“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’” – Matthew 2:2
Herod was an Edomite and the Edomites were the descendants of Esau. Jacob and Esau, who began warring in their mother’s womb, continued their battle throughout history. This war began between the sons of Jacob—Israel versus the sons of Esau—the Edomites. And we find them still at war in Matthew Chapter 2 as a son of Esau, Herod, is trying to slaughter a Son of Jacob, Jesus.
The “wise men” were members of the priestly caste in Persia, who were experts in astronomy and astrology and were well versed in the Old Testament. These magi were most likely influenced by Daniel the prophet while he was in captivity in Babylon.
Herod considered himself “King of the Jews.” These Persian magi were very important and powerful leaders in the great Persian Empire, which had never been subjugated by Rome. They probably appeared in Jerusalem with a large entourage and thus gained quick access to Herod’s court. In fact, there is some historical indication that Persia was at this time threatening Rome along the Eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire. No wonder Herod was “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him,” (2:3) at the suggestion that Persia might be about to throw its support to a new Jewish king.
These “magi,” came to “worship him.” (Matthew 2:11) Worship means, “to bow, or bend the knee with the offering and giving of gift or service.” We see this in the first recorded act of public worship in the Bible in Genesis 4:1-5, when Cain and Abel came to give to the LORD their offerings. Worship always involves obedience that is motivated by a humble heart and a contrite spirit.
The wise men understood they were in the presence of royalty and therefore expressed their worship by giving gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Not only did the gifts honor Jesus for who he was, but also those gifts were a financial boost for this young family as they escaped and lived in Egypt.
Gold was probably an indication that they recognized him as a mighty King since gold is a metal associated with kingly rule. By bringing frankincense, the spice used by priests, they were acknowledging the young babe would someday fulfill the office of Priest. By giving Myrrh, being the spice used in burials, the wise men acknowledged Jesus would be a martyred Prophet.
The three-fold office of the Messiah is seen in the gifts of the wise men: gold for a Mighty King, frankincense for a Ministering Priest, and myrrh for a Martyred Prophet.