“King and Kingdom” is a series in which we walk through Matthew’s Gospel. Tune in every Thursday morning for thoughts on the next passage.
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, 2 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.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘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.’” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Four truths are evident in this passage concerning the royalty of Jesus. First, notice the special revelatory role reserved for him. Dreams feature prominently in the first two chapters. In three instances (1:20; 2:13, 19), the messenger is explicitly said to be an angel. We may assume the fourth instance (2:12) is the same. This means that, following a broad, intertestamental silence, God speaks to his people in the person of Jesus Christ. The marvel of that incarnational revelation would have been heightened by the people’s sensitivity to special revelation.
Second, notice the title he is given. These eastern wise men came seeking the “king of the Jews” (vv.1-2). The kingly stature of Christ, therefore, is not singularly entered into upon his ascension, but is a stature into which he grows. There is a true sense in which he was a king upon birth, and a fuller sense upon his resurrection, and a fullest sense upon ascension. How remarkable is it that these Gentiles hail his birth? They are strangers to the covenants of promise, but exhibit a great interest in them. They are aliens to the genealogy of Israel, but demonstrate a profound understanding of them (1:1-17). Regarding the star that led them to Christ, we must acknowledge that there are cosmological events unexplainable by simple, scientific observation (2:2). The star guided these Magi to the very “place where the child was” (v.9). The joy and worship of these wise Gentiles (vv.10-11) is contrasted with the trouble and ill-intention of Herod (vv.3-8). God was already in the business of bring Gentiles to the table of Abraham (8:11). Jesus brings “homage from afar, hostility at home… reception by the Gentiles, rejection by the Jews” (Bruce, 69).
Third, notice the comfort his title bears for his people. The reign of Christ is not an after-thought to his sacrificial death, but is the foundation of his continual benefit to his people. He is King, in part, to be Shepherd (2:6). This establishes a further connection to David, who was a shepherd himself – a connection that will be elaborated on later in Matthew (e.g. 9:36). There is an organic relationship between the roles of king and shepherd. According to Homer, kings are shepherds of the people. This is a theme found outside of Matthew’s writing (John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25), and the connection is explicitly made in Revelation: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:17) (Robertson, 18). When Jesus told Peter to “shepherd” his sheep (John 21:16), he established the coregency of pastoral ministry. Pastors are stewards over Christ’s flock until his return.
Fourth, notice the concern his title bears for his enemies. “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled” (v.3). Some pretend the lordship of Christ is confined to the church. Herod knew better. The King brings the Kingdom. The Kingdom will fill the earth and prevail over other jurisdictions. Heaven shall conquer earth; Eden shall bear its fruit across the wild. If Jesus is King, then Herod must submit to him. It is not necessary to see Herod, and “all Jerusalem” (v.3), believing the claim. It may or may not be. For example, he may have simply recognized the reality of a threat to his rule. Either way, Christ’s kingship is an affront to Herod’s self-sufficient, idolatrous kingship. Herod particularly was an awful ruler. Robertson calls him, “Herod the Great Pervert” (15).