Christian Parenting Articles    

Nav by Category



Contact Alan

Magi from the East (II)
Dec 1996 Alan S.L. Wong
Updated Oct 2008, Oct 2012

Magi from the East (II)

A modified version was published in the December 2008 issue of Faithlink, the magazine of Faith Methodist Church

Magi from the East had seen a bright star in the sky and concluded that a new King of the Jews was born. They probably knew the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies regarding the coming Messiah (Num 24:17) and came to Jerusalem in search of this newborn King.

When King Herod received news from the Magi, he was frightened (Matt. 2:2) and planned to get rid of his competitor. Not that Herod believed the news but the rumour might spread throughout the city and evoke a rebellion. Herod requested the Magi to bring back news about the exact location of the new King in Bethlehem on the pretext that he also may go and pay homage to Him (Matt. 2:7-8).

How many Magi came to worship Jesus?

The Bible records that the Magi came to Bethlehem to worship Jesus but it is silent on the number of Magi (Matt. 2:1). Some believe there were three Magi because of the number of gifts ... gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).

Where was Jesus when the Magi came?

The Magi apparently came some time after the birth of Jesus. By then, Joseph and Mary were living in a house (Matt. 2:11 c.f. Luke 2:7).

Possibility: Infant Jesus in a manger could be located in a cave-stable next to a house and it is probable that Joseph and Mary moved into a house shortly after the census when Bethlehem would be less crowded.

How old was Jesus when the Magi came?

Meanwhile Herod waited and waited. Why were the Magi taking so long to come back? After offering their worship and their gifts, the Magi were warned by God in a dream not to report back to Herod. Herod was angry when he found out that he had been tricked (Matt. 2:16). The new King must be killed but which child was the right one? Herod gave the command for all male children two years and below to be killed. Why was this age criterion chosen?

Earlier, Herod had summoned the Magi to a secret conference in an effort to learn when the star first appeared. The order issued by Herod showed that the Magi probably first saw the star two years before their arrival in Jerusalem. The new King could not be more than two years old in compliance with the earliest appearance of the star (Matt. 2:16). If every child two years and below were killed then surely the new King would be included in the massacre. Perhaps this time reference also indicated that when the Magi visited Jesus, He was probably not more than two years old (but not an infant). This time lapse could also account for the fact that the family was now living in a house.

So What?

We do not know how many Magi came to Bethlehem to worship Jesus. But we know that when they arrived, Jesus was probably a two-year old toddler and was definitely living in a house. This conclusion is different from what we usually tell our children that three wise men came and worship baby Jesus who was in a manger in a stable. What is the issue here? The issue is the basis of our beliefs ... is it what we hear or is it the Word of God?

One must be careful not to believe what is believed everywhere, and by everyone without checking it against the Bible. Similarly, one must not simply accept as truth what is being taught by anyone, even a well-known scholar/pastor. Open your Bible to verify or disprove the message you hear. The Jews in Berea listened carefully to what Paul preached and compared it to the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

Verification with Scriptures will help guard us against false teachings and cults. If our children are old enough to read then we should also teach them always to counter-check what they hear with what the Bible says.

Note: If we think that young children would be captivated by the nativity scene of Jesus then show shepherds (not the wise men) worshipped baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger (Luke 2:12,15-16).

Question to Ponder: How would you help children differentiate between shepherds and the magi?

Where (in which city) did the Magi find Jesus?

Postscript dated October 2012: Further observations of the Bible cause me to conclude that the magi visited Jesus in Nazareth (not Bethlehem).
  • The days of purification (Luke 2:22-24 cf. Lev. 12:1-8) refer to the completion of 40 days after the birth of Jesus (7 days of uncleanness for the birth of a son + 33 days of separation) as required by the law of Moses. A burnt offering of a year-old lamb and a sin offering of a turtledove are required for atonement and cleansing. On the 41st day, Joseph and family (Luke 2:22b-23, 27-38) were at the temple in Jerusalem i.e., they left Bethlehem.

  • After the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus (as the first-born male ... see Luke 2:22b-23 cf. Exo. 13:2), they returned to Nazareth in Galilee (Luke 2:39), NOT Bethlehem.

    It is unlikely that Joseph and Mary would go back to Bethlehem after Nazareth; they had only gone to Bethlehem because of the census.

  • The Bible does not say that the magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem but that they followed the star to the house where Jesus was (Matt. 2:9-11) ... and that could be in Nazareth!

  • Could the magi have visited Jesus in Bethlehem in the first six weeks i.e., before His presentation at the temple in Jerusalem?

    Possible but unlikely ... after the magi departed, an angel warned Joseph that Herod would seek to kill Jesus. Joseph and family fled to Egypt that very night (Matt. 2:13-15). Moreover, to go to Jerusalem after the visit of the magi would be unthinkable as this would be courting death! The dedication of any male babies (born in Bethlehem) at the temple in Jerusalem would surely arouse Herod's attention.

    There is another reason why the magi could not have visited Jesus in Bethlehem prior to His presentation at the temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph offered a sacrifice of a pair of doves (Luke 2:24) indicating that they were poor as this sacrifice was a provision for the poor (Lev. 12:8). This in turn suggests that the magi had not visited them prior to this event; otherwise Mary and Joseph could have afforded the lamb and dove (Lev. 12:6) with the expensive gifts they received from the magi.

  • If the magi did not go to Bethlehem then why did Herod order the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem and its vicinity?

    It would be logical for Herod to assume that the magi had gone to Bethlehem to look for the Messiah and found Him there.

  • If Joseph and family were at Nazareth then why did they flee from Herod?

    They had to flee (even though they were not in Bethlehem) because Herod might not have restricted his search for the Messiah in Bethlehem. Note that Herod's order for the slaughter extended beyond Bethlehem and that Joseph's family did not step into the land of Israel until after the death of Herod (Matt. 2:19-21).

Probable chronology of events surrounding the birth of Jesus