What does Matthew 2 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Matthew 2:1–12 describes the arrival in Jerusalem of a group of wise men, sometime after Jesus' birth. They are responding to the sight of a ''star'' in the night sky, leading them to conclude the ''king of the Jews'' had been born. King Herod is troubled by this news and sends them to Bethlehem. His deceitful orders are for the wise men to return and tell him where the child is. The travelling scholars are overjoyed to find the Christ, at last. They worship Him by bowing and presenting expensive gifts. Warned not to return to Herod, after all, they slip away by another route.
Matthew 2:13–15 tells how Joseph, Mary, and Jesus ended up in Egypt. In this context, ''Egypt'' means the territories beyond Herod's control, such as the Nile Delta. After the wise men leave Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appears in Joseph's dreams once more with specific instructions. He is ordered to take the family to Egypt. Herod wants the child dead, so they are not to return until Herod dies and the angel gives them further direction. Joseph obeys, leaving in haste to reach territory outside of Herod's control. Matthew connects Jesus' return from Egypt to Hosea 11:1, where the prophet speaks of God calling His son Israel out of Egypt.
Matthew 2:16–18 describes Herod's slaughter of all boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger. Herod was furious when he learned the wise men left without telling him where the Christ child was. Not knowing the Messiah's family has already fled, Herod kills all the young boys that could have been born since the star of the king of the Jews appeared in the sky. In a smaller town like Bethlehem, this would have been well within his power. Herod hopes to keep anyone from taking the throne from his family. Matthew connects the grieving of Bethlehem to Jeremiah 31:15, where the mother of Israel, Rachel, weeps for her lost children.
Matthew 2:19–23 tells of Jesus' childhood return to Israel after the death of King Herod. Joseph is alerted by an angel in a dream that Herod has died; nobody who wanted Jesus dead is still living. When they return, another message from God warns Joseph not to move back to Bethlehem, in Judea. Rather, he is to settle in his hometown of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. In that way, Jesus grows up as a citizen of Nazareth, fulfilling yet another prophecy.
Chapter Summary:
King Herod is surprised and troubled by the arrival of wise men from the east. They have come looking for a newborn king of the Jews. Herod directs the men to Bethlehem to find the boy for him. The wise men find and worship Jesus. Rather than cooperating with the wicked Herod, the wise men slip away. An angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family before Herod kills all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger to protect his throne. After Herod's death, an angel sends Joseph back to Israel and then God directs him to settle with Mary and Jesus in Nazareth in the region of Galilee.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 1 established the genealogy and miraculous conception of Jesus Christ. Sometime after Jesus' birth, a group of wise men from the east arrive in Jerusalem. They have been tracking a star that points to the birth of the king of the Jews. They find and worship Jesus, then leave without telling the wicked king, Herod, where to find the boy. Warned by an angel, Joseph flees with Jesus and Mary to Egypt before Herod orders the execution of all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger. When notified by an angel again, they return to Israel and settle in Nazareth, in the northern region of Israel known as Galilee. This leads into chapter 3, which leaps forward to Jesus' adulthood, and the ministry of John the Baptist.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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