More on the Wise Men

Matt. 2: 1-3. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”


Tradition has the wise men  appearing at the stable in Bethlehem with the shepherds, worshiping the new-born Baby.  It makes for a lovely creche at Christmas time, but it is not likely to have happened that way.  It is much more probable that the Magi found Him later, when He was perhaps a year old, maybe a little older. Tradition also gives us three Magi, and sometimes labels them as kings.  The number is probably derived from the three gifts that the wise men brought;  the idea that they were kings is a little more obscure.  In all likelihood, they were not royal at all, but were scholars, astronomers/astrologers, men who had access to the Hebrew scriptures,  possibly from the time the Jews were captive in Babylon, and men who clearly understood and believed the prophesies of the birth of Messiah. So let’s take a look at the scripture and see what truths we can find there. 

The time of the appearance of the Magi in Jerusalem, not Bethlehem,  was some time after and not immediately after Jesus’ birth.  The correct translation of  Matt. 2:1 is not “when Jesus was born,” but “Jesus having been born.”  The verb tense is important, because it indicates a lapse of time between His birth and the appearance of the Magi.  Also, the Bible clearly tells us that the wise men appeared in Jerusalem  first, and did not go directly to Bethlehem.  There in Jerusalem, they did the logical thing and sought audience with Herod to find the One Who had been born King of the Jews. 

When they first saw His star, alerting them to the fulfillment of prophecy, they had to travel many miles over difficult terrain.  It took some time to prepare for the journey and to gather together all the people that would be needed to load packs on the animals, prepare food, and so on.  This was not a journey to be taken on the spur of the moment.

In Matt. 1:11, we are told that they found the young child, not the newborn, in the house, not the stable, with Mary His mother. Most important in this string of evidence, Herod asked the wise men exactly the time that the star had appeared.  We don’t hear their answer, but from verse 16 we can conclude that Herod had received a clear answer that let him know that the child could not be over two years old. 

Who were these wise men? How many were there?  In the Greek, they are called “Magi from the East.”  The term Magi  named a class of people who studied the occult.  It is the root word of our magic and magician.They were astrologers, interpreters of dreams, medical men, and necromancers  (those who communicated with the dead).  Among the Persians and Medes, they formed a special class of priests, and chiefly studied the stars to predict future events.  They also prepared medicines for the sick. Daniel had been made chief over these men when he was taken to Babylon. That he had such an important position, and influence over these men, makes it very easy to conclude that they had knowledge of Hebrew scriptures and prophecy.  They were not all evil sorcerers. It is apparent that some of them sought the truth.  They could even have been Jews, descendants of the Jews who had been taken into captivity in Babylon. 

We don’t know how many of them actually appeared in Jerusalem, but it is beyond doubt that the entourage consisted of much more than three men.  The passage we’re looking at today tells us that not only Herod was “troubled,” but all of Jerusalem with him.  It was not a large city by our standards, but still, it would take far more than three solitary men entering the city to cause the entire place to be troubled by their coming. 

Next time, we’ll discuss the star in the East, and Herod, who was an extremely important player in this drama. 


One thought on “More on the Wise Men

  1. My pastor had a Sunday morning message on the Wise Men this Christmas. I no longer try to take notes because my vision doesn’t allow me to do so in dimly lit rooms. Pastor lifted Scripture from Daniel to show that the men in the East had been educated back in the days of Daniel. That matches your thinking of the time of captivity. Interesting.


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