The Visit of the Magi
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-2, 10-11, NASB)
When did the Magi visit the Child Jesus?
The popular tradition placed the visit of the Magi on the 6th of January, 13 days after his birth. The feast of the “three kings” caps the long christmas season especially in the Philippines on this particular date. Some place the visit right after the birth of Jesus as recorded in Matt. 2:1, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (NASB). This is probably the reason why the usual nativity scene we see everywhere depicts the magi surrounding the Child Jesus in a manger together with the shepherds and some animals.
But none of these traditions is decisive. We can only speculate that it took place some time after the birth of Jesus up to the time he was two years old based on Matt. 2:16, “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under according to the time which he had determined from the magi.” (NASB)
Who were these Magi?
The tradition that these men were kings, that their names were Balthazar, Gaspar, Melchor has no biblical support. The NASB Study Bible defines “magi” as ‘a caste of wise men specializing in astronomy, astrology, and natural science. Perhaps they were from Persia or southern Arabia, both of which are east of the Holy Land.’ According to Barne’s “They were learned men of the Eastern nations, devoted to astronomy, to religion, and to medicine. They were held in high esteem by the Persian court, were admitted as counsellors, and followed the camps in war to give advice.” (Read more. Click here: https://kapeatkamalayan.com/2018/12/30/those-who-wait-for-the-consolation-of-israel-luke-28-38-matthew-21-12/)
These magi were miraculously guided by what seems to be a “luminous meteor” (Barne’s) and brought them to the house where the child was. One proof that the magi did not visit Jesus at the manger is recorded in Matt. 2:11, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (NASB) As mentioned above, they came some time later after Jesus’ birth and visited Him as a “child” in his “house” not in a manger.
The gifts presented to Jesus perhaps gave rise to the tradition that there were three “wise men”. However, the Bible doesn’t say anything as to the number of the magi, and as defined above, they were certainly not kings.
Halley’s Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000.
MySword for Android. Riversoft Ministry, 2011-2019.
Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.