Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “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..
Tradition says there were three wise men, however, the verse gives no indication of how many there were. Bethlehem means "house of bread." Man is always seeking a king, for he feels in the depth of his soul that he is never so great as in the presence of his greater. Let a great man appear in the world, and smaller men spontaneously rally around him. Nothing is known of these wise men in addition to the brief statements recorded by Matthew. We dont know their names, or how many there were etc etc.
Their designation as "Wise-men" is a translation of the Greek word "Magi," a name by which they are familiarly known, and from which have come such terms as "magic" and "magician." They were probably members of an Oriental priestly caste, who were familiar with astronomy or astrology, and had been taught by Jews of the Dispersion to expect the coming of a Savior, a universal King. Some sign in the heaven convinced them that such a Prince had appeared and they journeyed to Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, to render to the king who had been born in homage which was his due. The important point is that these men were heathen and that they represent the first fruits of Gentile nations. They symbolize the truth that in the great world today there are countless hungry hearts yearning for a divine Savior and ready to follow even faint and imperfect signs which may lead to his feet.
Over the years there have been four main theories:
- Halley's Comet: Unfortunately, the nearest appearance was in 11 B.C., which is simply too early for the birth of Christ.
- Supernova: This is an exploding star that suddenly fills the sky with light in a brilliant, blinding flash of light. These are unpredictable and very rare, and there is no record in any astronomical records of a supernova in the years surrounding the birth of Christ.
- Conjunction of Planets: This is probably the most popular theory. One version suggests that in 7 B.C. Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn came together in a very rare conjunction that only occurs once every 125 years. Another possibility is a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 2 B.C. (This last possibility is the one suggested by the "Star of Wonder" presentation at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.) The conjunction theory has this to favor it: It would explain why the Magi saw it and the people of Israel didn't. Conjunctions don't attract the attention of people who don't normally watch the skies. They aren't highly-visible phenomena like comets or supernovas or meteor showers. But to anyone who watched the stars regularly, a "triangular" conjunction like the one in 7 B.C. would certainly attract extraordinary attention.
- A Supernatural Light: This theory suggests that the "star" was not a natural phenomena at all, but rather was a light placed by God in the atmosphere especially for the Magi to see. Those who hold this view (which I myself lean to) point to the shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament. At certain points in history God revealed himself as a bright light in order to guide his people. In this context, we might think of the pillar of fire with which God led Israel in the wilderness.
"When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."
“…for this is what the prophet has written….” These few words are in themselves a powerful testimony of the faith of these people. There appeared to be no consideration of the time or the season, or anything based upon appearance. They also did not say “The prophets said Bethlehem so that could be a possibility.” Rather, they said “Bethlehem” (emphatic)…..and than offered the explanation “for it is written by the prophets…” The anti-theist has already twisted this and proclaimed that the prophecy was written after the event so that it will make sense and help create what they claim is a deceptive foundation for modern Christianity. Those who know God know better and understand the wisdom of this world is Foolishness….and “Foolishness” with a capital F (paraphrase, mine).