Magi from the East

Matthew 2:1-4
    Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea 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. 
    And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

   Who were the wise men of Matthew chapter 2 and how did they know about the birth of Christ when it had gone unnoticed by the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem?

    The Greek word for "wise men" is the word "magoi". The magoi or Magi were an Eastern religious order of astronomers trained in Babylon and Persia. This religious group was founded about 600 years earlier and was prominent in Babylon during the reign of Nebucadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus when Judea and Jerusalem had been taken captive. To learn more about where this order of "wise men" would have gotten knowledge of the Christ and the heavenly signs that were to proclaim his birth, you must understand the influence and position the prophet Daniel held in the kingdom of Babylon.

Daniel 1:20,2:48,4:9a,5:11,6:1-2,6:25-28

   And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king [Nebucadnezzar] inquired of them [Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah] he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.

   Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.

   O Belteshazzar [Daniel], master of the magicians...

   There is a man in thy [Belshazzar] kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebucadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;

   It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first: that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage.

   Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

   Under the Babylonian rule of Nebucadnezzar, Belshazzar his son, Darius the Median, and Cyrus the Persian; Daniel was put in charge of the wise men, magicians, astrologers, soothsayers, and princes. Daniel was in a position to teach these various religious orders an accurate knowledge of God's Word as written in the signs in heaven and in the Word of God. The promise of a coming Christ and the astronomical signs that would announce his birth were known and taught by Daniel in the courts of Babylon. The Magi retained this knowledge and passed it on to their followers year after year as they continued to study the movement of the stars. While they retained this information and were watching the heavenly announcement 400 years later, the believers in Jerusalem had forgotten and were unaware of the significant event being announced in the heavens.

Matthew 2:1-2
   Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea 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 [Judeans]? for we have seen his star in the east [in the rising], and are come to worship him.

   It should be noted that nowhere in the record in Matthew does it say that these "wise men" were kings or that there were three of them as tradition portrays. The number of "wise men" has been derived from the mention of three kinds of gifts presented to the young child - Jesus. It is more likely that a significant number of "wise men" [Magi] traveled together by caravan to provide protection as was customary at that time.

   The Greek words translated "in the east" are en te anatole, literally meaning "in the rising." This phrase refers to the astronomical rising of a star or planet in the eastern sky shortly before dawn. The Magi had seen a celestial body in its helical rising above the eastern horizon. And it was not just any star that arose; it was a star that signaled to them the birth of the Judean king.

 Matthew 2:3-4
   When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
   And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

   Tradition teaches that the star noted by the Magi was very bright. The Word of God never mentions the brightness of the star. The Word states that the Magi recognized "his star" for its significance as an announcement of the birth of the Judean king. The fact that none of these people [all Jerusalem, Herod, the chief priests & scribes] noticed the star indicates that it was not unusual in appearance. Rather it was significant to trained astronomers who were looking for a particular movement in the heavens.

(A detailed study of the astronomy of this record and the significance of the king planet Jupiter can be found in the book Jesus Christ Our Promised Seed by Victor Paul Wierwille - American Christian Press, The Way International, New Knoxville, Ohio 45871.)

Matthew 2:5-8
   And they [the chief priests & scribes] said unto him [Herod], In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
   And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
   Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
   And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

   As ruler, Herod was concerned about the announcement of a Judean king. He asked the Magi when they had first seen the star in order to determine the age of the Christ that had been born. He then sent them to Bethlehem to find the young child. The arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem occurred approximately one year and three months after the birth of Jesus Christ recorded in Luke. That is why Herod referred to him as "the young child" rather than a baby.

Matthew 2:9-10
   When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east [in the rising], went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
   When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

   As the Magi left Jerusalem, they saw the star [Jupiter] on its nightly course. Astronomically, stars and planets are similar to the sun in that they rise in the east and set in the west. Looking south toward Bethlehem they saw it high in the sky, nearing its apex on the meridian of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As learned astronomers, they knew that as they traveled south they would see it slowly moving in the direction of Bethlehem. As they approached Bethlehem the star reached its highest point, or "stood" over Bethlehem.

   Herod had directed them to Bethlehem because of a scriptural prophesy. Now the star confirmed this location by appearing directly before them as they approached the city of David. Both Scripture and the heavens were directing them.

   The star could not have identified a specific house. It simply confirmed that Bethlehem was the village in which they would find the "king of the Judeans". Once in the little town of Bethlehem it would not have been difficult to find the child. The local inhabitants had been made aware of the birth of the special child by the shepherds who had spread the news of Christ's birth throughout the region more than a year before the arrival of the Magi.

Matthew 2:11-12
   And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
   And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

   The Magi did not find a "baby in a manger in swaddling clothes" as did the shepherds a year and three months earlier. The Magi found a "YOUNG CHILD" in a "HOUSE." The Magi presented gifts "fit for a king." The fact that three kinds of gifts were presented does not mean that there were three men presenting them. These expensive gifts would have provided the family with the financial means needed to pack up and move to Egypt that very night.

Matthew 2:13-14
   And when they were departed, 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:

   With these verses the record in Matthew has now referred to Jesus 6 times as "the young child." The astronomical study of the king planet Jupiter and the history of Herod's death establishes a time period for the visit of the Magi sometime around December of 2 BC. This would make Jesus about one year and three months old. His age is established in verse sixteen:

Matthew 2:16
   Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

   If Jesus had been an infant, Herod would not have had to kill all the children from two years old and younger. He set the age based on the time the wise men had given him.

   The Word of God is very accurate in its presentation of Christ's birth in the gospel of Luke and the visit of the Magi a year and three months later in the gospel of Matthew.

   You must be careful when studying the Word to distinguish between records that are about an identical situation and records that talk about two different incidents. If two records present information about an identical situation then you can put the two together and get a more complete picture. However, if two records are similar but not talking about the same incident (as is the case with the birth of Christ and the visit of the Magi) then putting the two together is not an accurate handling of the Word and results in the kind of erroneous teaching we have presented every Christmas where three wise men, shepherds, angels, drummer boys, etc. are all present at the birth of Christ.

Old Testament Prophesies Regarding Jesus Christ

The Birth of Jesus Christ

The Great Sign in Heaven of Rev. 12

Cortright Fellowship
© Copyright October  1996 Michael Cortright