Have you ever wondered about the Wise Men that we hear about at Christmas time?
I have always been fascinated by the mystery of the Magi of the East and I wanted to share some of the information that I’ve gleaned from my study of the subject.
First of all, I think many Christians and non-Christians alike would be shocked to find that the Messiah’s coming was not at all a hidden thing. After all, when Jesus entered a packed Jerusalem (hundreds of thousands of Jews from around the world would have come to Jerusalem for Passover) on a donkey (Mark 11) (which, by the way, was foretold in prophecy in Zechariah 9:9), the people knew He was the Messiah! They shouted “Hosanna!” which is a combination of the Hebrew words יָשַׁע (yasha) and נָא (na) which basically means “Save Us!” By that time Jesus had a huge following around Israel, and the main reason Jesus was not accepted by the Jews at the time is because He didn’t look like what they expected, dying on a cross instead of liberating them from the Romans. But that’s another study for another time.
My point is, the reason so many people started following Jesus is because he fulfilled, against all odds, so many prophecies from the Hebrew scriptures that it was almost undeniable (though many did anyway)! Aside from the coming of Messiah prophecies like in Isaiah 9 which told about a future hoped-for Savior, there were many details of Jesus’ life that were foretold as well.
For instance, both Joseph and Mary were of the Davidic line (2 Chronicles 17:11, Ezekiel 17:22-24), born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1, Numbers 24:8), raised in Nazareth (Isaiah 11:1, Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12), and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Jeremiah 31:22, and Genesis 3:15 since, you know, women don’t have “seeds”), etc. And in case anyone had fallen asleep in synagogue leading up to Jesus’ birth, God sent John the Baptist before him to remind everyone that Messiah’s on His way!
What does this have to do with the Magi in the first Christmas account?
Daniel and the Chartom
Not only did the rabbis in Israel have a good handle on what to look for concerning the identity and workings of Messiah, but so did people in other places around the ancient world.
For instance, we can surmise that these men (a) came from the kingdom of Sheba, near modern day Yemen (if you’re interested to see the evidence for this, check out Dwight Longenecker’s article “Where Did the Wise Men Come From?”), (b) came to worship Him as God, and that (c) this child was to die for the sins of the world. You can see this last point from the significance of the frankincense, gold, and myrrh. The myrrh especially demonstrated that they knew Messiah had to die for their sins, since myrrh was used to embalm dead bodies… what a gift for a little kid, right? I highly encourage you to listen to David Jeremiah’s Turning Point episode “Why the Gifts of the Wise Men?” especially Part 2).
But what fascinates me more is how these Magi even knew about the Jewish Messiah and that He would die for the sins of the world, not just the Jews. Most scholars attribute this knowledge to Daniel’s years as the “master of the חַרְטֹם (chartom, or magicians)” (Daniel 4:9) in Babylon during the exilic period of Israel’s history (c. 607 – 537 BC).
Daniel was gifted with prophecy and how to interpret dreams. He was visited by the angel Gabriel several times, giving him insights into how the world was and would be in the future. As master of the astrologers and magicians of his day in Babylon, he was well respected and would have taught and shared all of his revelations to those learned men who were under him.
They would’ve heard the information that Daniel gained from God that we read in Daniel chapter 9, which talks of how the Messiah will be “cut off (killed)” but not for himself (v. 26). Daniel had access to the writings of Isaiah (c. 740 – 681 BC) and would have shared his writings with the group of astrologers that he was master over, especially Isaiah 53, which tells of a Rejected and Suffering Redeemer. And he would’ve taught them Isaiah 60, which talks of how the Gentiles are subject to Israel’s God YHWH and His Messiah. These men cared about what Daniel taught, having proved himself and his God to them (read Daniel chapters 1-3 to see how), and passed down that information to their progeny for hundreds of years.
From this scenario, we surmise that those chartom of Jesus’ day, 600 years later, would have been looking for two things:
- The Messiah they were looking for would be killed exactly 483 prophetic years, or 173,880 days from the commandment of Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple (which was decreed on March 14, 444 BC, resulting in the Messiah’s death date of April 6, 32 AD) (Daniel 9:25), and
- That man’s birth would be marked by a star in the sky. (Numbers 24:17-18).
These men knew to watch for Messiah, Savior of the world, a descendant of Jacob/Israel, within a man’s lifetime before 32 AD.
As an aside, the Numbers prophecy above was actually given by Balaam, a Gentile sorcerer, to Balek, a Gentile king, after trying unsuccessfully to curse Israel multiple times! God was making it known to the rulers of the world that Jesus was coming, and that he was to be worshiped as God.
Here’s the Kicker
In “Faith of Our Fathers” by Dr. Thong, which I’ve written about previously, who has an interesting note on this whole Christmas star thing.
According to the Astronomy Records of the Book of the Han Dynastyduring the reign of Emperor Xiao Ai (who reigned in China from 7 – 1 BC) and Zi Zhi Tong Jian, Volume 34, Chronicles of Han Dynasty no. 26, a bei comet or “comet with no tail”, burned for about 70 days between March 9 and April 6, in the year 5 BC. Because of the significance of astronomical events to the Chinese, it was recorded that some of the “imperial ministers proposed changing the name of that year from the ‘Second Year of Jian Ping’ to the ‘First Year of Tai Chu’, which literally means ‘Genesis’ or ‘the Grand Beginning.'” (p. 313)
Not only that, but the 70 day burning “star” was out of Altair. Altair is one of the brightest stars and according to Chinese historical records, “the Chinese interpreted all phenomena associated with Altair as having to do with sacrifice, that is, the Border Sacrifice…” (p. 314) I will do another article on the Border Sacrifice in a future article, but suffice it to say that the ancient Border Sacrifice matches the sacrifices that the likes of Noah and Abraham performed!!
Furthermore, according to Chinese records, another star, or bei comet, appeared out of Altair on April 24, 4 BC, about 13 months after the first event. In Matthew 2 it discusses how the magi had been on the road to find Jesus because of the first star and that Herod, learning of the magi’s journey, ordered all children born in Bethlehem ages two and younger were to be killed (Matthew 2:16). This is amazing corroborating evidence for the events of Jesus’ birth.
Romans 1-3 discourses on how our consciences and the splendor of God’s creation declare the existence of our Creator to us and that we are held accountable to Him. In addition, He loves us so much so that He made known through prophecy and signs from heaven, throughout the world and throughout history, that He would provide the way to be saved from our sins. The Wise Men of Sheba knew it; the ancient emperors of China knew it…
Do you? :-)
A big thank you to Dr. Thong for his book “Faith of Our Fathers” and also “Ancient Prophecies Revealed: 500 Prophecies Listed in the Order of....