Who were the mysterious
MAGI who visited Jesus?

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The birth of Jesus Christ was not just a local Bethlehem event that involved a few or even several hundred people. It did not stimulate just some mild curiosity in a few Roman provinces. His birth caused the world's greatest empire to move exactly according to God's plan and the masses to be electrified by the event. It also caused a group of wise men from the East, known as the Magi, to plan and embark on a 1,000+ mile perilous journey in order to pay homage to the One who is the true King of Kings and true Lord of Lords.

But who exactly are the MAGI who, in the New Testament, are only mentioned briefly in the book of Matthew? What country were they from? Did only THREE of them travel to visit Jesus? Were they Kings or other important people or just some wealthy guys who understood Biblical prophecy and liked to travel?

Herod the Great receives special visitors

We first learn of the Magi in relation to Herod the Great. Matthew tells us they were "from the east" and followed a star all the way to Judea, where they then seek Herod's help in located Christ. Note that whoever these wise men are, they are important enough to receive an immediate audience with the busy King Herod. He finds out from the priests and scribes that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6). Upon conveying this information to the Magi he tells them,

"Go and search diligently for the little child; and when you have found Him, bring word back to me, so that I also may go and worship Him." (Matthew 2:8)

Was Herod telling the truth? Was he, as the Roman Senate's appointed King of Judea (King of the Jews), humble enough to worship a baby who would become the TRUE King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37)?

 
 
 
 
 
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Picture of Bethlehem's Shepherds Field where Jesus' birth announced
 
We can begin to answer the above questions by knowing about some of the things Herod did in his 32 years of rule prior to Christ's birth (37 to 5 B.C.) which included:
  • Appointing people as High Priest then later having them killed

  • Pillaging Jerusalem's treasures and robbing the city's wealthy so that he could give money to Antony and Antony's friends in order to curry their favor.

  • Searching and taking from the DEAD any silver, gold or other valuables they had on them.

  • Having King David's tomb opened and personally searching it for anything of value

  • Having family members killed, such as his own sons, whom he accused before Caesar in Rome.

According to the historian Josephus, Herod was feared among the Jews "because they saw that Herod was a violent and bold man, and very desirous of acting tyrannically" (Antiquities (History) of the Jews). He also wrote "He was such a warrior as could not be withstood" and "a man of great barbarity towards all men equally and a slave to his passions." A later writer labeled Herod the "evil genius" of the Jews.

Herod's history (and later actions) shows he had NO INTENTION of worshipping anyone who could threaten his throne and his iron grip on power. He was lying to the Magi so that he could find out EXACTLY where Jesus was and have him killed! While Herod no doubt felt justified in deceiving the wise men, notice what happened when he thought THEY had done him wrong.

16. Then Herod, seeing that he had been mocked by the Magi, WAS FILLED WITH RAGE; and he sent and put to death all the boys who were in Bethlehem and in the area all around, from two years old and under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the Magi.

Herod made himself quite angry when he ASSUMED that he was being mocked - just like he had "mocked" them by lying in order to get information to MURDER the person they wanted to worship! The truth is, the wise men had planned to return to Herod but,

being divinely instructed in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:12)

Herod directed his rage against the Magi toward the murder of countless innocent children. There is, however, a big unanswered question most Bible students and Bible sites completely overlook. WHY did a wrathful Herod, who had the power, ability and ego to do so, not pursue and punish the Magi for their "disrespect" of his authority? What stopped this evil tyrant from exacting the same kind of REVENGE he took on others?

Who are they?

The Magi were high-level Parthian priests and very influential members of one of Parthia's two assemblies which elected the empire's monarchs and helped rule the empire. Parthia as an empire began in 247 B.C. and were rivals of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. In fact, the Parthians dealt the Romans one of their worst defeats in history when half of Rome's 40,000 man army were killed and half of those who remained alive were captured c. 53 B.C. at the battle of Carrhae.

Below are some of the likely reasons why Herod did not go after the Parthian wise men whom he felt mocked him. They offer evidence as to just how important were the people who undertook the long journey to find Christ.

  1. According to the historian Josephus, just before Herod became the King of Judea his rival Antigonus offered the Parthians a very large sum of money to KILL HIM! Herod was so afraid of them that he fled Jerusalem under the cover of night (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 14, Chapter 13). No doubt this event caused Herod to think twice before trying to exact revenge on high-ranking members of Parthia's ruling elite.
  2. Herod did not want to risk incurring the wrath of Rome. "there is no record that he (Herod) made any attempt to overtake or punish the Magi. As high Parthian nobles, they had 'diplomatic immunity,' and Herod dared not anger Caesar by provoking the Parthians." (Lost Ten Tribes of Israel . . .Found! by Stephen M. Collins, pages 385-386)

  3. The Bible is completely silent regarding the number of wise men who came to worship Jesus. However, given the significance of the journey, it would not have been unusual for a delegation of several, possibly twelve or more 'wise men' to make the trip to Judea (ibid., page 381). The Magi were Parthian officials carrying very valuable treasures (gold, frankincense, myrrh, etc.) a great distance. Such dignitaries with wealth would have warranted a fairly large caravan (servants, cooks, etc.) and an armed escort of perhaps a few hundred Parthian soldiers for protection along the 1,000+ mile route to Judea. Rather than just three guys and a few camels making the trip (as depicted in countless Christmas scenes), the sheer size of the entourage would make any action Herod took against the wise men very risky. As author Stephen Collins states "the size of the Magi’s armed escort apparently dissuaded Herod from attempting to pursue them." (ibid., pages 381, 386)

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