The Bible Experts of Matthew 2:4-6
When the Magi arrive, their caravan is so large that all of Jerusalem is talking, and they cannot evade attention (2:3). Against tradition, there is no reason to believe that there were only three of these wise men. Why do they come to Jerusalem? Presumably they expect that a new Judean king would be born in the palace of the old one. Further, even had they known that their destination was Bethlehem, one had to travel to Jerusalem before reaching Bethlehem, on the road six miles to the south.
The Magi’s knowledge was only approximate; it was the Bible teachers who could tell where the promised child would be born. It is not surprising that the aristocratic priests and scribes would have cooperated with Herod’s inquiry. The old Sanhedrin, Jerusalem’s municipal assembly, had given Herod a lot of trouble, so when he took power he executed them and replaced them with his own political supporters. (I believe I already mentioned Herod’s political acumen; he certainly had ways of reducing public expressions of dissatisfaction about his reign.) The current leading priests and scribes in the Sanhedrin were his supporters, but they did know the Bible.
They quoted Micah 5:2: the expected king would be born to the line of David in Bethlehem (2:4-6); Herod therefore sent the Magi on to Bethlehem (2:8). Yet everyone knew why these Magi had come to Jerusalem; all Jerusalem had been troubled by their inquiry about the birth of a king. These Bible teachers knew the Bible, and knew the report that a king had been born. Yet there is no implication that these Judean wise men themselves went to Bethlehem, in contrast to the Persian wise men who had spent many months traveling from the east. It appears that they simply took Jesus for granted—and that is a sin that only people who know the Bible can commit. I wonder: do we ever do this?
Yet as we read Matthew’s Gospel, we see that in the next generation, the successors of these aristocratic priests and scribes were not content to ignore Jesus. No longer a baby, Jesus had become a threat to their own interests, and some of them wanted him dead. Being religious, or even knowing the Bible, or even being respected as pastors or teachers, is no guarantee that our hearts are right. Perhaps even today, the line between taking Jesus for granted and needing him out of our way remains thin. Let no one misunderstand me: my life is devoted to helping people understand the Bible. But God asks more of us than knowing the Bible’s teachings. He bids us follow him.