Nine years ago I wrote a post entitled Herod & Jerusalem based on some reflection on Matthew 2:1-4. I came back across that passage this Christmas season and wanted to offer some new and refined possible responses to the question, “Why was Herod and all of Jerusalem troubled when hearing about Jesus?” Here’s the text:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.“ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
This version uses the phrase “troubled,” but others use “disturbed” to describe the emotional response by Herod the Great and all of Jerusalem. Have you ever thought of what all of Jerusalem means? Does that mean every single person? Does it mean the rich? The religious? The powerful? The educated? Or does it mean all? I don’t know definitively what all means here as there was no internet or newspaper service, but I would assume it includes at least the rich and powerful who had a vested interest in the politics and leadership of the day. AKA – the rich, powerful, religious, and educated.
And what does it mean that they were troubled or disturbed? Weren’t the Jews waiting in expectation for a Messiah, a deliverer, a King that would restore them to glory? Why were these Jewish leaders disturbed rather than curious or hopeful? And what does that matter for us today? Here are some of my theories….
Here are some of my theories….
1. Maybe the news of a newborn prophesied King of the Jews disturbed the elite because they feared the disruption of the social order. The leaders of Jerusalem had established some measure of stability through Herod’s relationship with Caeser Augustus and the fear of Roman intervention. And in any system, there those who benefit from a political administration and those who may not. Maybe all of Jerusalem means those who found a pretty good life under Herod were more worried about losing their status in the face of local rebellion or Roman retaliation than about Biblical prophecies? Word of a new and promised king would mean a challenge to the political order of the day with potential vast ramifications for those with status in that order.
2. Maybe Herod and all of Jerusalem were more disturbed than hopeful because they could not see God’s way of providing for His people. Maybe, as people often do, they fell into patterns of belief and thought that God’s promised King would only come through “Kingly” lineage as viewed through the lens of the day. Of course, Jesus does have Kingship in his bloodlines as Matthew’s genealogy attests, but so did a lot of other people. Maybe people were blinded by their own elitism and expectations about where great leaders come from? Maybe the new King should be born a King and the thought that a baby born in Bethlehem could be a King was ridiculous. As such, this child again becomes a threat to the political and social order because he could not possibly be from the right stock.
3. Maybe the educated and religious elite stopped expecting the Messiah because they liked their religious system they had developed and the control and status they gained from enforcing it? Maybe the news of a newborn Messianic King was disturbing because they were focused on policy rather the story of Israel? Maybe they feared the loss of their tight religious system if Rome got involved in a power struggle?
4. But maybe there’s a deeper level of disruption involved? While Herod was disturbed no doubt because of the threat to his power and position, maybe all of Jerusalem was disturbed with him because the presence of two Kings brings the question of allegiance to the forefront. The news that a promised “King of the Jews” has come from outside the current royal line means a challenge to current authority. And for all those “around,” it means there will be a day of reckoning, a time to choose. Who will they give their allegiance too? In such a time, everyone has to choose. It’s only a matter of time.
Maybe it’s some parts of all of the above. Comfort, status, control, and safety seem to be factors for why all of Jerusalem began to get disturbed and anxious. But at the core, I believe all of this gets at the anxiety of allegiance. When allegiance is secure, these other things are not disturbing even in the face of risk and danger.
All of Jerusalem seemed to be feeling the anxiety of allegiance, even if they couldn’t put a name to it. And unless we have addressed our own allegiance once and for all, we should be disturbed by Christmas as well. But is so, is your anxiety because you fear losing power, status, comfort, or control?
This is what makes the incarnation amazing – the promised King came with no earthly power, status, comfort, and with total vulnerability. The foolish things of the world have shamed the wise.