Christmas has many facets: spending time with family, cooking holiday recipes, decorating the house, extremes of consumerism, football playoffs watched or backyard games played (the turkey bowl), etc. In this article, we want to view it from a different angle entirely – as a violent clash of Kingdoms that was political at its core. It’s not a stretch to look at political events in light of the birth of Christ. Matthew 2 begins, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod...” and immediately the first Christmas is set squarely in a political context.
The events of Jesus‘ birth and early years of life were couched within political intrigue, murderous plots, acts of genocidal rage, state intelligence activities, issues of immigration and covert border crossings, a visiting delegation of foreign dignitaries and the census and tax decrees of an empire. We must be aware of the actual introduction of the King into the earth and the drama which unfolded in a political and social context. The narrative opens with the empire conducting a census and levying a special tax upon the colonies (Luke 1:21), an exercise intended not just to raise revenue from the province but as a way for Rome to conduct political surveillance of a potentially dissident colony.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.“ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people‘s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,“ they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.' (Matthew 2:1-6, NIV)
Herod Aligned with an Impure "Church"
Herod’s first action was to gather the leaders of the church and ask them for the location of the birth of Christ, and Matthew records that they provided this without reservation. This was a large faction of people in Israel; it consisted of the Chief Priests (national religious leaders), doctors of the law (local leaders who judged and ruled in everyday life), and the people (the wider group of believers). The majority demographic in Israel put their trust in political solutions and aligned with carnal power.
Herod’s summoning of the group, and their swift and favorable response, implies an already existent relationship. This wasn’t the first time they had talked, nor was attacking Christ the only agenda they agreed on. How is it they lacked discernment that Herod was part of a satanic conspiracy to kill Christ? It is interesting to consider some of the reasons the religious leaders found themselves in such an odd alignment with a political agenda that was intended to assassinate Christ:
- When Herod asked for answers from the Bible, did they think they were in influencing him towards personal salvation by conducting a Bible study in his palace?
- Did they possess religious pride which made them jump at the chance to be on the president’s board of spiritual advisors?
- Was their (mis)understanding of the Scriptures so couched within a nationalistic framework that they were convinced their efforts to in influence the political leaders would help restore the nation?
- Did they embrace Herod because he was the least of two political evils? In their minds, did they have only two bad choices, and aligning with Herod was far better than selling out to Rome?
Upon being empowered by the compromised church Herod was able to launch an assault using the powers of the state he ruled over. These powers were inherent to the standard systems of statecraft which still exist in nations today, including:
A Need to Know Basis - Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star appeared (Matthew 2:7). This was a secret meeting between Herod and the Magi. The king didn’t want anyone else to know about his gathering of information, probably because he didn’t want others to see into his true intentions, so this was a clandestine operation that was managed very carefully by Herod
Political Manipulation - He (Herod) sent them to Bethlehem...(Matthew 2:8). Politicians who feign piety, but whose true motivation is to extend their own political influence, have always existed. Herod claimed an authority that wasn’t his; he was a politician who piggy-backed onto the mission of the church and used it for his own selfish agenda. It was as if God and country were one thing, but nations seek to perpetuate themselves, while true Kingdom believers begin by dying to their own desires. They are two separate and distinct entities, and the Church must separate and distinguish itself as an agent of God and not as a political party.
Disinformation - He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him" (Matthew 2:8). Herod lied. He said he wanted to know where Christ was born so he could worship him when his true intention was to kill the new King. When the state makes deliberate attempts to deceive, it is called disinformation, and every state does it while the Kingdom advances through Truth.
Genocide - When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi (Matthew 2:16). Herod used the power of his security forces (army and police) to conduct state-sponsored genocide, something predicted by Jeremiah 700 years before when the prophet looked into the spirit realm and heard the sound of Rachel weeping and lamenting for her children, but unable to be comforted because they were no more (Jeremiah 31:15).
God's Protection Factor
Actionable Intelligence that Bypassed State Surveillance - And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Matthew 2:12). The Lord gave the wise men clear intelligence regarding Herod’s motivation and his true purposes, and they acted on this insight immediately. Instead of returning to Herod or traveling back by the same route, they returned a different way to avoid state surveillance.
Political Refugee - An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,“ he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him" (Matthew 2:13). God warned Joseph in a dream of the impending assassination attempt of the boy and told Joseph to flee with his family and reside under the jurisdiction of a foreign government where there were no warrants for his arrest and probably no treaties of extradition. Jesus lived in Egypt as a ruler in exile while waiting for the existing administration to perish, fulfilling the prophecy, Out of Egypt I called my son (Hosea 11:1).
Evading Homeland Security - So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt (Matthew 2:14). The family’s migration from Israel to Egypt was done covertly at night to avoid the border and customs checkpoints that would trip the homeland security mechanisms of the state.
Re-Entrance and Distance from Federal Authority - After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child‘s life are dead...“ Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene" (Matthew 2:19- 20, 22b-23). Upon the death of Herod the Great, God told Joseph to return to Israel but directed him away from the center of federal power resident in the capital city.
Principles We Can Observe
The Mastery of God Over Earthly Events
Assessing the odds as if this was purely a natural clash of kingdoms looks totally unfair. Herod was a Machiavellian king who would stop at nothing to extinguish all rivals. He had soldiers and spies spread throughout Israel, and all the state‘s resources were aligned against a poor family who gave birth in a stable and then had to flee to Egypt and become political refugees. The prophets predicted centuries before how God would do it, and their utterances came to pass in Matthew Chapter 2: a) Christ would be born in Bethlehem (v 4), b) God would call his Son out of Egypt (v 15), c) genocide of children would cause weeping and lamentation, but Christ would be spared (v 17), and d) He would be called a Nazarene, i.e., He would settle in the Northern province (v 23). Even with this forewarning, darkness could do nothing to stop the purposes of God from being birthed into the earth. All God needed was a few humble and obedient humans, and they took on the entire satanic structure which used Herod and his soldiers who acted in futility against the Lord.
God Requires Maturity in His People
In total contrast to Herod, there were authentic believers partnering with God and bringing forth His purposes in the earth. Mary was quite young and her family very poor, but she evidenced faith and maturity when spoken to by Gabriel, the highest level of angelic messenger. Joseph walked in death to self, putting aside his own opinions and concepts of honor when God told him to take Mary as his wife because her pregnancy was supernatural in origin. Everyone could see a bright star in the sky, but foreigners–the Magi– had insight into what the sign in the heavens meant. Even working class shepherds received the announcement that it was a season of rejoicing and redemption as they stood outside in the fields. The dullest ones in Israel seemed to be the religious leaders, like Zechariah the priest who was plainly spoken to from heaven but being so hard of heart he was struck dumb for nine months while John grew in Elizabeth’s womb.
Just as Jesus was born in the time of Herod, the Body of Christ is now being resourced by God in a time of great political instability. We are required to move away from every form of faith that is not authentic and anchored in Christ, and we must reject the deception of political solutions to the crises gripping the earth. It’s a day for the Church to rise and shine!