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.” Matthew 2:1-2
A first question that comes to mind is, how did these ‘Wise Men’ know about the birth of Jesus? What did they know about it? What does their visit mean for us today in the 21st century? Well for starters, let’s find out how they knew.
If you go back to Daniel chapter 2, we read that the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, set out and conquered the nation of Judah. He did it in three separate times, but he began in 605BC. The first iteration, he took back with him, the best of the young Jewish boys, primarily to serve in his kingdom. Of the young men, the book of Daniel primarily focuses on four; Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego). In Daniel chapter 2, we read that King Nebuchadnezzar has a troubling dream, and he asks his wise men to interpret it. But first, he asks them to tell him what the dream is before they interpret it, so he can know they could interpret it. Here we read…
The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “My decision is firm: if you do not make known the dream to me, and its interpretation, you shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made an ash heap. However, if you tell the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts, rewards, and great honor. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.” Dan. 2:5-6
So the story goes that Nebuchadnezzar decree went forth, and they (the Babylonians) began slaughtering the wise men (Chaldeans) and their families. Daniel beseeches God, and God grants him the ability to both know what the dream is, and then interpret to interpret the dream. We know the dream was about the multi-metallic statue representing the kingdoms of this age who would rule, sequentially, beginning with Babylon down to Rome. At this point, Daniel was elevated to the number two person in the kingdom, and here we read that he is made ruler over not just Babylon proper, but also to the wise men.
Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king. Dan. 2:48-49
Now, imagine you’re a ‘Wise man’ who not only got your life spared by a young Jewish kid, but also all of your family were spared as well. I imagine that would evoke a lot of loyalty towards someone like that. You would listen to this kid, even though he was Jewish and much younger than probably most of you were. Daniel through God’s grace and purpose, just saved a lot of lives.
So, going back to Matthew 2, we know that Babylon is east of Israel by several hundred miles. You probably already knew that at the time Christ was born, the Parthians were in power over what was then, Babylon. Their kingdom was never conquered by the Romans, and there were a series of wars between the two empires. Now, imagine you’re a half-Jewish, puppet king, installed by Rome in a backwater province of the Roman Empire known as Judah. Imagine you’re just minding your business and then one day, an entourage of men, from the enemy kingdom show up at your door and ask for the one ‘BORN King of the Jews’…
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Matt. 2:3
A common misconception perpetuated by Christmas cards is that there were three Wise Men on camels. Another misconception perpetuated by a lot of churches is that there were ‘more’ than three, but not a lot more. (6-8 maybe) I don’t think Herod nor all of Jerusalem would be startled by three (or 8) guys riding up on camels. I think (my opinion) is that these guys should up en masse, perhaps a caravan of a hundred to two hundred or more. Obviously, all of Jerusalem wouldn’t have been in King Herod’s castle, hearing the question asked about where the ‘King of the Jews’ was, so what startled them was to see such a large entourage of enemy Parthians showing up.
Now, Herod, truly shaken by their presence and their question, turns to his religious leadership for guidance…
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.’”
Notice they are quoting Micah 5:2…or rather, misquoting it. Here is what the Prophet Micah actually stated.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
The high priests and scribes were scared of Herod, so they were tailoring their message to fit the audience. So we know from the start, who took the scriptures literally, and who didn’t. Thus far, we know why Parthian Wise Men would know about a Jewish Messiah in the first place. And we know how they knew where the Messiah was going to hail from.
So how did the Wise Men know when?
Well going back to Daniel, we know that he received from the Angel Gabriel, a prophecy concerning the future known commonly as ‘Daniel’s 70 Weeks’. From here they would have understood, that from the going forth of the commandment (Nehemiah 2) given by Persian (now Parthian) King Artaxerxes…when exactly that would have been. The question many would be asking themselves is, ‘yeah, but that would point them directly to Palm Sunday of AD33, not when He was born.’ I’m glad you asked.
The Wise Men would have been exposed to the Jewish Scriptures (the OT) through Daniel, and it’s no stretch to imagine that He would have explained these to them and possibly, entrusted to them to continue watching long after he was gone for the coming Messiah. Not only that, but Daniel would have also explained, that Messiah would come in part as a Priest. (In order to fulfill Daniel 9:24). Furthermore, this is the cool part, they would have made a reasonable assumption, that according to the Scriptures (Numbers 4) a priest could not enter service until he was 30 years of age. So all they had to do, was calculate the 483 years from Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy, and then back that up thirty years, and they would be very close to the mark. Ok, so that gets them to the year maybe, but how would they know exactly when The One would be born.
Well, again, they went back to the Scriptures of their beloved Daniel, and read them. Not only did they read them, they believed them.
“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel… Numbers 24:17
“We have seen His Star in the East, and have come to worship Him” the Wise Men told Herod. They knew, what the Scribes and Pharisees should have known. And they came bearing gifts not only fit for a King (Gold), but also for a Priest (Frankincense) because again, they studied the Old Testament. They also came bearing Myrrh, which was a sweet smelling spice you could apply to the dead as an act of honor. They knew this because in Daniel’s prophecy, that Messiah the Prince would be ‘cut off, but not for Himself’.
And isn’t it just like God to bring in some Gentiles to be the first people in the New Testament, to come and worship the King of Kings? The Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as the Lion of Judah, the rightful heir to the throne, and these Gentile ‘kingmakers’, came first (Law of First Mention) to demonstrate to the people in whom Jesus would offer His Kingdom too, He had arrived.
Just thinking about that gives me goose bumps in how awesome our God is, and how detailed He is in setting about events, exactly as He wants them too. And although it is fascinating, I began to think back to Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. We are now living in the days of a revived Roman empire (toes of iron mixed with miry clay). Although we have not seen it (or may not see it fully) materialize before the Rapture, we are the generation living in the shadow of Nebuchadnezzar’s multi-metallic statue. Just as precisely as God used those Wise Men to be the ones to worship Him at His first Coming, so too is the timing and event that would lead to Israel becoming a nation again in 1948. And wouldn’t you know it that exactly when Israel becomes a nation again after almost 2,000 years in Diaspora, so too is a final version of the revived Roman Empire appearing again, to rear its wicked head (1948).
A lot of prophetic events are lining up these days, from turmoil in the Middle East, to technology and global governance. From false messiah’s and false religions, to a luke-warm apostasy spreading within Christendom. Events are speeding up, and the days are growing wicked. For those of us who are watching and waiting, I fear many tire waiting and have given up, or worse fallen into false teachings that dash a believers hope. [Don’t let it steal your crown!]
Dear friends, don’t get discouraged or dismayed that certain days or events have passed us by, where we thought He would return, but failed to appear. Don’t let the onslaught of bad news snuff out the light of the ‘Blessed Hope’ we have guiding us in these dark days. God is in control, and we too, should be looking for our Star to appear. Remember, Christ said…
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”