The Fourth Wise Man
Study Guide, December 18, 2016
Pastor Clay Olsen
One of the key features in the Christmas story is the appearance of the Wise Men. Tradition has even given them names. Caspar is old, normally with a white beard, and gives the gold. Melchior is middle-aged, giving frankincense from his native Arabia, and Balthazar is a young man, with myrrh from Saba (the southern area of Yemen).
This is just an added tradition to the story of course. Matthew simply identifies them as ‘Magi’.
Matt 2:1-3- “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” NASU Some have referred to these ‘Magi’ as ‘Kings’, some as ‘Magicians’, since the later word ‘Magician’ grew out of it, and then some identified them as ‘Astronomers’…but the word basically means ‘Wise Scientists’.
But what is really surprising is just how far back the history of the ‘Magi’ goes. In fact, the forerunner of the ‘Magi’ could very well have been the one who gave one of the earliest prophecies of the coming Messiah. Dr. John Walvoord wrote that many believe that the Magi’s comments reflected a knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the “star” that would “come out of Jacob”. Here’s the verse: Num 24:17- “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel…” NASU This was an amazing prophecy of Jesus, the bright and morning Star, who would come as the King of not only Israel, but of all the world. Remember, God had used Balaam, this ‘Seer’ and, in his case, ‘Sorcerer Scientist’, whom the King of the Moabites called to curse Israel, to pronounce blessings upon God’s people instead, which even surprised Balaam himself. But from this unconverted ‘magi’ a prophecy was set into motion that other ‘true prophets’ of God would add to and build upon. And these Messianic prophecies kept adding up until one particular ‘wise man’ recorded one of the most amazing prophecies ever given. And it was this prophecy which our ‘Magi’ of the Christmas story used to determine the time this ‘star from Jacob’, this ‘scepter or ruler of Israel’, was to appear.
So let’s travel back in time from Jesus birth in Bethlehem to ancient Babylon and Persia, where we find that one particular group was among the highest ranking officials in Babylon and later Persia. And they were ‘the magi’, the ‘wise men’, the scholars and such. You know the story: Dan 2:1-2- “In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams by which his spirit was troubled and agitated and his sleep went from him. Then the king commanded to call the magicians, the enchanters or soothsayers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans [diviners], to tell the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king.” AMP And, of course, none of them could interpret the dream. But there was one ‘wise man’, one true ‘diviner’ who intimately knew the Divine One, and so he could interpret the dream. And after this he was promoted as the chief governor of the region. Dan 2:48- “Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect (governor) over all the ‘wise men’ of Babylon.” NASU And as Barnes Commentary states: “The phrase “chief of the governors” would seem to imply that the magi of Babylon were disposed in certain orders or classes.” Which means that Daniel’s three friends were also identified as belonging to this order of the Babylonian magi.
And so the Magi that we know from the Christmas account were also very familiar with this ‘Magi’, this ‘Wise Man’ of Daniel, because every indication we have from both the Scriptures and from history point to the fact that the chief reason that they were aware that this was the time for this ‘Star of Jacob’ and ‘Scepter of Israel’ to appear on Earth was because of what Daniel had foretold and recorded about the timing of the coming Messiah.
It’s as Dr. David Jeremiah pointed out, that Daniel, the forerunner of these Magi from Persia, lived a long life and was still active in the days into the Persian Empire. His writings were full of Messianic prophecies which had been deposited in the libraries of Babylon and Persia, and we can assume the Magi were familiar with these writings and were looking for the Savior that Daniel described as “Messiah the Prince” who would come at a specific time and then be ‘cut off, but not for Himself.” These Magi were looking for the ‘Rock cut out of a mountain, but not with human hands’, as Daniel described Jesus Christ.1
And it’s as Dr. John MacArthur pointed out, that it’s because of Daniel’s high position and great respect, it seems certain that the magi learned much from this prophet about the one true God, the God of Israel, and about His will and plans for His people through the coming glorious King. And because many Jews remained in Babylon after the Exile and intermarried with the people of the east, it is likely that Jewish messianic influence remained strong in that region even until New Testament times. They appear to be among the many God-fearing Gentiles who lived at the time of Christ.2
So when you think of the ones that we call the ‘Three Kings’, the ‘Magi’, the ‘Wise Men’, think also of the fourth wise man, Daniel. For he gave the prophecy that no doubt set the ‘Wise Men’ off to start looking for the appearance of the ‘Star of Jacob’, even before they saw His star in the East. And what was that prophecy? Dan 9:25-27- “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” NASU
This prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel is like the culmination of the other Old Testament prophecies in that it gives the timing of the very coming Messiah and even the timing of His death. No doubt it was this prophecy that Jesus referred to later when He said this in Luke 19:44- “…and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” NASU God had given the Israelites not only prophecies about the Messiah’s coming, but even a time-line for them to follow. But many of the Jewish leaders had been paying more attention to their traditions than to the Scriptures, therefore, leading the people astray and not even recognizing the timing of the Messiah’s visitation. The Scriptures even indicate that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and started asking about where the Messiah had been born they must have been a little shocked that no one seemed to know what they were talking about. Like, “But you are called ‘the people of the Book’. Haven’t you been paying attention to what your prophet Daniel said?”
How strange, huh, that gentile scientists from over 600 miles from Jerusalem had been paying more attention to the Scriptures than the Priests and Scribes and other leaders of Israel. And what a warning to everyone in all times to do as 2 Tim 2:15 exhorts us to do: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” KJV
This term ‘Weeks of Years’ was a common Jewish term. It literally meant seven years. And Daniel revealed that at the precise point in history when the 7 plus 62 weeks of years happens then Israel could expect the Anointed One to announce Himself as Messiah. God gave them and all the world this time-line so that none would miss the time of His visitation. Now notice this: the countdown to Jesus coming, to His first advent, began with the issue of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. History records that this prophetic countdown began when the Medo-Persian King Artaxerxes issued this decree on March 14, 445 B.C. and it concluded in the year 32 A.D. on April 6. One important note is that this dating is by the Jewish or Solar calendar, and thus the numbers are a bit different for calculating this. But it works out precisely. But going on: There were two official presentations of Jesus as the Messiah: one was at His baptism and the other was in His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which was also a fulfillment of another prophecy of Zech 9:9- “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” NASU And that prophecy joined to fulfill Daniel’s prophecy in the year 32 A.D. on April 6 when Jesus entered Jerusalem through the east gate.3
All Israel had to do was to count the years of Daniel’s prophecy and they would have recognized the time of the Messiah’s visitation. But they missed it. And yet, as strange as that is that they missed it is the fact that people the world over are still missing it today. It’s right there in the pages of fulfilled prophecy and of world history, but people are still missing it. How can that be? Times change, but human nature does not. Many people today are just like those of Jesus’ day when He said to them in Matt 13:14-15- “So they show that what Isaiah said about them is true: ‘You people will listen and listen, but you will not understand. You will look and look, but you will not really see. Yes, the minds of these people are now closed. They have ears, but they don’t listen. They have eyes, but they refuse to see. If their minds were not closed, they might see with their eyes; they might hear with their ears; they might understand with their minds. Then they might turn back to Me and be healed.’ ERV
How about that? This shows us that when we pray for the lost we need to pray that they will not only come to see and hear the truth, but that they will be willing to truly look for it and willing to truly listen for it when they do see and hear it. For, you see, this ‘willingness’ to look for the truth and this ‘willingness’ to listen for it and this ‘willingness’ to then follow the truth when you find it is what determines who truly is a wise man or a wise woman.
But again, from Daniel’s prophecy these Magi, these Wise Men knew that they were living in the days when this prophecy was about to be fulfilled. And when this Star of Jacob appeared in the east they were ready to travel to find the Messiah and to worship Him. And it also seems evident that they knew about another prophecy concerning the Messiah, because they seem to have understood something of what Daniel meant when he said the Messiah would suddenly be ‘cut off’ or ‘killed’. And they would have discovered the meaning of this from Isaiah’s writings when he wrote of the Messiah: Isa 53:5-6- “But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.
We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.” Holman Bible
It’s pretty clear that they knew of this sacrificial nature of the Messiah’s mission for the atonement or for the covering of our sins. Just think about it: What did they bring as gifts? One gift, that of gold, was in recognition of His royalty as the King of kings. But the other two gifts were in honor of the substitutionary life and death ahead of Him on behalf of us all. Frankincense was used in connection with the sacrificial offering system of the Israelites. It was also used by the High Priests in their intercessory work. Amazingly enough, Jesus was both our Great High Priest and our sacrificial offering. And myrrh was used in embalming bodies for burial preparation. So even these gifts themselves represented how much these Magi from the east understood about the Messiah King and His mission. No wonder they worshiped Him! And no wonder we call them ‘the Wise Men’.
So the thing is, one of the reasons these Magi were so wise is because they gave themselves to the study of the Scriptures, like from another ‘wise man’ and ‘Magi’, Daniel. And these Scriptures are given to make us wise as well. These Magi understood that these amazing prophecies of the Old Testament were about to be fulfilled in the coming Messiah. And we are to understand that all the rest of God’s amazing prophecies are about to be fulfilled in the second coming of our Messiah. And just like knowing this about Jesus’ first coming caused them to prepare for it, knowing what we know about Jesus’ second coming is to cause us to prepare for that every day, and to help others get ready for our King’s return. And actually, we are to also be presenting our gifts to Him every day; our gifts of praise in worship, and priestly intercession, and sacrificial service, which, by the way, are our gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
- Dr. David Jeremiah, Turning Points: Follow the Star, 30th Anniversary Magazine, pp. 18,19
- Dr. John MacArthur, www.gty.org, How Did the Magi Know About Jesus?
- The Three Wise Men Who Came To Worship Jesus, www.cuttingedge.org/Magi_70 Weeks_Prophecy.htm