STAR OVER BETHLEHEM by Jeff Wingo

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Adoration of the Magi by Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337).


For years the debate has raged about the star of Bethlehem that arose in the night sky above Jerusalem, and brought the wise men to the birth place of the Christ child. Astronomers are apt to say that it was a conjunction between the planets Jupiter and Saturn, or perhaps a comet or a supernova. {1} Others take the story as a “pious fiction created by the author of Matthew.” {2} Of course there are those who say that the star was a UFO and that Jesus was an extraterrestrial being; perhaps that version might be found in The History Channel’s interpretation of the event. In fact, I expect that is exactly what they would say as the Ancient Alien propaganda machine rolls out another retelling of the Christmas story.

However, the Biblical story in Matthew recounts for us the real version of events regardless of what others may try to make out of it. The wise men  saw the new star appear in the Eastern sky, and from that sign they realized the time had come and a new King would be born in Israel.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him (Matthew 2:1-2).

According the Barnes, “The original word here is μάγοι (magoi), from which comes our word magician, now used in a bad sense, but not so in the original. The persons here denoted were philosophers, priests, or astronomers. They lived chiefly in Persia and Arabia. They were the learned men of the Eastern nations devoted to astronomy, to religion, and to medicine. They were held in high esteem by the Persian court, were admitted as counselors, and followed to camps in war to give advise.” {3}

These wise men, the Magoi, were actually Persian kingmakers, and they had come to Jerusalem upon seeing a special star rise in the night sky. But where did the get their information? How did they know this star was a sign that a new king was to be born in Israel and not some other place? God has a way of setting things up.

Since He controls men and nations, and sets up kings and removes them, He naturally had a hand in this to announce to the world, in a very special way, the birth of His Son. Daniel in lions den

The factor that influenced the Magoi was the Prophet Daniel. As you may know, Daniel was very involved in managing the government of ancient Babylon. He served Kings Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, and his regent son Belshazzar; and when the Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon, he also served them as well. In fact, it was while serving Darius the Mede that Daniel was cast into the lion’s den.

Now that one event, plus his life of integrity, placed a great value on Daniel in the eyes of the Magoi (Daniel was one of their own, according the biblical text). I am sure that over the centuries, Daniels writings, and the other texts of the Hebrew prophets were read and studied by the succeeding Magoi. Consider this prophecy from the book of Numbers:

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth (Numbers 24:17).

Although many of the Rabbis attribute this prophecy to David, others like Maimonides said that it applied to both David and the coming Messiah. We see with hindsight and realize that Jesus Christ is called the Morning Star because He alone brought the light of salvation to all mankind (Revelation 22:16). So the star rising out of Jacob naturally applies to the nation of Israel, the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their new King, the promised Messiah.

The scepter of course speaks of kingship, so the Magoi interpreted this correctly that a king would be born, and that his birth would be signified by the rising of a special star. The timing of the event was predicted by Daniel:

375px-Merian's_Daniel_7_engravingKnow therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.  And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined (Daniel 9:25-26).

Messiah the Prince is of course Jesus Christ. The commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem occurred in 445- 444 B.C. when Artaxerxes Longimanus issued a decree to Nehemiah to rebuild the city walls(Neh.2:5-8).  The year is figured on a 360 day year following the custom of the ancient world:

Jewish Calendar

7×7 + 62 x 7 = 483 years x 360 days =173,880 days.

Gregorian Calendar

444 B.C. to A.D.33 =476 years. (There is no year between 1B.C and 1 A.D.). 476 years x 365 days= 173,740 days+116 days leap years+24 days (March 5 through March 30). = 173,880 days.

Either way you figure it the 483 years or 173,880 days both end in 32 or 33 A.D. which is the year of the crucifixion of Christ (depending on whether 445 B.C. or 444 B. C. is the correct year of the decree of Longimanus).

All that the Magoi had to do was subtract 30 years from 33 A. D. to arrive at the birth of the Messiah (30 years being the age of a Jewish priest). Note: According to Sir Robert Anderson in The Coming Prince, Christ entered Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan, a Sunday, (Palm Sunday, 6th of April 32 A.D.).

When the Magoi saw the star and calculated the dates as given, the implication was clear: the prophecy of Daniel was coming to pass and a new king was born in Israel. Now you know why King Herod was so disturbed when the Magoi arrived in Jerusalem; he knew they were Persian kingmakers and had come specifically for that task–to worship the newborn King and to bestow upon him gifts of Royalty: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2: 3).

Consequently Herod inquired of the Jewish priests where the Messiah was to be born, and they immediately turned to the prophet Micah who 500 years before said:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6).

The King was to be born in Bethlehem (the House of Bread by the way); and Herod and all Jerusalem knew that the Magoi were sent as a sign to the nation to announce the birth of the Messiah. When Jesus was rejected some 30 years later, and crucified on Calvary, the Jewish priests would have known these things. They were without excuse.

Crucifition Rembrant Christ was born at the appointed time, just as foretold by the prophets, and signified by a beautiful star over the nation, and the arrival of a caravan of Persian Kingmakers who had come as a result of the star and the fulfillment of the Bible prophecies of Moses and Daniel.

What was Herod’s reaction to the birth of the King? Murder of the innocents; and 30 years later what was the reaction of the Jewish leadership, those who should have known better? Murder through lies, denial, and crucifixion.

In the plan of God Christ shines as the Morning Star, bringing the light of salvation to all who will believe.

But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,  To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Galatians 4:4-7).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
God gave His Son to the world through revelation of the prophetic word, through the sign of a star in the night sky, and in the flesh as a babe in the manger. Receive Christ today, He was born for you, died for you, and arose from the grave for you. And when the time comes He is coming back just as the prophets foretold. The question remains: is He coming back for you?
Thanks for visiting.
Jeff Wingo
HAVE A BLESSED CHRISTMAS!

Endnotes:

1. For instance, see the article at Wikipedia titled “Star of Bethlehem” at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_of_Bethlehem

2. Ibid.

3. Albert Barnes, Notes On The New Testament; Matthew 2:1-2.

4. Daniel in the Lions Den; Daniel’s Answer to the King by Briton Rivière, 1892.

5. Engraving of Daniel’s vision by Matthäus Merian, 1630.

6. See The Coming Prince by Sir Arthur Anderson for a complete exposition and explanation for the calculations; see also John F. Walvoord, Every Prophecy of the Bible (Chariot Victor Publishing, 1990, 1999).

7. Crucifixion scene by Rembrandt.

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