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“Your throne shall be established forever!”: By Chris Coleman

19 December, 2007

One of the favorite stories of Advent, among young and old alike, is the visit of the Magi. We enjoy the romantic chris colemanimage of these three kings crossing the cool Arabian Desert on three camels in the silhouette of the glowing moon. Such a portrayal of the Magi seems far from how Matthew presents them in his narrative. Although the Magi are important for Matthew’s purpose, there is another character in Matthew’s Advent story that is just as important.

Herod or the child Jesus?

Matthew tells us that the visit of the Magi took place “in the days of Herod the king” (Matt 2:1). This is most certainly Herod the Great. Herod received his rule from Caesar Augustus, then known as Octavius, after the young roman defeated Mark Antony in the Battle of Actium. When Augustus passed through Judea, Herod presented Caesar with a significant monetary gift. Because of this gift, Caesar granted to Herod the designation “King of the Jews” (see H.W. Hoehner, ‘Herodian Dynasty’, DJG 319-8-9).

Beside the Magi, Herod is the second major character in Matthew’s Advent story. When the Magi come to Jerusalem, they come to Herod and inquire where they can find “he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2 ESV) Hearing that a “king of the Jews” had been born, must have terrifying to Herod. He knew that he was not a legitimate King of the Jews. Only one from the line of David, from the tribe of Judah, could be called a rightful “king of the Jews.” Herod had had challenges to his throne before. Two of Herod’s son attempted to take over their father’s throne by means of political cunning and diplomacy. One of his sons even attempted to poison him, in a challenge to take the throne. Because of these multiple attempts at his throne, Herod had grown paranoid of anyone who might endeavor to usurp his throne (Hoehner, 320-1).

Herod responds to this news of a “new born king of the Jews,” not in immediate anger or aggression. Instead, he calls the high priests and the scribes together to look into the scriptures concerning where the messiah is to be born. Their answer to Herod’s question is “In Bethlehem of Judea” (Matt 2:5). It is interesting that Herod asks about the Messiah, because it reveals that Herod understood the Magi’s phrase “king of Jews” as a Messianic title. The King of the Jews would be the promised Messiah who would rescue and avenge God’s people.

But, Herod still misunderstands who this newborn king is. In 2:16 Matthew reveals to us Herod’s true intention in finding out where the king is to be born: he wants this possible usurper killed.

Jesus, The King who Will “Save His People from their Sins.”

Therefore, Matthew is using Herod to illustrate two things: (1) that he is not the true king and (2) that this newborn king of the Jews is the true legitimate king. This newborn king of the Jews is the baby Jesus whose birth was recorded in Matt 1:18-25. The contrast is clear, Herod is a usurper to the throne of David while Jesus is the one who was promised to reign on David’s throne forever (2 Sam 7:16). Jesus the child is the true King of Israel, while Herod is an illegitimate tyrant.

Herod is presented as a fanatical ruler who will use any means possible to keep his throne intact. While Jesus, the true king of the Jews is a mere child who has no real political power. Herein lies a contrast: Herod has political power, Jesus does not. Yet, Jesus is the true King of the Jews and Herod is not. But, if this is true, in what way is Jesus the King of Jews?

Matthew gives us a hint in 1:21. In this passage the Angel promises to Joseph that this child would “save his people from their sin” (Matt 1:21 ESV). This was the mission given to this child. The interesting thing about the title “king of the Jews,” is that the next time it emerges in Matthew’s gospel is during the passion narrative. Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11) Pilate’s soldiers use this term to mock Jesus as they put the crown of thorns on his head (Matt 27:29). And this is the title that hung above the cross as our lord was exiled from and bore the wrath of the Father (Matt 27:37). “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matt 27:50 ESV).

But, herein lies another contrast between Herod and Jesus. After the flight to Egypt, Matthew tells us that it is safe for Mary Joseph and the child Jesus to return to Judea because Herod is now dead (Matt 2:19). Herod is no longer a threat to the child’s life; his son Archelaus has replaced him. Herod was a king who lost his rule when he died. When he died, his kingdom was passed down to his son.

But, Jesus’ death was not the end of his rule but the fulfillment of his mission. On the cross, Jesus fulfilled his mission as the one who would “save his people from their sins.” Where death ended the reign of Herod, death for Jesus was part of his role as king and could in no way end his reign. Unlike Herod, Jesus rose from his death, as the reigning and ruling king (Matt 28:18). There was no successor to Jesus’ kingdom. He did not pass on his rule to a son. He is the one who would be the shepherd of Israel, who would feed the people of God, where the kings of old had failed (Matt 2:6 and Ezek 34:23-4). Jesus is the promised Davidic King who will rule over David’s throne forever (2 Sam 7:16). Jesus is indeed king over this world, now! But, his kingdom is otherworldly. It is unlike any other kingdom or nation the world has ever seen. His kingdom and his rule will never end!

So, this Advent season as we remember the incarnation of the true King of the Jews, remember and believe that this child fulfilled his mission. Believe God’s promise: that he would, and has, saved his people from their sins through the life death and resurrection of his son our king, Jesus Christ. “Glory be to the newborn king!”

Thanks to our fried Chris Coleman for his thoughts on our true King.

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9 Comments
  1. 20 December, 2007 4:12 pm

    Thanks Chris..that was great

  2. 22 December, 2007 12:56 am

    Thanks Susan, I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  3. thomasgoodwin permalink
    22 December, 2007 11:20 am

    Actually, it needs to go back to editing. So many typos. Grammatical errors. Where are the footnotes? Why isn’t your thesis in bold or italicized? I can’t find it anywhere.

  4. thomasgoodwin permalink
    22 December, 2007 11:28 am

    Hey, that was not me, “Mark Jones”, but Phil Sipe using my computer!!! Good article.
    MJ

  5. 23 December, 2007 3:05 pm

    Phil~

    Don’t make me come over there! Actually, I wouldn’t mind–it’s pretty cold and dark here up by the Arctic Circle just now.

    ~B

  6. thomasgoodwin permalink
    24 December, 2007 5:34 pm

    it snowed the first day i got here. i feel like the white witch turning the world white and cold. but it’s gorgeous at the moment. snow has melted on the lawns etc. evergreens everywhere. beautiful snow capped mountains in the not so far away distance. fun time so far. great churches. super good fellowship. i love our christian life. there are new friends around every corner. (chaos/ on Mark’s comp again)

  7. creedorchaos permalink*
    27 December, 2007 5:47 am

    Phil~

    We’ve just received the Planet Earth DVD set for Xmas–it’s absolutely great. We watched the “From Pole to Pole” and “Mountains” episodes last night, and a lot of it was set in Western/Northern Canada. You’ve gotta get those.

    ~Brannan

  8. thomasgoodwin permalink
    27 December, 2007 8:39 pm

    Actually, I think Mark’s Dad, Kevin, just got that set for Christmas also. Haven’t seen it yet. But you should see Victoria on Vancouver Island. What a place to spend Christmas!

  9. thomasgoodwin permalink
    27 December, 2007 8:40 pm

    Oh yeah, above is me Chaos on Goodwin’s comp again.

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