In the book of Matthew, we read the story of the wise men visiting the young Jesus. Matthew is the only gospel that records this account, and in chapter 2, we read the following:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with Him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to him: Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”
Who Were the Wise Men in the Bible?
Now who were these wise men? The Bible doesn’t go into detail about them. Most scholars suggest that these wise men, also called Magi, were astrologers or scholars with some knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. They may also have been Zoroastrian priests, which were known for their study of stars. They likely came from Persia or Arabia.
In the book of Daniel, we read of such men that Nebuchadnezzar summoned to help decipher his dreams:
Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king.
These wise men must have studied the scriptures and prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah, and when they spotted a star in the heavens, they correlated this event to the birth of Christ. Therefore, they travelled a great distance to meet this young King of Kings, and they brought him gifts and worshipped Him.
There are a couple of common misconceptions regarding these wise men:
1. First, most people assume that there were three wise men. You see this everywhere today—on Christmas cards, in nativity scenes, and so forth. In reality, the Bible never mentions the exact number of wise men. There may have been only two, or there may have been more than three. Ultimately, we don’t know. The Bible only says that the wise men presented three gifts, not that three wise men were present.
2. The second common misconception is that the wise men visited Jesus while He was in the manger. This is not what the Bible actually teaches. In the gospel of Luke, we see that shepherds come and visit Jesus in the manger, and it refers to him as a babe. In the gospel of Matthew, however, we see that the wise men visit Jesus in a house, and it refers to him in that passage as a young child. Time has obviously passed when the wise men reach Jesus, and he was likely several months old by this time, possibly up to a year or so.
Why Did the Wise Men Give Jesus Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh?
Now let’s focus on the three gifts that the wise men presented to Jesus: Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Obviously, these gifts would have had a very practical purpose; these items were valuable.
A gold brick in today’s time is worth about $325,000. In the time of Christ, it would have probably been even more valuable. The spices (frankincense and myrrh) were also very valuable, and at this time, may have even been as costly as gold in terms of weight.
We don’t know how much gold or spices the wise men gave Jesus, but it would have been of great value even in small quantities. Therefore, by giving Jesus these gifts, it would have helped Mary and Joseph care for their newborn King. It also would have aided them in their journey to Egypt, and then subsequently, back to Israel.
However, even though these gifts had a very practical purpose, there is also a great deal of spiritual symbolism in the gifts offered. What did these gifts represent symbolically?
What Did Gold Represent in the Bible?
The first gift mentioned is gold. Gold is often associated with two things in the Bible: Divinity and Kingship.
Gold represents divinity many times in the scriptures:
• In the Old Testament, Aaron collected gold rings from the Israelites to make a golden calf to worship. (Exodus 32:4)
• Psalm 135:15 declares, “The idols of their nations are silver and gold, made of human hands.” It was common in this time of history to carve your own idol and have it overlaid with gold.
• God gave Moses instructions to use gold when constructing the Ark of the Covenant as well (Exodus 25:10)
• King Nebuchadnezzar created a statue made of gold, and ordered all people to bow down and worship it. (Daniel 3:10)
Therefore, the gift of gold from the wise men symbolized the deity of Christ. Christ is fully God. Thomas had no choice but to declare, “My Lord and My God (John 20:28)” after placing his fingers in the wounds of the resurrected Christ.
Even the vilest unrepentant sinner will have no choice but to one-day honor Christ as Lord, for the scriptures declare:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)
Not only did the gold represent Christ’s deity, it also represented his kingship. Gold is often associated with kingship and ruling authority in the scriptures:
• When the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon, she gave him 120 talents of gold and a very great quantity of spices and precious stones. (1 Kings 10:10)
• Psalm 72:15 declares, “And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.”
• King David amassed a large amount of gold, as did his son Solomon: Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold. (1 Kings 10:14)
Jesus is the King of the universe. He’s King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His reign is eternal, and His kingdom will have no end. The book of Revelation boldly declares that when Christ returns, He will have the following name written on his thigh: “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”
“And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16)
What Did Frankincense Represent in the Bible?
The second gift the wise men presented to Jesus was frankincense. Frankincense is an aromatic resin that is obtained by cutting the bark on a certain species of tree. The most popular use of frankincense in the Bible was the burning of incense by the priests.
In the book of Revelation, incense is a representation of the prayers of the saints, flowing up to God as a pleasing aroma (Revelation 5:8). This indicates that the Old Testament usage of incense was a symbolic representation of the priest offering up prayers for the forgiveness of the people.
In Exodus 30:34-36, God gave specific instructions for a special blend of “incense” to be burned exclusively by the priest:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy. And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.
The frankincense that the wise men gave to Christ symbolized His priesthood. The Bible plainly teaches that Christ is our High Priest. He makes intercession for our sins, and He is the eternal sacrifice for our sins.
In the Old Testament, the High Priest would enter the “Holy of Holies” each year to make a sacrifice for the sins of the people and for himself. The priests would also make daily sacrifices for sin, simply because the sacrifice never really took away the sin. (Hebrews 10:11)
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and righteousness also came through one man, Jesus Christ. The animal sacrifices were a mere representation—a shadow—of the reality that God would send a savior into the world to pay for my sins and for your sins through the shedding of His blood.
When we sin as Christians, we do not need to confess to a priest, or offer an animal sacrifice; Christ is our intercessor. Once we accept Christ as our savior, His death on the cross cleanses us from our past, present, and future sins. Because He is eternal by His very nature, so is the power of His shed blood to cleanse our sins eternally.
The Bible clearly teaches the priesthood of Christ:
• The Bible declares, “He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.“ (Hebrews 6:20)
• Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:34)
• So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. (Hebrews 5:5)
The Bible also reveals that when Christ died, there was a great earthquake, and the veil of the temple was torn. This represented the fact that we no longer need a High Priest; Christ is our High Priest.
And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)
What Does Myrrh Represent in the Bible?
Myrrh is the third gift given to young Jesus. What is myrrh? Myrrh is also a gum-like resin, similar to frankincense. It is obtained from a bushy tree.
Myrrh has a pleasing aroma, and it had many uses in Biblical times (such as incense or perfume). In the Bible, however, myrrh is most frequently associated with suffering and death. It was often used as an embalming fluid since the potent aroma would help mask the stench of a decaying body.
The gift of myrrh symbolized the suffering and death that our Messiah would face:
• For example, before suffering on the cross, the soldiers offered Jesus strong drink (wine) mixed with myrrh. Christ rejected this drink, refusing to dull the agony He was about to experience while paying the full penalty for our sins. “And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.” (Mark 15:23)
• The Bible also reveals that Nicodemus brought myrrh for the burial of Jesus after His death on the cross. “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.” (John 19:39)
Christ suffered, bled, and died that we might have life. The amount of suffering He endured for us in that time was unimaginable. His beard was ripped from His cheeks, and His back was torn with a whip containing barbs. He was spat upon, punched, mocked, and worse.
And why did this happen? God had sovereignly arranged that His Son might die so that we could be forgiven our sins. The Bible says that God revealed His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
As a Christian, you too will suffer. Jesus, while loved by His true followers, was mostly a hated man. Do you know why the world hated Jesus so much? The world hated Jesus because He spoke the truth about it. John 7:7 says, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.”
When you stand up against sins in this world, this world will hate you. This world hates to be “judged.” It hates it when you point out the wickedness of its sins: adultery, pornography, fornication, drunkenness, theft, drug use, and greed.
When you stand for Christ in this world, this world will hate you. Jesus knew His followers would be hated, which is why He told us:
If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)
This world is fighting as hard as it can to erase Christ from the history books. They want to take the Christ out of Christmas and the creator out of His creation. Unbelievers delight in getting nativity scenes taken down, forcing society to say, “Happy holidays,” and more.
Jesus never minced words about the cost of following Him. Rather, he boldy stated, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
As a Christian boldly standing up for Christ, you can expect persecution. You can expect hate, and depending on how effective you are, you may even expect death.
Even so, isn’t Jesus worth it? His disciples thought so, because many of them died horrific deaths due to their love and devotion to their Holy Master.
Dear sinner, you have a wonderful God who loves you. He wants nothing more than for you to repent and turn to Him. If you’ve not yet given your life to Christ—repent! Turn from your hard-hearted ways and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life.
Christ will forgive you and cleanse you from all sin. He will never leave you nor forsake you.
A group of wise men once travelled far and long to give young Jesus some gifts. They gave Him a gift of gold that symbolized his kingship and deity. They gave Him some frankincense that symbolized His priesthood, and they gave Him some myrrh that symbolized his suffering and death.
Christ gave us all a better gift: The gift of a clean slate before God. He gave us the gift of forgiveness from our sins, and a pardon from the wrathful and just judgment of God.
All you have to do is take the gift. Will you take it, lost and broken sinner? Will you take the free gift of salvation that Christ wants to give you right now? I pray you do.