Matthew 2:1, 2
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Bethlehem. Literally means, “house of bread.” Its earlier name meant, Ephrath (Gen. 48:7), or Ephratah (Micah 5:2), means “fertility” How fitting that the “Bread of Life” would come out of the House of Bread to make all people fertile for the teachings of God.
And in the days of Herod the king, this would be Herod the Great, who was king of the Jews. In reality Herod was an Edomite. The Edomites were a people that had been forced to accept the Jewish religion and although the Edomites were related to the Jews through Esau the brother of Jacob, (Genesis 36:9) they were not rightful heirs to the throne of David. Yet it was upon Herod that Rome gave authority to rule over the Jews. Herod was call great because during the shifting political sand of his day, he managed to keep both Rome satisfied and the Jews somewhat satisfied.
Herod’s greatest project was the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple of Zerubbabel, beautiful though it had been, was now almost 500 years old and badly in need of repair. Herod determined to satisfy his own artistic pride, and at the same time to win the friendship of the Jews, by giving them a magnificent place of worship. Eighteen months were devoted to rebuilding the sanctuary proper, and eight years were spent on the surrounding platforms, walls, courts, and porches. After the work had been brought to this point, and the buildings were in full use, much still remained to be done; in fact, the details of the Temple were not completed until after a.d. 62, only a few years before it was destroyed by the Romans.
Herod was a very jealous man and guarded his throne with an iron fist. He was suspicious of all and why should he not be for he had no right to the throne.
Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem. Wise men. Which in Greek is the word magoi, which designated men of the various educated classes. Our word “magicians” comes from this root. But these “wise men” were not magicians in the modern sense of sleight-of-hand performers. They were of noble birth, educated, wealthy, and influential. They were the philosophers, the counselors of the realm, learned in all the wisdom of the ancient East. The “wise men” who came seeking the Christ-child were not idolaters; they were upright, men of integrity who had studied the Hebrew Scriptures and in this way had an understanding of the time prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah and others.
Matthew makes no mention of the actual night Jesus was born. Luke on the other hand gives us details of shepherds tending their flock by night who had suddenly been visited by an angel and the followed by a heavenly choir, proclaiming that Jesus is born.
Oh, how that must have filled the heavens with a bright light and to the East these men. Unknown in number but immortalized as three for the gifts they brought of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They having seen this bright light as the heavenly choir sang to the shepherd that from that point forward began to see a new star in the heaven. Being learned me they began their journey. Some have estimated it was greater than 400 miles they traveled. So it was not upon the night Jesus was born that these wise men visited this little family.
For the inhabitants of Jerusalem, all was the same as it had been for what seemed like forever. Everywhere was evidence that they were ruled by a foreign country which was Rome. Upon David’s throne was Herod, who as we have seen set about rebuilding the temple to solidify his rule over the people.
The religious leaders seemed to be indifferent to the fact that just a few miles away, a newborn baby had been proclaimed the messiah to a group of shepherds and suddenly these wise men show up in Jerusalem asking, “Where is he which is born, King of the Jews.” Wise men that had read the scriptures, seen his sign in the heavens and came to Jerusalem seeking to pay their respects to the Newborn King.
Isn’t it interesting that the people who should have been proclaiming this news to the world, had to have the news brought to them. Once again scriptures were fulfilled (see Numbers 24:7; Isaiah 60:3).
But there was trouble on the horizon.