Editor’s note: After some research, we have concluded that the Magi, or wise men, mentioned in the nativity story (Matt. 2:1-15) were an order of God-fearing Gentiles who had been instructed in Babylon through the teachings of Daniel and other Hebrew prophets. Through the Prophets and the study of starcharts the Magi were expecting the coming of the Messiah. In no way does this article sanction the practice of astrology, which is condemned in the Bible (Deut. 4:19), nor does this article intend to promote New Age teaching or other occult practices such as Zoroastrianism.
As the young nobleman stood outside his tent, the star-spangled expanse hung over his head like the curtains of a vast canopy. The grandeur of the starry heavens was remarkably breathtaking on this particular evening. How could anyone who stood each evening to contemplate the myriads of stars clustered to form the great spectacle of the nighttime sky not stand in awe of God’s glory?
Gazing heavenward always filled his thoughts with ideas of God and eternity and flooded his mind with unanswered questions. Who was this God who had created such majestic beauty and displayed such power in His creation? What would it be like to meet such a God or talk to Him, if any mortal man could actually hope of doing such a thing?
This noble thinker belonged to a priestly tribe who were great teachers of kings and people, instructing them in divine wisdom. It was the hereditary privilege of his caste to provide his country with priests and religious instructors. He and those of his lineage spent much of the day pouring over ancient star maps and astronomical records. Then at night they studied the heavens themselves in hopes, that there, some of the answers to the great questions of life would be found.
Almost 600 years before when the Hebrew prophet Daniel had been the “Rab Mag”, the “chief of the Magi,” he had told them much about a coming Savior.1 “Messiah the Prince,” Daniel had called him. He was to be the Divine Son of the Eternal Lawgiver. By him the spirit of evil and the powers of hell would be destroyed, the dead raised up to life again, and a kingdom of everlasting life and happiness would be established over all the earth. He would save people from their sins and reveal the true God.2
It was when Daniel occupied this office that he gave a prophecy concerning a new star that would one day appear in the heavens in the constellation of Coma when the one of whom it foretold would be born. This star would signify the birth of a mysterious child whom they were to adore. Daniel’s interpretive and spiritual powers were highly respected among the wise men of his caste; without doubt Daniel had been a proven prophet of Almighty God. His prophecy and teaching had been carefully handed down and preserved among the Magi.3
The Primeval Promise
Recently he and two of his friends had been discussing Daniel’s prophecy and pouring over the most ancient star maps. Still they eagerly clung to the hope of the sure fulfillment of the birth of a coming Messiah. It was a primeval promise which their forefathers believed to be confirmed in what they considered to be the inspired lore of the skies. They did not want to miss the signs noted in the inherited prophecies of their caste nor the birth of the great virgin-born son of the Eternal Sovereign King. They concluded that the time was drawing near for its fulfillment.
As his well trained eyes searched the night sky, a constellation was just appearing on the horizon in all its celestial beauty. Above it was one of its deacons, Coma. For some reason tonight he could not take his eyes off it. How he longed for the day when He of whom it foretold would be born. As he gazed heavenward the primeval meanings began flooding his mind.
He recalled that among all the most ancient star maps the constellation of Coma was pictured as a young woman with a child in her arms. Her Persian name denoted a pure virgin. The child was said to be an infant boy having a Hebrew name meaning “the desired, the yearned for, or the longed for.” By some nations the boy was called Ihesu. In Greek the boy was called Christos or Christ. The ancient Egyptian name was Shes-nu or the “Desired Son.“4
As he contemplated the meaning, it seemed as if an audible voice interpreted its meaning and gave him an understanding beyond anything he had been taught.
Then he saw it.
From out of the darkness a star which he hadn’t noticed before began to appear and within minutes it seemed to grow from obscurity to such a dazzling radiance that it became brighter than any other star in the heavens.
Could this be it? He rubbed his eyes, and looked away for a moment then turned his eyes back to Coma. The new star was unmistakable. Yes, there it was marking the infant’s head! It’s brilliance was undeniable. Even the untrained eye would certainly be arrested by its brightness and beauty.
Suddenly the reality of what it all meant broke upon his mind with the force of a giant breaker crashing upon the rocks in the midst of a storm. Everything within him began to leap up with unspeakable joy. The signs are full and complete! It’s here! The time has arrived for the birth of Messiah! The year of God’s redemption has come! Quickly he ran to the place where his other friends were keeping their watch.
The three Persian Magi loaded their camels with everything they would need for their long journey.
“How long will you be gone?” asked their family.
“Until we find this heaven born Child of the Most High God and fall down before Him and worship Him, as Messiah and King!” they responded.
Quickly they turned their camels toward the star and the tiny nation of Israel for by hereditary lineage they knew that the One for whom they sought was born the King of the Jews.
They followed the star, and after a long journey arrived in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and the location of Herod’s palace, expecting to find the infant king there. With uncontained excitement they began to inquire of Him, asking, “Where is the baby who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
This news disturbed all of Jerusalem. When King Herod heard of it he called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of the law of God and asked them where the Messiah was to be born according to the Hebrew scriptures.
“According to the prophet Micah, Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea,” they answered.5
Perceiving that his throne was threatened and secretly planning to do away with newborn Jewish prince, King Herod called a secret meeting of the Magi, inquiring as to the exact time that they first saw the star. Then he sent them to Bethlehem to search for this child. “When you find him, come tell me so I can go and worship him too.”
The Messianic Promise
Although the coming of the Messiah had been prophesied for thousands of years, it is surprising how few knew that the long-foretold event was at hand. Moses and all the major and minor Hebrew prophets foretold of the Messiah’s coming. The Messianic prophecies were all wrapped up in the whole purpose of God’s call unto Abraham and the nation of Israel.
The Hebrew leaders also held among their sacred writings prophecies that Daniel had given in Babylon which indicated the exact time the birth of the Messiah would occur. Daniel had foretold that a period of 483 years would pass from the time the Jews returned from Babylon to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah, the Prince would be born. Anyone who could add and knew a little history could have discovered the generation that was to expect him.
The Magi had such a full conviction that the birth of the Redeemer had occurred that they undertook a long and strenuous two year journey to find Him. And here is a curious thing. The priests and teachers of the Law were so insensitive to Messiah’s advent that, not only where they not expecting Him, but when these Gentile noblemen came from the east announcing the advent of His birth, they were unmoved and unbelieving.
They didn’t even bother to journey a few miles to Bethlehem to check out the Magi’s story. Yet, Herod was so convinced of the truth of the Magi’s report that he sent a company of soldiers to Bethlehem to slaughter all the children from two years old and under to remove the perceived threat to his throne.
The Inner Circle
Let’s look for a moment at the others who did know that the time for the advent of the Messiah was at hand. Let’s examine just what it was that qualified them as a candidate – as one to whom God revealed the arrival of the most cherished event of His heart.
If you were living during the time of the Messiah’s advent, would you have been among those who recognized that the time for Messiah’s birth was at hand? Would you have been preparing to welcome Him whose goings forth had been from eternity? Would you have been ready to greet the “Desired of all Nations?”
The first person who received the message of Jesus’ coming was Zacharias. The Bible tells us that Zacharias was righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. Zacharias’ wife was advanced in years, and they had no children. When Zacharias was in Jerusalem attending to his duties as a priest, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple to burn incense before the Lord.
While he was in the temple, an angel of the Lord appeared to him saying, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John … It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
In short, God told Zacharias that he would be the father of a prophet who would prepare Israel to receive Messiah. Zacharias’ mind was overwhelmed with doubt and unbelief and filled with natural reasoning as he wondered just how he and his wife could have a child in their old age. Zacharias was so overtaken with this biological problem that he missed, for a moment, the greater message that the angel brought. The significance of the arrival of the Messiah had not yet occurred to him.
Gabriel rebuked Zacharias saying, “And behold you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words.“6
The silence that ensured upon Zacharias for the duration of nine months following the angel’s proclamation gave him plenty of time to think about it.
The second person to receive the message of the soon coming Messiah was Mary. The eyes of the Lord had raced to and fro across the land of Israel and found in Mary a heart that was completely His. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her, she was only a girl of thirteen or fourteen years of age.
Gabriel greeted Mary saying, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you … Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give unto Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and his kingdom will have no end.“7
“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary responded. And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason, the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God…for nothing shall be impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.”
Mary, speaking of herself as a bondslave, was referring to the Hebrew ordinance of servitude. In using this analogy, she revealed something unique about her character. If a Hebrew man or woman sold himself into servitude, he could not be bound more than six years; on the seventh year they had to be set free.
There was provision in this ordinance, however, that if the slave should say at the year of his liberation that he did not desire to leave the master’s house because of his love for his master, then he was to stand in front of his master’s door and have his ear pierced through with an awl. This was to signify that he was to be a servant forever.
In referring to herself as this type of bondslave of the Lord, Mary revealed the total submission of her will and life to the will of God. With total abandonment, and with no thought of the price involved, she embraced the angel’s message. And that the price could be great was no secret to a Hebrew girl so familiar with the law and ordinances of Israel. Stoning, disgrace and rejection could possibly await her if she were to be found pregnant outside of marriage.
Mary, although at first startled by the visit of the heavenly stranger, heard and understood the full significance of his message. Although a little curious as to how a virgin could have a child, she did not appear to be the least bit surprised that the time for the appearing of the Messiah was at hand. Perhaps she had even contemplated on many occasions how she might feel if she was chosen to be the Messiah’s mother. In any event, Mary was evidently one of those who was anxiously awaiting the redemption of Israel.
She received the news with great joy and went with haste to the hill country of Judea to a city where her cousin Elizabeth lived whom Gabriel said was expecting a baby also.
Elizabeth, now in her six month of pregnancy, had been pondering the meaning of Gabriel’s message to her husband. She had been given plenty of time to grasp its significance. Still in awe of the miracle of her own pregnancy and pondering the role that her child was to play in preparing Israel for its redemption, she earnestly awaited any sign that would pinpoint the Messiah’s soon arrival.
So expectant was Elizabeth in her spirit that the moment Mary arrived and called her name, the Holy Ghost came upon her, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman bearing the Holy Child had just come into her presence.
Elizabeth greeted Mary saying, “Blessed among women are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb! What have I done, to have the mother of my Lord come to me? Why, as soon as the sound of your salutation reached my ears, the babe leapt for joy within my womb. And blessed is she who believed that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.“8
The fourth person in that inner circle of those to whom it was revealed that the year of the Redeemer had come was Joseph, Mary’s fiance. When he discovered that Mary was pregnant, Joseph knew that according to the law of God he could not marry her. Not wanting to publicly disgrace her, he desired to end their engagement secretly.
Joseph contemplated what he was to do. Mary had told him about the angel’s visit and about the promise of the coming Messiah. He too was anxiously awaiting Messiah’s appearing. He and Mary had talked about it on many occasions. But was this the way He was to come? How could he be sure that Mary was telling the truth?
Above all else he desired to be obedient to the laws of his God, which forbade him to marry a woman like this. His heart was aching over the loss of his future wife and her apparent unfaithfulness to him. During that dark night of his soul, as Joseph tossed upon his bed, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a son; and you shall call his name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.“9
But of course! Isaiah’s prophecy … why hadn’t he thought of it before: “The Lord himself, will give you a sign; Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name, Immanuel.“10 Isaiah had pointed out that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. So the time was at hand! And God had called him to be the protector of His Holy Son!
Overcome with joy, Joseph contemplated what this would mean to himself personally, to Israel and to the world. With great anticipation and overwhelmed with a sense of awe at this holy moment in history when God himself was visiting the human race, Joseph arose from his sleep and unhesitatingly took Mary to be his wife.
The Judean Shepherds
The next in the inner circle who were privileged to learn of the Messiah’s advent were the shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock on the hills surrounding Bethlehem on the night of the Savior’s birth.
As the shepherds stood there gazing into the night sky studded with stars that were as countless as they were beautiful, perhaps they could not help but be reminded of the promise of God to Abraham. Hadn’t God promised Abraham before he had any children that one day his offspring would be as the stars of the heaven for multitude? Perhaps they couldn’t help recalling that one day God would fulfill His promise and send a Redeemer to Israel. As they looked up expectantly and recalled these promises, their hearts began to burn within them.
How much the angels understood about this miracle of their King becoming a baby who would grow up to bleed and die to reconcile the world to Himself, we do not know. But to them it must have seemed like the sublimest proof that God is love.
So touched were they by this most gracious act that perhaps they wanted to tell everyone the wonderful news. How many did they find on that marvelous might? How many were watching, waiting and seeking God? How they must have marveled that the people on earth, except for a few, did not give a thought to His coming, and that no one was preparing a welcome for the King of angels.
Finding these few shepherds in the field, the Bible tells us that “the angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom His is pleased.’“11
The shepherds were not doubters of the heavenly vision. So overcome with the message, so eager to view the One for Whom their hearts longed, they abandoned their sheep and quickly found the babe as the angels had told them. The shepherds then returned glorifying God. The Bible tells us that the shepherds told others about their heavenly vision, recording that those who heard it “wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.“12
The last two people who complete the inner circle were Simeon and Anna. The Bible tells us that “there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon who was righteous and devout and who was looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.“13
When the days for purification were completed according to Hebrew religious law, Joseph and Mary took the newborn Christ child to Jerusalem to the temple to present Him to the Lord. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Simeon came to the temple that day also and walked right up to Mary and Joseph. Taking one look at that Holy infant face, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and thanked God saying, “Lord, now I can die content! For I have seen Him as you promised me I would. I have seen the Savior you have given to the world. He is the Light that will shine upon the nations and He will be the glory of your people Israel!“14
As Simeon talked with the parents and prophesied over Jesus, a prophetess named Anna approached them. Anna was eighty-four years old and had become a widow at a young age. Since the time of her widowhood, she had never left the temple, but had served God there night and day with fastings and prayers. At the very moment that she came up to Mary and Joseph and the Christ child, she began to give thanks to God and to tell everyone in Jerusalem who had been awaiting the coming of the Savior that the Messiah had finally arrived. Anna and Simeon, because they were expectant of the Messiah’s coming, did not miss the day of His appearing.
The final people who complete the inner circle of those anticipating the advent of the Christ Child and the ones with whom we began our story were the Persian Magi. Who were these men – “the wise men from the east” – who came to Jerusalem speaking about a newborn Jewish Prince? How did they come to know about Him? What were those starry indications to which they referred as having induced them to make such a costly and laborious search for Him? What illumination brought them to honor and worship Him in His lowly infant couch?’
These Magi expected to find a divine and worshipful being, by birth a Jewish Prince, and by character and right entitled to the homage of all the children of men. They had no question or doubt upon the subject. They knew that a great and wonderful personage was born. They knew and believed that He was worthy of the sacred worship of all men, and that it was their holiest interest and duty to come and greet Him with their best gifts, acknowledgements and adoration.
Where then did this clear and definite knowledge on the subject, exceeding even that of the sacred scribes and priests of Judah itself come from, with all the records, foreshadowings of Moses and the words of the prophets before them? How did these Magi come to such a full conviction that the birth of the Redeemer had occurred?
In searching through ancient history, it has been discovered that in all early civilizations there was recorded a system of constellations which we know as the Zodiac. Each sign in the Zodiac has an identical counterpart in every other astronomical record, as well as an identical meaning.
These records go back further than 2000 B.C. to Chinese, Chaldean, and Egyptian history. Ancient Persian and Arabic tradition ascribes the invention of the system to Adam, Seth and Enoch. Josephus, the Jewish historian, asserts that it originated in the family of Seth. The Bible is not silent concerning these constellations, their names, or their meanings. It is the Holy One who has named them and it is His story that they tell.
There was a traditional prophecy which was well known in the East, and carefully handed down, which said that a new star would appear in this constellation when he of Whom it foretold would be born. According to Abulfaragius, an Arab Christian historian of the Thirteen Century, Zoroaster, the Persian, was a pupil of Daniel, the prophet. Daniel predicted to the astronomer of Persia known as the Magians, that a new star would one day appear in the constellation of Coma. this star was to notify them of the birth of a mysterious child whom they were to adore.15
Dr. Joseph Seiss records in The Gospel in the Stars, “It is an astronomic fact, independent of all hypothesis, that at the precise hour of midnight, at the winter solstice, or the last week of December, in the period in which Christ was born in the sign of Virgo, everywhere and always regarded as the sign of the virgin mother from whom the divine Redeemer was to be born, was just rising on the eastern horizon.
“It is a matter of record that a new and peculiar star did make its appearance in the first Decan of Virgo (Coma) in the period immediately preceding Christ’s birth and that it was so bright as to be visible even in the daytime. Ignatius says it ‘sparkled brilliantly above all stars.’ The same continued in the sky during the whole period of Christ’s lifetime and for a time thereafter.
“The Chinese records also make mention of this new star at a time corresponding to the period of our Saviour’s birth. This star was in Coma, the sign of the infant accompanying Virgo, and it marked the very head of the infant. It was on the meridian at midnight at the Spring equinox, just nine months before Christ was born, and again three months thereafter.”
“Its brightness would necessarily arrest the attention of observers of the heavens, and awaken special interest in Coma and the virgin-born infant which that constellation signified both in figure and in name. Believers in the sacred meaning of these signs, especially in connection with the traditional prophecy of the new star, could not help but be convinced from these showings that the coming of the Desired One was surely approaching. It was a sort of midnight cry, ‘Behold, He cometh!’
“The star itself would thus also be just what these Magi called the star by which they were led – namely, Christ’s star, emphatically ‘His star.’ For it was a star of his infancy, as it marked the infant’s head, and was at the time by far the brightest in the constellation, as well as in all the heavens around.”
The Magi were a pastoral people greatly occupied with religion, astronomy and other sacred sciences. They were a priestly tribe after the style of Levites among the tribe of Israel. They were ministers and prophets of their day. They were the first fruits of the Gentile race from a world that Jesus had come to save.
These Magi, along with all the others of that inner circle, perhaps show the greatest expectancy of all. With total abandonment, these noble men laid aside everything that they held dear to follow their heavenly vision.
Do You Have an Expectant Heart?
As we have looked into the lives of those who were privileged to know of the birth of the Christ Child, there are some very apparent characteristics that marked them out as candidates to share in the greatest event of the ages. All of them had a seeking heart, a listening ear, a believing soul (with the exception of the temporary dismay of Zacharias) and an obedient spirit. All were looking with expectancy, anticipating and expecting the birth of the Messiah during their lifetime.
As we enter the decade of the 1990s and the end of this millennium and a two thousand year period since Jesus first came to earth, a spiritual awakening is impending that holds the promise of bringing in the greatest harvest of souls that heaven has ever witnessed. The fulness of the Gentile nations will be gathered in and then all of Israel will be saved.16 The question we must ask is: will we be on the forefront of what God is doing or will we miss the day of our visitation?
Will we be an integral part of that great awakening and visitation of God’s Holy Spirit? Will we be sharers in what could well be the greatest spiritual happening of all times? Will we be like those who shared in the advent of the Christ Child or will we be like the innkeeper, the sleeping village of Bethlehem, the scribes and the religious leaders, or the others in the temple who did not recognize the very King of Glory when He was in their midst?
Will we – like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Anna, Simeon, the Magi and the shepherds – be at a place in God that will enable us to share in one of the greatest spiritual events perhaps the world has ever witnessed? Will we be vessels full of God’s power and sensitive enough to God’s Holy Spirit to be a participant in that revival?
One thing is certain: we will not get in on the crest of this wave by hanging on to someone else’s coat tail. Someone else’s revelation of Jesus and someone else’s time spent alone with God in meditation and prayer will not prepare us for what is ahead. As was true of those who first received the news of the Messiah’s advent, so we too must have not only developed a close relationship with the Lord, but must also carry with us the same spirit of expectancy, faith and obedience that was present in the lives of those who were ready to meet the Christ Child when He first appeared.
Jesus gave this exhortation: “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at table and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.“17
When the Master comes by His Holy Spirit in awakening power upon this earth, will you be ready to arise and greet Him?
1 Dan. 2:48; 5:11.
2 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Magi” (Moody Press, Chicago,1974) pp.678-679.
3 Ethelbert W. Bullinger, D.D., The Witness of the Stars, “Coma” (Grand Rapids, MI Kregel Publications, 1974) pp. 34-40.
Thomas Hyde, an eminent Orientalist (1636-1703), writing on the ancient religion of the Persians, quotes from Abulfaragius (an Arab Christian historian, 1226-1286) who says that Zoroaster, the Persian, was a student of Daniel the Prophet, and that he predicted to the Magians (who were the astronomers of Persia), that when they should see a new star appear it would notify the birth of a mysterious child, whom they were to adore. It is further stated in the Zend Avesta that this new star was to appear in the sign of the Virgin.
4 Ibid., pp. 34-35. 5 Micah 5:2. 6 Luke 1:20. 7 Luke 1:28-33.
8 Luke 1:34-38;1:42-43. 9 Matt. 1:20. 10 Isa. 7:14.
11 Luke 2:10-14. 12 Luke 2:18. 13 Luke 2:25-26.
14 Luke 2: 29. 15 Bullinger, Ibid., p.37. 16 Rom. 11:25-26.
17 Luke 12:35-37.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved