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Friday, December 09, 2005 

Christmas Typology from We Three Kings
Biblical Theology

Reading: Gaffin Resurrection and Redemption
Enjoying: Swiss milk chocolate my wife's grandmother brought back for me from Die Schweiz
Listening: Christmas carols

In Matthew 2, we get a load of Christological typology that helps us see the telescopic lens the biblical authors often employ. The Apostle Matthew, in penning this under the Holy Spirit, quotes Micah 5, Hosea 11, Jeremiah 31, and the Nazarite theology to show how Christ is both the fulfillment of the promises made in covenant to Abraham, as well as the fulfillment of all of God's eschatological redemption by employing the Magi.

Abraham as Background
The Gospel according to Matthew has as one of its chief concerns how Christ fulfills the Abrahamic covenant, and how He relates to the patriarchs. In Luke's lineage text (Luke 3:23 - 28) Jesus is the son of Adam, the son of God. This is not what Matthew highlights. Rather, Matthew points out that Jesus is the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1, 2).

God's promise to Abraham is that in him, and specifically in his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Matthew's gospel culminates in how this is to happen: in the Great Commission, Jesus commands His Church to be the light and blessing to the nations Israel was always meant to be. Matthew (with Mark) records Christ's words of being forsaken by His Father. Christ is the sacrificed Son, though this time there is no angel to stay His Father's knife. He is the Lamb caught in a thicket of sins, laying down His life for the scattered sheep, lost without their shepherd (Matthew 26:31).

One other great hint is the pervasive "kingdom of heaven" teaching that exudes from Matthew's point of view. In His "Sermon on the Mount" - though effectively fulfilling the Law from Sinai - Christ lays out His Kingdom's ethics (Matthew 5 - 7). He gives several discourses on the kingdom (Matthew 13, 18) and expounds on His (covenantal) kingdom curses (Matthew 23 - 24). This kingdom is the fulfillment of the land promised to Abraham. The kingdom of heaven is the country that is built without hands, whose Architect promised it first to Abraham so very long ago (Hebrews 11:10). Without being simplistic - there are several literary and redemptive themes that the Holy Spirit winds together in Matthew's gospel - it is important to see how important Abraham is to this account.

So how does this shed light on Matthew 2?

The Magi as True Israel

Peter Leithart notes that Matthew brings out important elements to show that the Magi - the Wise men from the east - are showing an important step in redemptive history. The Magi travel, from the east, westward towards Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1). In redemptive history, sin always drives to the east, while God leads His people westward. Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden to the east (Genesis 3:24). Moses and the Israelites, after wandering (aimlessly and without direction due to sin) in the Exodus, enter westwardly into the Promised Land. God enslaves the Hebrews to Assyria and Babylon, respectively, in moves to the east, but brings a remnant back from the exile towards the West, to Jerusalem. The Magi follow this trend.

Furthermore, the Magi followed a star, even as the Israelites had followed the pillar of cloud and fire in the Exodus (Matthew 2:9). Matthew employs a hebraism to show that the Magi properly worshipped according to strict Levitical standards, noting that they " they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (echaresan charan; Matthew 2:10).

Upon having found the child, Leithart points out, "They bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to worship at the place where God had pitched his tent in human flesh." Jesus Christ has come to "tabernacle" among His people (cf. John 1:14), and the Magi bring the appropriate goods to worship the true God with. They have come ready to worship God at His true Temple.

In contrast to this is Herod, who is currently reigning over God's chosen people. He deceives and is deceived (Matthew 2:7 - 8, 12). He is full of rage and hypocrisy, and seeks to kill the Jewish Messiah rather than defend and worship Him. The Magi, unclean Gentiles from the East, follow in the path of the Israelites, following God's sign in the heavens and coming to worship with appropriate gifts at God's Temple, while the Jewish king - ever slowly contorted by his sin - finally is utterly corrupted and transforms into the infidel Pharoah, slaughtering the Hebrew baby boys (Matthew 2:16). Herod proves himself by his unbelief to be uncircumcised of heart, regardless of his heritage. The Magi, like the gentile Abram, are counted righteous by faith, and in their belief show themselves to be true Jews.

God's promise is coming true: all the nations of the earth are being blessed by His Servant.

The Magi as Kings of the Nations
Looking back, Leithart was absolutely correct to see the Magi, the three wise men, as being in a typological strain that hearkened back to the Israelites. But what he did not take time in his article to note, is how the prophecies of the Old Testament - though they are wrapping up - are unfolding anew in Christ Jesus.

From Revelation 21:22 - 27:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
The Apostle John paints a picture of the eschaton, of what life will be like when the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus preached about is brought to its fulness. Here, he portrays how the nations, and specifically their kings will bring their respective honor and glory in the New Zion to display before her Lord.

While the Magi represent God keeping His promises to the patriarchs, they also represent something future. The Magi are three kings from the East, and as they fulfill Old Testament promises, they prove to be the first fruits of other promises. The three kings have walked by light of the glory of the Father, and they bring their honor and glory to Christ to worship and be in His presence - which is the essence of Zion. The unclean, Gentile kings are made to be clean, and show themselves in their dealings with Herod to be honest and true. They are written in the Lamb's book of life. Herod, on the other hand, is all the things John warns against. He will be cast out into utter darkness. "That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained... righteousness... But Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed" (Romans 9:30 - 31).

God is reordering His covenant people, and all the warnings against Israel are coming true. John the Baptist was the last prosecutor to come and lible unbelieving Jews, and having rejected their Messiah, the Magi are portent for things to come. The prophecies of Revelation are even now coming true as the Magi lay their glory at the feet of the Savior babe.

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

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Thanks for sharing that. It was fun reading it. :-)

That was a VERY interesting one! Seriously interesting.

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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