The story of the magi seeing the star of Jesus in the east is found in Matthew 2:1-12.
This passage tells us that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem wise men or magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem looking for the newborn “King of the Jews”.
They told King Herod that they had seen His star in the east and had come to worship Him.
There are several important things to understand about this passage:
Who were the magi?
The magi or wise men were likely astrologers and scholars from the East, possibly near Babylon or Persia.
They studied the stars and were familiar with Old Testament prophecies about a coming Messiah. Some believe they were part of a hereditary priesthood descending from the Prophet Daniel.
Daniel had served in Babylon during the Jewish exile and had been made chief over the magicians and astrologers (Daniel 5:11). So the magi would have been familiar with Daniel’s messianic prophecies.
What was the star they saw?
There have been many theories about the star the magi saw.
Some believe it was a supernatural manifestation, similar to the Shekinah glory that guided the Israelites in the wilderness. Others think it may have been a rare astronomical alignment or supernova.
However, the Bible does not give details. It simply states that the magi saw His star “in the east” (Matthew 2:2). The magi considered this a significant sign about the birth of the King of the Jews.
Why did the star lead them to Jerusalem first?
The magi traveled first to Jerusalem, assuming this is where they would find the newborn King of the Jews.
However, the star they had seen in the east went before them until it came and stood over the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:9).
This suggests the star appeared to lead them first to Jerusalem (the capital city) so that King Herod and the Jewish leaders would also hear the news about the Messiah’s birth.
How did the magi know the star was connected to the Messiah?
As trained scholars and astrologers, the magi likely compared the star they saw with the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Numbers 24:17 prophesies, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” So the magi connected this bright star with the forecasted ruler of Israel.
The timing, appearance, and location of the star confirmed for them that a prophesied King had been born.
The magi likely studied Hebrew prophecies for clues about the coming Messiah. Numbers 24:17 was a key prophecy, stating “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
This indicated the Messiah would be associated with an astronomical sign. But the magi also drew connections to other prophecies:
- Daniel 9 pointed to the timing of the Messiah’s coming, which the magi could calculate. This indicated the star was appearing at the right time.
- Micah 5:2 prophesied the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. So the magi knew to look for signs of a ruler born in that city.
- Isaiah 60:3 said nations would be drawn to the Messiah’s light. As Gentiles, the magi were part of this prophesied gathering of nations to worship the King of the Jews.
By studying these and other prophecies, the magi discerned that the star aligned with the predicted time, place, and role of the Messiah.
Their careful scholarship gave them confidence that the star heralded the fulfillment of God’s promises.
What was the significance of the magi’s visit?
The visit of the magi is significant for several reasons.
It shows Jesus was born to be the Savior of the whole world, not just Israel. The magi were some of the first Gentiles to recognize and worship Jesus as King.
It reveals that the birth of Jesus was recognized by learned scholars and leaders, not just the common people.
It links astronomy and astrology to the birth of the Messiah.
The star the magi saw was a miraculous sign attesting that Jesus was the fulfillment of messianic prophecies.
It set things in motion leading to the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
The magi’s report to Herod caused him to investigate and determine that Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace.
It shows that Gentile leaders like the magi recognized the signs and worshiped Jesus, while the Jewish leaders largely did not accept Him.
This foreshadowed that the gospel would go out to all nations.
The magi’s visit also highlights contrasts between Gentiles and Jews in their response to Jesus.
The magi, Gentile outsiders, recognized the significance of the star and rejoiced at Christ’s birth. But King Herod and the Jewish leaders largely ignored or rejected Him.
The magi studied messianic prophecies and understood their fulfillment in Jesus. But the Jewish teachers who knew the prophecies best failed to identify Him as the Messiah.
The magi traveled a great distance to worship Jesus. But most people around Bethlehem itself seemed unaware of the miracle in their midst.
The foreign magi gladly gave costly gifts to honor Jesus. Yet Jesus later noted that prophets are not honored in their hometowns and in their own households (Matthew 13:57).
So the enthusiastic response of the faraway magi contrasts starkly with the apathy and unbelief of the Jews whom Jesus came to as their Messiah.
This foreshadowed the gospel extending to the Gentiles who would joyfully receive Christ.
Why did the magi bring gifts?
The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the magi brought to Jesus were valuable items that were used as gifts for kings and deities.
The magi’s presentation of these gifts indicates their recognition of Jesus as the divine King of the Jews.
The gifts also carry symbolic meaning about Jesus and His purpose:
- Gold symbolized His royal kingship
- Frankincense (used in worship) symbolized His divine role as God in flesh.
- Myrrh (used in embalming) hinted at His sacrificial death that would come later.
So these gifts emphasized the magi’s belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah and King who had also come for a sacrificial purpose.
How does this story apply today?
For believers today, the example of the wise men contains several important lessons.
It calls us to diligently study Scripture, watching for signs of Jesus’ working the way the magi studied prophecies for the Messiah’s arrival.
The magi’s diligence was rewarded with seeing the sign of the star heralding Christ’s birth.
It reminds us to seek Christ wholeheartedly, as the magi undertook the difficult journey to find Jesus and worship Him.
We should persistently pursue knowing Jesus more.
It inspires us to worship Christ with our best resources and highest abilities, as the magi honored Him with costly treasures. Our gifts should reflect our deep gratitude to Him.
It challenges us to recognize Christ as King every day, not just at Christmas.
The magi travelled far from home to bow before Jesus and commit their lives to Him. We too should yield our lives to His control and service.
Just as the star led the magi directly to the presence of Jesus, God’s Word should guide us to know and worship Christ.
Their example calls us to follow His light wholeheartedly, give sacrificially, and worship Jesus unreservedly as Lord of our lives.
Additional Relevant Bible Verses
Nations will come to the light of the Messiah
Kings would come and worship the Messiah
Daniel’s prophecy of when the Messiah would come
Prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem
Full account of the magi visiting Jesus
The magi’s pilgrimage to honor Jesus is a powerful example of faith leading to worship. Though the star was a miraculous sign, the magi still had to choose to believe it and act on it by embarking on their long and challenging journey.
When they found Jesus with Mary, their faith was confirmed and they worshiped Him with joy.
Their actions set an inspiring example for all future generations of what it means to seek Christ.
Though the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were humble, these noble scholars from afar recognized His great worth and honored Him as King.