“Many absurd traditions and guesses respecting these visitors to our Lords cradle have found their way intopopular belief and into Christian art. They were said to be kings, and three in number; they were said to be representatives of the three families of Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and therefore one of them is pictured as anEthiopian; their names are given as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, and their three skulls--said to have been discovered in the twelfth century by Bishop Reinald of Cologne --are exhibited in a priceless casket in the great cathedral of that city.“ - Marvin Vincent
Word Study – Magi Greek Meaning magoi ① a Magus, a wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and "Now after Jesus was born in various other occult arts ② a magicianBethlehem of Judea in the days of Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek- Herod the king, magi from the English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. east arrived…” – Matthew 2:1 Interpretation & Application The magi first appear in history in the seventh century B.C. as a tribe within the Median nation ineastern Mesopotamia. Many historians consider them to have been Semites, which if so, made them— with the Jews and Arabs—descendants of Noah’s son Shem. It may also be that, like Abraham, the magi came from ancient Ur in Chaldea. The name magi soon came to be associated solely with thehereditary priesthood within that tribe. The magi became skilled in astronomy and astrology (which, inthat day, were closely associated) and had a sacrificial system that somewhat resembled the one God gave to Israel through Moses. They were involved in various occult practices, including sorcery, and were especially noted for their ability to interpret dreams. It is from their name that our words magic and magician are derived.
In Esther… “But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times—for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice and were close tohim: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres,Marsena and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia andMedia who had access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom” (Esther 1:12–14)
In Jeremiah… "Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came in and sat down at the Middle Gate: Nergal-sar-ezer, Samgar-nebu, Sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, and all the rest of the officials of the king of Babylon." (Jeremiah 39:3) Nergal-sharezer is mentioned who was the chief of the Magi in the court ofNebuchadnezzar. Kings starting with Nebuchadnezzar had elevated the Magito the place of being the official advisors to the king. Even when Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian Empire, great rulers like Darius the Great and Cyrus still chose their high-ranking officials of the Medo-Persian government from among this group called the Magi. They were unmatched in political power.
In Daniel… " Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. Then the king gave orders to call in the magicians,the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. . . .The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean." (Daniel 2:1-2,10)To “chaldaeise” meant to “bewitch”. Magician” is an English corruption of theword “Magi”. This section of Daniel reinforces the fact that the Magi were in a very prominent place before other government officials.
In Daniel… " “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. “I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. “So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. “Then the magicians, the conjurers,the Chaldeans and the diviners came in and I related the dream to them, but they could not make its interpretation known to me. “But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods…" (Daniel 4:4-8)
Daniel’s Influence over the Magi "“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight andwisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And KingNebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed himchief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners. “This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving ofdifficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.”" (Daniel 5:11-12) Daniel was put in charge of the Magi, which helps explain their knowledge of Judaism and prophecies concerning the Messiah. Note that God is demonstrating His superiority over the arts of the Magi.
In Daniel…" It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they would be incharge of the whole kingdom, and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was one), that these satraps might be accountable to them, and that the king might not suffer loss. Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satrapsbecause he possessed an extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom. Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground ofaccusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him."(Daniel 6:1-4) The Magi were NOT involved in the plot against Daniel; the government satraps and commissioners were.
“He who learns from a magus is worthy of death."- Shabbat, Mishnah-, Tosefta-, Talmud tractate Sabbath
In Acts… "Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicingmagic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts." (Acts 8:9-11) Some scholars believe that the Gnostic heresy had its origin in Simon Magus or Simon the Magi.
In Acts…"When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, theyfound a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear theword of God. But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated)was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said, “You who are full of all deceit andfraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? “Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand." (Acts 13:6-11)
Background of the MagiAccording to the ancient historian Herodotus, the Magi were a tribe of peoplewithin the larger people called the Medes. They were a hereditary priesthood tribe, somewhat like the Levites in Israel, who were the single tribe out of the twelve that ministered in the rituals and the religious ceremonies of Israel.Similarly, of all of the tribes within the Medes, the Magi had been selected to function as priests in their pagan rituals.
Background of the MagiWhether they originated all the way back in Ur of the Chaldeesas a part of a nomadic people that were wandering about in that part of the world, or whether they first appeared in theBabylonian time, no one knows. But we do know that from the Babylonian to the Roman empires, they maintained a place of tremendous prominence and significance in the Orient.
Religious Function of the MagiThe principle element of their worship seems to have been fire. Their reverence of fire has led some historians to conclude that they saw fire as some kind of incarnation of deity, though they did commonly hold with Israel a monotheistic belief in God. They offered blood sacrifices, which were eaten by the worshiper and the Magian priests. Their hereditary priesthood was similar to Israels Levitical priesthood.
Influence of the Magi The Magi were the key people in the eastern governments. As a Semitic people, they traced their lineage from Shem. The Magi rose to a place of tremendous political power by virtue of their very unique priestly function, occultic powers of divination, and knowledge of astrology and astronomy.During the four world empires, they served in a powerfully influential capacity as advisors to the royalty in the East, consequently earning the reputation of being wise men. They were the ones that were consulted about the various things that the ruling kings, nobles, and princes wanted to know.
The Magi and Astronomy/AstrologyIn the 6th century B.C., Darius the Great the Medo- Persian selected Zoroastrianism, with its emphasis upon astrology, as the national religion. This may account for the Magi ‘s focus in that field. So, on top of their own cultures religion was superimposed Judaismand after that, Zoroastrianism. The Magi were likely eager to maintain their political power so they were willing to assimilate other religions into their own. Within this priestly group, there were some who became committed to Zoroastrianism, some who were still committed to the ancient magian beliefs, and some who honestly believed in their hearts that the God of Daniel was the true God. It was likely the Magi of the latter group who showed up at the birth of Christ .
The King Makers The Magi were so powerful that historians tell us that no Persian was ever able to become king except under two conditions: (1) he had to master the scientific and religious discipline of the Magi, and (2) he had to be approved of and crowned by the Magi. In effect, the Magi controlled who could be king!The law of the Medes and the Persians (Est. 1:19; Dan. 6:8) was the code of scientific and religious discipline of the Magi, which was required for anyone to be a monarch in Persia. Besides controlling the kingly office, historians tell us thatthey controlled the judicial office as well. Esther l:l3 implies that the royal bench of judges was chosen from the Magi. By this kind of leverage, the Magi of the massive Medo-Persian Empire were able to control essentially the entire known world of the Orient.
The King Makers The Magi were not only responsible for training every monarch in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, natural history, agriculture, architecture, and so on, but they were also responsible for the actual selection of kings andjudges, who served to counterbalance one another.All nobility was raised by these king-makers, and no one ruled at all apart from them. Remember that Daniel was chosen to become chief of the Magi when he demonstrated his superior ability in interpreting dreams (cf. 5:11). By the "divine coincidence" of having a great Hebrew prophet to rule the Magi six hundred years before Jesus wasborn, God was, in effect, setting up the situation so that one day, when a baby was born in Bethlehem, some of those Magi would find their way to the house where the baby was so that He could be acknowledged as King.
Rome vs. The Parthian Empire Politically speaking, Rome was scared of the eastern empire, because of the distance across the Mediterranean and the desert which served to isolate the eastern Parthian Empire, as the Medo-Persian Empire became known, from Romes direct control. Rome had stretched its tentacles out, as it were, to rule the world, but they never really felt secure about the Parthian Empire. Havingbecome violent enemies, the two empires fought in 63, 55, and 40 B.C. in Israel, the land between the powers of the west and those of the east.
The Parthian Empire in Search of a King At the time of Christ in the eastern empire, there was a ruling body called theMegistanes, who would be similar in function to the United States Senate. It was totallycomposed of Magi who had the right of absolute choice for the selection of a king. Theywere the king-makers. They had some real problems with their present king, who had been deposed. Wanting to fight Rome with a new ruler, the Magi were looking for a new king for the eastern empire. For this reason, they headed toward Jerusalem looking for their new king. Also at this time, because both Herod and Caesar Augustus were close todeath, and because the retirement of Tiberius left the Roman army without a commander- in-chief, the Parthians were aware that this would be the ideal time to bring about an eastern war against the west.
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, 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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired ofthem where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And hesent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming intothe house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground andworshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way." (Matthew 2:1-12)
Why are the Magi only referenced in Matthew?• Mark – written to show Jesus as a servant• Luke – written to show Jesus as savior to Gentiles• John – written to show the divinity of Jesus• Matthew – written to Jews to show Jesus as King Matthew writes to prove to his Jewish audience that Jesus is their long awaited Messiah and the legitimate son of David, and therefore the King of Israel. In Chapter 2, Matthew is showing the tension between the two kings of Israel – Herod and Jesus. Part of that story involves the magi.
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, 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)A couple of old men on camels? Hardly… They were no doubt traveling in full force with alltheir oriental pomp, wearing conical hats and riding Persian steeds, rather than camels. Andaccompanying them, historians estimate there were a thousand mounted Persian cavalrymen. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and these men came to see and worship the “Bread oflife” (John 6:48). The fact that they had to ask where the Messiah was to be born displays evidence to the fact they didn’t have the Hebrew Scriptures or know that prophecy.
Word Study – Troubled Greek Meaning tarassō ① to cause movement by shaking or stirring, shake together, stir up "When Herod the king heard ② to cause inward turmoilthis, he was troubled, and all Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Jerusalem with him.“ (Matthew 2:3) Interpretation & Application When the Magi – the Persian king makers – arrived in Jerusalem, Herod (who was the current ‘king of the Jews’) was “troubled” by their announcement of a rival King. He knew full well who these men were and the power the wielded. Seeing their entourage along withhearing their message literally hand him shaking with fear and insecurity. Further, the Magi’s declaration involved a divine spectacle of a star that announced this new King, whichchallenged Herod’s political rule even more. To make matters worse, history tells us his army was out of the country. Lastly, all Jerusalem was bothered by the arrival of this contingent of powerful men and their bodyguard.
Herod Herod the Great, reigned from 40-4 BC,born c. 73 BC. His father Antipater, a Jew of Idumaean descent, attained a position of great influence in Judaea after the Roman conquest and was appointed procurator of Judaea by Julius Caesar in 47 BC. He inturn appointed his son Herod military prefect of Galilee. The Roman governor of Syria was so impressed by his energy that he made him military prefect of Coele-Syria. Afterthe assassination of Caesar and subsequent civil war Herod enjoyed the goodwill of Antony. When the Parthians invaded Syria and Palestine and set the Hasmonaean Antigonus on the throne of Judaea (40-37 BC) the Roman senate, advised by Antony and Octavian, gave Herod the title ‘king of the Jews’.
"Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, heinquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by theprophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”"(Matthew 2:4-6)"“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.”"(Micah 5:2) This term is used for the One being born – He is from “olam” – everlasting. A term used to describe God in the Old Testament.
"Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which theyhad seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood overthe place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." (Matthew 2:7-10)
Herod was lying as his later actions would prove: the murder of all the young boys 2 years old and under in and around Bethlehem. Writing some 4 centuries later, the pagan Roman philosopher Macrobius said of Herod and the event: "When he[emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whomHerod, king of the Jews, had ordered to kill, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herods pig, than his son.” These little boys become the first Christian martyrs – the “protomartyrs”
"After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold,frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dreamnot to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way."(Matthew 2:11-12) What were these Magi actually up to? Scripture doesn’t say and doesn’t recordthem coming back. Perhaps they truly came to see the One Daniel had taught their predecessors about. But it does say they worshipped Him, so their aim must not have been purely political.
gold, frankincense, and myrrhIt was standard custom that, when approaching a superior, a person brought gifts • Gold: a symbol of wealth and value. It was also a symbol of nobility and royalty • Frankincense: beautifully smelling incense used in various offerings. It was incense of deity • Myrrh: used for burials. Symbol of Christ’s humanityThese gifts were no doubt used by Joseph to finance the family’s flight and stay in Egypt.
Isnt it ironic and amazing that some of the first people in the world to recognize the arrival of the King were Gentiles? History reflects that irony of rejection in John 1:11 where it says, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” But ifIsrael isnt going to acknowledge Christ as King, then God is going to bring the king makers from Persia to acknowledge it. This is an example of God bringing the Gentiles to His Son as Paul says in Romans: "even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from amongGentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘Mypeople,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ ” “And it shall be that in the placewhere it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”"(Romans 9:24-26)
Jesus Christ – Our King "“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. “All thenations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . .Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil andhis angels . . .These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”"(Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46)
We Three Kings We three kings of Orient are Frankincense to offer have I Bearing gifts we traverse afar Incense owns a Deity nighField and fountain, moor and mountain Prayr and praising, all men raising Following yonder star Worship Him, God most high O Star of wonder, star of night Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume Star with royal beauty bright Breathes of life of gathering gloom Westward leading, still proceeding Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying Guide us to thy Perfect Light Sealed in the stone-cold tomb Born a King on Bethlehems plain Glorious now behold Him arise Gold I bring to crown Him again King and God and Sacrifice King forever, ceasing never Alleluia, Alleluia Over us all to rein Earth to heavn replies O Star of wonder, star of night O Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright Star with royal beauty bright Westward leading, still proceeding Westward leading, still proceeding Guide us to Thy perfect light Guide us to Thy perfect light
Much of this presentation was gleaned from an outstanding message by Dr.John MacArthur. For more great material from Dr. MacArthur, please visit www.gty.org