Three Kings - Wise Men From the East

Who Were the Three Kings, or Magi, Who Visited Jesus?

Three Kings
The Three Kings With Herod. SuperStock / Getty Images

The Three Kings, or Magi, are mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew. Few details are given about these men in the Bible, and most of our ideas about them actually come from tradition or speculation. Scripture does not say how many wise men there were, but it is generally assumed there were three since they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Three Kings recognized Jesus Christ as the Messiah while he was still a child, and traveled thousands of miles to worship him.

They doggedly followed a star which led them to Jesus. By the time they met Jesus, he was in a house and was a child, not an infant, implying they arrived a year or more after his birth.

Three Gifts From Three Kings

The gifts of the wise men symbolize Christ's identity and mission: gold for a king, incense for God, and myrrh used to anoint the dead. Ironically, the Gospel of John states that Nicodemus brought a mixture of 75 pounds of aloe and myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.

God honored the wise men by warning them in a dream to go home by another route and not to report back to King Herod. Some Bible scholars think Joseph and Mary sold the wise men's gifts to pay for their trip to Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution.

Strengths of the Three Kings

The Three Kings were among the wisest men of their time. Discovering that the Messiah was to be born, they organized an expedition to find him, following a star that led them to Bethlehem.

Despite their culture and religion in a foreign land, they accepted Jesus as their Savior.

Life Lessons

When we seek God with sincere determination, we will find him. He is not hiding from us but wants to have an intimate relationship with each of us.

These wise men paid Jesus the kind of respect only God deserves, bowing before him and worshiping him.

Jesus is not just a great teacher or admirable person as many people say today, but the Son of the Living God.

After the Three Kings met Jesus, they did not go back the way they came. When we get to know Jesus Christ, we are changed forever and cannot go back to our old life.

Hometown

Matthew says only that these visitors came from "the east." Scholars have speculated that they came from Persia, Arabia, or even India.

Referenced in the Bible

Matthew 2:1-12.

Occupation

The designation "Magi" refers to a Persian religious caste, but when this Gospel was written, the term was loosely used for astrologers, seers, and fortunetellers. Matthew does not call them kings; that title was used later, in legends. About 200 A.D., nonbiblical sources started calling them kings, perhaps because of a prophecy in Psalm 72:11: “May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.” (NIV) Because they followed a star, they may have been royal astronomers, advisers to kings.

Family Tree

Matthew reveals nothing of these visitors' ancestry. Over the centuries, legend has assigned them names: Gaspar, or Casper; Melchior, and Balthasar. Balthsar has a Persian sound. If indeed these men were scholars from Persia, they would have been familiar with Daniel's prophecy about the Messiah or "Anointed One." (Daniel 9:24-27, NIV).

Key Verses

Matthew 2:1-2
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came 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." (NIV)

Matthew 2:11
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (NIV)

Matthew 2:12
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (NIV)

Sources

  • gotquestions.org
  • The New Compact Bible Dictionary, edited by T. Alton Bryant
  • The New Bible Commentary, edited by G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, and R.T. France
  • The Bible Almanac, edited by J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, and William White Jr.
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    Zavada, Jack. "Three Kings - Wise Men From the East." ThoughtCo, Nov. 17, 2017, thoughtco.com/three-kings-wise-men-from-the-east-701082. Zavada, Jack. (2017, November 17). Three Kings - Wise Men From the East. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/three-kings-wise-men-from-the-east-701082 Zavada, Jack. "Three Kings - Wise Men From the East." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/three-kings-wise-men-from-the-east-701082 (accessed November 18, 2017).