Who Were The Magi?

I’m preaching a series of Christmas sermons at The Donelson Fellowship from Matthew 2, the story of the Wise Men who visited the Holy Family following the birth of Christ. Who were they? Though we have no firm data about them except what we read in Matthew 2, I have a theory. I believe they were a priestly guild from Babylonia who were disciples and followers of the prophet Daniel.

Matthew is the first Gospel. It butts up against the Old Testament. When you read through the Bible and come to the last page of the last book—Malachi—you turn the page and you’re in Matthew. Matthew purposefully links to the Old Testament. It’s like a train car connecting to another with a coupling. One of the characteristics of Matthew’s Gospel is the way he seems to write to a Jewish audience, how he points out the many ways in which Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and came as the Hebrew Messiah. The first chapter of Matthew, for example, is packed with linkages to the Old Testament from the first verse. So Jewish readers, coming to Matthew 2, would already been oriented toward viewing the life of Christ from the perspective of Old Testament prophecy.

What, then, would come to mind when you began reading in chapter 2, about the Wise Men? You’d think of the book of Daniel. The Old Testament prophet Daniel is full of information about Magi and Wise Men; and my theory is that the Magi of Matthew 2 are the intellectual and spiritual descendants of the prophet Daniel who was chief of the Wise Men of Babylon.

Daniel 2:48 says that King Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel the head of all the Wise Men of Babylon.Daniel 5:11 calls him “chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners.”

Daniel had a long and illustrious career–and He had one message. The Messiah is coming! For decades, his writings and prophecies centered around the unfolding of world history and the coming of the Anointed One. He deposited his teachings in the archives of a branch of Magi of ancient Babylon, which, centuries later, were still studying his writings and watching for their fulfillment.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, many of the Jewish people had given up on the coming Messiah. But in the East there were some Wise Men — students of the prophet Daniel — who were still watching and waiting and determined not to miss the greatest event in history.

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