Last Sunday (9th January) was known in some church traditions as Epiphany Sunday. This tradition celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem to worship the child Jesus. You can read the entire account in Matthew 2, and although I won’t post the entire text in this post, I may refer to particular verses of interest.
If you do read the entire chapter, then there are a few points you might notice…
First of all, despite the traditional nativity scene, it is unlikely the Magi arrived at the same time as the Shepherds and while the baby Jesus was in the manger. Epiphany is celebrated slightly after Christmas to denote that actually it isn’t really known how long afterwards they arrived.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men.Matthew 2:16 (WEB)
Verse 16 suggests it could have been up to two years later that the men from the east arrived.
You are likely familiar with the Christmas carol entitled “Three Kings,” but is this biblically accurate?
For instance, does Matthew tell us that there were three of these so-called kings?
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.Matthew 2:1-3
Verse one does not say “three” at all, but rather “some.” It is not clear from this how many Magi came along. Tradition has grown up that there were three of them because of the three gifts that they brought. There were other suggestions too, and I do not think you can know for certain. It may be that there were three leaders, but I put it to you that the text alone implies far more than three simple men on camels!
Verse three tells us that King Herod was troubled by their arrival, and we will explore why in a moment, but he was not alone in feeling troubled. Verse three also states that he was troubled and “all Jerusalem with him.” While Jerusalem would have been somewhat different to how we know it today, even then it would not have been too concerned by the arrival of three men. It is likely, in my mind at least, that they came with a rather large caravan and something notable to set the wheels of gossip turning.
Were they kings?
Again, the text makes no mention of these travellers from the east being royal. Rather they are described as wise men or Magi. The word “Magi” is where we get our word “magician” from, and when we think of them, we should picture the wise men and scholars as depicted in the book of Daniel. In fact, I once read that Daniel may have begun the very group of Magi who were looking for the signs in the heavens that would tell them when Messiah was to be born… but I am not sure if such a claim can be verified.
So not three kings then, nor kings at all. If you look at the text carefully, then there are two people named as “kings.”
- King Herod – mentioned in verse one
- King of the Jews, i.e. Jesus – mentioned in verse two
There were not three kings, but only two in reality. Or were there?
Why was King Herod so bothered by the birth of a baby in the little town of Bethlehem? (Bethlehem meaning House of Bread, in case it ever comes up!)
Herod was deeply troubled by this news because he was no king at all. He was not part of the Davidic line, and so had no birth right to the throne. Instead, he had been placed there by the Roman rule to govern the nation. He did some good things for the people, but was known for being somewhat paranoid and even had his wife and children murdered because he thought they threatened his position.
We see the depths of his wickedness as he has all the baby boys in the area killed as a way of trying to rid himself of this Boy King. See verse 16 above.
We started with three kings, then reduced that to only two, and now only One remains. The baby in the manger. Arguably the least kingly of them all.
Others may claim kingship, but there is but One true King. And His name is Jesus. He is the Son, and Eternal Word of God. He came to live on this earth with us, and was born as a vulnerable baby in a cave (most likely). He lived a perfect, sinless life and was betrayed, tortured and executed having committed no crime. Jesus did this to pay the penalty for our sin. He was buried (in another cave) but death could not hold Him. On the third day, He rose again to new life, appearing to His friends and disciples. He later ascended into heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. One day, He will return.
All who put their trust in Jesus need not pay the penalty for their own sin. They can rest of His mercy and accept that He has done it all for us.
Do not delay, make a choice for Him today.