The Time-Line of Christmas – XI

December 27, 2013
Matthew 2:1-12

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

It’s after Christmas!  Why are we still on The Time-Line of Christmas?  Because what we consider part of the Christmas story stretches well beyond Jesus’ Bethlehem birth.  The visit of the wise men – often depicted as three kings gathered at the cradle – did not happen until up to two years after the Savior was born!  There is a lot of information that I have found concerning the wise men, so this blog is a bit longer than most.

This is the abridged story of the wise men from Matthew 2:1-12:

    Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…wise men from the east came to
    Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For
    we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.”  When
    Herod…heard these things, he was troubled….And when he had gathered all
    the chief priests and scribes…he inquired of them where the Christ was to be
    born.  So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by
    the prophet, ‘But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah…out of you shall come
    a Ruler, Who shall shepherd my people Israel.’  Then Herod, when he had
    secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appear-
    ed.  And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for
    the young Child,…bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him
    also.”  …they departed; and, behold, the star…went before them, till it came
    and stood over where the young Child was….And when they had come into
    the house, they saw the young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down and
    worshiped Him.  And…they presented gifts to Him:  gold, frankincense, and
    myrrh.  Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to
    Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Why do I say the wise men came up to two years after Jesus was born?

•    The star – whatever celestial manifestation it was – appeared about two years before.  (Compare Matthew 2:7 with Matthew 2:16).
•    They came into a house (Matthew 2:11), not a stable.  But then – considering my last blog – Jesus could very well have been born in a house!

Why are the wise men depicted as three eastern kings whose names – popularized by Henry Van Dyke in 1896 – were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar?

•    There were three types of gifts presented – “…gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11).
•    Such rich presents are thought to be fitting gifts given by kings.
•    There may have been more than three wise men.  And they were not kings.  They are called in the Greek Magi, meaning magician. But a magician from an eastern kingdom – probably Babylon – was not like a modern day entertainer skilled in sleight of hand.  He would be like Daniel in the Old Testament, someone who was wise and of quick mind, and trained in all the knowledge, wisdom and culture of the kingdom.  Training would have included astronomy and astrology – close observation of the heavens.

How did the wise men know to follow the star, and why would they have associated it with the One “…born King of the Jews…” (Matthew 2:2)?

•    Daniel was a faithful Jew among many who were deported to Babylon 600 years before Christ.  He – and others – would have carried the Hebrew scriptures with them.  Daniel rose to be an important figure in the Babylonian government – a magi – as did his three companions, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  We are more familiar with their Babylonian names – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  So future magis would have had ready access to Jewish prophecies.
•    Jacob prophesied concerning his twelve sons in Genesis 49.  In verse 10 (NIV) he says of Judah, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
•    Balaam gave the following prophecy to Balak, king of Moab, in Numbers 24:17 through19.  It is regarded as pertaining to the Messiah by most Biblical scholars:

        I shall see Him, but not now: I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall
        come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel…while Israel does
        valiantly.  Out of Jacob One shall have dominion….

•    The prophesy that Isaiah gave to King Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14 says this: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  Matthew 1:23 interprets Immanuel to mean, “…God with us.
•    There is also that wonderful prophecy of Messiah’s kingly reign in Isaiah 9:6 and 7:

        For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the govern-
        ment will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonder-
        ful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of
        the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon
        the throne of David, and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it
        with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The
        zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Obviously, “…unto us…” in verse 6 refers to the Jews.
•    Isaiah 60:1 through 7 is thought to pertain to the magi.  Here it is in part – verses 1, 3, 6:

        Arise, shine; for your light has come!  And the glory of the LORD is
        risen upon you. …The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to
        the brightness of your rising….they shall bring gold and incense; and
        they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.
•    In ancient times, the births of significant personages such as kings was believed to be heralded by signs and wonders in the heavens.

Putting it all together, I think you can see how these wise men of Babylon would have known a very significant event had happened when the star appeared.  In searching sacred writings for the meaning, they would have come upon references to the Messiah who would be “…King of the Jews….”  All that observation,  research, preparation and travel could very well have taken about two years.

And so the magi came….

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