The account of the three wise men is found in Matthew 2:1-12 in a scene related to the birth of Jesus. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2). Aside from these verses, not much else is known about those sages.
Some of our beliefs are based on traditions and Bible study. For example, tradition says there were three men because it’s surmised each probably brought one of the three gifts – gold, frankincense, or myrrh – to baby Jesus. It is also thought the three represent the three broad racial groupings of mankind. But there is nothing in scripture that clarifies this one way or another.
These wise men from the East called “magi” in the Greek is the broad name for astronomers, astrologers, or wise men of the Babylonians (modern day Iraq), Medes, or Persians (modern day Iran). The Persian “Magi,” also called Zoroastrians, expected that the one God would send a savior into the world and with other saints, restore the world. Clearly, these men were foreign to the Romans and the Jews of the time, and had been studying the sky for signs of the Jewish savior or Messiah. The wise men probably had some knowledge of Jewish prophecies as Jews had lived in exile in the lands of Babylon and Persia for six centuries. Some Jews even rose to prominent positions in the governments in Babylon and Persia. For example, the prophet Daniel was made the master over the astrologers and magicians of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:11).
As the magi faithfully studied the night sky looking for signs of the Jewish savior, what joy they must have had when they finally spotted the heavenly sign. Today, our knowledge of astronomy leads us to believe that the great light was most likely the convergence of the paths of the planets Jupiter and Venus with the star Regulus. When they found baby Jesus and his family, they showed reverence for the Savior by bowing down to him and presenting him with gifts. Finally, they showed wisdom by avoiding any further contact with King Herod and heading home.