Who were these “wise men” or magi that visited Jesus after His birth? Why did this do this?
Who were the Wise Men?
Some translations call the “wise men” the magi but who were these men? How many were there? The word “magi” is from the Greek word “magos” (plural) and means magicians or astrologers but some translations have it as “wise men.” This name was given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and nearly every other nation to the teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams (like Daniel), soothsayers, and sorcerers so we can’t know with precision who these men were nor can we tell how many there were as the Bible is silent on how many wise men there were. The Bible only says that they brought three gifts befitting of a king. Another misconception is that they were from the Orient but the Bible says that they came “from the east,” meaning east from Judea or Jerusalem and specifically, Bethlehem. The word used for east is simply the word used for directions, in this case, the direction from where the sun rises. One thing to know is that they were astrologers which would make sense of the fact that they “saw his star when it rose” and thus decided to follow it.
Old Testament References
There aren’t very many verses where we read about the wise men or magi and only Matthew has any reference at all. There are some references in the Old Testament concerning Daniel who was considered one of the wise men and was a chief governor in Babylon. Daniel’s prophecy contains a lot about the coming of the Messiah (Dan 9:25) and the end times so perhaps Daniel’s prophecies were preserved by the Chaldeans (Babylonians) so that these cataclysmic events wouldn’t happen to their nation (Dan 9:26-27). In Daniel’s prophetic time-scale, it is believed that the 69 weeks amounts to 69 units of seven years each or a total of 483 years and if you count from 455 B.C. to the year AD 29, you have 483 years. This places us in the time of Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. The magi or wise men could have followed Daniel’s prophetic calendar and so knew when it was the time to go to Jerusalem or Judea and so that they could go and worship the coming king for themselves. That explains why they brought gifts worthy of a king and also explain why the magi were sent at a specific time; a time identified by Daniel in his prophecies about the end times (Dan 9:24-27).
New Testament References
The wise men or magi make their appearance in the New Testament in Matthew 2:1-2 which says that “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matt 2:1-2). Later, Herod actually “summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared” (Matt 2:7) and then sent them to Bethlehem, so apparently the wise men knew the time of the Messiah’s arrival or birth. It may have been due to the old prophecies or writings of Daniel, some of which might have survived the fall of Babylon and have been preserved by some of the wise men and taken back to their own nations. Because of Daniel’s God-given dream interpretations of the king’s dreams, Daniel may have been the most trusted of all of wise men in Babylon, therefore the wise men of latter years would have highly regarded any of his prophecies. Regardless, it was after some days that Herod “saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matt 2:16). Matthew’s summary is that the wise men were from the east, they brought gifts, and they knew they were coming to worship a king; the king of the Jews.
Today, the most wise thing any man or woman could do is to repent and believe the gospel, which is just what Jesus said to begin His ministry (Mark 1:15). It doesn’t take a lot of wisdom to see that we’re all going to die. That we need a Savior so that our sins will be taken away and the wrath of God placed upon the Son of God so you can either repent and believe and worship Him, or you can reject Him and be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment. The fool says there is no God (Psalm 14:1); the wise believe and will see God face to face (Rev 21:3; 22:4).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.