Matthew 2:1-12 The Wise Men and Fools

(Work in progress, feel free to ask any questions on this set of verses, while I’m working through them.)

Matthew 2:1-12 (NIVUK): “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

The Magi

In verse one, Matthew introduces the Magi, all we are told is that there were a number of them (Magi, is the plural form of Magus), and they were from the east. Now, it’s difficult to say exactly; who they were, how many were in the group, or which eastern nation they had came from – tradition has blurred the facts.

For example, tradition has it that there were three wise men, based on the fact that Jesus was presented with three gifts, however, Matthew does not say how many there were, and he does not call them kings. Next, we know this group was interested in astronomy, and knew the night sky such that they could say: “We saw his star when it rose.”

You can read a lot of material on the Internet as to who the Magi may have been, however, much of it is speculation. Around four hundred years before the birth of Jesus, there are details recorded by the historian Herodotus, in which he describes the Magi as a priestly tribe, who were associated with the Medes. The Medes were around at the time of the Babylonian empire (626BC – 538BC), and then formed part of the Medo-Persian empire (539BC – 330BC).

In Daniel 4:4-9, NIVUK, we read: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me.

So I commanded that all the wise men [Magi] of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)

I said, ‘Belteshazzar (Daniel), chief of the magicians [Magi], I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.'”

Consequently, we know that the Magi were once an influential priestly group (tribe), who were advisers to rulers of powerful nations, located in lands east of Israel; who were interested in the art of astrology, as well as the science of astronomy. and who were also seen as expert interpreters of dreams. Obviously, after these lands were ravaged by Alexander the Great, their role may have diminished, we just don’t know the details.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman empire was in control of nations in the west. Herod as “Friend of the (Roman) Senate’, held a special status in the eyes of the Romans; and it was in his best interests to ensure that there was stable government in his kingdom.

Just prior to this era (63BC, 55BC and 40BC), the Romans had fought a number of violent wars with the major power in the east, the Parthian Empire. It is thought, by some scholars, that there was a remnant of the Magi tribe, still involved in advising the Parthian rulers and perhaps even endorsing the selection of new kings.

There could have been other remnants of this group in other eastern countries, we just don’t know. It’s just does not appear to be a very wise move for a caravan of ‘wise’ men and their support staff, to travel all the way to Israel, from Parthia without drawing a lot of attention from the Roman garrisons based along the way.

In addition, Herod would have certainly sent some of his men to accompany then to Bethlehem (it’s not far from Jerusalem), just to monitor their movements, if there was a remote risk they were on some type of Parthian mission.

We are told by Matthew that Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him, when they heard that the wise men were looking for the ‘King of the Jews’; not because of some political manoeuvrings of nations like the Parthians – but because of his own self-interests – keeping in mind that he had already killed a number of his relatives, who were perceived threats to his throne.

Well, I’ve covered some historical detail to provide a sketch of the political background, but the main point is not who these wise men were, or where they may have came from; it is to demonstrate that people (Gentiles) of other nations recognised Jesus as King. And, that would have really disturbed the Jews!

Matthew 1:18-25 The Virgin Birth

The VIRGIN Birth

Key point: A follower of Jesus, our divine King, must believe through faith in the virgin birth. We can accept this truth even though we may not understand the process employed by God to achieve His purpose.

The text we are going to be looking at is

Matthew 1:18-25 (NIVUK): “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

There is a lot going on in the above verses, and a lot of discussion has been generated over the centuries. Much of this discussion has been fuelled by people who want to disprove the divinity of Jesus. And, this is the central issue, if Jesus is not God then much of the New Testament is based on a lie, and we are all dead in our sins – we live without hope.

First off, let us despatch a few distractions, in the above verses we find a reference to Isaiah 7:14, which reads: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (God with us).”

Now, there will be a number of people who will say that the Hebrew word for ‘very young woman’ is used in Isaiah, and it’s not the same as the Hebrew word, commonly used for ‘virgin’.

A second issue, often raised by the same people, is that Jesus was not named ‘Immanuel’; consequently, the prophecy is not relevant.

In Scripture, we find that the ‘names’ used to refer to a person, can change in regard to their role (as defined by God) or to their character. For example, Matthew 10:2, “These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) … “.

An Old Testament example is 2 Samuel 12:24-25, “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah (Loved by the Lord).” However, we know him as Solomon. I’m sure you can find further examples, especially in the Old Testament.

To further illustrate this aspect, a look at Isaiah 9:6 (NIVUK): “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He will also be called ‘God with us’. We know Him as Jesus (Joshua, Yeshua).

Now, a quick look at the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. In general, I think that the Jews at the time of Jesus did not know that this prophecy referred to the promised Messiah, in essence, its relevance was veiled; and, it needed Matthew (under the guidance of God’s Spirit) to ‘join-the-dots’.

Obviously, the sign meant something in King Ahaz’s time, yet it also had a wider meaning, in that it served as a general sign to the house of David in regard to the future Messiah. You may recall that King Ahaz is listed in Jesus’ genealogy – in the royal line – linking Jesus to King David.

The last point is that it doesn’t matter if the term used in Isaiah was ‘very young woman’ or ‘virgin’. Both Matthew and Luke, refer to Mary as a ‘virgin’, and it’s Mary’s status that is our real concern.

In Luke’s account, we have Mary saying that she was a virgin (as can be seen in the following verses), and this is perhaps the most definitive statement on this issue.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIVUK): “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’

‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.”

One way that I find useful is to approach the ‘virgin birth’ along these lines, Joseph played no part in Jesus’ birth; and, Mary also had no sexual role, when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Mary’s ovum was not used. Now, this is purely my speculation, it’s not support in a direct sense, by either Matthew or Luke.

Why I find this approach useful is that it puts aside all the debate on Mary’s status as a sinner; and the need for her to remain a virgin. Her sexuality is no longer relevant, her role as a human mother becomes the focus. Now, I know that this is at odds to what is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; yet, more importantly, I find the excesses of Marion theology as practised in some places (South America, in particular) to be a worrying trend.

[As an aside, the Catholic Church has placed Mary into a special position of worship (just below God), from which they cannot withdraw because of the ‘infallible’ label placed on parts of their dogma concerning Mary. For example, the document ‘Munificentissimus Deus’, issued as an Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, on 1 November 1950, defines the dogma of Mary’s assumption into heaven, which is based more on tradition than on Scripture.

It was one of the first documents issued after papal infallibility was defined dogmatically in the First Vatican Council of 1869–1870. Consequently, they now, can’t change their view on certain aspects of Mary’s special status. ]

In general, I’m not interested in which Christian denomination has the better understanding of Scriptural truths. My focus is on those people who follow Jesus, and are members of His Church, which denomination they may serve in, is really a side issue, for me.

This verse from 1 Peter 2:9, is a good summary: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We have been called out of darkness by God and we now walk in the wonderful light of Jesus – that’s what it’s all about!

Joseph and Mary

One other point that is worth raising is God’s grace towards Mary and Joseph; to both, God sent an angel to tell them the news and to explain in part, what was going to happen. Exceptional news required an exceptional messenger, who would be believed; the following verses would have provided comfort to Joseph for him to know that Many was not unfaithful.

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The outcome was that Joseph believed the angel and married Mary, most likely after the normal 12 month betrothal period; in essence, Joseph was a person who wanted to do the will of God, even under very difficult circumstances.

Another act of kindness for Mary was for her cousin Elizabeth to be blessed with a child (John the Baptist). In Luke 1, we are told that Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and she and her husband, Zechariah, were very old. Then Zechariah is told by an angel that Elizabeth will bear a son.

It would be a blessing for Mary, in that she and Joseph would have been able to talk to Elizabeth and Zechariah about their common experiences, as it was only six months later when the angel appeared to Mary. Being able to talk to someone else, who understands what you are going through, helps take away any feelings of isolation. The comfort for us is that we follow the same God, and I’m sure He helps us out in the same way.

Any comments?


  • Bible Study Notes prepared by the late Rev. Eric Bird (mostly used for framework and headings). His notes were, in turn, based on the following primary source: “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew, Volumes 1-5″, published by the Moody Bible Institute. [Note: I don’t fully endorse Dr John MacArthur’s work, so I’ll try to steer away from any detailed references or quotes.]
  • Extensive on-line searches – especially in the area of translation variations.
  • Notes on Matthew’s Gospel as compiled by Fr. Bernie Patterson, sourced from multiple references.
  • Overall – I’ve selected material, which fits into my view of Matthew’s Gospel – naturally!


Matthew’s Gospel – The gracious King – 1:1-17


The Gospel of Matthew

Note: I plan to slowly work through Matthew’s Gospel, and I’ll come back to edit individual posts if I find information that might be useful to include.

The key point of this post, is: Jesus is a descendant of King David and has the legal right to rule.

The King is Revealed

The first seventeen verses of Matthew’s Gospel establishes that Jesus came from the royal line of King David. Documenting this link with King David is important because it confirms the credentials of Jesus. One aspect of this confirmation is in meeting the prophecies in Scripture (e.g. 2 Samuel 7:12-16), regarding the Messiah.

Matthew 1:1-17 (NIVUK): “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.”

The reason Matthew has included this long list of ancestors, is because the Jews would want proof that any person who presented themselves as their Messiah had a direct link to King David. It was an essential part of Jewish life to know which tribe a person belonged to, as it determined their authenticity as a Jew, and it also determined their traditional homeland within Israel. Tribal ancestry was also important in regard to a person’s eligibility to the priesthood; it even extended down to the division of property. Consequently, the ability to direct people to a reliable record of your family tree was very important. Now, an interesting aspect is that the records of Jewish genealogies were stored in the temple in Jerusalem, and when the temple was burnt down in 70AD, the records were also destroyed. What this means is that no one, from that time on, can prove that they were descendants of King David; the proof (regarding their ancestry), which would acceptable to Jews, no longer exists. Jesus, the Christ, is the last legitimate person, to be able to prove His royal ancestry, based on the temple records.

 Matthew’s Genealogy compared to Luke’s Genealogy

One issue that may be beneficial is to look at the two genealogies (Matthew and Luke); they are different but both serve the same purpose. In Matthew, we have a descending record from Abraham to Jesus, it shows his (human) father’s line (Joseph was not Jesus’s Father, but he was recognised as His legal ‘father’ by the Jews at the time) and this record shows the legal decent of Jesus. This is important because the royal line, the right to rule, was past down through the father. While in Luke, we have an ascending family tree, starting with Mary and going back to God, Luke’s purpose is to show Jesus’ humanity and His blood line, which also includes King David. Yet, there are some complications, Joseph is show as the son of Heli (Luke 3:23), yet it’s most likely he was Heli’s son-in-law, and the rest of the characters listed by Luke were mainly Mary’s male ancestors. Now, while we might be a little confused, basically Matthew is showing the legal-royal line (Joseph, Solomon, David), and Luke is showing Jesus’ blood line (Mary/Joseph, Nathan, David); and both lines include King David. An additional problem; Matthew’s genealogy includes an ancestor Jeconiah, who was cursed by God, such that none of his descendants would sit on the throne. This difficulty (perhaps) is resolved by Mary’s blood-line, which does not include this individual. The outcome is that Jesus has the legal right to rule and He is not covered by the curse on Jeconiah, because of Mary’s blood-line. This may well sound convoluted to us, but it was very important to the Jews, who lived within this ancestry based legal system, and no doubt the experts-in-the law and others, would have had few difficulties in understanding it.

A family tree with a number of ‘skeletons in the closet’

There are a number of interesting observations we can make about Jesus’ family tree, but there’s one that should encourage us; and that is, many of the people in the list were failures, in one way or another. The best example is King David, with a heart dedicated to God, he was at times, a terrible sinner who committed adultery and murder, yet God loved and forgave him his sins. Of course there were consequences, because of the blood on his hands, he was not allowed to build the first temple; that task was handed over to Solomon. Another observation is the inclusion of four women in the list: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife – Bathsheba. Tamar husband was evil and because of this was put to death by God. Later she pretended to be a shrine prostitute and by using deception she slept was her father-in-law, Judah; and, out of this union, came Perez, (as listed in the genealogy). Next Rahab, was a Canaanite who lived in Jericho. She was most likely an innkeeper and she may or may nor have been a prostitute – the Hebrew consonants used for the word ‘prostitute’ are the same consonants used for the word (female) ‘innkeeper’.  Either way, she was not an Israelite, and we know that she was praised for helping the Israelite spies.  From her came Boaz (Israelite), he then married Ruth, a Moabite – another ‘foreigner’ like Rahab.  Boaz was the great- grandfather of King David. Then we come to Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David. In summary, we have women who were not Israelites (members of God’s chosen nation) or were prostitutes, or an adulteress. In other words, they were failed individuals who were saved by the grace of God – very much like us. How wonderful is it, that we have these women listed in Jesus’ genealogy?

Any comments?


  • Bible Study Notes prepared by the late Rev. Eric Bird (mostly used for framework and headings). His notes were, in turn, based on the following primary source: “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Matthew, Volumes 1-5”, published by the Moody Bible Institute. [Note: I don’t fully endorse Dr John MacArthur’s work, so I’ll try to steer away from any detailed references or quotes.]
  • Extensive on-line searches – especially in the area of translation variations.
  • Notes on Matthew’s Gospel as compiled by Fr. Bernie Patterson, sourced from multiple references.
  • Overall – I’ve selected material, which fits into my view of Matthew’s Gospel – naturally 🙂