Who Were the Wise Men?

I love Christmas and have made it a topic of study for many years. As a result, I have some opinions about common questions. Over the next few weeks, I will do just that, give my opinion. I say that because none of us can definitively prove things where the Scripture is silent. As our science teachers said, we can make an educated guess. Today I begin with the question, who were the wise men?

Before I dive into that topic, let’s look at a few common misconceptions or at least missed by most people. First, there were not necessarily three wise men. The Bible tells us that three gifts which led to the tradition of three wise men. Rightfully so, it would look odd to have fifteen guys crowded into our nativity scenes. I have no issue with the representation of three as long as we realize why that occurred.

Second, the wise men did not show up at the manger scene. Matthew states, “It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matt 2:9b NLT) The word used for the child means a young child, but not an infant. The next verse states that they came to the house, not the stable. We couple these with the fact that the star appeared two years before their arrival and the subsequent slaughter of male children in Bethlehem, and we get the picture that Jesus was probably more than a few hours old, but less than two.

So, who were these mysterious guys from the east? They are commonly believed to be Jewish converts from Persia, Babylon, Assyria, or perhaps even modern-day India. While each of these is plausible, my opinion is a little different. The books of II Kings, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah, describe the captivity of Judah by the Babylonians. We recognize from Daniel that God placed Jewish men in positions of authority during this time. Daniel and others carried the Jewish law and prophets (written at that time) into captivity. All the names I mentioned above lived in captivity; thus, the Babylonians had access to Jewish prophecy.

If we follow this line of thought, Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would rise and allow His people to retune to Jerusalem. That is precisely what happened in Ezra and Nehemiah. History tells us that when Cyrus allowed the Jews to return, some did, and some did not. Thus we have the book of Esther, who lived after the time of Cyrus. Now, if you remember reading Daniel, you know that the Babylonian Kingdom fell to the Meads and the Persians. This is the story where the hand of God appears and writes on the wall.

All of these point to the traditional religion of the Persians. A monotheistic region called Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians believe their God spoke to them through the stars. They studied the movement of celestial bodies. They were both early astronomers and astrologers. When we connect this with the fact that they also had access to prophecies such as, “I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel. It will crush the heads of Moab’s people, cracking the skulls of the people of Sheth” (Num 24:17 NLT). We understand that a connection could easily be made.

These were not uneducated men but men of excellent knowledge. So, based on Scripture and the movement of the stars, they understood a King was born to the Jewish people. They probably had Jewish friends. And so, these men of wisdom fulfilled the prophecy found in Isaiah 60:3-5, “All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home. Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands.” Certainly, these verses pertain to the nation of Israel as a whole, but I believe it is also Messianic.

Whoever these men were, the point for us is the same as it was for them. “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matt 2:11 NLT) God desires your worship and your gifts. Not your gold, but you. You are the gift He wants most. The question for you then is, are you willing to give your whole self to the child of the manger, Emmanuel, God with us?


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