Who Were the Wise Men?
Matthew 2:1-12

Free Sunday School Lessons

Note to the teacher: Before preparing this lesson, Who Were the Wise Men? please read our approach to planning a Sunday School lesson.

This lesson has the same format as our lesson planning sheet.

In preparing your lesson, we suggest that you:

1. Print the lesson planning sheet.
2. Read the Bible passage.
3. Fill in your lesson planning sheet.

You will find it helpful to have a printed copy of the lesson planning sheet along side as you read "Who Were the Wise Men?". The progression will make more sense.

Who Were the Wise Men?

Bible Passage: Matthew 2:1-12

The human need this passage meets is: To develop attitudes that help us find and know the Christ

Learning Goals: By the end of this session, each learner should be able to. . .

(Know) Know what the Bible says about "who were the wise men". (magi)

(Feel) Feel a sense of adventure and joy at the coming of Christ

(Do) Plan one way to more fully worship Jesus throughout the year


In Barbara Robinson's book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the children perform a play of the Christmas story. The Herdman boys, who were playing the parts of the wise men, decide to give Jesus a practical gift. So they present the baby with a ham.

If our only sources of information to "who were the wise men?" were stories, songs, and movies we'd have many misconceptions of the magi. Fortunately, the Bible gives us answers to the question, "Who were the Wise men?".


Who were the wise men?

First, let's examine some common misconceptions:

1. There were three wise men (magi)

    It is true that the Bible names three gifts. Second century artwork portrays two to four magi. Medieval artists depicted up to twelve. The Bible does not tell us the exact number.

2. They were kings

    We are familiar with the Christmas carol We Three Kings. It is true that the nature of their gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh suggests wealth. Who were the wise men? They were probably astronomers from Persia. In addition to being skilled in science of the heavens and stars, they were also learned in philosophy, natural science, and medicine.

3. Their names were Casper (Gaspar), Melchior, and Balthazar

    These names were popularized by Amahl and the Night Visitors. The names actually come from a seventh century manuscript.

    There was an actual obituary notice prepared: Having undergone many trials and fatigues of the gospel, the three Wise Men met in A.D. 54 to celebrate the feast of Christmas. Thereupon, after the celebration of Mass, they died: Melchior on January 1st, aged 116; Balthasar on January 6th, aged 112; and Gaspar on January 11th, aged 109. (In Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah.)

    The Bible doesn't tell us their names.

4. They rode camels

    The Bible doesn't say what they rode.

5. The star they saw was in the East

    Again, there is a familiar song, Star of the East. Actually, the star was in the West. The wise men were in the East when they saw the star.

6. They found Jesus in the manger. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were also there - all on Christmas Day.

    The Bible teaches that the shepherds were the only ones to visit the manger on Christmas day. The wise men visited Jesus sometime later while they were living in a house.

    The Biblical order of events is:
    • Jesus was born
    • Angels appears to the shepherds
    • Shepherds visit (their sign was the manger, not the star)
    • Eight days later Jesus is circumcised
    • Six weeks later Jesus is consecrated in the temple
    • Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go back to Bethlehem and live in a house
    • The wise men arrive

    The wise men arrived between six months and two years after Jesus was born. Herod wanted to know when the baby was born, so he inquired exactly when the star appeared. From the information he learned from the wise men, he ordered the killing of all baby boys up to two years old.

    Bible Input

    We have assumed much regarding the wise men. Let's see what the Bible actually says. From Matthew 2:1-12, let's see who were the wise men and what attitudes they had that we can emulate.

    The wise men are somewhat mysterious. There are many things we don't know about them. But, we do know one thing.

    They were searching diligently for the one who was born king of the Jews.

    In our search for Jesus, let me suggest three key attitudes that the wise men displayed that we need to have if we are to find the Christ as they did.

    Life Application

    1. The wise men had an attitude of urgency

    These men were Gentiles. They did not have the scriptures, yet they desired the truth. God gave them a star.

    Herod, the chief priests, and scribes sensed their eagerness, their mission, and their desire. They came a long way and made great personal sacrifices. They weren't just passing through, or just in the area.

    They wanted to find the King

    Do you want to find Jesus?
    Do you want to know the King of Kings?
    What sense of urgency do you place on your relationship with Jesus?
    What priority do you give this relationship?

    I have a Lionel train set that was given to my brothers and me when we were children. The train set is now at our house. I have spent hours fixing, sanding, and tweaking it - to get it back to its original condition. I was driven by this goal. I came home from work early, skipped meals, and in general spent many hours and dollars to get it "just right". My whole family has enjoyed the train set - as long as they don't touch it.

    Are we that way with Jesus?
    Do we get up in the morning anticipating our time with him?
    Do we skip meals to talk to Him?
    Is He on our minds?

    2. The wise men had an attitude of joy

    Matthew 2:9-10 tells that when they saw the star had stopped over the house where the child was, they were overjoyed! They had the thrill of victory. This was it - the end of their search. They had found the one for whom they had been looking for months - possibly even years!

    When you are waiting for someone, the anticipation and excitement builds. I remember my children waiting for their grandparents to arrive at our home on Christmas Eve. Hours before they were due to come, they would be standing at the window watching and waiting. They didn't take their eyes off the street. When they saw them, they were overjoyed. One time Carey was so happy to see her grandma that she ran to her, hugged her, and actually knocked her over!

    Do you have the fresh joy that comes from knowing Jesus?
    Do you just go through the motions? Do you realize that Jesus' birth means that God became a man and actually lived on our planet?

    If we have this joy, people will see it. The joy doesn't come from saying "Merry Christmas" or in the giving of presents. Joy comes from knowing Jesus - from the personal assurance that He has saved us by His grace.

    3. The wise men had an attitude of worship

    Matthew 2:2 - They told Herod that they had come to worship Him. Matthew 2:11 - When they found the child, they bowed down and worshiped Him.

    This was the purpose of their journey. This is what made their trip worthwhile.

    A part of their worship was the giving of gifts. Worship and money go hand in hand. They opened their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (verse 11).

    Worship involves Christian Giving

    • Gold - a gift fitting for a king
    • Frankincense - a costly perfume; recalling the incense burnt by priests in the temple
    • Myrrh - an embalming substance; foreshadowing Jesus' death

    From the gifts, we see that Jesus is our King, Priest, and Savior.

    Mary and Joseph were a bit off-guard. This was quite a baby shower.

    Lastly, just like the shepherds, the wise men bowed their knees and surrendered their hearts to the King.

    Over the Christmas season many of us travel - by car, plane, bus, or train. When we plan our itinerary, we have to know our destination. But, what is the goal of the trip? Would you say that it is just to get to that final city? No. Getting there is just the beginning! What we'll do there is the goal.

    For the wise men the journey was not the objective. The objective was to worship the child.

    Where are you headed now?
    Where is your "life-journey" taking you?
    It makes a huge difference - an eternal difference.

    Would you like to discover the leading character in the story of your life?

    God has created us to find Him and worship Him.

    Let's approach Jesus today with a sense of urgency, joy, and worship.

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Who were the wise men?

    2. What impresses you the most about the magi?

    3. What Christmas activities detract you from having this sense of urgency, joy, and worship?

    4. What Christmas activities draw you into a closer sense of urgency, joy and worship?

    5. What one thing will you do consistently year-round to enhance these three attitudes toward the Lord?

    Was "Who Were the Wise Men" helpful? Here's another Sunday School lesson for Christmas -- Discovering God's Plan - Luke 1-2 and an advent devotion - Luke 1.

    Author:Paul Schlieker www.bible-study-lesson-plans.com

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