Jesus’ Childhood

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Matthew 2, along with a few verses in Luke 2, provides all the historical data we have concerning the early childhood of Jesus. And since the writers of the Gospels were masters of brevity and understatement, Matthew 2 fairly bristles with questions we long to have answered. Among them we’d like to know more about the wise men, the star they saw, and how they connected it to the one who was born king of the Jews. Obviously, if the Holy Spirit had wanted us to have more information, He would have guided Matthew to include it. So rather than being distracted by unanswered questions, we should look for the main purpose of the passage. What does the Holy Spirit want us to learn? 

First, Jesus was sent, not only to be king of the Jews but also of the Gentiles. The wise men were prestigious and wealthy members of their Gentile society, so it was fitting that our Lord’s birth would be announced to them as king of the Jews. This announcement anticipated the glorious day when the great commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) would be fulfilled and “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Ps. 22:27). 

To the Gentiles He is announced as king and to the shepherds as Savior. Perhaps this was God’s way of announcing that Jesus was sent to be both Savior and king to both Jews and Gentiles, and to all levels of society from the lowest to the greatest.

But before the throne there would be the cross. And before the cross there would be a lifetime of suffering and humiliation. The wise men who worshiped Jesus had no sooner left than Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. And when they did return to Israel, the town of Bethlehem was still not safe, forcing them to return to the city of Nazareth. So, instead of being known as a child of the royal city of King David’s Bethlehem, Jesus grew up to be known as a Nazarene. Being called a Nazarene was not just a means of geographical identification, such as being called a New Englander. It was actually a demeaning term since Nazareth apparently had a bad reputation as evidenced by Nathaniel’s sincere question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Being called a Nazarene then was like saying he came from “the other side of the tracks.” Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy that “he was despised and rejected by men…he was despised and we esteemed him not” (Isa. 53:3) began to be fulfilled even in His childhood. 

Matthew records four specific incidents from the early childhood of Jesus, and he is careful to point out that all four incidents — the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight of the family to Egypt, the killing of the small boys and the final settlement of the family in Nazareth — occurred in fulfillment of prophetic utterances (see Matt. 2:5–6, 15–17, 23). Though Matthew’s purpose at the time was to prove that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament expectations concerning the Messiah, these prophecies should also give us confidence in God’s prophetic promises about events yet to unfold, such as the return of Christ, the resurrection, and the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth. What God has predicted prophetically, He will certainly bring to pass in His time. 

The details of the actual fulfillment of the four prophecies concerning Jesus would have surprised us all. Who would have imagined that Joseph and Mary would journey all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem in response to a Roman decree so that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem — not Nazareth where he was conceived? Who would have guessed that Hosea 11:1, which referred originally to the exodus from Egypt, would have a further fulfillment in the life of Jesus? Or that Jeremiah 31:15 written at the time of the Babylonian exile would be fulfilled in the killing of the small boys of Bethlehem. Who could have predicted the events that caused Joseph finally to settle in Nazareth in fulfillment of Scripture?

So let us hold our various views of end time events with humility. That those events will occur is something we can be certain of. But our views as to how those events will unfold are, for the most part, only speculation. So let’s hold our views with humility and practice love and acceptance toward those who hold other views.

A good rule for us all would be to focus not on the more speculative parts of the Bible such as unanswered questions and unfulfilled prophecy, but on that which is clearly taught — that Christ is both Savior and king. As Savior He was despised and rejected and crucified for our sins, and as king He is to rule in each of our lives as both Savior and Lord.  

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