King of the Jews

During Sunday morning’s service Matthew 2 was read. I was struck by the strangeness of the phrase in verse 4 “the people’s chief priests and scribes”. Was this Matthew’s way of drawing our attention to the Gentile Herod? He may have been known as the King of the Jews, but he was no Jew himself. How unlike the King of the Jews who was born as his reign came to an end.

Herod was no Son of David, as Jesus was. Jesus’ lineage is emphasised as the angel addresses Joseph as Son of David. An Matthew leaves his readers with tantalising hints to Jesus’ real identity all through his Gospel. Jesus is called “Son of David” several times. Even blind men saw it clearly (9:27; 20:30,31). So did children (21:16). But not Herod’s priests and scribes, the teachers of Israel.

Herod was the last King of the Jews. Though his son Archelaus ruled in his place he was not granted the title king, and the later Herod was but a tetrarch. But the one whom the wise men sought as the newborn King of the Jews, who was mocked by soldiers with the words, “Hail! King of the Jews” (27:29), and over whose cross hung the words “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (27:37) was more King of the Jews than the wily Edomite who claimed the title.

Matthew begins his Gospel with the death of one King of the Jews and the birth of the next, or rather the final King. He ends his Gospel with the death and resurrection of The King of the Jews. And that risen King exercised authority to which Herod no doubt aspired, but could never attain. That King could truthfully and accurately claim, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” (Mt 28:18)

But, King of the Jews though Jesus was, he is not just King of the Jews. Rather he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, King of all nations. Gentiles gave him homage at his birth, and in his name his disciples go to all nations to make disciples. This is the King the Christmas story brings to us.

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