We’re used to seeing them in our Nativity Scenes, lavishly dressed and usually as a trio, like the Christmas carol: “We three kings of Orient are….”1
Whether there were three of them, we don’t know. Whether they were kings, we also don’t know. Just what “Wise Men” (magoi in Greek) means, we don’t know. Just where in “the east” they came from, we don’t know.
Are you noticing a trend? There’s not a lot that we know about the Magi.
What we do know is what they themselves said: “They asked, ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:1-2)2. They saw a star and they knew that it meant a very important King had been born—a King they themselves wanted to worship!
Perhaps the most likely theory is connected to the prophet Daniel. Long before he was thrown into the lions’ den, he interpreted the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar, so “the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him…chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48, ESV).3
Hundreds of years before Christ was born, the nation of Israel was taken into bondage in Babylon. Daniel was one of the faithful Jews who lived in bondage and witnessed to the truth of God. Then, many years after they were taken into bondage, the Jews were allowed to return home.
But not all of them did. Many of God’s people remained living in Babylon, keeping the Old Testament Scriptures with them. Perhaps it was some of the same order of wise men of which Daniel was prefect, hundreds of years later, who were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, that looked into the sky when Jesus was born. Perhaps they had learned what the Jews believed, including a passage from the prophet Isaiah:
For behold…the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising…. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:2-3, 6, ESV)
The Word of God reached the ears of these Wise Men, making them yearn for the Savior. Seeing the signs, they rushed to worship him. Perhaps they did not understand the real significance of this baby, but this only meant that they were a ripe mission field—like so many around us who light their lights and give gifts. They know there is some significance to this season, but do they know the full significance? They are a mission field, ready for the joyous Word of Jesus to be preached to them.
Reverend Michael Lilienthal
Messiah Lutheran Church
Redeemer Lutheran Church
- John H. Hopkins, “We three kings of Orient are,” Hymnary.org (accessed November 29, 2017), https://hymnary.org/text/we_three_kings_of_orient_are.
- Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV®) copyright © 2017 Wartburg Project, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
- Scripture quotations marked “ESV” are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.