The Quest of the Magi

Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr.
Seeking hearts discover their soul’s long sought after object of affection.

New Life Bible Fellowship

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr.

THE QUEST OF THE MAGI
MATTHEW 2:1-11 When God arrests a human heart it cannot rest until it is fully and finally satisfied in him. INTRODUCTION The word “Magi” is strange and unfamiliar. References to the “three wise men” or the old hymn “We Three Kings” are better suited to identify this group of seekers mentioned by Matthew in association with the Savior’s birth. Matthew tells us that sometime after Jesus was born in Bethlehem; he was visited by travelers from the east (Matt 2:1). These travelers were not merely passing through Judea, but being strangely led, they made the long journey to the obscure1 village of Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2; John 7:42) intending to find the king of the Jews and worship him with precious gifts. So, who were these Magi? The Greek text of the New Testament uses the word magoi which is of Persian origin. This word in turn has been transliterated or Latinized into “Magi” by the NIV, TNIV and NASB versions, but this doesn’t further our quest to understand their identity. The KJV (or AV), NKJV, and ESV translate magoi with the familiar term “wise men.” This traditional rendering of the Greek word connotes images of lavishly attired star-gazing sages, even astronomers. Is this how we are to conceive the Magi? The TEV (formerly, Good News for Modern Man) renders magoi as “men who studied the stars.” With the rendering is an illustration showing three men each seated on camels and making their way to Bethlehem led by a prominent star. At this point we should take note that magoi is a plural expression. However, contrary to tradition there is nothing to suggest that there were only three Magi. This is deduced from the variety of gifts which they delivered to the Christ child (i.e. gold, frankincense and myrrh, Matt 2:11). Certainly, then, enough mystery surrounds the Magi that they have attained legendary status.2 The problem with legends is that they are unsupported by facts and take on the form of myths. That is, the legendary accounting of the Magi seems less historical and more fable-like, especially at this time of year when many are captivated by thoughts of a little baby lying in hay surrounded by adoring parents and gentle animals. For many people, the events portrayed in the Christmas story are just that, a heart-warming “story.” Touching, perhaps metaphorically speaking of universal love, innocence and the need to help fellow human beings less fortunate. Many conclude then that the events described by Matthew contain a lesson, but not actual historical facts.
1

In contrast to the other more populated towns in the region (i.e. having families or heads of families numbering in the thousands), Bethlehem is described as being too small to possess independent status. C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 10, 479.
2

Tradition has ascribed the mythical names of Melchior, Balthasar and Casper along with the proposition that they came from India, Egypt and Greece; they were subsequently baptized by Thomas and their bones were discovered by Saint Helena and transferred to Milan, then to magnificent church of Saint Sophia (Constantinople) before finally resting in the great cathedral at Cologne. William Hendricksen, The Gospel of Matthew, 152.

1

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr.

The Magi played a critical role in the events surrounding the Savior’s birth. Their inclusion in the Gospel by Matthew assures us that their existence is supported by facts and that their status, far from legendary and mythical, is an example to every man, woman, and child who stand in need of being drawn to the Savior (see John 6:44). So, who were these travelers from the east spoken of by Matthew? Chuck Missler writes:
The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. It was in this dual capacity, whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian Empire. One of the titles given to the prophet Daniel was “the Chief of the Magi” [see Dan 2:48]. His unusual career included being a principal administrator in two world empires; the Babylonian and the subsequent Persian Empire. When Darius appointed him, a Jew, over the previously hereditary Median priesthood, the resulting repercussions led to the plots involving the ordeal of the lion's den [see Dan 6:1-28]. Daniel apparently entrusted a Messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a "star") to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment [perhaps in association with Dan 9:25?]. Since the days of Daniel, the fortunes of both the Persian and the Jewish nation had been closely intertwined. Both nations had, in their turn, fallen under Seleucid domination in the wake of Alexander's conquests. Subsequently, both had regained their independence: the Jews under Maccabean leadership and the Persians as the dominating ruling group within the Parthian Empire. It was at this time that the Magi, in their dual priestly and governmental office, composed the upper house of the Council of the Megistanes (from which we get the term "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. Herod's reaction was understandably one of fear when one considers the background of Roman-Parthian rivalry that prevailed during his lifetime. In Jerusalem, the sudden appearance of the Magi, probably traveling in force with all imaginable oriental pomp and accompanied by an adequate cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration of Roman territory, certainly alarmed Herod and the populace of Jerusalem. It would seem as if these Magi were attempting to perpetrate a border incident which could bring swift reprisal from Parthian armies. Their request of Herod regarding the one who "has been born king of the Jews" [Matt 2:2] was a calculated insult to him, a non--Jew who had contrived and bribed his way into that office. Consulting his scribes, Herod discovered from the prophecies in the Tanach (the Old Testament) that the Promised One, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem [see Micah 5:2]. Hiding his concern and expressing sincere interest, Herod requested them to keep him informed [Matt 2:7-8]. After finding the babe and presenting their prophetic gifts, the Magi "being warned in a dream" (a form of communication most acceptable to them, [Matt 2:12]) departed to their own country, ignoring Herod's request. Living six centuries before the birth of Christ, Daniel certainly received an incredible number of Messianic prophecies. In addition to several overviews of all of Gentile world history (chapters 2 and 7), the Angel Gabriel told him the precise day that Jesus would present Himself as King to Jerusalem" (Dan 9:24-27). It is interesting that Daniel's founding of a secret sect of the Magi also had a role in having these prominent Gentiles present gifts at the birth of the Jewish Messiah.

2

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr.

The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also prophetic, speaking of our Lord's offices of king, priest, and savior. Gold speaks of His kingship; frankincense was a spice used in the priestly duties; and myrrh was an embalming ointment anticipating His death.3

When considering the fact that the Magi only appear in Matthew’s Gospel, one might conclude them insignificant to the events surrounding the Savior’s birth. Arriving well after the Savior’s birth further distances them from the nativity event.4 All of this may seem to perpetuate a perceived mythical role of the Magi. The question could be asked: “Why did the Magi need to come at all?” This question is moot, for the Magi did come. The proper question to ask is: “How were the Magi led to Christ?” The answer demonstrates the purpose for their inclusion by Matthew into the events surrounding the Savior’s birth. It appears that God intended to demonstrate his gracious working in human hearts to draws sinners (even pagan Magi-astrologers) to himself. What is true of God’s dealings with those distant from Christ then is also true today. Consider the following allusions to lost humanity from the historical quest of the Magi depicted by Matthew: 1. THE PROPHETIC SEED IS AN ALLUSION TO THE ROLE OF THE WORD OF GOD IN MAKING US AWARE OF CHRIST The Magi (Persian astronomers) would have known nothing of the coming king were it not for the prophetic revelation of God through the prophet Daniel centuries before to their predecessors. The Bible is literal revelation from God. That is, it represents a deliberate act of special communication from God. As a finished product of divine inspiration, the Bible stands as a written record of precisely what God determined to communicate (2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Pet 1:19-21). What was delivered to the Magi through Daniel possesses the same quality and authority as what stands written in the Word of God today. What opened the eyes of pagan Persian astronomers then opens blind eyes today to realities otherwise unknowable (2 Cor. 4:1-6). Consider the chronology which led to the awakening of the Magi. Six centuries before the birth of Christ God was working through history to bring Daniel and other Jews as captive exiles to Babylon. Daniel was used in a remarkable way to communicate the one true and living God at the highest levels of the Babylonian government. His determination to trust God (e.g. Dan 1:8; 2:17-18; 6:10) and his God-given ability to interpret dreams (see Dan 1:15; 4:8-9; 5:11) elevated him to become ruler of the province and chief of the astronomers (see Dan 2:28; 4:9). Though hated by his fellow astronomers, Daniel was regarded by them as a man of integrity in all spiritual matters (see Dan 6:4-5).
3

See http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html. See also Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 98-102. Keener notes that astrological confirmations of rulers were not uncommon in Greco-Roman paganism. Comets, for example, signaled to astrologers the death of one monarch and the rise of another; a constellation also informed Magi of Alexander the Great’s birth. For a broader description of the uses of gold, frankincense and myrrh in the Bible see Hendricksen, Matthew, 171-74.
4

The Magi do not arrive in Bethlehem until well after the Savior’s birth. Matthew reports that they came to a “house” where Mary and Jesus resided. Luke tells us that after the days of her purification (40 days, Lev 12:3-4), Mary, Joseph and Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem as prescribed by law and offered two turtledoves (Luke 2:22-24. This allowance of a lessor offering was made for the poor (see Lev 12:8). If the Magi had arrived prior to this time, the family would have possessed sufficient resources to purchase the lamb for the burnt offering. Certainly, the nativity scenes depicting the shepherds and Magi together with the family at the stable-cave are incorrect.

3

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr.

When reading the book of Daniel who would think that these seemingly chaotic events occurring in the nation of Israel (incidentally, they were being judged by God!) and the life of the prophet would be conspiring against a future day of divine deliverance. The irony here is that those who would be the closest to him (especially racially), the Jews, would later reject him (see John 1:11). However, distant pagan Persians, drawn to the Christ child by some stellar phenomenon and a six-century old prophetic word would bow their knees in adoration before one they knew only as the king (Israel’s coming Anointed One, see Dan 9:25) of the Jews (Matt 2:11). 2. THE PREPARED STAR IS AN ALLUSION TO THE HAND OF GOD LEADING US OUT OF SIN AND UNTO HIMSELF God communicated to the Magi through means relevant to their worldview. These were men who divined supernatural activity by stellar phenomena and constellations. They placed emphasis on dreams and interpretations of dreams as windows into reality and coming events. The appearing of what they referred to as “his star” (Matt 2:2), an appearing easily overlooked by others, urged them to action; altering the course of their lives, literally. When warned in a dream to change route in order to escape Herod (Matt 2:12) they were not dismissive, but immediately obeyed. This is the way God induces faith and inspires desire; capturing our attention and our hearts to seek the object of his affection. We would otherwise aimlessly seek after objects (idols) of lessor value and means (good works) to please God of no avail. Thus, God produces a longing in the sinner that may be satisfied only in Christ (John 20:24-31). The Magi would not rest until their pilgrimage reached its destiny in the presence of the king. God knows how to communicate to the wayward sinner. Circumstances and events are instruments in the hands of God to open hearts to the Gospel.5 3. THE PROLONGED SEARCH IS AN ALLUSION TO THE EFFECTIVE CALL OF GOD THAT OVERCOMES EVERY OBSTACLE TO BRING THE SINNER INTO THE SAFE HARBOR OF HIS DELIVERANCE The Magi were not thwarted by the insidious and unscrupulous efforts of Herod to deceive and destroy them (Matt 2:7-8, 16-18).6 How many sinners fall prey to the follies and philosophies of this world? Intellectualism

5

“For decades, a well-documented phenomenon has been occurring in the Muslim world—men and women who, without knowledge of the gospel, or contact among Christians in their community, have experienced dreams and visions of Jesus Christ. The reports of these supernatural occurrences often come from “closed countries” where there is no preaching of the good news and where converting to Christianity can invoke the death sentence. But these are more than just dreams. Setting them apart is the intense reality of the experience and the surrender of one’s heart and mind to Christ in the wake of the dream. A common denominator appears to be that the dreams come to those who are seeking—as best they can—to know and please God.” Source-Lausanne World Pulse (January 2007). This phenomenon is documented in the docu-drama film More than Dreams. The film documents five testimonies of Muslims who turned to Christ after experiences a dream encounter.
6

There is no extra-biblical record of the slaughter of innocent Bethlehem babies. This should not detract from the historical validity of Matthew’s account. The event would not have registered on the Roman radar of atrocities. Bethlehem had a population of 500-600 people with perhaps 20-30 babies. This is significant to us, but in view of Herod’s many horrendous crimes it is insignificant to the historians of his day. Herod put to death several of his own children who he thought were plotting against him. Emperor Augustus said

4

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr.

and rationalism paralyze the minds of many. Those called of God, however, are not deterred; they forge ahead against the swelling tide of unbelief to find Christ as the mooring place for their restless soul (Phil 3:9; Rom 8:31-39).7 4. THE PREFERRED SAVIOR IS AN ALLUSION TO THE CAPTIVE SOUL THAT FINDS REST IN THE PROVISION OF GOD The Magi lavished their gifts upon the Savior to express trust in his true identity (see also Matt 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9, 17); not to merit future favor. It is as though Matthew is implying through the narrative that “if Israel will not honor Jesus, the Gentiles will.”8 An overflowing grateful heart reserves nothing to adore and praise the One in whom life exists (2 Tim 1:12).9 Acts 2:39 contains the promise that “all who are far away” (NET) come to Christ on the basis of his effectual calling. We may walk the streets of our community and presume many to be distant from Christ, perhaps too distant. This is an error of perception, not reality. The call of God is extended throughout the world. His servants are likewise dispersed as emissaries to hold forth the brilliant light of truth that aliens might be reconciled and become part of the kingdom (Eph 2:14; 2 Cor 5:18-21). Conclusion
it was better to Herod’s sow than his son. Matt Slick, Why Isn’t There other Evidence of the Massacre of the Babies? Available at: http://carm.org/why-isnt-there-other-evidence-massacre-babies.
7

Here is a quote from Martin Luther while striving for favor with God as an Augustinian monk (1516 AD): “I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans. I did not have a heart of stone, but to that moment one phrase in chapter one stood in my way. I hated the idea, ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ . . . according to which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. I lived without reproach as a monk, but my conscience was disturbed to its very depths and all I knew about myself was that I was a sinner. I could not believe that anything I thought or did or prayed satisfied God. I did not love, nay, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners. Certainly, and with intense grumbling (perhaps even blasphemy), I was angry with God and said, ‘As if it were indeed not enough that miserable sinners who are eternally lost through original sin and are crushed again by every calamity through the Ten Commandments, God Himself adds pain to pain in the gospel by threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!’ At last, meditating day and night . . . by the mercy of God, I gave heed to the context of the words, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is . . . a gift of God, namely by faith . . .Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open. An entirely new side of the Scriptures opened itself to me . . . and I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the loathing with which before I had hated the term ‘the righteousness of God’. Thus, that verse in Paul was for me truly the gate of paradise.
8 9

Keener, Matthew, 105.

Consider Chapter 1 of Augustine’s Confessions (427 AD): "Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom." And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee. Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art. It may be that we should invoke thee in order that we may come to know thee. But "how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?" Now, "they shall praise the Lord who seek him," for "those who seek shall find him," and, finding him, shall praise him. I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.”

5

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr.

The prophet Daniel seems so remotely removed from the events depicting our Savior’s birth by Matthew. Yet, the appearance of the Magi sometime after the birth event suggests a few significant points: 1. God arrests hearts which do not know him in a manner appropriate to their thinking. 2. Once captivated, these hearts are made willing to seek true satisfaction for their soul. 3. This divinely placed urgency leads only to Christ as the One in whom lasting satisfaction is found. 4. Satisfaction for the soul is the result of the sinner gaining full recognition of the identity of Christ. 5. Full recognition of the identity of Christ results in renewal and complete transformation. 6. Renewal and complete transformation are impelling forces which inspire incessant worship in the presence of the king. It is not clear that the prostrate Magi in Bethlehem understood the fullness of what Israel’s Anointed One would do, but Daniel’s prophecy indicated that he would be put to death (Dan 9:26). This event is detailed in context of the intent of the prophecy which spans 490 prophetic years, including a parenthetical and unknown period of interruption. The intent is stated in Dan 9:24 and includes God dealing once-and-for-all with the sins of his people. Perhaps the Magi put the pieces together. If they would disrupt their lives to make such an arduous journey and to lavish strangers with such wealth, they may have been motivated by more than mere curiosity. When God arrests a human heart it cannot rest until it is fully and finally satisfied in him.

6

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful