One subject that seems to pop up at some point during the recounting of the Christmas Story is that of the star that led the wise men to Judea and Bethlehem.  It is only natural to sit and wonder, what would the star have been?  Was it a natural phenomenon, or was it a supernatural happening?

If we try to understand the natural side of what the star mentioned in Matthew 2 was, we must understand that the English word translated “star” in Matthew is the Greek word aster, the same root for the word astronomy.  This word actually includes all heavenly bodies, including stars, comets and planets.

Next, we must attempt to nail down a date when it would have appeared.  This event would have had to be something so different to catch the attention of seasoned astronomers like the wise men.  We know that Herod the Great was in charge of Judea at the time of Christ, so this event would have had to happen before he died.  Josephus records that Herod died the same year after a lunar eclipse sometime near the Passover, which occurred around 6-7BC and 1BC.  We would also have to understand that the star rose in the east, would have stayed visible for a long time, represented the birth of a king, and would have escaped the notice of Herod.

A meteorite, or shooting star, would have been a spectacular event, but they can come from anywhere and only last for a second or two.  A comet would have certainly been an interesting event.  It would have risen in the east and been around for a long time.  But it would have been noticed by many, including Herod.  Also, comets in ancient days were considered by many cultures as a bad omen, or as messengers of doom.  Certainly God would not have communicated the birth of His Son in a way that would have been interpreted as a bad omen or a messenger of doom.

A supernova is the explosion of a star at the end of its life.  When it occurs, it is the brightest object in the sky, which would have been a spectacular sight that would have stayed around for a long time.  It would rise in the east, also.  But such an event would have been noticed by many, and Herod would not have had to ask when the star appeared.

There are two instances of what are called triple conjunctions of heavenly bodies during the time that we have identified – 6-7BC and 1 BC.  A conjunction is when two heavenly bodies come very close to each other in the sky.  Both of the triple conjunctions examined here involve the planet Jupiter, and they would have taken around eight to 12 months to complete.  A conjunction is not unusual, and all of us would have the opportunity to see one in our lifetime.  But a triple conjunction is highly unusual, and has only happened 11 times in the last 2,000 years.  If you get to see one, then you would be fortunate, indeed.  Be aware that the wise men, who were experienced astronomers, would have been thrilled at this happening, and would have likely wondered about this happening while examining with scripture that proclaimed the coming of the Son of God.

In 1BC,  Jupiter had a triple conjunction with the star Regulus.  Jupiter, even in that day, had been given the name of the king of the Roman gods.  Regulus is a fairly bright star in the sky, and has the same root from which we get our word regal, related to a king.  Because of the orbit of the planets and the orbit of earth, planets can appear to do rather strange things in the sky.  In this case, Jupiter came down past Regulus, appeared to “stop” then come back up.  It appeared to stop again, then came down past Regulus again, completing the triple conjunction.  All these events happened in the constellation of Leo, the lion and the king of the jungle.  Remember the prophecies that called Jesus the lion of Judah and that He would be a king with the government on His shoulders.

The other triple conjunction involves Jupiter and Saturn in 6-7BC.  This event was very much like the other, with Jupiter passing Saturn three times.  Saturn was the king of the Greek gods, showing the connection to a king.  This triple conjunction happened in the constellation Pisces, which has been connected with the nation of Israel.

Another interesting point is that the triple conjunctions involved Jupiter making three passes of the heavenly bodies.  The number three has had special significance in the scriptures.  God is a triune being with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish.

Whether the star was one of these events or not, it is interesting to note that the event involved the light of a heavenly body that led the wise men all the way from Persia to Judea, then eventually down to Bethlehem.  Just as the light of the star led the wise men to Jesus around 2,000 years ago, Jesus is the light of the world that still leads us to salvation:  “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men…” says John 1:4.

Jesus Himself proclaimed that “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46).  And let us never forget that  “Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (John 1:78-79).

The wise men were led by a light by God to seek out and worship His Son, and God has sent His Son to us so that we can see the light through the darkness of our sin to worship His Son.


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