfillment of the many, many prophecies that a Messiah would deliver Israel, that He would rule, that He would establish a righteous reign over the nation and the world. The Jews expected these things to come about with the arrival of the Messiah.
But as Christians, looking back on His life, death, and resurrection from a vantage point of over 2000 years into the future, we naturally have lots of questions based on the scriptures and our understanding (or lack of understanding) of history.
Did Jesus establish His kingdom when He came to earth?
That’s the question behind this exploration of Matthew.
The Jewish people long-expected a King to come
So we start our exploration in the Gospel of Matthew with the realization that Jesus was and always has been the King of Israel (Messiah), appointed by the Father to enter history at precisely the right time.
As we continue our study, we’ll get further clarification about why He came into history and what He was here to accomplish.