Bethlehem, birthplace of the king

King David was born in Bethlehem, as was his most famous descendant — Jesus.

Jericho was Israel’s first victory in capturing the Promised Land. Its protective walls fell (Joshua 6). It was also where Jesus healed a blind beggar and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 18:35 – 19:10). Jericho was his last stop on his final journey to Jerusalem.

At the start of his ministry, Jesus had faced the tempter in the Judean wilderness. From a high mountain he had been offered all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:1, 8). We can’t be sure where this mountain was, or if it should be understood as a visionary experience. The crucial thing was that Jesus was tempted to collude with evil, but chose a much more difficult path by which he was given “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” — the path of the cross.

Bethlehem today is in Palestine. Rachel was buried here (Genesis 35:19). But it’s real importance was as the birthplace of King David (1 Samuel 16:1-13). God promised David that his son would always reign (2 Samuel 7:12-16), so all the kings of Judah were descendants of David of Bethlehem.

When Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and cut off the Davidic kingship, the prophets promised a day when God would gather his people back together under the leadership of another “David” (Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25). Like David, this future king was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Joseph and Mary were descendants of King David, but they lived in Nazareth. Ironically, the new king of the Jews was born in Bethlehem because the Roman Emperor decreed it. But the birth announcement was made not to the rich and powerful, but to shepherds (Luke 2:1-20).

The Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem knew nothing about this new king. But magi (astrological political advisors) from the countries that had previously oppressed the Jews (Persia/Babylon) came searching for “the king of the Jews.” Herod was shocked, for Rome had given him the title “king of the Jews” in 40 BC. He did what he had to do to protect his title (Matthew 2:1-18). It’s the same thing Pharaoh did when he felt threatened in Moses’ day (Exodus 1:15-22). Jesus’ kingship is threatening to people who want to run the world.

Herod was just as fearful that people would kill him. He built fortresses all over the country to ensure he could escape if the people turned on him. The Herodian is one of those.

Jesus built no such fortresses or palaces. Eventually the rulers of Jerusalem, in collusion with their Roman overlords, arrested and executed Jesus. Once again, the son of David had been killed.

That’s when God stepped in to resurrect the King of the Jews, to give him the authority that had been taken from him. The Gospel of Matthew closes with our sovereign ruler announcing that he has received all authority to reign in heaven and on earth, and commanding the nations to submit to his everlasting kingship (Matthew 28:18-20).

The sons of David were the anointed earthly representatives of the heavenly king (Psalm 2:1-8). The authority of the earth has been given to Jesus, the son of David, the earthly representative of the heavenly king. That’s how Paul summarized the gospel as he began his letter to the believers in Rome:

Romans 1:1-5, my translation
From Paul, slave of King Jesus, his appointee assigned to announce God’s good news, the message he promised through his prophets in the Old Testament about his Son, the physical descendant of David who was named “Son of the divine ruler with power” by the cleansing Spirit when he raised up King Jesus from the dead. Jesus is therefore our ruler, and we’ve received his favour—appointing us to call all the nations into trusting obedience under his authority.

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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