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Daniel's Magi Follow a Star

The Magi were an ancient sect of priestly scholars. Their religion is known as Zoroastrianism and was founded in Persia. It is a monotheistic religion and is still practiced today making it one of the oldest surviving religions in the world. The word magic is derived from the word Magi. They were versed in the sciences such as they existed in ancient times. They worked with chemicals or alchemy, astronomy/astrology, dream and vision interpretations, mathematics, political advice, military tactics, practitioners in the medical arts, philosophy and history. Those considered the best often found highly respected paid positions in the courts of kings. Thus, they are sometimes referred to as wise men and sometimes as kings due to their great wealth and political power. We first hear in Scripture of the term Magi in the Book of Daniel.

Statue King Nebuchadnezzar Saw in Dream 

King Nebuchadnezzar had a staff of Magi known as consorts to the king to assist him with various tasks including dream interpretation. The King had conquered Judah in 602 B.C. and, at that time, he took the best and brightest of its citizens back to Babylon in order to relocate and assimilate them into Babylonian society. It was common for a king to bring back highly educated and wealthy citizens from a conquered nation in the hope of increasing his kingdom’s intelligentsia. These individuals would be given new names, taught the country’s language and customs, provided with housing, food and a salary from the King. In return, they would be required to provide staff with new and better ways of carrying out administrative duties, problem solving, general education opportunities for the public and entrepreneurial ideas to help grow the economy. One of these people chosen to return to Babylon was a promising teenager named Daniel.

Daniel was already recognized in Judea as a child prodigy thus, he was one of 3,000 Jews taken to Babylon. The King was so impressed with Daniel’s abilities at dream interpretation that he appointed him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and Chief Administrator over all the Magi of his court (Daniel 2:48).

Daniel Chief of the Magi

Daniel was a very devout Jew with a strong faith in God. And God in return rewarded Daniel with many visions, dreams and prophecies concerning the Age of the Gentiles and the end of the age of human government. In fact, Daniel’s book is so singularly focused on prophecies concerning the gentile world, the Jews did not classify it as a book of prophecy but instead as a book of history. Daniel’s faith in God was so strong that it would be incredulous to think that he did not radically change the Magi’s understanding of the One True God verses the Babylonian pantheon of gods. He, without a doubt, taught the Magi of Babylon that the Jews were God’s chosen people and that Judah was their God given land. Finally, he would have both taught and written down his prophecies including the future appearance of a Messiah that would eventually appear in Judah and one day rule the entire earth.

In the Book of Daniel, He wrote that the Messiah would come out of the tribe of Judah. He would appear in Judea 490 years after the decree was given to rebuild the protective walls of Jerusalem and that the heavens would announce His royal birth. He also wrote that 483 years after the decree, the Messiah would be “cut off {killed} appearing to have accomplished nothing” (Daniel 9:26). There is absolutely no doubt that all the Magi that came after Daniel would have read and regarded his prophecies to be absolutely trustworthy. In fact, the pagan Magi of Babylon were apparently counting off the 490 years since the decree by Cyrus King of Babylon, to allow the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The Magi were patiently waiting for a sign of the Messiah’s appearance in Judah while the Jews of Judea were hardly aware of the Star overhead much less counting off the 490 year prophecy of their own prophet Daniel (Luke 19:41-42).

In October of 539 B.C., the Persian King Cyrus defeated Babylon. His empire now stretched over present day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. At that time, King Cyrus was shown probably by Daniel, a prophecy concerning him by name in the Book of Isaiah written 150 years before his birth! The prophet predicted a man by the name of Cyrus would help the Jews as part of God’s plan (Isaiah 45:1-25). Needless to say, Cyrus was astounded and immediately released all the Jews of Babylonia to return to Judah after a 70-year exile as prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10). But, because many of the Jews at that time had been born, worked jobs and retired in Babylon, the majority now considered the country their new home. Therefore, the majority stayed in Babylon including Daniel.

Daniel Stays In Babylon

However, a small contingency went back to Judah to rebuild it from its ruined state. Daniel, now in his late eighties, decided to stay in Babylon probably due to health issues and the fact that life would be very hard and dangerous in Jerusalem for many years during the reconstruction phase. We may assume that Daniel continued in his position as Chief of the Magi until his death. This would mean that the Magi of Babylon would have had the advantage of not only having copies of the Old Testament to study but additionally, they had copies of Daniel’s divine knowledge and his prophesies concerning future events in Judah. The religious leaders of Judah in the time of Jesus had apparently lost count or simply did not care about the 490-year clock concerning the arrival of their Messiah. But God and the gentile Magi of Babylon had not lost count. And God was now ready to put a sign in the night sky that the whole world would be able to see both then and now (Matthew 2:1-12).

The Star As Seen From Babylon Looking To the West

On June the 17th 2B.C. the Magi of Babylon saw in the western night sky over the land of Judah what was then known as two Wandering Stars. They were actually the planet Venus accompanied by the planet Jupiter. They retrograded or swung past each other an incredible three times before they ultimately came together or conjoined in the constellation of Leo the Lion of Judah, forming the brightest star that had ever been seen in recorded history. And, the paw of the Lion was on the head of Hydra the serpent. By the Magi’s count, they understood that it had only been 450 years since the decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and not the prophesied 490 years. But they still decided to go ahead and travel to the land of Judah to pay honor to the new born king. This can only mean that they concluded that the missing 40 years must be the maturation time necessary before this prince could ascend to His throne as King of the Jews. Thus, the Star must be signifying His birth (Daniel 9:24-27). Please see related, "The Actual Star of Bethlehem Revealed"

Guards Toss Dice For Jesus' Robe

Here is how the Magi mathematically reckoned the Star event. First, they took the appearance of the Star as an astrological announcement by the God of Daniel that the King of the World had been born. Only 450 years had passed since the decree by Cyrus to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. They knew that Daniel prophesied that the King would be “cut off” or killed 7 years before the 490th year or in year 483. So, the difference between the attained 450 years plus the 7 years that the King was “cut off” meant that the King would assume His throne at the age of thirty-three. This was in fact the exact age of Jesus when He was crucified. Jesus was well aware of this timeline, the Jews blindness to this prophecy and His arrival. This lack of faith in their God is what caused Him to literally weep over His people and the coming destruction of the nation (Luke 19: 41-42).

Mathematically speaking it adds up like this: 450 years had passed since the decree to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem by King Cyrus not the 1st decree to rebuild the actual city. The Magi allowed an extra 33 years during which time the child would grow into a man and be coronated King. They then allowed an additional 7 years for the time He, “will be cut off”. This was a time period that Daniel did not explain but today is known as the Tribulation Period. This period was symbolically revealed to the Jews when God ordained the Feast of Yom Kipper or the Day of Atonement for repentance for their sins. This made a total of 490 years which in turn meant that the Star conjunction they were witnessing was in fact heralding the birth of Daniel’s Messiah (Daniel 9:25-27).

Jesus' Triumphant Entry Sunday March 28th. He will be Crucified five days later on Friday April 3rd, 33 A.D.

The Magi had in fact made the correct assumptions. Jesus did enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, five days before His crucifixion which occurred on Friday, April 3rd, 33 A.D. and He was 33 years old. He would have turned 34 on His birth date of June 17th.  It had been exactly 483 years since the decree by King Cyrus giving permission for the people of Judah to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem even though the Jews had not kept count (Luke 19:44). And, as Daniel correctly prophesied, Jesus the Messiah was “…cut off” or put to death in year 483 (Daniel 9:26). The 490-year clock was stopped with Jesus’ crucifixion in year 483. The last remaining 7 years will be fulfilled during the tribulation period which will directly affect Israel. Please see related, "Three Days and Three Nights In A Tomb".

This tribulation period is also known as Jacob’s trouble in that it is primarily focused on the Jews both in Israel and throughout the world (Jeremiah 30:4-10; Matthew 24: 15-31). In the Book of Genesis, Jacob struggled with God all night, and with the rising sun, demanded that God give him a blessing. This was when God changed his name from Jacob or deceiver to Israel (Genesis 32: 22-32). During the tribulation period, the unrepentant Jews and gentiles of Israel and the world will experience a series of extreme social, military, epidemiological, meteorological and geological upheavals. God is giving all the people of the world one last period of time to repent of their sins. They can either, accept the reality that there is a God, repent of their sins and be saved, or continue to remain self-reliant, unrepentant, unrighteous and suffer the consequences of their own making (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15-22).

When the Magi saw the wandering stars converge to make one massive bright star over Judah, they knew for certain that the prophesied King of the Jews and the world must have been born. If all the Magi involved in the journey resided in Babylon, they would have immediately made plans to follow the Star to an undetermined location in Judah. However, Matthew says that the Magi came from “up-aim places” or from several locations in the East. Therefore, there must have been more than just three Magi that made the trip. You have the Magi of Daniel from the court of Babylon now being joined by the Magi from other courts that would have wanted to make the journey (Matthew 2:1). So, the Magi were most probably a collection of scholars from various other provinces or kingdoms. Notifications would have been sent to colleagues concerning the astronomical event and the upcoming journey to meet the newborn King. This would be a 900 mile trip and it would make sense for both economic and safety reasons to travel in a group.

Interestingly, a coin from the very early first century, was recently unearthed at an archeological dig in Afghanistan. The coin clearly depicts the Afghan King Azes II of Bactria riding a horse and following a star. This may further suggest that the Magi of various kingdoms kept in touch with each other concerning new discoveries, astronomical events and travel plans.

Because the Babylonian Magi were part of the King’s royal court, they were well staffed and had generous resources available to them. They would have reported to their King the meaning of the Star event and requested leave to go, “…seek the one born king of the Jews and to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). The King would have created letters of introduction ensuring safe passage from one province to the next. He might also use this trip as an opportunity to deliver documents to be reviewed concerning state affairs. It was also customary at these times for rulers to give and receive gifts from one another. Interestingly, traditional offerings to a king or deity usually included gold which represented power, frankincense which represented praise or honor and myrrh which represented good health and long life. The Magi of the various courts would visit and allot time to exchange ideas with foreign court staff on a variety of subjects. It was what we would call today a sabbatical.

In order to reach Judah, the Magi would need to come out of the East and travel due West. Unfortunately, they could not travel in a direct route as it would take them through the heart of the Arabian and Syrian deserts which were formidable and deadly any time of year, but especially during the summer months of June through September. Going around these deserts was the only way to proceed even though it would take twice as long to reach Judah. Biblical scholars believe that the average daily length of travel in the first century was approximately seventeen miles. The Magi with a large entourage would travel perhaps fifteen miles each day. They would make many stops at the various kingdoms they would pass through. Messengers would be sent ahead of the large caravan to announce their arrival. Ceremonies, celebrations and feasts would be held in their honor with gifts, communique and information being exchanged. If the Magi traveled 15 miles per day and 20 days per month, allowing time for visits, it would have taken them approximately three months to complete the nine hundred mile journey from Babylon to Bethlehem. They would have waited until after the extraordinarily hot summer months of July and August and left in late September. This timeline would have them arriving in Bethlehem in late December. Does that date ring a bell?

By this time, the Star, or two conjoined planets, had separated and continued in their usual orbits around the sun. Now, the Magi were following only Jupiter (King planet) as it was acting in a very unusual manner. It retrograded not one or two times, but an astounding three times. A retrograde is when a Wondering Star or planet, moves in one direction then suddenly stops and moves in the opposite direction. Jupiter did this the first time in late October and again in late November. Then, just as they had arrived in Jerusalem to meet with King Herod, Jupiter retrograded a third and final time and stopped directly over Jerusalem. Today, through the science of astronomy, we can now identify this date as December 25th of 2B.C. It was then that Herod's religious advisors told him and the Magi of a prophecy by Micha that named the birth city of the coming Messiah as Bethlehem located four miles south of Jerusalem (Micah 5:2).

Magi Caravan Depart Late Sept. 2 B.C. Following a Star in the West

One might assume that the Magi would have been more in a hurry get to Jerusalem, right?  After all it was Jesus, the Son of God they were going to see so why drag out the trip?  Here’s why.  First, the Magi assumed rightly that the child was born when the Star appeared at its brightest or zenith on June 17th, 2 B.C. They never intended to be there as the child was actually being born. How could they have possibly accomplished that? They could only have known when to start their journey after they saw the two stars or planets converge. Second, their expensive trip had to be approved and sponsored by the King who would have business to be conducted on behalf of the kingdom. All of the trip’s necessary manpower, supplies and documents had to be generated, organized, purchased and packed. Today we would call it a business trip paid for by the company. Third, the Magi were wined and dined at many stops. It would have been a cultural insult not to stop and be a part of the celebrations to honor them, their King and their country. And finally, the Magi were just not in a big hurry. The goal was simply to make the nine hundred mile trip safely, pay homage to Herod the King of Judah, find the child, present gifts for the child to His parents, stay a few days and then return home their mission accomplished.

Magi Arrive In Bethlehem 6 months after Jesus' birth. Star/Jupiter Overhead- Dec 25th, 2B.C.

The trip took approximately three months to reach Judah and another three months to return home to Babylon. Their royal entourage consisted of personal assistants, guards, servants, horses, camels, donkeys, provisions and large tents to set up and take down each day while on the road. This was not three lone men riding on camels. This was a royal entourage as would befit a group of highly respected Magi who were in the service of the most powerful King and nation on the earth. Finally, the Magi could not have possibly comprehended the full scope of just who exactly Jesus was. Even Jesus’ parents, His siblings, His hometown, His disciples, the religious leaders and the population of Judah did not realize who He was and the full scope of His mission. It actually took Paul to explain to the apostles and the growing church movement who Jesus was and fully reveal the mystery of what He had done on behalf of all of mankind (Ephesians 3:1-12).

The Magi only knew as much about the prophesied Messiah as the average rabbi knew. He was to be born in Bethlehem from the lineage of King David, rise to fame, experience a brief setback but recover and become the new King David and ruler of Judah. To meet the future King of Judah that Daniel had prophesied of 550 years earlier was a thrill in and of itself. They absolutely did not expect to see a God-Man who would be the salvation of both them and all mankind.

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