Of all the characters in the Christmas story the wise men may have the least said about them in the Bible and the most legend about them in stories and song. Here’s what we do know about the wise men based on what the Bible tells us.
First, there was more than one wise man. The Bible says that they were wise “men” plural, but it doesn’t reveal the actual number of wise men. Many say there were three wise men because of the number of gifts recorded as being given to Jesus. Next, we know that they came from the East. How far to the East we do not know. They may have been from Persia or even the orient. The wise men were astrologers; they studied the stars. They knew the stars very well so that when His star appeared they knew what they needed to do.
When they saw the star they left the comfort of their homes to seek out the newborn King of the Jews. They had a basic knowledge of this baby. They knew that He was to be King of the Jews and that He was to be worshiped. That is why they went to Jerusalem, to find where this King was to be born. The Bible does not say that the wise men followed the star they saw from their home to Jerusalem. It just says that they saw the King’s star in the East and came to worship Him.
The wise men caused quite a stir in Jerusalem. No one knew of a newborn King. King Herod, a ruthless and paranoid man, was troubled most of all. Was this another plot to depose him? He decided to play along with the wise men, find out where the baby was to be born, and have the wise men find the baby for him. Then he would destroy this new King. The chief priests and scribes, the experts in the Jewish scriptures, came and told the wise men that the baby was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod told the wise men to look for the baby and to return to tell him where He was so he could go worship Him, too.
When the wise men left Herod’s palace they looked up and once again saw the King’s star. This time the star led them to Bethlehem to the house where Jesus was. Some have speculated that the star was just a lining up of certain planets or a comet. But can a comet or a group of planets way up in the cosmos lead a group of men to a particular town and point out a particular house within that town? Instead the star seems to be a special miracle star that God made expressly for the purpose of showing the wise men where His Son, the newborn King of the Jews, was staying.
The Bible does not say how close to the birth of Jesus the wise men arrived in Bethlehem. However, it is safe to say that it was at least forty days and may have been as much as two years after the birth. We do know that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus left for Egypt to flee Herod after the wise men left, probably the same night. When Jesus was forty days old He was taken to the temple so the wise men could not have arrived before then. We also know that when Herod discovered that the wise men had no intention of telling him where the newborn King of the Jews was he killed every baby in Bethlehem two years old and younger. This may be because the wise men traveled for two years before finding the baby Jesus. The exact time is unknown, but we do know that it was long enough that Joseph found a house for the young family to live in. The wise men never went to the stable.
When the wise men saw Jesus they fell down and worshiped Him; and they gave Him gifts: gold, signifying that Jesus is King of the world (that gold financed the family’s trip to Egypt to flee Herod), frankincense, a present signifying that Jesus is our High Priest, and myrrh, signifying Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of mankind.
That night God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to Herod. The wise men obeyed returning to their home by a different route.
God’s Son Jesus was sent to the earth to be the Savior of all mankind. He is the Savior of the common man as shown by His announcement to the shepherds. He is also the Savior of the rich man and the scholar. Jesus is Savior and Lord of all.