After Jesus’ birth, the good news of their Messiah’s birth didn’t reach the Jew’s religious leaders. In fact, it appears that no one in Jerusalem knew that Jesus had been born (Matthew 2:3); perhaps because the shepherd’s testimony about the Messiah’s birth was determined to be false because these men were considered to be unreliable witnesses. When a group of wise men from the east came to Jerusalem looking for the young child, the Jews may have started wondering whether the shepherd’s report about Jesus had actually been true. The wise men from the east were scientists, educated men that knew how to interpret the appearance and motions of objects in outer space. When the wise men were introduced to King Herod, the Roman ruler over Jerusalem at the time, they asked him, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
Herod must have taken the wise men seriously because it says in Matthew 2:3, “When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” The interesting thing about Herod’s response was that he recognized that the title “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2) signified the Jews’ Messiah. After hearing the news from reliable witnesses, Herod immediately rounded up all the Jews’ religious leaders and asked them “where Christ should be born” (Matthew 2:4). The seriousness with which Herod took the report of Jesus’ birth is evident in his effort to determine the exact time the wise men first saw his star appear (Matthew 2:7). Even though the wise knew what the appearance of the star meant, they still did not know the exact location of the Messiah’s birth. Therefore, Herod had to give them that information. In exchange, Herod expected the wise men to inform him of the child’s whereabouts after he was discovered (Matthew 2:8).
The wise men eventually found Jesus in Bethlehem when the star they were following “came and stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9). The purpose of the wise men’s visit seemed to be to verify the account of the Messiah’s birth from a secular, scientific perspective. While it is true that God sent his Messiah specifically to the Jews, Jesus was destined to become the saviour of the world. A critical aspect of the wise men’s visit was that they established the fact that Jesus was born King of the Jews. Even as a newborn baby, Jesus was the ruler of the world that God had promised to his people. Perhaps, more importantly for the historical record, the message the shepherds received from an angelic host was confirmed by these wise men, scientific experts from the east. After delivering their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it says of the wise men in Matthew 2:12, “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”