In his record of Jesus’ birth, Matthew reports that magi from the East came to Jerusalem looking for the newborn king, because they had seen His star.
Bible versions have translated the Greek word, magos, used in this verse in different ways. Most translate it as ‘wise men’. The Message translates it as scholars. J.B. Philips translates the word as astrologers. The New American Standard Version uses Magi, with this footnote, “A caste of educated men specializing in astronomy, astrology, and natural science.”
They were an interesting group and Wikipedia provides this definition of the magi:
Magi (/ˈmeɪdʒaɪ/; singular magus/ˈmeɪɡəs/; from Latinmagus) were priests in Zoroastrianism and the earlier religions of the western Iranians. The earliest known use of the word magi is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription. Old Persian texts, predating the Hellenistic period, refer to a magus as a Zurvanic, and presumably Zoroastrian, priest.
Thayer’s Greek dictionary adds that they were also influential advisors to the Kings of Babylon and Persia:
1a) the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc…. 1c) a false prophet and sorcerer
And we see their role in Daniel, when the Babylonian king summoned his magicians and sorcerers to interpret a dream (Daniel 2:2). Because these magi claimed to have the ability to interpret dreams, God then used a dream warning them not to return to Herod after visiting and worshiping Jesus (Matthew 2:11-12).
Their influential political role is also seen in Acts 13, when the same Greek word, magos, is used to describe a magician, known as Bar-Jesus. He served as a counselor to the governor of the island of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, and tried to stop him from becoming a Christian (Acts 13:6-7).
The Apostle Paul called Bar-Jesus the ‘son of the Devil’ and enemy of all righteousness, before striking him with blindness, paving the way for them to present the Gospel to Sergius (Acts 13:9-10).
Their importance in ancient society is displayed by their wealth which was revealed in the expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they brought to Jesus. Their special position also granted these Magi access to King Herod, who immediately questioned them about the new King of Jews.
But their visit has proven somewhat controversial because the magi were a caste rooted in the dark arts and occult. Many try to tone down that aspect of their life by referring to them as wise men or as one popular Christmas song does by describing them as “we three kings.”
Certainly, Matthew’s inclusion of their visit in the Christmas story is unusual.
But to understand what is happening in this account, we need to turn to the parallel Christmas account recorded in Revelation chapter 12, which explains what was happening in the spiritual realm on the day Christ was born.
Prior to Christ’s birth, Satan still had access to the throne room of God. We see Satan joining with the angels (sons of God), when they presented themselves to God (Job 1:6).
But that all changed with the birth of Christ.
Satan knew something powerful was afoot and Revelation tells us that he conspired to kill this child (Revelation 12:4).
This open rebellion against the Kingdom of God, resulted in a dramatic battle that saw Michael, the archangel, lead an angelic army driving Satan, who had enticed a third of the angels to join him, from heaven.
7 And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8 and they did not prevail, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole [d]world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9 NASV)
I suspect that the Magi were the spiritual plunder from this massive victorious battle as Michael drove Satan and his horde out of heaven.
It was the ultimate display of God’s power and supremacy over the satanic realm, as He led those described as the sons of the Devil to bow their knees to Jesus and worship Him (Matthew 2:11).
This is in no way a commendation of the occult, as the Bible is full of warnings not to consult them, the astrologers and any involved in the dark arts (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).