Mt 2:1,2 Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
Having followed the Nativity story through Luke, we now need to step across to Matthew to pick up on some of the things that happened which Luke did not cover. The young family are still at Bethlehem and possibly, as we’ll see later, as much as six months have passed. Here in these verses we have the first reference in Matthew’s Gospel to this idea of Jesus actually being their king. In case we might think this is just some figurative description, we need to realize that Jesus considered it a real and practical description: Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied (Mt 27:11).
Although for us today the idea of a king appears to be a rather shadowy idea, because kings in the twenty-first century tend to have little power, for the Jews it was a very real thing. The word ‘king’ appears in the Bible 2314 times! In their time a king was not merely a figurehead (unless the king was a vassal to a more powerful king); he was the supreme figurehead of the nation and the supreme power over the people. What he said went! More often than not he made the laws and directed that they be enforced – and they were! This was power!
Kings, for the Jews, were of real significance. They were first a sign that they were as good as any other nation. There was a sense of this in their first call for a king (1 Sam 8:5). Their thoughts of nationhood would have so often gone back to the golden days of King David who led them to victory against their enemies (2 Sam 8:1-6). A strong godly king was an instrument to bring peace and blessing to the nation.
In the Messianic prophecies there were often references to the Messiah being a ruler (Psa 110:1,2, Isa 9:7, Jer 23:5). Indeed the Lord said to Solomon, “As for you, if you walk before me as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, `You shall never fail to have a man to rule over Israel.” (2 Chron 7:17,18). Thus Israel were looking and hoping for one who would come as their God-sent ruler, to free them from the oppressor.
John writing his Gospel years after the others, had had time to ponder some of these things and as he looked back he began to realize the significance of some of the things that had happened: “Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49). After the feeding of the five thousand, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself ” (Jn 6:15 ). When Jesus came to enter Jerusalem on that last week, “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Jn 12:13-15).
Thus, there was high anticipation that this was the expected coming King of the Jews. So it was that Pilate questioned him (see first paragraph above) and Jesus acknowledged that it was so. But was a he a defeated king or was there something else happening here that was not understood at the time? We’ll see as we go on, that there was. This is God’s king on the earth, but his rule was very different from that which had been expected.