“He Shall be Called a Nazarene”
This Advent season we have been looking at the four prophecies of Advent found in
Matthew chapter two. The first Sunday of Advent we looked at the prophecy of Jesus’
birthplace, “Bethlehem, land of Judah” (Mt.2.6) that typifies the humble shepherd of God’s
people. The second Sunday of Advent we considered the fulfillment of God’s work of
redemption through Christ in the prophecy, “Out of Egypt I have called My Son.” (Mt.2.15)
Last Sunday we saw the Lord’s consoling love for all those who are mourning during the
Advent season calling us to seek the Lord’s comfort to weep and mourn no more. (Mt.2.18)
I hope this series of sermons have been a source of encouragement and spiritual reflection
during this Advent season.
This morning we come to the final prophecy of Advent in Matthew chapter two that tells us
that “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Mt.2.23) that typifies Christ as the suffering servant
despised and rejected by men. As you recall after the Magi departed back to the own
country from Bethlehem an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get
up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for
Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and
His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of
This leads us to today’s text Matthew chapter two verses nineteen through twenty-three.
Hear now the Word of God.
But when Herod died, behold, 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 into the land of Israel; for those who
sought the Child’s life are dead.” So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came
into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of
his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left
for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what
was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Mt.2.19-23)
When Herod Died
The holy family had not been in Egypt very long before Herod died. The great Jewish
historian Josephus wrote this about Herod’s death… He died of this: “Ulcerated entrails,
putrefied and maggot-filled organs, constant convulsions, foul breath, and neither
physicians nor warm baths led to recovery.” Sorry for upsetting your breakfast but this
description of Herod’s death seems fitting for such a ruthless and cruel individual. Josephus
sums up Herod’s life, “He was a man of great barbarity towards all men equally, and a slave
to his passion.”
Jesus’ Nomadic Existence
As I pointed out in the second sermon of this series during the first few years the family
experienced several relocations.
The first leg of the journey started when Joseph and Mary traveled from their hometown of
Nazareth south to Bethlehem. After Jesus’ birth the young family would make a short trip to
Jerusalem to present the Child to the Lord. (Lk.2.22-24) After returning to Bethlehem the
young family received news to travel south to live as exiles in the land of Egypt. Now Herod
is dead, Joseph receives divine direction to “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go
into the land of Israel.” (2.20a)
Go Into the Land of Israel
I want you to notice the general character of this command. Joseph is not told where to go
in the land of Israel but only that it was time to leave Egypt and return to their home
country. This is often the way it is as we seek to discover God’s will. We don’t know the
exact location where the Lord is calling us, but we have a general idea of what direction He
is leading. It is only as we obey God’s Word and take steps towards the general direction
that we ever reach the Lord’s divine destination.
As the young couple obeyed God’s Word to “go into the land of Israel” it seems that instead
of returning to their hometown of Nazareth Joseph was considering relocating to
Bethlehem, the city of David, or Jerusalem, the holy city. Why wouldn’t Joseph head back to
their hometown of Nazareth? (Lk.1.26-27; 2.4) Maybe Joseph was thinking that the city of
David or the holy city of Jerusalem would be a more appropriate place to raise the King of
kings instead of the tiny farming village if Nazareth.
So, left to his own discretion Joseph must had thought that Judea was proper place to raise
the Messiah. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father
Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the
regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. (2.22-23a)
Determining Divine Direction
These verses are interesting in determining divine direction for our lives. Notice that the
Lord used general information to lead Joseph away from his natural inclination to settle in
Judea. The text reads, when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his
father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Joseph was just listening to the news on the street as
the young family made the decision to head north back to Nazareth. But the Lord also used
special revelation, being warned by God in a dream, to lead Joseph to keep traveling north to
the region of Galilee and eventually arrive at the place the Lord had desired to fulfill biblical
prophecy. Brothers and sisters, the Lord uses both general information together with His
Word to guide our lives to the place God desires to fulfill His purposes for our lives.
Archelaus was Reigning over Judea
Joseph had very reason to fear Archelaus. Prior to his death, his father Herod the Great, had
made a deal with the Roman Empire that would allow his three sons to rule over different
portions of the kingdom.
Herod’s son Philip ruled over the territories north and east of the Jordan (Mt.14.1-3).
Antipas reigned over the region of Galilee. And Archelaus reigned over Judea which
included the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The reason Joseph feared Archelaus was
because one of Archelaus’ first actions as ruler over Judea was to squash a rebellion by
killing three thousand worshipper who had gathered in Jerusalem for Passover. Archelaus
had inherited his father’s violate nature. He was a chip off the old block. You know, the
apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. But Archelaus’ brother Antipas had a much milder
disposition. So, the Lord’s dream telling Joseph not to settle his young family in the region
of Judea confirmed his fear and cause Joseph to continue their journey to the regions of
Galilee and settle in Nazareth.
He Shall be Called a Nazarene
So, the holy family came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was
spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (2.22b-23) Even though
modern-day Nazareth is the largest city in the northern district of Israel, the town of
Nazareth at the time of Christ was a small village built on a hillside. Nazareth was beautiful
but unfortunately it had a poor repetition of being backwards, behind times, and lacking
culture. Hidden away in the hills and cut off from any trade routes, people from Nazareth
were looked down upon. No wonder when Nathanael was introduced to Jesus as the
Messiah he responded, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn.1.46)
But Matthew’s Gospel tells us that This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets:
“He shall be called a Nazarene” (Mt.2.23b) and He certainly was. Jesus is called a Nazarene
eight times in the Gospels and six times in the book of Acts. Even though He was born in
Bethlehem, it was His childhood home of Nazareth that people identified mostly with Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the family moving back home to Nazareth was to fulfill what
was spoken through the prophets. Notice the difference in the way Matthew introduces this
prophetic fulfillment as compared to the others in Matthew chapter two. In the prophecy
concerning the Messiah being born in Bethlehem Matthew wrote for this is what has been
written by the prophet. (2.5) In the prophecy concerning the family fleeing to Egypt to
escape Herod’s wrath Matthew wrote: This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord
through the prophet. (2.15) And in the prophecy concerning the mourning mothers in
Bethlehem Matthew wrote: Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet
was fulfilled. (2.17) But in this forth prophecy referencing Jesus growing up in Nazareth
Matthew wrote: This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets.
Notice “written by the prophet,” “spoken by the Lord through the prophet,” “spoken through
Jeremiah the prophet” but in this forth prophecy referencing Jesus growing up in Nazareth
and being called a Nazarene Matthew wrote: This was to fulfill what was spoken through the
prophets. See it? The plural “prophets.” Obviously, Matthew is referencing that many
prophets prophesied that Jesus would grow up in Nazareth and be called a Nazarene. But a
quick study will reveal that the village of Nazareth is nowhere mentioned in the Old
Testament and there is not one prophet who wrote that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.
So, what is Matthew teaching us? Matthew’s inspired reference that the Messiah would be
called a Nazarene indicates a general teaching of the prophets rather to a list of specific Old
Testament prophecies. Remember that Nazareth was a despised place, and someone
coming from Nazareth would be coming “from the other side of the tracks” – a ghetto rat.
What Matthew is saying is that the prophets predicted the Messiah would be a despised
person, the victim of slurs such as this. He would not be known as “Jesus of Bethlehem,”
with its many honorable Davidic overtones, even though He had been born in Bethlehem.
(Jn.7.40-43) He would not be known as “Jesus of Jerusalem” even though that is where He
was dedicated to the Lord as a baby and surrendered His life to be crucified. Instead, He
would be called, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Jesus the Nazarene
Listen to some of the prophecies of Scripture telling us about this Jesus the Nazarene.
He was regarded as a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All
who see Him mock Him; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. (Ps.22.6-7)
The Lord declared, I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s
children; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on
The Lord tells us how He was scorned, disgraced and shamed; all My enemies are before You.
Scorn has broken My heart and has left Me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was
none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave Me vinegar for My
Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He
grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He
has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we
should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows
and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and
we did not
esteem Him. . . As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By
His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their
iniquities. (Is.53.1-3, 11)
Brothers and sisters, Jesus the Nazarene came to His own, and those who were His own did
not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of
This final prophecy of Advent in Matthew chapter two declares that “He shall be called a
Nazarene.” (Mt.2.23) This prophecy tells us that this infant child, Jesus Christ, will be the
Lord’s Suffering Servant and as the Suffering Servant He will be despised and forsaken by
men so to bear our shame, our sorrows, and our grief to provide atonement and
forgiveness for sins.
“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that
brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Is.53.5)
As we conclude this series, I want to call your attention to the overall message presented in
these four prophecies of Advent found in Matthew chapter two.
The prophecy telling us that Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem shows that He
identifies with those who feel insignificant.
The prophecy explaining that Jesus was exiled to Egypt shows that He knows what it feels
like to be displaced and alienated.
The prophecy to the mothers of Bethlehem shows that Jesus has empathy for those who are
weeping and mourning.
The prophecy that tells us that Jesus shall be called a Nazarene shows that He cares for
those who feel despised and rejected.
These four prophecies show us that Jesus in His infancy was willing to humble Himself not
only by taking upon human flesh but was willing to live as an alien, experience extreme
sorrow, and feel forsaken. Jesus was willing to become nothing for nobodies, to become
lowly for the lowly, to be rejected for the rejected, to mourn for the mourners, and to be
despised for the despised. Why? To overcome our weaknesses so that we would gain
eternal life through Christ and Christ alone.