When did they come?
Some friends were recently questioning why I chose to move to St. Philip. And after listing the more popular people who reside in the East and referring to them as wise men, one of my friends casually said: “They didn’t go to the east, they came from the east so you foolish for going up there”.
But this led to an exhaustive conversation on the Wise Men, their names Casper, Melchior and Balthasar; and more so, when they came to see Jesus.
Most versions of the Christmas story – especially as seen in movies, church plays, and nativity scenes – usually show Three Wise Men at the manger with Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, and the shepherds. But this doesn’t hold weight with the Biblical account of how that night unfolded.
Some argue there is no indication as to when the Wise Men came — it could have been that night, but it could have been some time afterwards. While we don’t have a specific time or place I do not believe it was that same night. Here is where we read between the lines and arrive at an answer, which is some time afterward.
First, there is the plain implication that the star they followed did not appear until Jesus’ birth, and they had a long journey on animals, not in a Corolla or Land Rover. The account does not deny the possibility of the star appearing prior to His birth — say, at His conception, thus giving them nine months to make the journey — but that is not the implication.
Second, the Wise Men went first to Herod’s castle, and while the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is not great, it is unlikely that after arriving at Jerusalem to meet the King of the Jews, and having a conference with Herod, most likely a long, formal affair, they would have time to run down to Bethlehem all in the same night.
Third, Jesus’ birth is plainly told to be in a stable, yet when the Wise Men get there, the family is in a house, and He is said to be a “child”, not a “baby”, wrapped in swaddling bands. While you may appreciate the speed at which Joseph would want secure proper lodgings in Bethlehem, it is unlikely that if there were no rooms at the inn, that a house would suddenly be vacant that night or even the next morning.
But these are all inferences. The real proof is comparing the Biblical accounts with each other. The history becomes apparent: Jesus was born; on the eighth day He was circumcised; on the 40th day He was presented at the Temple; the next account of Him that we can be sure of his age is when He was 12 and went to Jerusalem to the Feast of the Passover; then “when He was about 30 years old” He began His gospel ministry.
Where do the Wise Men fit in? Well, let’s look at what is said about their visit. They arrive some time after His birth, after seeing Herod and being told to go back to report to him where the King of the Jews is, so that he could kill Him. They see Jesus, give Him the precious gifts, and return home without going to see Herod.
The night they saw Jesus, they were warned not to go back to Jerusalem. Some time after that, maybe the same night, Joseph was warned in a dream to leave Israel, so he fled with his family to Egypt. He didn’t come back until after the slaughter of the boys — who were aged two and under, which indicates that the Wise Men were not looking for a newborn. Not until after Herod died and his son reigned in his stead did Joseph return to Israel.
So, Joseph and family must have been in Israel when Jesus was eight days and also 40 days old. It is possible but not probable that the entire preceding scenario – from the Wise Men’s visit to Herod until his death, and from Joseph’s fleeing to Egypt and returning — was within the space of less than 32 days. Highly improbable.
Since Herod killed all the males from two years old and under, this account took place when Jesus was less than two years old. Therefore, the Wise Men came to see Jesus sometime between when He was 40 days old and two years old. Not at the stable, but at the house; and not as a baby, but as a young child.