If you have a Christmas nativity scene, it may be incorrect. Usually, such a scene shows what we call the wisemen. The story behind it is generally accepted to men who traveled a great distance following a star and eventually came to worship baby Jesus in the manger.
That is not biblically nor historically accurate. When the wisemen arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus was somewhere around two years old living in a house with Mary and Joseph, not still in a manger.
It is magnificent how God uses normal and natural things to make things happen. Astronomers tell us that around the time Jesus was born Saturn and Jupiter converged making a giant star.
The wisemen brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to honor the infant King Jesus. Was it just a fluke that they brought those expensive gifts or was there a divine purpose? Later in the story, King Herod intended to kill the babies two years and younger, but the angel told Joseph to escape into Egypt. It was profoundly planned by God that the family would have these gifts as a means to support themselves in Egypt.
King Herod was not only insecure, but he was also paranoid. History tells us that he killed members of his own family to protect his place on the throne. When the wise men first came to Herod informing him that a Jewish king was born, he lied claiming that he also wanted to come so he could worship baby Jesus. When he discovered that the wisemen deceived him by not returning with their information for the whereabouts of Jesus because they were told by an angel to go home a different way, he became furious. Herod proclaimed that the infants of that age should be put to death. This was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15.
To answer the question for the identity of these wise men we must go further back in history. A man named Zarathustra was born in Iran thousands of years ago. At the age of twenty, Zarathustra retreated into the mountains to be alone seeking an unknown God. Ten years later he returned to his people declaring that there was one true God. He faced ridicule and imprisonment, but eventually gained followers. His teachings became known as Zoroastrianism. His main belief was, “Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.” He taught that mankind had free will to serve God and eventually be rewarded in eternity. Fire was sacred to them. It was used for purification rituals.
At one time Zoroastrianism was a leading religion in ancient Iran. They maintained rituals vitally important along with purification ceremonies. The ceremonies were performed by priests who also officiated prayers. The name they believed was God came to be known as Ahura Mazda. The name of the place of worship was called the Fire Temple. The priest did not preach or teach. Instead, he tended to the sacred fire, offering prayer and sacrifice. Some of the sacrifices were the sacred liquid plus bread and milk which replaced the former offerings of meat or animal fat. A specific order of the priests became known as Magi. This term was applied to a class of wise men or astrologers who interpret dreams and messages of the gods.
The priests were apparently very intelligent practicing their knowledge of science, theology, and astrology. Their belief was that a star would suddenly appear in the sky to mark the birth of a king. That initiated their journey to Bethlehem. Probably more than three wise men came on the trip. Their journey took many months from Iran to Bethlehem. Our book of the Gospel of Matthew reports the lineage of Joseph from King David while Luke reports that lineage of Mary. The virgin birth of Jesus is the most essential doctrine underlying his deity and Christian theology. Among other Bible verses concerning the prophecy of Jesus’ birth is found in Isaiah 9:6 and Micah 5: 2.
As a result of the Iranian revolution in 1979, Zoroastrianism was persecuted and eventually driven out of Iran to such areas as India. For many hundreds of years from its conception to modern times, the teachings of Zoroastrianism bears similarities to Christian theology, but they have no Savior who died for their sins. The Magi acted as royal chaplains who travelled with important delegations such as military or diplomatic missions. Today it is estimated that there are only 115,000 all over the world who profess to be members of Zoroastrianism.
To summarize, there were men called Magi who were highly intelligent in science and astrology. They had a great influence on kings such as Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes. These were praised in the Bible for being in a position they were used by God. Since the Magi had a belief that a star would appear if the King was born, they felt it necessary to do homage to that King and bring gifts to him. They traveled a long distance from Iran to Bethlehem. When they arrived at the home (not manger) where was Jesus, they presented expensive gifts. Those gifts provided the money needed to flee to Egypt when Herod killed babies. It would be a worthy read to search out more information about Zoroastrianism. Even when Jesus was very young, Gentiles (the Magi) paid homage to him.
The Christmas season has many lessons. God was intent to provide a means of salvation to mankind. God used natural means such as Jupiter and Saturn to create the star appearance. Non-Jews were instrumental in God’s plan for his son. Satan and evil men might try to flaunt God’s plans, but it will be to no avail. As you approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, keep the Magi in mind as an example for how God works. That example also includes the testimony for how God will work for you.