Posted by: missionventureministries | December 6, 2018

THE MAGI FROM THE EAST AND – HIS STAR – Matthew 2:1-16

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2) 

As we read this passage we need understand who the Magi from the east were. Magi is a Persian term for a priestly class of wise men who specialized in astrology, medicine, and natural science; and would naturally would have been interested in any unusual heavenly phenomenon. 

Historically, it is very likely that they would have been familiar with the writings of Daniel who gained great notoriety as a wise man and interpreter of dreams in the Persian court of Nebuchadnezzar. If so, they would have also known Daniel’s prophecy of “the seventy weeks of years” which is recorded in Daniel 9:24-27. 

This remarkable prophecy established the general time period of the Messiah’s coming by indicating it would be 483 years after a Persian ruler issued an edict to rebuild Jerusalem. The magi throughout this time period had probably been counting down the years since the Jews had been sent back from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, and they therefore knew the approximate time period when the Messiah would be born. 

As we read these verses they seem to imply that the “star of Bethlehem” appeared only to the magi in the East, who were most likely from the area of Persia, or modern-day Iran. There is no biblical record of anyone else observing “the star of Bethlehem.” 

The “star” could have been what the Jews called the “Shekinah,” that is, a physical manifestation of the glory of God in the form of a supernatural radiance. They knew that no ordinary star could do what it did and many also assumed that the star was an angel or some other entity that God had created for this specific occasion. 

Shekinah, is a word that does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression, signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth. The Shekinah was first evident when the Israelites set out from Succoth in their escape from Egypt. There the Lord appeared in a cloudy pillar in the day and a fiery pillar by night: “So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people” (Exodus 13:20–22). 

God spoke to Moses out of the pillar of cloud in Exodus 33, assuring him that His Presence would be with the Israelites (v. 9). Verse 11 says God spoke to Moses “face to face” out of the cloud, but when Moses asked to see God’s glory, God told Him, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (v. 20). This clearly seems to indicate that God’s glory is too awesome and powerful to be seen completely by man. 

The magi in the East saw “the star of Bethlehem” that alerted them to the fact that the Jewish Messiah was born. However, the magi do not call “the star of Bethlehem” by that name; in Matthew 2:2 they refer to it as being “His star,” since it was a sign to them that a king was born. The star guided the magi to travel in the direction of Jerusalem. 

In Jerusalem, the magi visited King Herod and after inquiring, were told that the new King they were looking for would be born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:5). The wise men left Herod’s palace, and “the star of Bethlehem” appeared to them once again. In fact, the star “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (Matthew 2:9–10). The “star of Bethlehem” then astonishingly guiding the way, led the magi to the precise place where they could find Jesus.

As we continue in Matthew 2:11-12 we read, 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.

In reading theses verses, we become aware that modern portrayals of the Christmas nativity scene usually show the wise men visiting Jesus on the night of His birth, which does not agree with the truth found in the Word of God.

We also learn that the magi may have first observed the star of Bethlehem the night of Jesus’ birth, meaning they may have first seen it up to two years beforehand. The Bible tells us why: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16). 

Many Bible scholars suggest a natural explanation for “the star of Bethlehem”, their theories range from a supernova to a comet to an alignment of planets. However, there is evidence to suggest that the “star of Bethlehem” was not a natural stellar phenomenon, but a sign from God and something unexplained by science.  

The fact that the star of Bethlehem apparently only appeared to the Magi indicates that this was not an ordinary star. Also, celestial bodies normally move from east to west due to the earth’s rotation, yet the star of Bethlehem led the magi from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem. Not only that, but led them directly to the place where Joseph and Mary were living, stopping above the house. There is no natural stellar phenomenon that can do that. 

The final thing to consider is why God would open the eyes of a group of gentile wise men who specialized in astrology, medicine, and natural science and draw them to the Christ Child. Undoubtedly it was for the purpose of symbolizing the universal importance of His birth, and to emphasize that although salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22), it is intended for all peoples. 

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

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