Focus on Jesus Series
The Star, the Magi and the Assumptions That Blind Us
by Ed Vasicek
The subject of the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem are fascinating indeed. Unfortunately, traditions have accumulated and been written into songs that we assume to be true, but the Scriptures do not actually state what these songs claim.
Take the hymn, “We Three Kings of Orient.” Although I love this carol, we do not know how many wise men came to see Jesus. The earliest traditions claim twelve Magi made the trip. They may have had a large entourage with them. And were the Magi really kings? We can’t say, but it is probable that they were religious leaders and perhaps ambassadors as well. The idea that they were kings comes from the prophecy of Isaiah 60:6, but this prophecy actually refers to the Millennial reign of Christ (though it could be a double-fulfillment prophecy with a near non-literal fulfillment and a far, literal one). How did the tradition evolve that there were three kings? They presented three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Another tradition that has been often accepted as Gospel truth is that the star moved all the way from Persia (or wherever) and guided the wisemen to where Jesus was. I can hear Mario Lanza singing that verse from “The First Noel,” which says, “…and there it (the star) did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay…” I love the carol and admit Mario does it justice, but the text actually indicates that the Magi only admitted to seeing the star twice: once in the east, and once in Bethlehem. They apparently lost sight of it until they came to Bethlehem, and when they saw the star it was in its zenith position right over Bethlehem. So Mario was half right, but the star did not guide them all the way from the east or they would not have needed to inquire of Herod.
But how did the Magi know it was His (the Messiah’s) star? Henry Morris has written the best booklet on this subject, entitled “When They Saw the Star.” Morris connects the Magi to their founder, the compromising prophet Balaam. He is the one who prophesied, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will arise out of Israel...." (Numbers 24:17).
Morris goes on to postulate, as have others, that the original signs of the Zodiac painted a picture of the Gospel. The virgin (Virgo) would give birth to the Messiah (pictured by Leo the Lion) who would crush the serpent’s head (the promise of Genesis 3:15-16). Since the Magi may have been influenced by the teachings of Daniel, they probably knew the rough era in which to expect the Messiah, based upon Daniel chapter 9. So it may have been a bright star (probably a super nova) that flared up in the constellation of Leo that made the connection. They knew the Messiah would be King of the Jews, but they did not know exactly where in Israel He would be born, which is why they inquired of Herod.
Having said this, I also need to state that this thinking does not endorse the modern practice of astrology, which is basically personal fortune telling, an evil corruption of the original meaning of the constellations. The Bible forbids all forms for fortune telling (Deuteronomy 29:29, Deuteronomy 18:11).
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Kokomo, Indiana, USA