Most of us have probably heard about or seen images of “wise men” traveling to give gifts to the newborn King, Yeshua.
But who were these men? How much do we actually know about them? And what can they teach us?
Join us as we explore one of the most famous biblical stories and learn about the ‘wise men’ who traveled to worship and honor our King…
The “Wise Men”
“Now 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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’
“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, 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,
are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you shall come a Ruler
who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
“Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’
“When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, 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.”—Matthew 2:1-12
While their story is only a few hundred words in length, it is filled with information.
From it we learn that these men:
- Were “wise men;” or “magi” according to other translations
- They were alert and determined; seeing the sign, reading it, and following it
- They were ready to honor Yeshua; with gifts and worship
- They were preparing the way for Jesus’ prophetic path; the gifts providing the financial means for Yeshua’s family to leave the area in order to protect Him but also fulfilling biblical prophecy
- They were listening to God; to His signs and dreams
- They were protecting Yeshua; not providing Herod with the information he had requested
- And much more…
But why is this important?
Magi, unlike the “We Three Kings” holiday song suggests, were not necessarily of any royal bloodlines—though such bloodlines would not disqualify any from being one of the Magi. They were instead, individuals who had abilities that made them valuable… often as councilors to kings.
Abilities such as…
- Star reading
- Dream interpretation
- Sign interpretation
These were often the things that allowed someone to become known as a magi, and therefore achieve positions of influence and even wealth.
Many who followed God may have been considered to be “magi!”
Joseph, for example, was called in to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams after his magi had failed.
Daniel too was called to interpret dreams—and signs—that the magi of the various kings of Babylon could not.
And many of the prophets, under the right circumstances, could have been broadly classified as such.
But what of the “magi” who honored Jesus? Knowing what we do about the magi, we can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that these biblical “wise men” were not kings or Arabian princes… but instead, influential men who likely served as close advisors to rulers.
Were There Three?
Due to the number three being associated with the gifts that the magi brought to Jesus, it is generally assumed that there were THREE wise men who came to honor Him. However, the Word does not give any specific number of magi, nor any other clues that allow us to number them.
Remarkably, the number three is not even mentioned in the biblical account, merely the types of gifts, of which there were three:
Could there have been three wise men who traveled to see Jesus? Possibly. But interestingly, early tradition held that twelve came to seek this newly born King—twelve also being the number of the tribes of Israel, of whom Yeshua (in addition to all of the world), is King.
Therefore, in a way, twelve is perhaps more probable…
- Twelve is connected to the number of the tribes of Israel
- Twelve is connected to judgement and authority in the Word
- Twelve is a connection between Yeshua the Messiah and His Kingship OVER the tribes of Israel
- Twelve is tied to the place where Jesus was immersed by John the Baptist; as that is believed to be the location where twelve stones were placed when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land
- Twelve is the number of disciples/apostles Jesus chose
Three, however, is also an important number…
- Three is connected to the Three-in-One God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Three is connected to increase
- Three is connected to the number of mentioned gifts
- Three is the number of years Yeshua was in ministry
Yet, no matter if it were three, twelve, or any other number of magi, we know this…
The magi who brought gifts to Yeshua our Messiah were passionate and hungry for the promised future and hope He brought.
The Accuracies of Our Understanding
We have discovered that the wise men may not have been kings or princes. That there may not have been three of them. But do we have other misconceptions? And what is correct?
The last of the likely inaccuracies of our thinking lay mostly in our visual representation of them… as three wise men riding camels toward Bethlehem and the star in the East. As we have learned, we do not know how many men traveled to see the baby King, but that is not the only artistic stroke. In all actuality, as men of wealth and influence, riding all that way on camels would be unlikely—camels were typically used as pack animals. Instead, it is more likely that they would have come to Yeshua on horseback, perhaps with camels in tow to carry their gifts.
All of the Holiday cards, store décor, songs, nativity scenes, etc., may appear a little inaccurate now, but not everything is inaccurate…
- They did travel from the East due to an astrological sign from a star or planet
- They did bring Jesus three gifts fit for a King: gold, frankincense, and myrrh
- Gold, a kingly gift—harkening to the Temple, where the golden articles for God were kept in the Most Holy place—symbolizing Yeshua as our King and the sprinkling of His blood as our High Priest
- Frankincense was often used in worship—symbolizing Yeshua as God in His priestly role
- Myrrh was used in anointing oils, perfumes, and even in preparing a body for burial—symbolizing the process of Jesus’ life and ultimate burial before He rose and ascended to Heaven
- They were almost certainly important men, even if not kings or princes, and their desire to worship Jesus was genuine and unprecedented
And these are very important things…
They were LED to the place where Jesus was by God-given signs, with the knowledge that He was a King. They were READY to bow before Him and worship as they brought the kingly gifts. They were there FOR Jesus.
“And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”—Revelation 19:16
A Heart for the King of kings
While there is certainly much more that we could explore about these magi who traveled from the East to find the One born as King… we already know the most important thing…
They DID come.
They SAW THE SIGN of a great King—no matter if they fully understood who He was—and they “chased” after it! They brought gifts to this King with the INTENTION of worshiping Him. And they LISTENED to the dream that God gave them and did NOT return to Herod—despite the kingly station he represented on earth. They DID NOT GIVE UP!
We are living in an era with many distractions. Where there are many “signs” we can choose to follow. And many earthly “kings” who desire our attention… even to the removal of our faith.
But there is a heavenly sign to those of us who have eyes to see. There is the Word of God. God, in all of His glory and majesty. There is His truth and life. The blessing of His love and faithfulness. In all of this and more… we are led. Discovering hope. Finding faith. And welcoming in the LOVE of our God. A God willing to live and die for us! That we might find Him and live!
These magi give a powerful lesson when it comes to seeking God…
For they not only had their eyes open to see the sign, but they had pure faith that caused them to act.
To chase after what their faith told them was coming. To be prepared; ready with gifts for a King only promised to them by a sign; ready to worship. To have their ears open for the direction of God, and their will aligned to that voice. To go forward in expectation… with intent… and with the determination to never give up.
We can take this and apply it to our walk with God. We can seek the Lord. We can chase after Him. And we can do all of this with faith, with passion, and with determination.
Let us worship the Lord God in this season.
Let us bring Him gifts; gifts of attention, of love, of wholehearted passion for His face.
Let us remember the love and sacrifice of our God…
And of His reign without end!
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”—Isaiah 9:6
“… ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”—Matthew 4:10“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.”—Isaiah 9:7