By Christine Darg
The Massacre of the Innocents in the nativity Gospel of Matthew (2: 16–18) was an horrific holocaust by Herod the Great who ordered the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
Holy Innocents’ Day is commemorated in many church denominations on 28 December. Especially on this day let us pray against the ongoing murder of innocents in the womb and the assault in general against vulnerable children.
The Magi had visited Jerusalem to seek guidance as to where the king of the Jews was born; King Herod directed them to Bethlehem and slyly asked them to report to him so that he “might also worship,” but the Wise Men were warned by God in a dream to evade Herod.
When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, filled with rage, and he gave orders to kill all boys “that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof,” two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
This tragedy is followed by a reference to and quotation from the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:15): “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah 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.” (Matthew 2:17-18).
Meanwhile, Joseph had been warned in a dream to take Mary and the child to Egypt:
behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him
When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
Jesus was prophesied to be like unto Moses to whom God’s people should listen. In the Torah, Moses’ parents were warned in a dream that the child’s life was in danger, and they acted to save him. Later in life, after Moses has to flee, like Jesus, he returns when those who sought his death are themselves dead.
The story of the massacre of the innocents plays a part in Matthew’s nativity account, in which the proclamation of the coming of the Messiah (his birth) is followed by his rejection by the Jews (Herod, scribes and the people of Jerusalem) but his later acceptance by the gentiles (represented by the Magi).
“Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord, Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded; and your children shall come again from the land of the enemy. There is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border.” Jeremiah 31: 15-17
According to my Orthodox friend Dr. Deslee Campbell,
In 1988, in the courtyard beside the Holy Nativity Church in Bethlehem, I noticed a stairwell going down and under the church. We asked a Greek priests if we could gain access beneath in a ‘catacomb’ of burial caves filled with tiny bones, and skulls. From the artwork hanging about I deduced these were accepted as the bones of the Holy Innocents. Years later Abbess Elizabeth from the Russian Church of St Mary Magdelene on the Mt of Olives confirmed Orthodoxy’s belief that they are the relics of those little ones.
FOR PROPHETIC STUDY: Byzantine liturgy estimated there were 14,000 Holy Innocents, while an early Syrian list of saints put the number at 64,000. Coptic sources raised this number to 144,000. I found that number of 144,000 intriguing since there is a non-dogmatic teaching on YouTube suggesting that quite possibly the future 144,000 male Jewish evangelists who are virgins without any guile and who are described in the Book of Revelation could quite possibly be the resurrected Holy Innocents! They follow the Lamb wherever he goes –and who will declare his generation that was cut off? Intriguiging! To repeat, this is NOT a dogmatic teaching but a possibility and one that should be studied by serious Bible prophecy watchers. A video Bible Study by Robert Breaker shows from the King James Bible just who the biblical 144,000 MIGHT be, and who they most certainly are not! Worth a view in light of Jeremiah 31 quoted above concerning Rachel’s children coming again to their own border! Watch the video at this link.
Acireale – The painting of The Masacre of Innocents in Duomo – cattedrale di Maria Santissima Annunziata by Matteo Ragonisi (18. cent.).
Sealing of the 144,000 in the Book of Revelation