We’ve covered “WHO Were the Wise Men?” and  “HOW Did They Know?”  Now we’ll cover “WHEN Did the Wise Men Arrive?” 

There’s a popular Christmas song that many sing during the holidays, but few know the meaning behind the song.  “The Twelve Days of Christmas” tells of 12 cumulative days of gifts.  With each day, new gifts are added to the first day’s gift….“a partridge in a pear tree.”  The number of gifts added is based upon the number of the day.  Most notable is the resounding chorus of “five golden rings,” given on the fifth day.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a fun song to sing, but most people have never given much thought to the significance of the 12 days. The church has traditionally suggested that the 12 days start on Christmas day (or in some traditions, the day after Christmas). The 12 days culminate with the feast of Epiphany, which is observed on January 6th. 

The Feast of Epiphany

This feast day is meant to commemorate the day in which the wise man arrived to see the baby Jesus. Therefore, the liturgical calendar of some churches call the day, “The Three Kings’ Day.” Some traditions also hold that Epiphany marks the day when John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

But are these things really so? According to the gospel of Matthew, these Wise Men came from the Persian Empire (read: Who were the Three Wise Men?).  They traveled first to Jerusalem seeking the Christ child. Then, led by a star, they eventually found the child where the star came to rest.  Tradition tells that the Wise Men arrived 12 days after the birth of Jesus. However, Scripture suggests that is not so.

Arrival After The Dedication of Jesus?

In accordance with the Law, Mary and Joseph took their child to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord.

Luke 2:22  And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 

The time when this dedication was to be done was clearly prescribed in Levitical law (Lev 12:2-4).  The days of Mary’s purification were at least 40 days after the birth of Jesus.  For 7 days, the mother was deemed to be unclean. On the eighth day, a man child was to be circumcised, Then, 33 days were to pass for a woman’s purification to be fulfilled.  After that, the young couple was to take their baby for dedication in the Temple, along with an animal sacrifice to offer to the Lord:

Lev 12:6  And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:

This offering was to be made before the Lord to make atonement for the woman and to cleanse her from the issue of blood.  How fitting that it was to be “a lamb of the first year” and a bird (a young pigeon or a turtledove). Symbolically, this seems to represent Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit who appeared as a dove. A provision was also made for those who could not afford to offer a lamb. In such a case, the woman was able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Since we are told in Luke 2:24 that Mary made an offering of birds (plural).  This is an indication that Mary and Joseph did not have the necessary funds to purchase a lamb for their burnt offering. Had the Wise Men arrived in 12 days, as is suggested by tradition, Mary and Joseph would have received the precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Had that been the case, Mary would have been able to provide a blood offering in the form of a lamb for her purification.

This biblical reasoning suggests that the dedication of Jesus would have been at least 40 days after his birth.

Arrival When Jesus was Two Years Old?

Some suggest that the Wise Men did not arrive to see Jesus until he was two years of age, living in a house in Nazareth. This is based on Matthew 2:111 where we are told that they (the Wise Men) “came into the house and saw the young child.” Many also consider Herod’s decree that all children two years old and under should be put to death as reasoning that Jesus would have been about two years old.  Could this be true?

While Bible readers construe that Jesus was two years old, there is no evidence to support it. Questionable is the translation of “young child.” The Greek word used by Matthew is paidion, and it means a childling (of either sex), i.e. (prop.) an infant, or a half-grown boy or girl.  Also problematic, is assuming the age of Jesus based on Herod’s decree.  Herod very likely could have been “covering his bases,” and going well beyond the age of Jesus at the time.

The Wise Men “Came Into the House”

We know that Jesus was born in a place where animals were kept. Perhaps it was a stable or cave, but it’s possible it was the lower level of a house where animals were kept in cold weather. (Read: Was Jesus Born in a Stable, a Cave or a House?)  It is, therefore, possible that Mary and Joseph returned to the Bethlehem house after they visited the Temple in Jerusalem for her purification.  While Jesus was born among the animals because there was no room in the house (due to the influx of people because of the census), Mary, Joseph, and Jesus might have been welcomed into the upper room of the house 40 days later. (this is all covered in: Was Jesus Born in a Stable, a Cave or a House?)

It is also possible that the Wise Men were led by the star to Nazareth.  We are told in Luke that following the dedication of Jesus in the Temple (40 days or more after His birth), Mary and Joseph returned to their home in Nazareth.  

Luke 2:39  So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.

The Timing

It’s clear that the Wise Men arriving 12 days after Jesus’ birth is incorrect.  The timing does not fit because had the Wise Men arrived prior to the dedication at the Temple, Mary would have offered a lamb, not the alternative offering of a bird (the offering of one who could not afford a lamb). Mary and Joseph were devout Jews and had they been given the precious gifts of great value from the Wise Men, they would have been able to sell the gold, frankincense, or myrrh and had the money to purchase a lamb to offer to God.   

It does, however, make sense that it was from these precious gifts that Mary and Joseph had the means to flee into Egypt with Jesus.  The Bible clearly supports that their flight into Egypt was after the Wise Men came.

Mat 2:13 And when they [the Wise Men] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt…

Conclusion

So how long was it after Jesus’ birth that the Wise Men arrived?  We simply do not know.  But there is sufficient reasoning to think it was more than 40 days and before His second birthday.

What we do know, for certain, is that the proper response, when coming to Jesus, is that of worship, and honor, and glory.  The Wise Men rightly adored Him when they found Him…whatever His age at the time:

Mat 2:11  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child [Greek “paidion” — a childling, an infant, or a half-grown boy or girl] with Mary his mother, and [the Wise Men] fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

 

And what should we present when we come to Jesus.  Watch and read about a old Christmas song that reveals our answer (In the Bleak Midwinter).  You might not have heard this song before, but we promise it is worth your time and it will bless you.  

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