How Did the Wisemen Know about the Jewish Messiah?
When we think of the Wisemen, we wonder what star they followed, and we might wonder where they came from, but there’s another question we should ask—how did they know about the Jewish Messiah?
When the wisemen arrived in Jerusalem, they asked a very specific question, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” At first, that might seem like a generic title—someone important has been born in Jerusalem, and he must be a king. Who else would he be? But, that phrase, “King of the Jews” is directly tied to the messianic hopes of Israel. In other words, the wisemen were asking, “Where is he who has been born the Messiah of Israel?”
How did they know? Somewhere, in some way, they had encountered the Jewish prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. Their exposure and familiarity with the prophecies could have come from any one of the countless Jews living across the known world, however, their ignorance of Micah’s prophecy about the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem indicates their exposure was limited. This strengthens the case I made in a previous article that the wisemen had been influenced by Daniel.
Daniel’s dual prominence as both a wiseman serving in the Babylonian and Persian courts and a Hebrew prophet would account for their knowledge of the coming Jewish Messiah and their simultaneous ignorance of other messianic prophecies. Daniel’s prophecies were complete enough to stand alone in promising a Jewish king and kingdom that would overshadow all other kingdoms. Daniel’s prophecies were also given at a different time (about 150-200 years after Micah’s prophecy) and in a different setting (the Babylonian exile) which provides enough historic separation to explain why the wisemen would know about the Messiah but not be familiar with prophecies known to the chief priests and scribes Herod consulted in Matthew 2:3-6.
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’"
Knowledge of Daniel’s prophecies would also explain why they anticipated the birth of the Jewish Messiah around that particular time. In Daniel 9, the prophecy of 70 weeks reveals the timing of the Messiah’s arrival. While scholars debate precisely how to apply the 70 weeks prophecy, all of the calculations result in dates that would necessitate the Messiah’s birth around the time of Jesus’ birth. If the wisemen were familiar with Daniel’s prophecies, they would have known the timing was right when the star appeared.
Regardless of how they knew, the wisemen were not looking for a king who just happened to be Jewish. In other words, they were not looking for “a” king of the Jews. They came to see the King of the Jews, and their worship of Him, indicating their submission to Him, is a reminder that the King of the Jews is also the King of kings.