Summary: The reactions of Herod, the religious leaders, and the Magi to the birth of Jesus mirror people’s responses to Jesus today.
How “Wise” Are You?
True and False Questions about the Wise Men
1. The wise men arrived in Judea after Jesus had been born.
2. The Bible says that there were three wise men.
3. The wise men went directly to Bethlehem when they arrived in Judea.
4. The wise men were kings.
5. The Bible says that the wise men traveled on camels during their journey to Judea.
6. The wise men gave three gifts to Jesus on the night of His birth.
7. After finding Jesus, the wise men realized that Herod wanted to kill Jesus and went home another way.
8. The biblical text hints that Jesus may have been as old as two when the wise men found Him.
9. When Herod asked the chief priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born, they quoted the prophet Isaiah.
10. The wise men found Jesus in a house.
Now let’s read Matthew 2:1-12 and see how well you did.
1. TRUE. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem” (v. 1).
2. FALSE. It’s usually assumed that there were three wise men because they gave to Jesus three gifts. They have even been given names: Caspar, Bathazar, and Melchior. But the Bible nowhere says how many wise men there were.
3. FALSE. “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem (v. 1).
4. FALSE. As early as the third century, the Magi were considered kings, fulfilling Psalm 72:11, “All kings will bow down to him.”
5. FALSE. They may have traveled on camels, but the Bible doesn’t say.
6. FALSE. The wise men did give three gifts to Jesus, but they did not give them to Him on the night of His birth (v. 1).
7. FALSE. The wise men did not realize Herod’s evil intentions on their own. They were warned by God in a dream (v. 12).
8. TRUE. “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave order to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (v. 16).
9. FALSE. They actually quoted Micah’s prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2 (v. 6).
10. TRUE. It appears that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were living in Bethlehem when the Wise Men found them. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary” (v. 11).
The Magi dated from the seventh century B.C., when they were a tribe within the Median nation of eastern Mesopotamia. They became skilled in astronomy and astrology (which were more closely associated disciplines in those days) and had a sacrificial system similar to the Mosaic one. We derive the English words magic and magician from the name magi.
The Book of Daniel reports that the Magi, with their knowledge of science, agriculture, mathematics, history, and the occult, were among the highest ranking, most influential officials in the Babylonian Empire. Because of Daniel’s own high position and place of respect among them (Dan. 2:24, 48), the Magi undoubtedly learned much from him about the true God and His plans for the Jews through the coming Messiah. Because many Jews remained in Babylon after the Exile, it’s likely those teachings remained strong in the region even until New Testament times.
The “Magi from the east” (v. 1) who came to see Jesus had learned about the Jews’ messianic expectations, likely from the prophetic writings such as Daniel’s. They were probably among the many God-fearing Gentiles who lived in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas at that time, some of whom—such as Cornelius and Lydia (Acts 10:1-2; 16:14)—are mentioned in the New Testament.