We Three Kings of Orient Are

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Note:  This is an excerpt from Jack’s book, entitled “Children’s Stories of the Bible:  The Adult Version”

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi came from the East to Jerusalem and asked “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matt 2:1-2)

Let’s Begin At The Beginning

This story actually began just over 600 years earlier during the life of Daniel the Prophet. As a teenager Daniel, a prince of Israel, was taken hostage by the King of Babylon to insure that the provisions of a peace treaty between Israel and Babylon would be obeyed. But Israel’s kings repeatedly violated the treaty and so the Babylonians burned Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple to the ground and took all the Jews captive to Babylon where they remained for 70 years. Toward the end of this 70 year period, Daniel, now an old man, was praying to God, asking for the release of His people. While praying he was visited by the Angel Gabriel and given a message that has become the single most important piece of prophetic scripture in the entire Bible. This message is contained in Daniel 9:24-27. It revealed the time of the Messiah’s coming, His subsequent death and the destruction of Jerusalem, and an overview of the events leading up to the End of the Age.

Daniel had become the head of a group of royal advisers who were both wise and spiritual.  According to tradition he shared Gabriel’s message with them and admonished them to incorporate it into their wisdom, to be handed down from generation to generation until the time of Messiah’s birth. (He also entrusted them with the wealth he had acquired a lifetime of service to several kings to be delivered to the Messiah upon his birth.) Over the following 500 years this group became a powerful priesthood that was so influential in the affairs of the kingdom (now called Parthia) that no king could reign without their approval. Central to their philosophy was the belief handed down to them over the centuries that one day soon God would send One who would be born to the throne putting to an end all the intrigue that usually accompanied the appointment of a king. The general time of the coming of this King was known to them from Daniel’s teaching as was the sign they would be given. A special star would appear in the sky, marking His arrival (Numbers 24:17).

The Sign Of The Star

When the star appeared, a delegation of this Parthian priesthood, known as the Magi, set out for Jerusalem. There were undoubtedly more than three of them since dignitaries of the day traveled in a great entourage both for protection and as a sign of their importance. Plus in this case they were traveling through enemy territory since a few years earlier Parthia had repelled a Roman invasion and the Romans were now entrenched in Israel. No wonder Herod and indeed all Jerusalem were disturbed by their arrival (Matt 2:3). Keep in mind Herod was not even Jewish. He was an Idumean (Jordanian) who had been appointed by the Roman Senate, and now some powerful foreign king makers were coming to claim that there was one who was born to be King of the Jews. Surely this natural born king would have a more powerful claim to the throne than a foreign appointee. Imagine Herod’s fear then they came asking, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?”

Will The Real King Please Stand Up?

When Herod summoned the Jewish scholars for information regarding this king, they concluded from Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Herod then met secretly with the Magi and determined the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem in search of the child, hoping through them to learn of His whereabouts himself (Matt. 2:4-8). Guided by the star the Magi came to the house where Jesus and Mary and Joseph were staying. They presented Him with three gifts rich in symbolism and worshiped Him there. The gold they gave Him signified royalty and identified Him as a King, the frankincense spoke of His Priesthood, and the myrrh was a prophecy of His death since myrrh was known primarily as an embalming spice. These 3 gifts represented the 3 offices of the Messiah, Prophet, Priest and King and were from the treasure Daniel had left to Him. (In the millennium, the Messiah will once again be given gifts, but this time only 2; gold and frankincense (Isa. 60:6). No more death.)

The Magi, being warned in a dream, did not reveal the child’s location to Herod and returned home by a different route (Matt 2:9-12). When Herod realized he’d been ignored, he was furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who were 2 years old and younger in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. But Joseph had been warned of Herod’s anger in a dream and took his family into Egypt, remaining there until Herod died (Matt 2:13-16). From this we can conclude that the Magi didn’t arrive in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. They probably set out on their journey when the star first appeared, indicating the Lord’s birth. Allowing time to confirm the sign of the star, make preparations to leave and then travel nearly 800 miles they could have arrived in Jerusalem as much as a year or two later. Hence the execution of all the boys in Bethlehem 2 years old and younger.

Listen To What Isn’t Said

Sometimes what isn’t said in Scripture is as revealing as what is. Even after reading the prophecy in Micah 5:2 and receiving the dual confirmation of the star and the arrival of the Magi, neither Herod nor the Jewish spiritual and political leaders went to Bethlehem themselves. We can understand Herod’s response; he wasn’t even Jewish and feared the discovery of a rival claim to the throne. But Israel had waited for centuries for the Messiah, and these leaders had the same knowledge as the Magi. The prophecies were written in their own Scriptures, and were being fulfilled right before their eyes. The problem was that the Jewish leadership had long before departed from a literal interpretation of Scripture, and the ruling Sadducean party had rejected predictive prophecy as unreliable and not meant for their time. Having deemed it irrelevant they ignored it and missed the event they had longed for. The spiritual and political leaders of our generation have made the very same mistake, only this time it’s for keeps; there’s no prophecy of a 3rd coming. So once again it’s proven true: the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

And now you know the adult version.