From the Beginning

A STORY OF "TIME" by Trevor Topsfield

A Cleverly Invented Story

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying. “This is my Son, whom I love and with him I am well pleased.”  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were on the sacred mountain.  (NIV)  2 Peter 1:16-18

For a very long time there have been people proclaiming the majesty of Jesus Christ, for they recognised this in him from the evidence God has provided. Peter was no exception; he was a witness at the baptism of Jesus when “THE” voice came from heaven. Peter heard it and from that moment the majesty of Jesus was never in doubt.

The voice of God was heard by hundreds of people, but the antagonists of Jesus considered his followers were taking such evidence and cleverly inventing stories around it. The unbelievers could not refute the fact that there were a lot of unusual things happening. They proclaimed the believers were cleverly using this evidence to suit themselves.

When many of the stories of Jesus are told today, the idea of being clever is lost; instead they are simple stories or myths of the supernatural.

The teachings within the church needs to be sound, so that the impression unbelievers receive is favorable. It needs to present God’s solutions to life as a feasible alternative. Salvation is through faith in the death of Christ on the Cross and the ability of producing righteousness through the filling of the Holy Spirit.

The first contact with the church should inspire a degree of respect for God, so that he cannot be dismissed lightly. When God’s advances to mankind are rejected, it is important that everything was done properly by the church so that this particular unbeliever only has himself to blame.

A problem that seems to be prevalent today is that for many their initial understanding of God appears to be little more than a fairy tale. The story of Christmas is often the first thing a child learns of God, but so much that is learned at this time is easily refuted later in life.

At a very early age the idea of Father Christmas existing in the North Pole, where he makes all those presents that he distributes all over the world in a single night is no longer believed. The possibility of this kindly old gentleman achieving such a feat is impossible to imagine and by the time most children reach the age of ten, Father Christmas has been relegated to the status of being no more than the figment of their parent’s imagination.

The story of the wise men following the star which leads them to the baby Jesus is another of the stories that is hard to imagine actually happing. While still at school, it is learnt that stars travel in different directions at incredible speeds and since their locations have been recorded, man has not detected any difference in their relationship with one another.

The question that springs to mind is, how can a star be followed? Isn’t this just another story in the same category as Father Christmas?

What happened is documented in Matthew 2:1+2

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.”   (NIV)  Matthew 2:1+2

These wise men came to Jerusalem to find the “one born king of the Jews”, for they had seen his star in the east and had come to worship him. After seeing his star they went to Jerusalem, but Jesus was not there. He was born in Bethlehem. Why did they go to the wrong place? The answer is that God deals with mankind through faith and only as we apply faith in what we know is there a response from God. In this case the knowledge of the wise men was incomplete, but at least they knew enough to get them started. God responded by sending the star to them and so the wise men set off to find their savior.

The Magi thought Jerusalem (the capital of Israel) would be the place the king of the Jews would be born. They knew the time had come when his birth was imminent and therefore they believed they could see their savior, but they knew him as “the king of the Jews”. Their faith was recognised by God and Jesus’ star confirmed this fact.

This is how faith works,

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain. ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask in prayer.  (NIV)   Matthew 21:21+22

To have faith requires knowledge. One of the examples in this passage is only going to happen once. Only once is a mountain going to be thrown into the sea and only those who know it will happen and are there at that time will say to this mountain, “Go throw yourself into the sea,” and the mountain will do it.

Likewise only at the time of the wise men could anyone believe they would see the baby Jesus and it actually happen.

God always works within the framework of own knowledge and because the wise men knew Jesus as “the king of the Jews”, they must have acquired their knowledge of the coming of Christ through Daniel Chapter 9.

Here Daniel explains Israel’s future from a point in time and states the time of the death of using his title as the “Anointed one”, “The Ruler”, which the wise men correctly concluded to be “the king of the Jews”.

“Seventy ‘sevens’ are degreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in  everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. (NIV)    Daniel 9:24

Seventy ‘sevens’, or 490 years God has given the Jews to finish the work required of them.

The prophecy continues,

“Know and understand this; From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler comes there will be seven ‘seven’, and sixty two ‘sevens’. It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. (NIV)                   Daniel 9:25+26

Now we have a definite time on the times. Form the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed one comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’ and sixty two ‘sevens’. We need to know that Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, a Chaldean in 586 BC.

The destruction was instigated by God as a disciplinary measure for the sinfulness of Judah. For many years the Jews were warned by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah of the impending catastrophe, along with deteriorating conditions in the form of five stages of discipline set out in Leviticus 26:14-35. The final stage is the demise of the nation and Nebuchadnezzar made sure it was not a pleasant experience. Most of the people were killed, but some of the younger Jews were taken to Babylon as captives and it was through these people the Jewish heritage continued.

The desolation of Jerusalem lasted seventy years and by the end of it the Temple was rebuilt, which was in the year 516 BC.

In 458 BC (the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes) (Ezra 7:7) under the leadership of Ezra the captives and their children returned to Judah and settled and restored the state according to the Law of Moses. But it was not until 445 BC the decree was issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 2:8). This marks the beginning of the countdown to when the Anointed One, the ruler would come.

490 years are decreed for the Jews to finish off all that has to done, but this time is broken down into three periods. Seven ‘sevens’ or 49 years will be taken up in the rebuilding of the city and sixty two “sevens’ or 434 years they will continue as they were in the land. After that time which is a total of 483 years the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. This leaves another ‘seven’ before the decreed time for the Jews is over.

From Daniel the wise men or Magi had worked out that were approaching 483 years since the decree was sent to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The Greek word for wise men is “magos”, so Magi is a transliteration of it. Magos means scientist, one skilled in the sciences of the day. This covered a range of subjects such as medicine, religion, astrology and astronomy.

With their academic background they knew certain adjustments needed to be made to the calculation of years. A year was considered as 12 30 day months, so it consisted of 360 days. At the time of the wise men, science had worked out that a year was in fact 365.25 days. When they applied this to the times as stated in Daniel, it put them at a very interesting point in history.

If 483 years is added to 445 BC the answer is on face value 38 AD, but if the adjustment to the correct number of days per year was made it would change the dates considerably. 483 multiplied by 5.25 equals 2535.25 days which equals 6.94 years. So instead of the Anointed One being cut off in 38 AD it would happen in 31 AD. With the change over from BC to AD a year is lost, so Jesus Christ died in 30 AD.

The wise men realised before the star appeared and made contact with them that if Jesus’ death was only 30 years away, they were his contemporises. They believed they could see their savior, for they would be alive at the same time.

Because it is not recorded in The Old Testament how old Jesus was when he died, the wise men could not have known when Jesus was to be born. Therefore Jesus’ star went to them, told them who he was and this was confirmation of his birth.

Now that they knew he was born, they set off to the most logical place to find the king of the Jews which was Jerusalem.

Once there they inquired.

“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.”  (NIV)   Matthew 2:2

Jerusalem was the center of Judaism; it contained the Temple of God. If there was a place that should have known about the birth of the king of the Jews, it was Jerusalem. In Jerusalem there were so many that prided themselves in their understanding of God’s word, and considered themselves to be the experts. Instead the Jews were totally ignorant of the fact that Christ was born, and the news of it from the wise men sent Jerusalem into a flap when they made their inquiry.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.      (NIV)      Matthew 2:3

At this point Herod gathered all the experts together. He wanted to know where the king of the Jews was born, but an evil intention was his motivation.

When he had called together all people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you. Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ (NIV)   Matthew 2:4-6

At this point the wise men still have no idea where the baby Jesus is, they are still in Jerusalem asking questions.

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”  Matthew 2:7+8 (NIV)

Now the wise men know where to go, because Herod told them. The star did not lead them to Bethlehem, it did not have to, for it was written in Micah where Jesus would be born and the wise men could and did find it out for themselves. The problem with them finding out this way was that through their ignorance an enemy of Jesus was alerted of his coming.

Now that they know where to go;

After they heard the king they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (NIV)          Matthew 2:9

Never did the wise men follow the star. It appeared to them at their home and they set off for Jerusalem. At Jerusalem King Herod told them where to go and so they went to Bethlehem. The star went ahead of them and it stopped (and waited) over the place where Jesus was, as he knew where to go. Much later when the wise men arrived in Bethlehem and :-

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming into the house, they saw the child with his mother, and they bowed down and worshiped him.  (NIV)      Matthew 2:10+11a

The star of the king of the Jews had only two functions to perform.

1 To confirm the exact date of the birth of Christ.

2 To show the exact place where he could found.

Every other detail in this story was written in The Old Testament and the wise men either knew them, or found out along their way. They acted in faith because of their knowledge to find and worship Jesus. At no point did they follow that star, it simply supplied information they had no way of knowing from any other source.

The wise men worshipped Jesus with presents of gold, incense and myrrh. Then they went home another way after they had been warned in a dream not to go back via Jerusalem.

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”    (NIV)                  Matthew 2:13

As soon as the wise men had departed, the damage they had caused by alerting Herod of the coming of Jesus needed to be sorted out. So the very next passage in Matthew an angel of the Lord is there to give Joseph a message in a dream to warn him about Herod.

The wise men had gone, but the star stayed. The angel of the Lord that warned Joseph is the same supernatural being that alerted the wise men. It is called an “angel” because its role is that of a messenger. When the wise men spoke of it to Herod, they called it a “star” because they emphasised what they saw, even though its function was to pass on the message that Jesus was born.

“A cleverly invented story”?

Regardless of what you think:   I believe it to be accurate from the evidence found in Matthew. It is also consistent with the rest of The Bible and with the principles of God.

Trevor Topsfield


Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved  

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