Everyone knows that three wise men visited the baby Jesus, or did they?
From Christmas decorations to hymns, there are countless references to three men from the east who came bearing gifts.
Who were these men, what did they bring, and were there actually three of them?
Read on to learn the facts about the three wise men.
Did three wise men visit Jesus?
There’s no better place to start our research than the Christian holy book, the Bible. Mathew and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ birth, but only Matthew details the visit of the wise men or magi.
It begins with the wise men from the east journeying to Jerusalem to see baby Jesus.
Recall that Mary and her husband, Joseph, were in Bethlehem following a new tax order.
Experts say the wise men were astrologers. They spotted a star in the sky that told them a new king had been born, which led them to baby Jesus.
The news of a newborn king couldn’t be hidden for much longer, and word eventually got out to King Herod. To him, this meant he would lose his throne soon.
King Herod set up a team of priests and teachers to determine where the new king would be born. They dug through records and prophecies and figured out it would be in Bethlehem.
With this information, King Herod struck a deal with the wise men.
They would go ahead to see the baby and return to Jesus’ exact location so that he could worship the new king too.
This was a lie, of course, as no king would be that excited to greet their successor.
Notice anything about this tale? There’s no mention of how large the group of wise men was.
The Bible calls them “wise men” or “magi,” depending on your version. If the source material doesn’t tell us how many wise men visited Jesus, why does everyone say three? The gifts!
When the wise men finally got to see the baby Jesus, they presented him with three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Most assume there were three visitors, but we can’t be sure since there’s no exact record supporting this.
Some traditions believe in there being more than three wise men. After all, while there were three gifts, more men could put resources together to get them.
Early Eastern Christian traditions say there were 12 magi.
What are the names of the wise men?
Flip through the Bible from start to finish, and you won’t find the wise men’s names.
Luckily, traditions passed down for generations tell us who they were.
There’s Gaspar from India, Melchior from Persia, and Balthazar from Arabia.
Names from other legends include Hormizdadh, Izgarad, Perozadh, Tanisuram, Maliko, and Zesesba.
What did the gifts from the wise men symbolize?
The magi brought gifts with prophetic significance.
Gold symbolizes Jesus’ royal status among the Jews. It was used to represent God and all things holy, such as the ark of the covenant, making it a fitting present for the son of God.
Frankincense holds a special place in Christian and Jewish worship. It’s an aromatic resin obtained from the bark of certain trees and burned on altars during religious ceremonies.
It represents Jesus’ divine nature.
Lastly, myrrh, an aromatic tree spice, signifies Jesus’ mortality. It was an essential ingredient in the traditional burial ritual.
What happened to the wise men?
Recall that the wise men struck a deal with King Herod at the start of their journey.
As expected, King Herod’s intentions were not pure, as he looked to harm the new baby who threatened his throne.
According to Mathew’s account, the magi got a warning of the king’s plans, so they took a different way home.
Joseph, Mary’s husband, also got wind of the threat from an angel in a dream, so he took his family to Egypt.
This kept them safe from King Herod’s reach.
Wise men, kings, or magi, we know they were gift-bearing visitors who found baby Jesus by following the star of Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t specify if they were three, two, or twelve men.
On the bright side, they came with three treasures symbolic of Jesus’ origin and life.
Therefore, they’ll remain a core part of Christmas celebrations.