Meet the Three Kings - Wise Men From the East

Does the Bible name the three kings who visited Jesus?

Three Kings
Three Wise Men.

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The Three Kings, or Magi, are mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12. Few details are given about these men in the Bible, and most of our ideas about them actually come from tradition or speculation. Scripture does not say how many wise men there were, but it is generally assumed there were three since they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Three Kings

  • The Magi were both real and symbolic. As real men, the three kings confirmed ancient prophecies about Jesus being the Messiah, and as symbols, they showed that he came to save all people, rich and poor, learned or unschooled, from anywhere in the world. These wealthy travelers were on the opposite end of the social and economic scale as the shepherds who had visited Jesus right after his birth.
  • Many characters in Scripture go unnamed. They all point to Jesus Christ, the manifestation of God's love for the human race. The Bible is a book about Jesus.
  • There is a message in the title "Wise Men." Wise people acknowledge their need for a Savior and seek to find him. Foolish people, like Herod the Great, reject Jesus and even seek to destroy him.

The three Kings recognized Jesus Christ as the Messiah while he was still a child, and traveled thousands of miles to worship him. Matthew says only that these visitors came from "the east." Scholars have speculated that they came from Persia, Arabia, or even India.

They doggedly followed a star that led them to Jesus. By the time they met Jesus, he was in a house and was a child, not an infant, implying they arrived a year or more after his birth.

Three Gifts From Three Kings

The gifts of the Three Kings symbolize Christ's identity and mission: gold for a king, incense for God, and myrrh used to anoint the dead. Ironically, the Gospel of John states that Nicodemus brought a mixture of 75 pounds of aloe and myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.

God honored the wise men by warning them in a dream to go home by another route and not to report back to King Herod. Some Bible scholars think Joseph and Mary sold the wise men's gifts to pay for their trip to Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution.

Three Kings
The Three Kings With Herod. SuperStock / Getty Images

Strengths

The Three Kings were among the wisest men of their time. Discovering that the Messiah was to be born, they organized an expedition to find him, following a star that led them to Bethlehem. Despite their culture and religion in a foreign land, they accepted Jesus as their Savior.

Life Lessons

When we seek God with sincere determination, we will find him. He is not hiding from us but wants to have an intimate relationship with each of us.

These wise men paid Jesus the kind of respect only God deserves, bowing before him and worshiping him. Jesus is not just a great teacher or admirable person as many people say today, but the Son of the Living God.

After the Three Kings met Jesus, they did not go back the way they came. When we get to know Jesus Christ, we are changed forever and cannot go back to our old life.

Names of the Three Kings

Matthew reveals nothing of these visitors' ancestry. Over the centuries, legend has assigned them names: Gaspar, or Casper; Melchior, and Balthasar. Balthasar has a Persian sound. If indeed these men were scholars from Persia, they would have been familiar with Daniel's prophecy about the Messiah or "Anointed One." (Daniel 9:24-27, NIV).

The designation "Magi" refers to a Persian religious caste, but when this Gospel was written, the term was loosely used for astrologers, seers, and fortunetellers. Matthew does not call them kings; that title was used later, in legends. About 200 AD, nonbiblical sources started calling them kings, perhaps because of a prophecy in Psalm 72:11: “May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.” (NIV) Because they followed a star, they may have been royal astronomers, advisers to kings.

Key Verses

Matthew 2:1-2
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (NIV)