The “Magi” (Greek: magoi), also referred to as the (3) wise men or (3) kings, were a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after His birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The word “magi” refers to the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. As part of their religion, these priests paid special attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was – at that time – highly regarded as a science.
I. The Magi’s Journey
– Their Public Meeting with King Herod
* The Magi’s Request… Matthew 2:1,2
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the only one of the 4 Gospels to mention the Magi, “they” came “from the east” – more literally, “from the rising (of the sun)” – to worship the Christ, “born King of the Jews“.
Traditionally, the view developed that they were Babylonians, Persians, or Jews from Yemen.
According to Matthew, the Magi found Jesus by “following” a star, which traditionally became known as the Star of Bethlehem. Various theories have been presented as to what this phenomenon refers to, since stars do not visibly move and therefore cannot be “followed” in the way we might think. Some believe they kept their eyes focused on a planet, which, without a telescope, could be mistaken as a star, as it slowly moved across the sky. Others theorize it was a certain alignment of planets/stars.
* The King’s Reaction… Matthew 2:3,4
– Their Private Meeting with King Herod
* Herod’s Demand… Matthew 2:7
* Herod’s Deception… Matthew 2:8
II. The Magi’s Joy
– The Witness of the Star… Matthew 2:9
– The Worship of the Wise Men… Matthew 2:10,11
The Bible does not mention the number of people “they” or “the Magi” refers to, but the 3 gifts has led to the assumption there were 3 men. In the east, the Magi traditionally number 12. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is probably linked to Ps. 72:11, “May all kings fall down before him“.
When the Magi “had come into the house“, they are described as “falling down/kneeling/bowing” in worship of Jesus. The fact Jesus was in a “house” probably removes the wise men from the nativity scene.
On finding Jesus, they gave 3 symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The 3 gifts had monetary value, but may have also had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.
What happened to these gifts after this is never mentioned in Scripture, but several traditions have developed. One story has the gold being stolen by the 2 thieves who were later crucified alongside Jesus. Another tale has the gold being entrusted to – and then misappropriated by – Judas. One tradition suggests that Joseph and Mary used the gold to finance their travels when they fled Bethlehem after the magi had warned them about King Herod’s plan to kill Jesus. Yet another story proposes the theory that the myrrh given to them at Jesus’ birth was used to anoint Jesus’ body for His burial.
– The Warning from God… Matthew 2:12
After the visit, the Magi were warned in a dream that Judean king Herod intended to kill the child; they decided to return home by a different route… and do not reappear. This prompted Herod to resort to killing all the young children in Bethlehem… an act called the Massacre of the Innocents, in an attempt to eliminate a rival to his throne. Jesus and His family had, however, escaped to Egypt already.
The Bible says little about who these men were… or where they came from. What is important is what they did.
They watched for signs the prophets of God had written about centuries before.
They traveled hundreds of miles to see this new “King”.
In a time and culture when it seems difficult to make it to church on time on Sunday morning, there is something refreshing about these men who traveled such a great distance to worship King Jesus!
You can read the story of the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12.