There has been some confusion as to the travels of Jesus and his family during his early days, particularly since the timeline appears, at a quick first glance, in conflict as to when they left Bethlehem. Luke and Matthew both describe the family’s movements, but upon a closer look, they are describing different travels.
Follow along with me as we see how Luke and Matthew tell their stories.
Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem (the town of David) [Luke 2:11]. Angles had told the shepherds about the birth and they went and saw the baby Jesus for themselves [Luke 2:16]. Eight days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph to him to Jerusalem to be circumcised [Luke 2:21-23].
After the circumcision, Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth [Luke 2:39]. Jesus grew strong and was filled with wisdom [Luke 2:40] so they stayed there for a while. At this point, Luke skips ahead to Jesus when he was 12 years old.
Sometime after they had gone to Nazareth, they moved again back to a house in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:11] where they were eventually visited by the Magi who brought gifts to Jesus.
The Magi gathered in Jerusalem [Matthew 2:1-2] thinking Jesus may have been there. The chief priests and teachers said the prophet Micah said Jesus would be in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:6, Micah 5:2]. Herod could not ignore the growing numbers of Magi and was threatened. He tried to get the Magi to report back to him when they had found Jesus [Matthew 2:7-8].
When the Magi found Jesus, they returned home but bypassed Herod’s kingdom after they had been warned in a dream [Matthew 2:12]. Joseph was also warned in a dream that Herod would be looking to kill Jesus, so they fled to Egypt [Matthew 2:13-15].
Since the Magi were travelling by camel, they must have travelled a long time from the east. Knowing this, Herod ordered all the boys 2 years old and younger killed in and surrounding Bethlehem. He must have been told by the Magi that the star had appeared possibly two years earlier. Herod wanted to make sure this new King would not grow up and take his throne away [Matthew 2:16].
Herod eventually dies and Jesus’ family returned to Nazareth [Matthew 2:19-23]. Matthew picks up Jesus’ story much later with John the Baptist announcing the ministry of Jesus.