King Herod told the wise men to look for this new king, and he advised them to return to Jerusalem and report exactly where the child was. Herod claimed he also wanted to worship him. However, once the wise men found Jesus, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and share the child’s whereabouts. So instead of returning to Jerusalem, the Magi returned to their homeland, avoiding Jerusalem altogether.
As you can imagine, when Herod found out the wise men had bailed on him, he didn’t like it. This is Matthew 2:16–17:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matthew 2:16–17)
In other words, Jesus, the future king, would have been at most two years old around this time. So Herod issued an order to kill any baby boy under two years old in the area, to make sure he ended any threat of someone taking over his position.
Herod is one of the more complicated figures in the Bible, and in history itself for that matter. During his 40-plus year tenure over Judah, the area made remarkable progress. He is heralded as a great leader in terms of taking Judah to a new level of prosperity and leading massive building projects. He even oversaw the restructuring of the main temple in Jerusalem by adding a retaining wall.
On the other side, however, he orchestrated several absolutely horrible, evil plans. This particular plot, to wipe out boys in the area under two years old, has come to be known as the Slaughter of the Innocents. Some historians believe that before the order was carried out, Herod died and his son took over his position. But Herod’s plan (whether he saw it through or not) would foreshadow what would happen a little over 30 years later when Jesus would be at the center of a story in which an innocent life again would be sacrificed.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us what happened from the perspective of Jesus’s family:
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:19–23)
And so ends our story of how Jesus came into the world and began his journey as the Jesus of Nazareth we worship.
Few would have imagined these people and events in the story of the arrival of a new king… an ordinary young couple, a journey to Bethlehem, a birth in a stable, shepherds as messengers, wise men as worshipers, a flight to Egypt, and a home in Nazareth. But God often writes stories that people cannot comprehend.
This Christmas season, may we marvel at this story that’s much more than just a manger scene. It’s the story of Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. He’s our everlasting King who made the way for all of us back to God.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the Christmas story, one of humility, hope, and your divine intervention. As we celebrate this season, help us remember Jesus, the King of Kings, who came to show us who you are. Thank you for the message that Christmas brings, reminding us that even in the midst of complexity and challenges, your love and grace shine. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel." (Matthew 2:19)