Matthew chapter 2

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What does Matthew chapter 2 mean?

Jesus has been born to Mary, who is now married to Joseph, after the couple was informed of His miraculous birth by angelic messages (Matthew 1:18–25). Chapter 1 explained the genealogy and conception of Christ. Chapter 2 describes crucial moments in His infancy. Chapter 3 will resume the narrative after a long gap, picking back up when Jesus is an adult.

A group of wise men from the east arrives in Jerusalem, some time after Jesus is born. These men are labelled using the Greek term magoi, which in Persian and Babylonian culture referred to those who studied astronomy, prophecy, medicine, and religion—some also dabbled in sorcery and fortune telling. These particular wise men are on a quest, and what they seek is troubling news to King Herod: they look for someone "born king of the Jews." The scholars have come in response to some astronomical sign, which they call "his star." Though they are not Jewish, these men apparently studied ancient Jewish Scriptures, and so they began their search in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1–4).

King Herod summons local religious leaders and asks them where the Scriptures say the Christ—a term derived from the Hebrew word for Messiah—would be born. They know the Scriptures well and quickly tell Him that the Promised One will be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Herod is careful, but secretive, in asking the wise men when they first saw this sign. He then directs them to Bethlehem to find the child. In a blatant lie, he claims his intent is to worship this new king (Matthew 2:5–8).

Whether or not the wise men originally saw a comet, planet, or supernova, what they see next is all-but-certainly supernatural. They once again see a guiding star, this time moving south, guiding them directly. The men arrive at the home where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are staying in Bethlehem. Overjoyed, the wise men worship the child, presenting Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each of these gifts is practical and valuable, as well as carrying prophetic meaning. Despite Herod's command, the men leave town secretly by an alternate route—they've been warned in a dream not to go back to the evil ruler (Matthew 2:9–12).

Once again, Joseph receives direction from God, through an angel, in a dream. He must take Jesus and Mary and go to Egypt to escape Herod's plan to kill the child Jesus. In this context, "Egypt" means the territory outside of Herod's authority, whose borders were a few day's journey away. The emphasis of this command is on haste, not distance; the family must leave while Herod still has no idea who they are. They leave that night, settling for a time in Egyptian territory, waiting to be called back by the angel when Herod has died (Matthew 2:13–15).

Herod realizes the wise men have left the area without telling him where the Christ child is. Furious, Herod sends men to kill all male babies in Bethlehem, two years old and younger. This contingency was Herod's reason to ask about the appearance of the wise men's sign. Knowing when his rival was born narrowed down possible targets. Herod's massacre aims to prevent the child from taking the throne from Herod and his sons. Herod doesn't know that the child and family have already left town. Matthew connects the slaughter of the babies to a prophecy by Jeremiah about the weeping of Rachel for her children (Matthew 2:16–18).

After Herod dies, Joseph has two more dreams. First the angel tells him it is safe to return to Israel because those who wanted to kill Jesus are dead. When Joseph gets to Israel, he is concerned about the cruel and unpredictable son of Herod who now reigns over Judea. Through another dream, God sends Joseph and Mary to their hometown of Nazareth in the region of Galilee, ruled over by a more stable son of the Herod family. Just as Jesus' birth in Bethlehem fulfilled prophecies about the birthplace of the Christ, His childhood in Nazareth fulfills another prophecy about the Messiah being known as a Nazarene (Matthew 2:19–23).
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