Immediately after the genealogy, Matthew records the birth story (1:18-25). Yet he says little about the actual birth of Jesus. The focus is rather upon the significance of Jesus' conception and birth as that significance is communicated through the testimony of the angel.
The testimony of the angel contains two major elements. First, the mission of this child is reflected in the very name Joseph is commanded to give the child: Jesus (a Greek form of the Heb. Joshua, meaning “Yahweh saves”). This Jesus will save his people from their sins (1:21). Second, Jesus can function as Savior of his people for two reasons: (1) he has been conceived by the Holy Spirit and is therefore infinitely superior to all other humans and unique in his relationship with God (vv. 18, 20) and (2) God himself is present with his people in the person of Jesus to grant them victory in their struggle with evil (vv. 22-23).
Matthew moves from the conception and birth of Jesus in 1:18-25 to events surrounding his infancy in 2:1-23. Ch. 2 contains the witness of the wise men and is bound together by two major contrasts: the contrast between Herod and Jesus and the contrast between Herod and the wise men.
The contrast between Herod and Jesus centers upon the question of kingship. Matthew introduces the theme of kingship at the outset of the chapter: The wise men ask Herod where the king of the Jews has been born (2:2), Jesus is indirectly identified as a ruler (v. 6), and Matthew repeatedly refers to Herod as the king (vv. 1, 3, 9). Matthew thus directs our attention to two types of king and two types of kingdom: the kingship of Herod versus the kingship of Jesus.
The kingship of Herod is presented in harsh terms. His tyrannical rule is characterized by an all-consuming desire to preserve his own status and power. Herod will stop at nothing, including the murder of innocent children, to realize his self-serving goals.
The nature of Jesus' kingship, on the other hand, is defined by the word from Micah quoted in 2:6: He will be “the shepherd of my people Israel.” He is the gentle and loving Ruler of his people, who, like a shepherd, saves his people from destruction. Specifically, Jesus reigns as King over his people by dying for them (27:11, 29, 37), thereby saving them from their sins (1:21; cf. 20:28). The contrast with Herod could not be more pronounced: Jesus gives his life for the sake of others; Herod takes the lives of others for his own sake.
This tension between the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Jesus points to the conflict between the kingdom of this world (i.e., the desire for power and self-rule on the part of evil persons everywhere) and the kingdom of God. The passage challenges readers to reflect upon the character of their own lives in order to determine whether the spirit and attitude of Herod (an attitude of militant self-rule) is present to any degree in their hearts. Those readers who see a bit of Herod in themselves will soon encounter a word of challenge and hope: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (3:2; 4:17).
The second contrast in ch. 2 centers upon response to the person of Jesus. Matthew distinguishes between Herod and the wise men in terms of their responses to Jesus. The response of the wise men to Jesus is entirely appropriate, and their actions serve as a model of true discipleship. They seek Christ (v. 2), and when they have found him they rejoice (v. 10), worship (vv. 2, 11a), and offer him gifts that befit a king (v. 11b; cf. Pss 45:7-9; 72:15). The response of Herod is completely different. He is disturbed at the news of the wise men (v. 3), then engages in deception (v. 7), lying (v. 8), and murder (v. 16) in order to destroy Jesus. The wise men worship Jesus while Herod seeks to kill him. Here as elsewhere in Matthew there is no middle ground: those who will not worship Jesus as the royal Messiah necessarily reject him and seek his destruction.
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