Christmas: What is the star of Bethlehem?
The power of tradition is amazing. That power is often even greater when what the tradition teaches is false. Such is certainly the case with this. A correct term would be the star of Nazareth. You’ll find more details about this story in another Christmas article I’ve written entitled, Christmas: What about the three wise men? In that article I show how we know that the “wise men” didn’t go to a stable in Bethlehem to present their gifts, but to Joseph and Mary’s house in Nazareth. Again, what confusion we have about all this! Let’s begin this study with the Scripture about this star that appeared to the “wise men” of the East.
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
As king of Israel himself he was very much disturbed when he heard about this one being “born king of the Jews.” He had struggled and fought nearly all his life for his position as king, and now he hears this.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet [around 700 years earlier],
2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. [Emphasis added]
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were 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 unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. [Emphasis added]
There have been all kinds of speculation concerning this “star” that led these men to the location of the Christ child. What are we to think of this? I assure you that we don’t need a naturalistic explanation for the appearance of this star. Some people don’t even believe the story is true. But one thing you can always count on is the truthfulness and accuracy of the sixty-six books of the Bible.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God [THEOPNEUSTOS = God-breathed], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect [ARTIOS = complete or mature], thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [Emphasis added]
In these two verses we have an important statement about the reliability of the entire Bible. We, therefore, need to learn from it and believe what we learn.
Matthew is the only one of “the four gospels” that tells us of this event concerning this star. That in no way makes the truthfulness of this story subject to question, as some have claimed. What we have given here is exactly as these things all occurred. The basic reason the account is given here instead of in the others is because the book of Matthew emphasizes the prophesied kingdom and the King who would rule it. The book of Mark tends to focus on the servant aspects of this King. The book of John deals primarily with His deity and the book of Luke focuses primarily upon the fact that this Jesus of Nazareth was not only God, but true humanity as well.
On at least four occasions in the Bible angels are called “stars.” The most well-known of these “stars” is Lucifer whose name means shining one. He eventually came to be called Satan [meaning accuser—see Revelation 12:10] when he as an angel of God fell into sin. We have been given a record of his thoughts at the time of his fall.
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. [Emphasis added]
When he rebelled against the authority of God, he took a third of God’s other angels with him in his revolt.
4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. [Emphasis added]
This statement about his fall is written in what is called the prophetic perfect tense. That means that even though the passage is speaking of a future event, it is so certain to occur that it is stated as a past event. It is in the middle of the time of a future seven-year period of tribulation on Earth that Satan will be cast out of Heaven to the Earth along with all those other angels who sided with him in his revolt.
9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. [Emphasis added]
This is not to say that he and these angels can’t function on Earth today, they surely do, but from mid-tribulation on they will then no longer have access to Heaven. Verse nine is also written in this which is called the prophetic perfect tense. This event hasn’t happened yet, but it certainly will.
We have another reference to these “stars” of God in connection with the week of God’s work of creation. These angels were there to see it all come about.
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? [Emphasis added]
These references to these “stars” are all speaking of angelic beings. A fourth reference to them is found in the prophetic writings of Daniel.
10 And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. [Emphasis added]
Here we have another reference to a still unfulfilled prophecy referring to the coming rise of this man usually spoken of as the Antichrist. For some interesting information about him, go to my article entitled, Antichrist: Is he alive today? He will be a charismatic man who will possess all the supernatural powers of the angel Satan.
2 Thessalonians 2:8-9
8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, [Emphasis added]
The “star” of Nazareth did not function like a typical celestial star. Instead, it appears to be a miraculous event designed for this one special occasion. Because the term for star is so often used for angelic appearances, I believe it was most likely an angel appearing as a star to direct the “wise men” [the Magi] to the location of the Christ child.
Again, Matthew 2:9
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. [Emphasis added]
Even though it was this “star” that directed the wise men to the house of Joseph and Mary of Bethlehem, there are certainly other ways God could have done this. We find in the Bible that there were other times when God used angels to direct people. These “wise men” had access to the Old Testament Scriptures that foretold this. Here we have Balaam speaking of it.
17 I shall see him [Jesus, the Messiah], but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. [Emphasis added]
Balaam knew that a day would come when Israel’s promised Messiah would arrive. In the case of the wise men, they had come to realize that day had come. What an exciting time that must have been for them! Now, here we are some two thousand years later and we’re still waiting for the occurrence of Christ’s coming for us in what is typically called the Rapture. Are YOU excited about His coming? Are you prepared to be a part of that? If you’re not or you’re not sure, put your faith in what Jesus Christ did for you around two thousand years ago. On a lonely cross He paid the complete penalty for all our sins. Salvation is now offered to you and to anyone freely through faith in Him. There’s no work now that needs to be done on anyone’s part to gain it. All that’s required is faith in Him and what He did through His death, burial, and resurrection.
2 Corinthians 5:21
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
It is the perfect righteousness of Christ that’ll be applied to one’s account for salvation if one’s faith is placed in Him alone.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [the good news] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved [delivered from condemnation], if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
What a special time this can be for anyone who puts their faith in Him for everlasting salvation!