Saturday, December 21, 2019

Kings or Wise Men? Who Really Visited Jesus from the East?

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - Adoration of the Magi ,
                         1655-1660 {PD}
by Kathleen Rouser 

Who were the mysterious magi and where did they come from?

They were possibly Zoroastrian priests from Persia which is modern-day Iran. Zoroastrianism purports belief in a single deity, Ahura Mazda, and that there is a conflict between good and evil. It dates back to the 6th century B.C.

Magi was a term created by those who were skeptical of their religion and is the root word for magician. In a negative terms in means “sorcerer.”

Those referred to as wise men in different biblical accounts were advisors to ancient kings. They would have been astrologers and interpreters of signs. Astrology at that time had closer ties to astronomy. They would have also been educated scholars.

Around 530 B.C. Daniel served in the Persian court of Cyrus. Were advisors to Darius, priests of a monotheistic religion, intrigued by the prophet who worshipped the one true God? Perhaps they had many conversations about scripture and prophecy of the Messiah, who would be the Savior of the world.
 Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17 states: "A star will rise from Jacob a scepter will emerge from Israel."(NLT)

One theory some theologians have proposed is that there was evidence that the message of the Gospel was in the stars until it was corrupted by astrology after the Tower of Babel had been built. Is it possible these wise men had searched for such a message in the stars and found the one star that they followed to the Messiah? The wise men came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2, KJV)

The three Magi (Balthasar, Caspar, 
Melchior) !2th Century {PD}

When did they visit the baby Jesus?

When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 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. (Matthew 2:10-11, NLT)

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
(Matthew 2:16, NLT)

When wise men are included in the Christmas narrative, they are often depicted visiting the baby Jesus at the site of the of manger where he was born, along with the shepherds who visited on the night of Jesus’ birth. However, two things would indicate that it could have been even a year or more later. Some translations say they entered the house to visit the child, not a place where a manger was kept. Also, Herod, to make sure he had no competition from this prophesied King of the Jews, decided to execute not only newborn infants, but every male child two years and younger. It’s likely that a year or two had passed and by then they were living in a house with a toddler-aged Jesus.

What was the significance of their gifts?

As quoted above, the wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to give the child in an act of worship. One interpretation, that originated with Origen, in the time of the early church is that gold was a gift fit for a king, frankincense was a perfume to be offered to a God, and myrrh was an ointment for anointing a dead body, so it was associated with death. The symbolism of virtue is attributed to gold, prayer is attributed to frankincense, and sacrifice is attributed to myrrh. Gold and frankincense reflected the life the child would grow up to live and myrrh reflected the sacrifice He would make for us.

Caspar by Jan van Biljert,Oil on panel. 
Circa 1640–1650, Rau Antiques2018, [cc]
What traditional beliefs have come from the visit of the Wise Men?

Since the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were presented to the Christ child, tradition has it that there were three wise men. However, in the eastern Syriac churches, the traditional number is twelve. The actual number is not mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew.

In western Christian tradition the names attributed to the supposed three wise men are Balthasar, from Arabia, Melchior from Persia, and Gaspar, from India. Eastern Christian traditions ascribe different names and sometimes different countries of origin than in the western church. However, in Matthew 2:12 it says they “returned to their own country.” In the original language this means a single place of origin.

They have also been referred to as kings. This tradition comes from viewing Psalm 72:10b, The eastern kings of Sheba and Seba will bring him gifts, as a prophecy of this event. Yet, there is no evidence in the Matthew 2 passage that they were kings.

While the wise men are often pictured as arriving by camel, these wealthy individuals likely covered the eight or nine hundred miles of their journey by riding swift Arabian horses, the preferred method of travel of the day. Camels were used mainly as pack animals.

James Tissot, "The Magi Journeying," c. 1890
Brooklyn Museum [cc]
So as you can see, traditions concerning the wise men from the east have risen and changed over the many centuries since the birth of Jesus. However, we can conclude that these men who gave of their riches and time to travel and seek out the King of Jews, believed He was deity. They truly were very wise men to worship the Messiah of the Jewish people, King of kings and Lord of lords, the Savior of the world. 

Please let me know in the comments if you've learned something new from this article. Or share something I didn't cover here. I would love to find out what others know/think about the wise men who visited Jesus. 

Kathleen Rouser is the multi-published author of the 2017 Bookvana Award winner, Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. She is a longtime member in good standing of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of thirty-some years, and continues on the elusive quest to brew the perfect cup of coffee to enjoy while she is writing. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.

Bookvana Awards Winner

Sophie Biddle is an heiress on the run with a child in tow. Wary and self-reliant, Sophie is caught off guard when meeting a kind, but meddling and handsome minister at the local mercantile. Believing he has failed God and his former flock, the Reverend Ian McCormick is determined to start anew in Stone Creek, Michigan. While Sophie seeks acceptance for her child and a measure of respect for herself, the rumors swirl about her sordid past. Should Ian show concern for Sophie's plight? If he does, he'll risk losing everything — including his new position as pastor of Stone Creek. Will the scandals of their pasts bind them together, or drive both deeper into a spiral of shame?


  1. Hi Kathy, Thank you for this interesting post about the wise men who visited Jesus. Out minister talked about them last Sunday, so I knew most of what you posted. However, I never heard anyone say they probably rode Arabian horses. Which makes perfect sense, of course. It sure does change the traditional manger scene though. Looks like we need more shepherds, and maybe a house where wise men could visit. One other point that gives credence to the later arrival is when Joseph was warned in a dream to go to Egypt which he did and where they stayed until Herod died.

    1. Hi Marilyn, thanks for stopping by. I haven't heard a lot of sermons about the wise men, but have heard or read different Bible teachings. Much of what I found was familiar,but I didn't know about the Arabian horses either!

    2. And Marilyn Turk, I like what you said about changing the nativity scene. We've kept them the way they are for convenience's sake I'm sure, but you make a good point. And your thoughts about Joseph's dream is interesting too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Hello Kathy, I'm like Marilyn Turk that the kings/wise men rode Arabian horses. I've heard plenty of sermons about their significance but never about arriving on horses. This post was informative as we forgot through the years how time and individuals bring in a new interpretation. Have a blessed and joyous Christmas filled with Jesus' amazing gifts of peace, hope, joy and love.

  3. I agree, Marilyn. We do forget that new interpretations come along. Much of what we think of the wise men is traditional rather than factual. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Marilyn R. You have a blessed and joyous Christmas too!

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  5. Excellent Post, Kathy. I've heard much of what you've shared regarding the wise men. Hmm, what to do with all the camels in my manger scenes.

    1. Thanks, Janet. Yes, the camels, good point. Hmmm ... maybe they used them to carry the gifts. :)

  6. Thank you for trying to put the reality vs. myth together.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Connie. LOL, I guess I could have written it in a fact vs myth format. It was interesting to research all this and thinking about how much we take for granted about certain aspects of the Christmas story that are from tradition and not from scripture.

  7. Excellent article about The Wise Men, Kathy! Thank you for your thorough research. God bless and yours!