In Luke's Gospel the announcement of the birth of the Messiah was given to shepherds in the area of the Davidic city of Bethlehem. Matthew noticed the revelation to the wise men or magi (a Persian term transliterated magoi in Greek and magi in Latin). They came from the east where, as a result of the preaching of the Messianic apostles (28:19), the church would grow very rapidly in the next two hundred years.
2:1 The magi were perhaps guided by a comet coming in from distant space. Early in 1997 for example an impressive new comet (named Hale-Bopp after its discoverers) was easily visible for several weeks. The coming of Halley's comet every 75 years or so has often been given a meaning. When it appeared in 66 AD the historian Josephus saw it as a sign of the imminent siege and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:2). In 1066 Norman the Conqueror took Halley's comet as a sign he would be king of England.
2:2 For the magi the star or comet obviously pointed to the Messiah king, and they asked. "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?"
2:3-4 The religious leaders of Jerusalem were the chief priests, who were mostly Sadducees (see 22:23), and the theologians and elders, who were usually Pharisees (see 23:2). Matthew will later describe how these bitterly opposing parties will eventually gang up to get Jesus crucified (3:17; 16:1, 6; 22:34).
2:5-6 But both parties agreed that the Messiah from the line of David must be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). As Luke records, Joseph's family home was Bethlehem, but he worked as a carpenter up north in Nazareth. When the Roman census required him to register in Bethlehem, the birth of the Messiah occurred there (Luke 2:1-6).
King Herod was a hated Edomite and a Roman puppet with no title to the throne of David. He had killed several members of his own family who might become rivals to his throne. And there was much talk of a coming Messiah among his Jewish subjects. So the arrival of the magi was very ominous.
2:7-8 Herod planned to use the magi to locate the child, and have the potentially dangerous Messiah killed off.
2:9-10 By the time the magi arrived at the lodgings of Joseph and Mary, the circumcision of the child and the visit to Jerusalem for the purification had already taken place (as described in Luke 2:21-38).
2:11 Many fanciful meanings have been given for the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The essential point was these gifts from the east were extremely costly, and they would have been easy to carry with them for the escape that very night. The family would be able to sell the gifts to live on till Joseph managed to find work in Egypt. The hasty departure would otherwise have been impossible for a poor family going on a long journey to a foreign country.
2:12 This is the second of six dream warnings in Matthew's Gospel. The first five were obeyed (1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22) and they resulted in the protection of the Messiah as a child. The last was ignored (27:19) and resulted in the Messiah's crucifixion.
2:13 As in the accepting of Mary as his wife, Joseph obeyed the command he was given (1:20). In both cases disobedience would have made it impossible for the infant Messiah to be raised for his task. He will receive two more dreams to persuade him to bring the Messiah back to Nazareth.
2:14-15 The move to Egypt reminds Matthew of the Exodus, and he includes an appropriate verse from the prophets which refers to this (Hosea 11:1).
2:16-18 Herod's horrendous cruelty was well known, and the anguish of the parents reminds Matthew of a similar tragedy at the time of the exile (Jeremiah 31:15).
2:19-23 After the death of Herod, again by means of dreams, God guided Joseph to bring Mary and the baby back to Israel, and then to the quiet obscurity of his own village of Nazareth where he worked as a carpenter.
The people of Nazareth were despised by the sophisticated Pharisees and Sadducees of Jerusalem. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth" was a common sneer (John 1:46). This reminds Matthew of references in the prophets to the Messiah or Servant of God being lowly and despised (Isaiah 49:7; 50:7; 53:2-3).