In the story of Christ’s birth there are many familiar characters: Joseph, Mary, Herod, the Jewish leaders, and shepherds. But there are also several (at least three) strange foreigners called “Magi” who unexpectedly come out of nowhere. Even more shocking is that they are more alert, more knowledgeable, and have deeper spiritual understanding of the meaning of the birth of Jesus than most of Jesus’s ethnic relations.
But who are these Magi who mysteriously appear around the time of Jesus’s birth and who are prepared to worship him and give him gifts? Where are they from? How do they know so much about his birth and who he is?
People from many nations—places such as Pakistan, India, and even China—claim that these Magi were from their lands. But I say they were from Iran. I say this not because I am from Iran and want to force Iran into the Bible—the Bible already has a lot to say about Persia (Iran)—but I say this because of the evidence.
May I present to you three reasons that support the fact that the Magi were from Iran?
1) The word “Magi” is a Persian word.
The Magi were not kings but were dignitaries and advisors in the court of Persian kings. They were high priests of the Zoroastrian religion. The Persian kings respected them, valued them, and sought their advice in their decisions.
2) Images in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem depict the Magi as Persians.
The Church of Nativity was erected in AD 329 by Empress Helena, Constantine’s mother, in the area believed to be where Jesus was born. In AD 614, a mosaic of the Magi on the floor of the church saved it from destruction by a Persian rampage. The mosaic depicts the Magi in Persian clothing. (A ninth-century synod in Jerusalem quoted this example to show the utility of religious images.) This early image does not prove the identity of the Magi, but it shows an early, widespread understanding of who they were.
3) The Magi were familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament.
As we can see in Matthew 2, the Magi were not just following a star out of curiosity; they had great preknowledge about this birth and the identity of Christ. They knew who they were seeking, and what to do when they found him: worship.
When they saw the star, they knew instantly that it was pointing to the Christ child. They told Herod, “We saw his star” (Mt 2:2, emphasis added). They knew that a child would be born around that time and were expecting it. They knew Jesus was a King, asking Herod, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” They also knew that the child was not only a King but was God. They proclaimed, “[We] have come to worship him.”
Zoroastrians believe there is only one God, and he alone must be worshiped. The name of God in Zoroastrian books is “Ahura Mazda” (meaning “the good Lord”). Incidentally, the short form of this word is “Hormoz”—yes, the Zoroastrian name for the One God is where I get my name.
But how did these men know about the coming King? The answer is easy: Daniel. Daniel was (and is even now) respected in Persia as a prophet from God. His book, written in Iran, was available and revered by Persians. Not many people know that for centuries, many who lived in Iran were true believers in the God of the Bible. This was not just because of Daniel, but also because of Nehemiah, Habakkuk, and Esther. At the end of the book of Esther, we read that many Persians came to know the God of Israel.
The Bible also says that when Persian King Cyrus set the captive Jews free, only a small number went back to their land. They returned at several stages, and the total number of those who returned are estimated to be only around 50,000 people. Therefore, millions of Jews stayed in Persia and lived there for centuries.
It is probable that the high priests of the Persian kings were required to know the Old Testament and especially the prophecies of Daniel. That is the reason these Magi were so knowledgeable about who Jesus was and the timing of his birth.
Conclusion: What Can We Learn?
It is not really important to prove where these Magi were from. What is important is that “non-Jews” found the Christ child and worshiped him long before hardly any Jews even knew he existed. This teaches us that God’s great desire is for people from all nations to know him and worship him.
We also learn that giving is an inseparable part of worship. Yes, we should worship God with praises on our lips, but that alone is not enough and might even be considered as an empty worship—just lip service.
Giving is an integral part of worship. We should worship God with our gold (possessions), our myrrh (willingness to suffer for him, to deny ourselves, to carry our cross, and to participate in his work), and our frankincense (becoming the fragrance of Christ to this world, as in 2 Cor. 2:15, by reflecting his character and loving the lost).
Worshiping God in this manner is exactly what you are doing by standing by us, loving the Muslims enough to share the gospel with them. Persia once worshiped the God of the Bible and Jesus, his Son. Many Persians are seeking him once again. Thank you for showing them the light of God’s star, that they might follow him.