Christmas Pt 3 – King Herod & The Romans

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

We’ve begun to look at the various characters in the Christmas story and so far we’ve looked at who the Magi/Wise Men were. We’ve also looked at the astronomical aspect of the Nativity account – the ‘star’ that motivated the Magi to make the long trek across the desert from Persia to Judea to worship the new born king of the Jews.

We’ve looked at the ‘possibility’ of the story of redemption possibly being seen in the Zodiac…some scholars believe it could be possible however, it’s more than likely it wasn’t astrology these particular Magi were studying, but astronomy. It was an astronomical sight in the heavens that confirmed to them that the arrival of the Messiah that Daniel the prophet had written about many, many years had finally occurred. That astronomical event motivated them gather a delegation to travel to Judea where they would pay homage to their long-awaited Messiah and give gifts to honour Him.

We also mentioned last time, that any delegation the Magi were a part of would have been a very large one. These men were government officials, they had standing and reputation, and travelling with wealth necessitated their need to travel with security and protection, as well as a team of domestic staff to care for their personal needs along the way.

They needed staff, advisors, domestic servants, labourers, cooks, cleaners, people to care for their animals and so on. It was a large group of officials and when they arrived in Jerusalem things got very interesting very quickly. That’s what we’re up to.

Matthew 2:1-8, ‘Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called the Magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you’ve found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”

The story goes on from there. The Magi travelled the 8-9km distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where they found the Child, they worshiped Him and presented gifts to Him at the house where He was with His mother. However, while they slept, God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, because Herod’s intentions were to murder the Child, not worship Him. They secretly left by a different route, but a delegation that large would have to be seen by someone, and eventually Herod was told that they’d left without returning to him and he was furious about it.

Joseph, Jesus’ step-father was also warned in a dream to flee immediately because Herod was coming to kill the Child. Joseph didn’t wait until morning, he got his family together in the middle of the night and fled to Egypt. Consensus is that the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh provided for them during the years they lived in exile in Egypt.

Herod the Great was a brutal, maniacal despot. He was nick-named ‘Herod the Butcher’. Apparently Caesar Augustus was Herod the Great’s friend, and he’s quoted as saying, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son,” because Herod had actually had his own sons murdered because he was paranoid they were plotting to take his throne. He was a particularly paranoid and delusional man, he was cruel and barbaric. He was appointed by the Romans to be ‘king of the Jews’ because the Romans hoped that having a Jewish king ruling over the local Jewish population, would appease the Jews. However, Herod wasn’t Jewish, his father was an Edomite who married a Nabatean who were at that time, a rising Arab kingdom. He apparently had a part Jewish heritage somewhere and therefore, claimed to be a practicing Jew and that was good enough for the Romans…but not good enough for the Jewish populace.

The thought that a legitimate Jewish boy had been born who could legally, culturally and Scripturally take the throne was more than Herod could deal with and he plotted to slaughter the baby before He could become a threat.

But why was all of Jerusalem troubled by the arrival of the Magi?

First of all, the Romans ruled the land and they had a huge garrison based in the capital. The Romans and the Persians/Parthians had undertaken a number of conflicts pushing each other back and forth, but Rome was never able to conquer the Persians, they were simple to strong.

When an official delegation from Persia turned up in Jerusalem wanting to know where they could worship the new born King of the Jews, of course they were troubled. A nation that was undefeatable by Rome arrived and completely ignored their puppet king – Herod – and they may have even thought war was coming! Scripture doesn’t say that, I simply mention is as being a possibility and the reason why “all Jerusalem was troubled” by their arrival.

The priests were also probably concerned as well, but we’ll learn about them next time.

So, when Matthew 2 says that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and that Herod and the rest of the city was ‘troubled’, it wasn’t an exaggeration. Herod and his cronies, the Romans and the corrupt religious leaders in the Temple knew that if the real, legitimate Jewish Messiah had truly arrived, they were in deep trouble.

My third hypothetical question is…is it possible that Herod, the Roman officials and the corrupt Jewish priests were troubled at the thought of the Jewish Messiah finally being born, just as the prophets had foretold?





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