Who were the wise men? If you read the Bible, you see them described in the Book of Daniel. They were also known as the magi, or the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans were priests of Babylon’s chief religion which was based on astrology. In the Book of Daniel, unfolds, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had a dream that terrified him not only because of its disturbing nature, but also because he could not understand it. Not trusting the Chaldeans to accurately tell him what the dream meant, he insisted that they first tell him what his dream had been – and THEN interpret its meaning. And when the Chaldeans couldn’t perform this task, Nebuchadnezzar was outraged. He threatened to have both the Chaldeans and their families executed unless they could describe his dream to him. It was all up to Daniel, the Jewish prophet who had been captured when Babylon had defeated Israel in battle and hauled off to Babylon years before. Miraculously, Daniel was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar what his prophetic dream was and then explain its meaning. Daniel saved the Chaldeans from being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s anger. And they never forgot how Daniel’s Hebrew God had delivered them from otherwise certain death.
One of the things that Daniel told them about was the Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens (see Daniel chapter 9) which precisely prophesied when Messiah would be killed to atone for mankind’s sins. But according to Babylonian legend, he also described to them a star that would appear in the night sky to herald the birth of the coming Messiah of Israel as well.
Daniel lived some six centuries before Jesus was born, but this prophetic sign was embedded into the Chaldeans’ religious beliefs and culture from the time that their deliverer Daniel first told them. So when the Chaldeans saw this prophetic sign in the heavens at the time of Jesus’ birth, they began a journey to the land that the star led them to: to Israel. The star literally led them to the very house where Jesus lived (Matthew 2:9).
In Mathew 2:2, the wise men arrived in Jerusalem after what would have been a dangerous journey of about 800 miles one-way from Babylon and started asking “where is the newborn King of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him.” At that time King Herod was the king of the Jews, and of course the news of the birth of a King made him troubled along with all of Jerusalem. (Mathew 2:3) So he called the wise men into his chamber for a conference. He instructed the wise men to return to him when they found this new born king. Herod told the Chaldeans that he wanted to go and worship Jesus as well, but that was not King Herod’s true intentions. Eventually the magi reached Jesus and worshiped him. Many people believe there were three wise men, but that is only because they brought three gifts with them: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mathew 2:11). They took a new route back to their home country (another 800 miles) because God warned them not to return to King Herod on their way back. (Mathew 2:12).
In actuality, the first “official” Christmas actually took place when Jesus was about two years old. That’s how long it took the Chaldeans to prepare for their long journey, make that journey, and then find Jesus’ home (Matthew 2:7 cf. Matthew 2:16).
King Herod was demonic with anger at the thought of being replaced as king. He asked his leading priests where the messiah was to be born and they told him from the Book of Micah, “In Bethlehem.” He then ordered all children ages two and under in Bethlehem to be murdered and thus kill this coming king as a helpless child. But God had already came to Joseph in a dream and commanded him to take the child and flee from Bethlehem and seek refuge in Egypt. (Mathew 2:13-14). But how were Joseph and Mary to flee? They were extremely poor and would have had no resources to make such a long journey and support themselves when they arrived in Egypt. They never would have been able to afford a trip like this on their own. But don’t forget what the wise men gave Jesus. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold can obviously be used as currency, but the frankincense and myrrh were extremely rare and very expensive. In other words, the wise men gave Jesus and his family a small fortune which made an exodus to Egypt possible. This also fulfilled a prophetic word “I called my Son out of Egypt” (Mathew 2:15).
Christmas is about God’s gift in the form of His Son sent to earth to reconcile sinful man and holy God. It is also a story of divine provision; God takes care of His own and provides for their needs.
Hal Lindsey has a great presentation about this: