When did the Magi come to see Jesus?
Most versions of the Christmas story (church plays, movies, nativity scenes, etc.) will show Three Wise Men at the manger with Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, and the shepherds. But this doesn’t hold weight with the Bible. Some will argue “we don’t know when the Wise Men came–it could have been that night, but it could have been some time afterwards.” I argue that it could not have been that night, and could not have been for some time afterwards.
First, there is the plain implication that the star they followed did not appear until Jesus’ birth, and they came a long journey. The account does not deny the possibility of the star appearing prior to His birth–say, at His conception, thus giving them nine months to make the journey–but that is not the implication.
Second, the Wise Men (the number is never given, so to say the number with any certainty is implausible) went first to Herod’s castle, and while the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is not great, it is unlikely that after arriving at Jerusalem to meet the king of the Jews, and having a conference with Herod (most likely a long, formal affair), they would have time to run down to Bethlehem all in the same night.
Third, Jesus’ birth is plainly told to be in a stable, yet when the Wise Men get there, the family is in a house, and He is said to be a “child” not a “baby.” While I can appreciate the speed at which Joseph would have secured proper lodgings in Bethlehem, it is unlikely that if there were no room at the inn, that a house would suddenly be vacant that night or the next morning.
But these are all inferences. The real proof is comparing the Biblical accounts with each other. The history becomes apparent: Jesus was born; on the 8th day, He was circumcised; on the 40th day, He was presented at the Temple; the next account of Him that we can be sure of his age is when He was 12 and went to Jerusalem to the Feast of the Passover; then “when He was about 30 years old” He began His gospel ministry.
Where do the Wise Men fit in? Well, let’s look at what is said about their visit. They arrive some time after His birth, after seeing Herod and being told to go back to report to him where the King of the Jews is, so that he can kill Him. They see Jesus, give Him the precious gifts, and return home without going to see Herod. The night they saw Jesus, they were warned of God in a dream not to go back to Jerusalem. Some time after that (perhaps even the same night), Joseph was warned of God in a dream to leave Israel, so he fled with his family to Egypt. He didn’t come back until after the slaughter of the boys–who were aged 2 and under, which indicates that the Wise Men were not looking for a newborn. Not until after Herod died and his son reigned in his stead did Joseph return to Israel.
So, Joseph and family must be in Israel when Jesus was 8 days and also 40 days old. It is possible but not probable that the entire preceding paragraph–from the Wise Men’s visit to Herod until his death, and from Joseph’s fleeing to Egypt and returning–was within the space of less than 32 days. Highly improbable. Since Herod killed all the males from 2 years old and under, this account took place when Jesus was less than 2 years old. Therefore, the Wise Men came to see Jesus sometime between when He was 40 days old and 2 years old. Not at the stable, but at the house; and not as a baby, but as a young child.