The Wealth of the Magi

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How much WEALTH did the Magi give Jesus when they came to worship him as the KING of KINGS? Did their offering help make possible Mary and Joseph's trip to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod? Did their gifts not only help sustain Jesus' family after Joseph died but also fund his public ministry? What Biblical prophecies did the wise men help fulfill? Before we answer these fascinating questions, a little background needs to be covered.

Forty days after the birth of Jesus (which is well before the Magi arrive in Bethlehem) Mary and Joseph travel to Jerusalem's temple to present him at the temple. An offering to the temple was part of the ceremony. According to God's law, the customary offering was a one-year-old lamb and either a dove or pigeon (Leviticus 12:6). If the person did not have the wealth to afford such animal sacrifices then two pigeons or doves were acceptable (verse 8). Mary and Joseph could only afford to offer a pair of doves or pigeons (Luke 2:24). The family were likely not the poorest of the poor (Joseph was a skilled craftsman). They were, however, what we might call the 'working poor,' or a family whose income provides only for life's necessities.

When the Magi arrive in Bethlehem (see our article entitled "The TRUTH about the birth of Jesus!") they present to Christ gifts worthy of a King.

11. And when they (the Magi) had come into the house, they found the little child with Mary His mother, and they bowed down and worshiped Him; then they opened their treasures and presented their gifts to Him - gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11, HBFV)

Nativity scenes, commonly promoted around the time of Christmas, usually show wise men visiting Jesus. Each of the men usually has a hand-held container that has either gold, frankincense, or myrrh within it. Few people, however, question whether what is depicted in a Nativity scene is completely TRUE! Would important wise men from the East travel over 1,000 miles to WORSHIP (not merely honor - see Matthew 2:2) the King of Kings with what amounts to SAMPLES of expensive gifts?

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The Magi were influential members of one of Parthia's two ruling classes. Such dignitaries would have brought FAR MORE of their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh than what three little containers could hold. In his book "The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel . . . Found!," author Stephen Collins states the following regarding the wealth brought to Christ.

"The Wise Men who came to Jesus were not bringing just a few samples of gold and other precious things that they carried in their personal saddlebags . . . This Parthian delegation was offering tribute money to a 'king,' and therefore would more likely have brought a whole train of pack animals LOADED with gold, frankincense and myrrh" (pages 381 - 382)

"The Parthians regarded Jesus as royalty, and it was the ancient custom to give a royal personage a truly worthy gift when coming into his presence. Since the Parthian Magi were directed to Jesus by an angel of God, their sense of awe likely resulted in unusually large gifts being given to Jesus" (page 434)

Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli
Adoration of the Magi
Sandro Botticelli (1465 - 67)

Fleeing the wrath of Herod

Soon after the Magi leave Bethlehem an angel tells Joseph to take his family and flee to the Egyptians because Herod the Great wants their child DEAD (Matthew 2:13 - 15). How did Mary and Joseph, who could only afford at the temple two small animals (Luke 2:24), get the money to travel to Egypt and all the way back to Nazareth (Matthew 2:22 - 23)? They traveled the same dusty roads and incurred the same expenses as anyone else. From Egypt, a journey to Nazareth was at least 106 miles!

Given the family's financial condition, it makes sense that at least some of the treasures received were used to help them flee Herod then return back home. As Jesus' loving TRUE Father in heaven, God made sure that resources were available to help protect the life of his Son and take care of his needs. The Magi helped fulfill the prophecy that Christ would be called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1) and that he would live in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23).

Supporting the family

Did the wealth left by the Magi help Jesus and his family BEYOND his first few years of life? Although not stated directly in the Bible, there is a very REAL possibility it did, based on the few facts we do have.

We know Joseph was alive when, at the age of 12 years old, Jesus went with them to visit the temple (Luke 2:43). The Bible, however, does not mention him again after this event. He is not referenced when Christ left Nazareth to live in Capernaum to begin his public ministry at the age of 30 (Matthew 4:13 - 16). Joseph died when Christ was between the ages of 12 and 30.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was one of SEVEN children, five boys and two girls, that Mary gave birth to (for more information see our article Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?). The natural question is HOW did Mary, as a widow, afford to raise and feed SEVEN children? The majority of families, upon the death of the head of the household, would be thrown in poverty in the same situation. Could it be that the gifts of the wise men were instrumental in sustaining the family after Joseph's death? Stephen Collins writes the following in this regard.

"the Parthian Magi had lavished gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh upon Jesus when they had visited him shortly after his birth . . . Jesus (as the first born son and head of the household after Joseph's death) could have tapped that wealth to provide for his family's needs without having to work as a carpenter." (ibid. page 399)

Financing Jesus' Ministry

Could the wealth of financial support given by the Magi lasted into the ministry of Jesus? Here are some things to consider. There is no hint in the gospels that Christ ever asked for donations to help fund his ministry, even though he and his twelve disciples certainly had expenses. Judas Iscariot carried 'the bag' (John 12:6, 13:29) containing money that paid for the group's expenses. He abused his responsibility, however, by regularly stealing from it (John 12:6). If the group had little or no money, there would be nothing to steal or so little that any theft by Judas would have been easily noticeable.

We also have indications that the group regularly gave money to the poor (John 12:5). In fact, during the Last Supper, when Judas became possessed by the devil and left to betray Jesus, the disciples thought he was leaving to give a donation to the poor from the group (John 13:29). During his ministry, Jesus had enough finances not only to take care of his disciples, but also to give to the less fortunate. A case can be made that the tremendous WEALTH of the Magi helped not only Jesus' family after Joseph's death but also helped fund his public preaching of the gospel!

Additional Study Materials
What is on the Nazareth Stone?
Why did Christ teach in PARABLES?
What does Proverbs teach about wealth?
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The wealth of the Magi