Eyewitness to Christmas: Who Were the Wise Men

In the past years, we have studied the eyewitness to Christmas from the viewpoint of the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth and Zacharias, Joseph, and the angels.  This year, we are going to journey with the Wise Men or Magi to visit the Christ Child.

Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, where the Savior would be born

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East.”  {Matthew 2:1}

Matthew begins by reminding us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem is located about six miles south of Jerusalem.  In Biblical times, this was the tribe of Judah.

King Herod

Micah foretold of Jesus birth. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” {Micah 5:2}

The scripture goes on to tell us “— this was during Herod’s kingship—” {Matthew 2:1}

This is Herod the Great.  After his death, the kingdom was divided into four sections.

“—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East.”  {Matthew 2:1}

Finally, we meet our visitors. They are described as a band of scholars.  We also know of them as the Magi which is plural for the Latin word magus.

Three wise men are believed to have visited Jesus based on the three gifts

The term wise men was used to refer to the men in the King James Version of the Bible. Other translations refer to the men as astrologers.

We do not know for sure if these men were kings, but The identification of the Magi as kings is linked to Old Testament prophecies that describe the Messiah being worshiped by kings.  {Isaiah 60:3; Psalm 68:29; and Psalm 72:10}

John Calvin vehemently opposed the idea they were kings. He wrote, “But the most ridiculous contrivance of the Papists on this subject is, that those men were kings… Beyond all doubt, they have been stupefied by a righteous judgment of God, that all might laugh at [their] gross ignorance.”

The Wise Men came upon the star

Scripture does not tell us how many wise men or Magi journeyed  from the east. We are also not told where they came from other than the east. Research tells us The Parthian Empire, centered in Persia, “occupied virtually all of the land east of Judea and Syria (except for the deserts of Arabia to the southeast”.  Matthew Henry wrote, “ the Magi among the Persians were their philosophers and their priests.”

“More unexpectedly, these Magi are astrologers, which is why they noticed the star to begin with. Many sources from this period report the skill of Magi in divination.” {The IVP New Testament Commentary Series}

So, to sum it up the Wise Men were astrologers and priest from Persia.  But, how did they know about the Christ child?

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