The Wise Men

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 10 The Wise Men

There was the good news about the birth of Christ. Those who were there, the shepherds and family in Bethlehem, were encouraged. They told others about what they saw and heard on that miraculous night.

But there was trouble brewing not far from Bethlehem. About 5 miles to the north, in Jerusalem was the very evil King Herod. His life had been filled with assassinations, murders and violent revenge. When he was just a child, he was permitted to execute the man who killed his father.

By 37 BC Herod used political pressures to get Rome to declare him King of the Jews. To protect his title and power over the Jewish territories …

  • He had 45 Hasmonean Priests killed.
  • He was suspected in the strange bath-tub drowning of Aristobulus III, a potential rival..
  • He killed his wife Mariami soon after he married her.
  • He even had his wife’s mother executed for conspiracy.
  • He feared that his brothers might become competitors so he killed them too.
  • He murdered Costobar, a governor he himself had appointed.
  • Just prior to these events in Matthew he killed his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus.

While he was king, a group of foreign scholarly advisers arrived in Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1 says, “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,”

They’re called wise men in our Bibles. They weren’t kings as the old song goes. That’s based on later mystical writings, not the Bible. The word used here in the original Scriptures is magoi (μαγοι). It means they were scholars, men of science, keepers of ancient knowledge, and very important advisers to the kings. They were experts in astronomy and watched the night skies constantly.

There’s no reason to believe there were three of them. The idea probably comes from the three kinds of gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s like a child saying he got gifts of clothes, toys and DVDs. That doesn’t mean only three people gave him gifts. Historians tell us that when the magoi traveled, they would have a military escort of probably a thousand troops. These were very valuable men and highly respected advisers to kings.

They came from the East, probably Persia, old Babylon, our modern Iraq.

Their message would have been obviously troubling to King Herod. Verse 2 tells us they said, “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.”

Herod was upset about this news of a rival King of the Jews. Verse 3 tells us about his response, “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

It’s no wonder that a man so evil and jealous of his power was troubled. A contingent of eastern Magoi came to Jerusalem, probably with a large military escort, and they were looking for a new-born King over the Jewish people.

Herod probably knew the prophesies about a coming Messianic King. The Rabbis taught that he would be a revolutionary who would overthrow Rome. Herod was appointed by Rome, and took pride in being King of the Jews.

He wanted to know who this rival to his throne was so he called for his advisers. Matthew 2:4-6 says, “And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, 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.’ ”

It was the Bible, not the star, that first led them to Bethlehem. The quote comes from Micah 5:2, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

So Herod called these wise men to come to meet with him privately. Matthew 2:7-8, “Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired 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.’ ”

It would have taken these Magoi a while to get to Jerusalem. They had to travel over 800 miles (Roughly the distance between where I live in Central Florida and Washington D.C.). The trip would have required planning and making sure their duties in Babylon were covered while they were away. They would have to camp out along the way, so they needed all the supplies for the trip, and a contingent of military escorts had to be put together. It may have been a year after they saw the star that they arrived in far off Jerusalem.

Later we read of Herod’s plan to slaughter all Bethlehem’s children two years old and younger, so he eliminated all those a year older and a year younger than his intended victim. This fits with Jesus being a toddler about one year old at the time.

So the Savior they found & worshiped likely wasn’t a baby in a manger any more, but a 1-year-old boy. But he was the newborn King of kings and Savior for his people. King Herod died in 4 BC so it was probably about 5 BC that Jesus was born.

Next Study: The Star of the Wise Men