t’s that excellent time of the year again when the miraculous birth of Jesus and all its amazing encounters are given world-wide press. The angels that appeared to Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, and the shepherds are remembered this time of year.
I worship God in awe each Christmas season when rehearsing the fact that every one of these key biblical figures were from the priestly lineage of Moses, except Joseph, who was from the family of David according to God’ Messianic promise (Matthew 1). Mary’s powerful faith; Gabriel’s rebuke of Zacharias’ unbelief and silencing until John the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1); Joseph’s unbelief and illumination through an angelic dream (Matthew 1:19-25); the meeting of Mary and Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-58); the shepherds’ angelic leading (Luke 2:1-20); and Simeon and Anna’s temple revelations (Luke 2:21-38) are all powerful confirmations of the prophecies confirming Jesus’ birth.
2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
Also, again this year, the wise men (KJV) (Magi NAS) who were divinely led to find Jesus will be in the news. What is normally remembered of these biblical figures is the star that led them and their unique gifts, and this article will too. But if you dig a little deeper you discover their story has more.
What was it about these spiritual leaders that entrusted them with special revelation regarding the birth of Christ?
Why were they chosen to know of Jesus’ birth?
How did they know to bring the typical gifts of royalty and suffering that would finance Jesus’ family while living in Egypt?
And, what else, if anything, can be known about their guiding star?
Good historical research reveals who the Magi were. They were philosophers, scientists, and priests with roots in the Median empire stemming back to the regions of Abram’s Babylonian hometown of Ur. It is true that many evolved into the kind of crystal ball gazing turbaned mystics that pepper popular culture. But Matthew’s Magi obviously had deeper aspirations, and a hunger for God’s righteous truth.
The Magi’s Religion
In my article, The Truth About Alexander the Great, I point out the godly interactions of Cyrus (who released the Hebrews to return and rebuild their nation), Artexerxes (who favored Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls), and Ahasuerus (the one Esther won over to withstand his anti-Semitic Persian elements who wanted to destroy the Jews).
By the time Alexander conquered Darius III, the Persian’s national religion was Zoroastrianism. A close look at this ancient Persian religion shows its roots were planted in Daniel’s heyday. A closer look discloses that his influence, and others among God’s captive Hebrew remnant, had much to do with Zoroastrianism’s faith. It incorporated one God, Satan, and a lifestyle of goodness as revealed in the Hebrew prophets. Though its religious strains were mixed with “dark side” cultic beliefs in astrology and witchcraft, its core was monotheistic. It proclaimed an eternal realm of reward for the righteous (heaven), and a spiritual realm of torment for the evil (hell). This was the ancient Magi’s religion. Here is what secular history has to say about their ancient Persian faith: “Although the roots of this religion can be traced as far back as the fifteenth century B.C, its real founder was Zoroaster (the Greek form of the Persian name Zarathustra), who appears to have lived shortly before 600 B.C. According to him, two spiritual principles ruled the universe: one, Ahura-Mazda, supremely good and incapable of any wickedness, embodied the principles of light, truth, and righteousness; the other, Ahriman, treacherous and malignant, presided over the forces of darkness and evil. The two were engaged in a desperate struggle for supremacy. Although they were about evenly matched in strength, the god of light would eventually triumph, and the world would be saved from the powers of darkness. On the last great day Ahura-Mazda would overpower Ahriman and cast him down into the abyss. The dead would then be raised from their graves to be judged according to their deserts. The righteous would enter into immediate bliss, while the wicked would be sentenced to the flames of hell. Ultimately, though, all would be saved; for the Persian hell, unlike the Christian, did not last forever.”
All counterfiets must have an original. Zoroastroism’s doctrines clearly copy Old Testament scripture. The books of Daniel and his contemporary Ezekiel are replete with the truths of Zoroaster’s doctrinal struggles between evil and good. Ezekiel 28 reveals Satan’s origin and rebellion. Daniel 12 prophesies mankind’s last-days resurrection. Daniel’s chapter 9 “Seventy Weeks” prophecy gave an exact year (1 wk = 7 yrs) count from the time of rebuilding the Hebrew temple, to the coming of the Messiah that the Magi could have referenced to initiate their trip.
25 “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
History also claims the Magi had a long tradition of serving ancient, eastern kings. Daniel’s refutation of them in Nebuchadnezzar’s court (leading to the king’s “wilderness” salvation [Dan 4]); God’s supernatural confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar’s son through his handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5); Daniel’s angelic deliverance from Darius I lion’s den and the king’s subsequent submission to God’s will (Daniel 6); and the prophet’s many Persian-directed prophecies (7-9) were all a part of Persian history beyond Daniel’s day. So were Ezra and Nehemiah’s encounters with Artexerxes, and Esther’s with Ahasuerus.
Because the Christmas Magi were men of importance, they could have had access to Old Testament scrolls. The pathway paved between the Persians and Hebrews could have supplied them. Ezekiel instituted the synagogue, Ezra restored God’s Law.
And, it is possible, as Abram, that one or all were personally confronted by God. But this simply isn’t known. If they were, they chose to say nothing of it in their conversation with Herod or Mary when they finally found the Lord. What is known, is they sought the Hebrew Messiah, and were led, very supernaturally, by a single, moving star.
One of the most astounding revelations of the Christmas Magis’ story is the star that led them some 300 desert miles along their redemptive search. This year scientists and pseudo-scientists will again attempt to fit its appearance into some normal seasonal orbit. But there was nothing natural about it. The Christmas story’s wondrous guiding star was a miraculous sign, created by God out of nothing (ex nihilo), to direct the wise men where God led. They traveled toward it from east to west, then were miraculously guided as it moved north to south (Jerusalem to Bethlehem) overhead.
9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over (the place) where the Child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
Once at their destination, the Magis’ missions were fulfilled. They were prepared to honor Jesus’ royalty with gold (Exodus 25:10,11 [which they would use for their move into Egypt]), His Godhood with incense (typical of prayer [Ex 30:7]), and his sacrificial death with Myrrh (the herb used by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus when entombing Jesus [John 19:38-40]). Foreknowledge of each supports a hermeneutic supposition of their personal revelation of Jesus’ birth, and the purpose of His death.
Then these very wise men were warned by God’s Spirit in a dream to bypass Herod and go straight home.
11 And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.
Other stories go into great detail on their encounter with Herod. Some believe the wise men were accompanied by an army, and of course numbered more than three. Others don’t. What is biblically known about the encounter is Herod’s curiosity about the sighted star, the reading of Micah 5 during his query, and the Magis’ warning in a dream to leave Herod in the dark. Not long after, a dream directed Joseph and Mary to flee into Egypt, where they stayed until Herod’s death.
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
14 And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt;
15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “Out of Egypt did I call My Son.”
Others question the Magis’ worship of Jesus in a house (v. 11). Some believe it happened two years after Christ’s birth because of the age (two years and younger) Herod decreed for the slaughter of Jerusalem’s children (Matthew 2:16). Others are satisfied it could have happened not long after the manger episode, even a few days, as census numbers dwindled, and Bethlemites showed sympathy to a new born in a barn.
One final question regarding these world famous biblical figures this Christmas holy day is this: did these Eastern men eventually receive the gift of Jesus?
Though I can’t prove it from history or Scripture, I would certainly think so.
Why? They were seekers of spiritual truth who were eager in their pursuit of God’s Messianic promise.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The Hebrew word for “fear” in this verse means awe and respect. It is the attribute of holy (sanctified) devotion that leads to wisdom, which ultimately leads to understanding the ways of the LORD. Because the Magi shared it, they were wise.
How Wise Are You?
The Christmas wise men were wise because they understood the signs and seasons of their times, and sought God’s Messiah. How wise, this Christmas, are you? The next time you look at the star that tops your tree, ponder its place in history and let it guide you and others, like the Magi, to honor the birth of God’s Son.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Eschatology Today Publisher, Mark Norris, M.A.
 Western Civilizations, Edward McNall Burns, Robert E. Lerner, Standish Meacham:W.W. Norton & Company, NY, NY, 1980: The Persian Empire and its History, p. 66