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What did the christmas gifts signify? Matthew 2: 1-12 (nasb)

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Matthew 2:1-12 (NASB) 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "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." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem , land of Judah , Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel .' " 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
magi from the east


There are many individuals and groups involved in the story of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one group most people know the least about is the “Wisemen” or “Magi.” Part of the reason for this is that the above Matthew text is really limited in information about these mysterious visitors. There are some information in the Old Testament as well as in history books.

Puzzles can be fun. Putting together the puzzle about the Magi is a fascinating exercise. So let’s have some fun and learn while we are at it. This study will help us appreciate the Christmas story all the more!


The first things we notice in the text is that they were “Magi.” Notice, it does not say they were “kings” – in spite of the Christmas song “We Three Kings”! Magi, as we will see, were not kings although they were governmental leaders. They were also skilled in astronomy and many were involved in the occultic practice of astrology.
The Magi were from a hereditary priestly tribal line of people from among the ancient people called the Medes. The Magi were credited with great wisdom and knowledge, some of which was valuable human knowledge which could help a king to rule wisely. However, they also claimed to have great occultic knowledge from divination (fortune telling and hidden knowledge), the influence of the moon and stars (astrology), and sorcery. They also claimed to be able to interpret dreams which they saw as communications from the pagan gods.
We get the words “magic” and “magician” from “Magi.”
In the ancient empires we have studied in Bible prophecy, the Magi were a powerful influence in society and the royal courts – from the time of Babylon to the Roman Empire they maintained their influence over both politics and religion.

In the book of Daniel we discover the Magi (the ones called the Chaldeans, most likely) were the ones among whom Daniel had been placed to train. After the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and Daniel’s interpretation of the dream by a revelation from God, Daniel is placed as the Chief or Master of the Magi (Daniel 4:7).

At the time of the Roman Empire, the Old Persian Empire had more-or-less reformed itself into what was known as the Parthian Empire. Though they could not defeat Rome, by the same token Rome was unable to defeat the Parthians – mainly because of their horse cavalry. They did fight several battles and Rome considered them a threat to their eastern borders – where Israel was! In this kingdom the Magi “composed the upper house of the Council of Megistanes (magistrates) whose duties included the absolute choice and election of the king of the realm. It was therefore a group of Persian-Parthian ‘king-makers’ who entered Jerusalem in

the latter days of the reign of Herod” (Chuck Missler).

A metal Parthian statue c.100 AD

As powerful governmental men they would not have traveled through Roman Empire territory without a guard. How many is unknown, but it most likely was several hundred to more than a thousand! (AND THEY RODE HORSES, NOT CAMELS!) Given the tension between the two groups and the fact that Herod’s protective military forces were out of Jerusalem at this time, we can better understand: “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled.” The man was shook up and he panicked!


from the east
If we look at the map above we can see that due east of Israel lies the Parthian Empire. According to Arnold Fructenbaum, east in the Bible always refers to the area called Mesopotamia, which means the “land between two rivers.” This is exactly where the city of Babylon was between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Magi, then, can be said to be from Babylon in the Parthian Empire (the area of Iraq today).
The text also does not say how many there were, in spite of all the pictures, plays, and songs. The word Magi or wise-men is a plural word, so there had to be more than one, but there could have been – and most probably were – more than two or three.
The reason people say there were three is because the types of gifts listed are three:
opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
But this only lists three types of gifts – maybe several of them gave gold, several others frankincense, and others myrrh.


This is the question of questions. Some people claim that since this group was into the practice of astrology, and they followed a “star,” that it means the occultic practice of astrology is legitimate.

The occult practice of astrology probably began in the ancient city of Babel and the Tower of Babel was an astrological worship center (see Genesis 11:1-9). Astrology is condemned in the Bible and it is identified with demonism or Satanism (e.g. Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18). Christians should have nothing to do with fortune tellers, palm readers, or the reading of horoscopes (even in the newspaper!).
Deuteronomy 18:10-14 (NASB) 10 "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 "For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you. 13 "You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 "For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so.
As such God would never use the demonic to accomplish His purposes. So how did they know of the birth of a Jewish king and when was it to happen?


In the book of Daniel we discover that Daniel saved the lives of the entire school of Babylonian royal counselors who included the astrologers (Magi). Daniel was a Magi although we know that he was faithful to the revealed Jewish faith. Because of his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel became the Master of the Babylonian School of Magi.

Throughout the book of Daniel we see that he was faithful in every way to the Scriptures and the God of the Scriptures. “Since Daniel saved their lives as well as becoming their head, there is little doubt that he was able to lead many of them to a saving knowledge of the God of Israel. A number of these astrologers turned away from the worship of the stars to the worship of the God of Israel who made the stars” (Fructenbaum).
As the years rolled by the truth was told from one Magi to another and there was a faithful group of believers who, though they operated in a pagan society, retained the truth they learned from the greatest of all Magi, the Jewish prophet Daniel.
Do not miss the lessons:

  • Spiritually mature people will always be people who bear witness to the lost

  • You never know the long-term impact your witness may have – the Christmas Magi were over 500 years after Daniel!

  • God was at work among the Gentiles as well as the Jews

But how did they know when?
Daniel 9:24-26 (NASB) 24 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 "So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 "Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

We will be studying this prophecy in detail in our Sunday night prophecy series, but for our purposes this established the exact time frame for the appearance of the Messiah – 483 years after the decree mentioned in verse 25. This is the only place in the entire Bible that dates the exact time of the coming of the promised Messiah, the king of the Jews. The Magi would have had the book of Daniel.

But also remember the influence of godly Jews in the Babylonian empire. They also would have shared the other books written to that point that were in their possession plus the books Daniel had. Many of these told of the promised Messiah.

But what about the star?

Much earlier in Jewish history there had been another Babylonian area astrologer by the name of Balaam. He was hired by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites, but God so overruled the man that all he could do was bless them. In the process he gave some prophecies concerning the Messiah, one of which said:

Numbers 24:17a (NASB) "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel
Though this is not to be understood as a literal star in the prophecy, still it may be that Daniel gave the Magi additional information that is not recorded that indicated the appearance of a literal star. The scepter indicates a royal or kingly birth.
It seems then that they connected the Daniel prophecies and the Balaam prophecy when they saw an unusual “star” in the night sky and they knew the time had come for the birth of a Jewish king who was also to be the ruler of the world:
Daniel 2:44 (NASB) "In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.


We just answered the question: Because of the prophecies of Daniel and the promised world ruler, the Messiah from Israel.

Gold: kingship
Frankincense: deity and priestly duties
Myrrh: death and embalming
With these gifts the family was able to flee from Herod and live in Egypt for about two years. God provided through the Gentiles, the same Gentiles who – other than the shepherds – are the first ones recorded as worshipping the Messiah, the Savior of the world!

They knew the Bible and they knew Bible doctrine – the doctrine of the promised Messiah as well as the doctrines involved in Bible prophecy. What they would have missed in life if they had not:
First, believed the truth and been saved, and
Secondly, been careful students of the Word of God.
Each one of us is faced with the same decisions: will we believe in the Messiah and receive eternal life (be saved) and then will we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by learning the teaching of Scripture, Bible doctrine.
What great things will you miss out on in life and eternity if you are negative to either one?
Maybe this Christmas season you should talk to God about it!

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