Read This: Matthew 2:1-12
If you could travel back in time six hundred years before Christ you’d find Daniel in Babylon. Daniel was one powerful man. His wisdom and spiritual discernment made him the leader over the most influential group of advisors in the ancient world — the magi.
The magi were experts in science, agriculture, mathematics, history, religion, politics, astronomy, astrology, and magic. They did everything from interpreting dreams to appointing kings. The magi were the highest ranking officials in Babylon, and their influence continued on into the Greek and Roman eras. It was often the magi who would identify new leaders and kings, and the Romans paid keen attention to them.
When Jesus was born, God sent a celestial declaration to the magi announcing His arrival. They immediately grasped the importance of this news — there was now a real King over the Jews! Society was expecting this king (see Day 19), and the magi set out to recognize and honor Him.
Contrary to the Christmas hymn, there were probably more than three of them, and because they were powerful men — akin to royalty — they would have traveled with an entourage of soldiers and servants.
Meanwhile, the Jews already had a “king.” Though neither royal nor Jewish (he was a Roman vassal), Herod was no slouch. He earned his title by defeating and driving out the Parthians, and he protected his authority by murdering all potential successors — including his brother-in-law, wife, and sons.
The arrival in Jerusalem of an armed and sizeable company of magi (likely Parthians) whose business was to officially recognize a new Jewish king put the entire city on full alert. (Another example of Jesus’ birth being anything but secret.)
* For more on this, see the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, pages 23-32.