Jesus as a Child

Matthew 2, Luke 2:39-52

The Gospels describe only a few events associated with the childhood of Jesus. Considering the Greek word for “child” in Matthew 2:8, 11, and the fact that Herod sent to murder all the male children in Bethlehem that were 2 years old and younger, Jesus was months or even a year-old child when Gentile wise men came from the east to acknowledge the arrival of the King of the Jews.

What stands out in Matthew chapter 2 is the different reactions to the birth of the Messiah. The wise men asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They came to honor the king. Most English translations have “worship” – but the word is often used in the Bible to designate proper respect and honor toward other human beings. These wise men represent Gentiles who acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and by extension, their own king.

Herod “the Great”, on the other hand, when he heard that these Gentile wise men thought the king of the Jews had been born – Herod was troubled. Ironically enough, Herod was called the “King of Jews” at the time. But he had been given that title by the Imperial Roman Government. He wasn’t born as a descendent of David and given the title by God. His anti-Christ murderous deed is emblematic of the high and mighty humans who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God’s chosen king.

The persecution and attempted murder of the King Messiah by Herod also is a parallel to the persecution of God’s chosen people Israel. Matthew quotes a passage from the prophet Jeremiah to illustrate the parallel. The nations opposed God’s work through God’s firstborn servant-son Israel. Even so they opposed God’s work through God’s ideal Israel, God’s servant-son Jesus.

And like Israel God’s son, Jesus God’s Son went to Egypt and was brought out of Egypt by God into the land of Israel. Note that the land was called “Israel” in Jesus’s day, not Palestine (Matt. 2:20, 21). Evoking the ancient name “Philistine”, Palestine was the name given to the land by the Romans 100 years later.

When Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned from Egypt, they originally intended to return to Judea (Bethlehem) since Jesus was technically a Judean of the line of David. But because of the murderous nature of the new ruler in Judea, they went to Galilee instead (cf. Matt. 2:22-23 and Luke 2:39. Luke doesn’t record Herod’s murders or Jesus’s travel to and from Egypt).

Luke describes one other event in the childhood of Jesus. When Jesus was 12 years old, he stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Passover festival. We can see that by this time Jesus knew he was the Messiah, who would relate to God as Father, according to the promise of God to David (2 Sam. 7:14, Psalm 2:7, 89:26).

The humanity of Jesus stands out in these events. There is no declaration, as traditional Christianity claims, of God who was born a human. Rather, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

-Bill Schlegel

Bill Schlegel is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas and general editor of the One God Report podcast.

Bethlehem in Judah

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 2 & Luke 2:39-52

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 3, Mark 1 & Luke 3 as we continue on our Bible reading plan.

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