How Did Herod the Great Know the Timing of the Messiah’s Birth?

When Herod the Great became aware of the birth of the Messiah, he ordered the slaughter of all children under the age of two in Bethlehem. But how did he know the Messiah was to be born at that particular time? Which prophecies in the Old Testament or other sources supported this claim?

Jesus’ birth narrative fulfilled numerous prophecies in the Old Testament, which were written hundreds of years prior to his birth. The intention of this article is to present the prophecies fulfilled in Matthew’s birth narrative, along with the sources on the timing of Jesus’ birth and eventual crucifixion.

The significance of fulfilled prophecies is that no human can predict the future with any accuracy. The only one who can predict the future is the great transcendent I AM, who is concurrently in the past, present, and future.

Jesus’ Birth Narrative Fulfilled Numerous Prophecies

Matthew 2 (1-18) states: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign 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 when it rose 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 Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written’ (Micah 5:2) ‘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 shepherd my people Israel.’ Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’”

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod., they returned to their country by another route.”

“When they had gone, and 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.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet (Hosea 11:1): ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”

“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. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah (31:15) was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”

In summary, Jesus’ birth narrative fulfilled prophecies on the location of Jesus’ birth, his residence in Egypt, and the mourning surrounding the slaughters of small children. But we are left with the questions on the origination of the bright star prophecy and the timing of the Messiah’s birth and life.

Where did the prophecy of the bright star in Bethlehem originate?

The Tobit is part of the original Christian canon, which was believed to be written between the last book of the Old Testament and the Gospels around the beginning of the second century before Christ. The book is considered historical and apocryphal, so the Protestant version of the Bible excludes it.

Tobit 13:11 states: “A bright light will shine to all parts of the earth; many nations shall come to you from afar. And the inhabitants of all the limits of the earth, drawn to you by the name of the Lord God. Bearing in their hands for the King of heaven. Every generation shall give joyful praise in you, and shall cast you the chosen one, through all ages forever.”

Where did the prophecy on the timing of Jesus’ birth originate?

Daniel 9:25-26 states: “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off.”

The Anointed One is another word for the word “Christ.” If we multiply seven sevens, we get 49 years, plus 62 sevens, which is 434 years. So after 483 years, Christ would be cut off (or crucified). The ancients used 360-day calendars, which they periodically adjusted to match solar and lunar cycles. There are two options for when the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem came in either 457 B.C. or 444 B.C., as indicated in Ezra 7 and Nehemiah (2:2; 1:1-4; 6:15), respectively.  Subtracting 483 years from these time slots brings us to a window of time between 27 and 40 A.D. (omitting the year 0, because there is no year 0), which points us to a window of time in which the Anointed One would be “cut off,” according to Daniel.


Herod the Great had several strong reasons to fear the coming of the Messiah, based on multiple prophecies from the Old Testament and the book of Tobit. Given the authorship on these prophecies occurred hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ birth and include specific dates and events, arguments that claim the gospel writers crafted the story to match the prophecies have zero weight. The gospel writers did not craft time window when the Anointed One would be cut off,  the location of Jesus’ birth, the bright star, and Jesus’ residence in Egypt. They merely told the truth.

“And then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Thank you for your time.

3 Replies to “How Did Herod the Great Know the Timing of the Messiah’s Birth?”

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