The second section of Matthew’s genealogy (Matt 1:6b-11) ends with deportation to Babylon, an area east of Jerusalem. The theology of this geography is significant because when Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of Eden, the cherubim stood guarding the eastern entrance of the garden to prevent re-access (Gen 3:24). Ever since Genesis 3, going east has connotations of exile.
But what about coming from the east? That is the movement of return, of entering a place of promise and hope. Coming from the east, the Israelites entered the promised land in the book of Joshua. And coming from the east, the Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi don’t come from just anywhere. They come “from the east” to Jerusalem, which is the way the exiles came in the 6th century BC. Many exiles left that foreign land to return to Jerusalem so that they could worship Yahweh in his chosen place. In Christ, God was leading a new exodus from a different kind of captivity, and this return from exile would be embraced by more than just ethnic Jews. The Magi were Gentiles walking the way of exiles who were returning to a place of worship. But the Magi weren’t looking for a temple, they were looking for a baby, “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matt 2:2).
These Magi who were seeking Jesus were representing what would happen in days and millennia to come. “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa 60:3). And, “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!” (Ps 72:8-9).