“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,” (Matthew 2:1 ESV).
Matthew. Matthew’s point of view regarding Jesus is that He is the prophesied King of the Jews (Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Matt. 1:1-17; 18-25). Therefore, it makes logical sense that Matthew would provide the account of the visit from the Magi.
Who were the Magi? There is a lot of speculation regarding their identity and origin. Were they really kings as the familiar Christmas Carol We Three Kings of Orient Are states? What about King Herod. Who exactly was this ruler and what were his feelings; not only about the Magi but also the news regarding the birth of Jesus Christ?
To begin with, the word Magi (μάγος; magos) has various meanings. These include wise man, priest, sorcerer or magician. We do know from the text that there were more than one Magi; the word is in the plural form. They grammar also indicates that they were men.
“‘Magi’ (not “wise men”—KJV) were pagan astrologers whose divinatory skills were widely respected in the Greco-Roman world; astrology had become popular through the “science” of the East, and everyone agreed that the best astrologers lived in the East. The Old Testament explicitly forbade such prognostication from signs (Deut. 18:11; cf. Isaiah 2:6; 47:11–15), prescribing true prophecy instead (Deut. 18:15),” explains Dr. John Walvoord.
“The number of wise men is not given. The traditional notion that there were three stems from the number of gifts they brought. These were not kings, but Magi, magicians, or astrologers—possibly Zoroastrian wise men from Persia whose knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures could be traced back to the time of Daniel (cf. Dan. 5:11),” Dr. John MacArthur explains.
The Book of Daniel applies the word Magi to a group of wise men who interpreted dreams from the gods (Dan. 1:20; 2:27; 5:15). In the Acts of the Apostles, the title included all who practiced magical arts (Acts 8:1-9; 10-24; 13:1-8).
“The exact identity of the Magi is impossible to determine, though several ideas have been suggested. They have been given traditional names and identified as representatives of the three groups of peoples that descended from Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. More likely they were Gentiles of high position from a country, perhaps Parthia, northeast of Babylon, who were given a special revelation by God of the birth of the King of the Jews. This special revelation may simply have been in the sky, as might be indicated by their title “Magi” (specialists in astronomy) and by the fact they referred to a star which they saw. Or this revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East with copies of Old Testament manuscripts. Many feel the Magi’s comments reflected a knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the “star” that would “come out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17). Whatever the source, they came to Jerusalem to worship the newborn King of the Jews,” Dr. Walvoord concludes.
Why would the Magi come to Jerusalem? To begin with, it was Israel’s capital city. King Herod resided there. As we shall see as we continue in the text, where else would you look for a newborn king then the city where the Jewish king’s palace is located. However, God always defied people’s expectations. He still does!
Soli deo Gloria!