The Wise Men: Matthew 2:1-12

Workshop Leaders’ Bible Study

This workshop leader’s Bible study is a historical, theological, and contextual introduction to the Wise Men rotation of Kirk of Kildaire’s Faith Quest workshop rotation program.  It is intended to provide workshop leaders with:

·        A historical context for understanding the Bible story.

·        A Biblical context for reading and teaching the story.

·        The theological basis for the concepts to be taught to the children.

In Kirk of Kildaire’s Faith Quest program, workshop leaders attend a one-hour Bible study two weeks prior to the start of a new rotation.  This Bible study helps workshop leaders understand how the concepts to be taught to the children are derived from the Bible story and how the lessons in the rotation fit together to reinforce the concepts.  It also provides an opportunity for the workshop leaders to grow in their own faith and understanding of the Bible.

It will be helpful to have a chalkboard, whiteboard, or flip chart for writing down questions or observations during the Bible study.

Note:  This is not a comprehensive study of the text, but only a few notes to help provide context and background for workshop leaders.  Consult titles cited in the reference list at the end of these notes for more information.



            Matthew 2:1-12

Memory verse for this rotation:

            “Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light.  And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows.”  Isaiah 9:2  CEV


  • God leads us to Jesus.
  • Jesus is the light of the world.
  • We are called to offer our gifts to Jesus.
  • As followers of Jesus, we worship him as our Lord.

Prayer Concerns & Prayer

·        If workshop leaders do not know each other, give them an opportunity to introduce each other and say which workshop they will be leading.

·        Begin the Bible study by praying for God’s guidance as teachers begin a new rotation.

Reading the text

Ask a workshop leader to read the text aloud.  Since this rotation focuses on an entire chapter, you might want to divide the reading among three or four workshop leaders.

Ask the workshop leaders what questions came to mind as they heard the story or read it before the Bible study.  Write down any questions that arise and will need to be answered during the Bible study.


Historical, Theological, and Biblical Contexts

Background on Matthew

            Scholars believe that Matthew was written anonymously around 90 AD in Antioch by a Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian who was probably a teacher in his community (Boring, 107).  The church later attributed the Gospel to Matthew to offer legitimacy.  The Gospel was probably written " to give direction to the community in a time of transition" (Spivey and Smith, 98).  Matthew is the only Gospel to actually use the term church to describe the community of believers (Boring, 97).  It is believed that Matthew's community was a wealthy urban community that had been dealing with a great deal of transition in the Jewish faith and leadership and began to turn its mission towards Gentiles (Boring, 100).



            Matthew is a Gospel, a unique and new genre.  It is a narrative whose intention is to tell about the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and to describe the community of believers who follow this Jesus.  It is a historical document in the sense that it deals with a particular person (Jesus) in a particular context (Boring, 90).



            Matthew is made up primarily of 5 speeches or discourses by Jesus embedded in a narrative.  Both the narrative and the speeches are important.  Eugene Boring offers the following outline in his commentary (pp. 120-124):

I. The Conflict of Kingdoms Initiated and Defined 1:1-12:21

A.    A title for the gospel 1:1

B.    Jesus as Messianic King: Son of David and Son of God 1:2-25

C.    Conflict with the Kingdom of this age 2:1-23

D.    Jesus in relation to John the Baptist 3:1-4:17

E.     The Call of the Disciples 4:18-22

F.     The Authority of the Messiah 4:23-9:35

G.    The Disciples authorized and sent 9:36-10:42

H.    The Ministry of Jesus in relation to John the Baptist 11:1-19

I.       Conflict with the Kingdom of this age 11:20-12:14

J.      The Servant King 12:15-21

II. The Conflict of Kingdoms Developed and Resolved 12:22-28:20

A.    Conflict, Decision, and Gathering the True Community 12:22-50

B.    Speaking in parables 13:1-52

C.    The Formation of the new community amid continuing conflict 13:53-17:27

D.    Life together 18:1-35

E.     Conflict and ultimate polarization 19:1-22:46

F.     The Judgment Discourse 23:1-25:46

G.   Jesus' Passion and Resurrection 26:1-28:20




            Matthew is concerned with three main themes in his gospel.

·       The Conflict of Kingdoms and the nature of the kingdom of God:  As Eugene Boring notes we see the “kingdom of God in the present, in conflict with the evil kingdom of this age, but ultimately triumphing over it” (112).

·       The identity of Jesus Christ:  Jesus is portrayed as the divine Son of God, the new king who will inaugurate a new kind of kingdom, and the fulfillment of law and scripture.

·       The identity of the true people of God:  They are characterized by discipline and forgiveness and are sent “in mission as representatives of Christ and with His authority” (Boring, 112).


MATTHEW 2:1-12


            The story of the magi’s visit to Jesus is unique to Matthew “and has no relation or points of contact with the Lukan birth story” (Boring, 140).  This lesson is assigned to the celebration of Epiphany on January 6 each year.  Epiphany means to show forth or make manifest and on Epiphany we commemorate the showing forth of Christ to all the world ( and  In the story of the wise men, Christ is made manifest to the entire world (the Gentiles) as symbolized by the pagan magi who follow the star to Jesus.  Epiphany is a time for us to consider the ways in which we can reach out and spread the light of Christ to all the nations of the world.  During the season of Epiphany, which lasts until Lent begins, we also commemorate Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his public ministry with the miracle at the marriage in Cana (   The symbol of this season is the star and therefore, Christ as the light of the world plays an important symbolic role.


Interesting Words/Phrases/Ideas


·       Matthew starts by giving us the setting – where and when.  The fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was important to establish him as the true Messiah.

·       “Magi” is the Greek word for wise man, astrologer, magician or sorcerer.  (Note it does not mean king.)  They were probably of “a priestly class of Persian or Babylonian experts in the occult, such as astrology and the interpretation of dreams” (Boring, 141-142).  Most importantly for us, they are Gentiles and yet have come obediently to worship this newborn “King of the Jews”.

·       The movements of the star would lead us to believe that it was not a natural phenomenon – it was God working miraculously through nature.  “Pagan beliefs associated the birth of a new ruler with astral phenomena, and a broad stream of Jewish tradition related the hope for the Messiah to the ‘star out of Jacob’(Num 24:17)” (Boring, 142).

V.3      Herod “serves as a foil for the kingdom of God” (142).

V. 4     Matthew introduces the chief priests and scribes setting us up for the conflict that will arise later between the hypocritical leaders and Jesus (142).

V. 5-6  The scripture quote is from Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2.  The Magi have been obediently following the star and they now seek help in finding Jesus.  As Boring says “Revelation outside Scripture motivates them to obey the one God; yet, they do not find their way to Jesus without Scripture  (143).  The magi’s obedience is contrast against the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders who do nothing.


·       Gold, frankincense and myrrh are appropriate gifts for royalty.  Frankincense and myrrh “are expensive aromatic gum resins, not native to Palestine, with a variety of religious and medical connotations” (Boring, 143).  The tradition of there being 3 magi probably resulted from the fact that 3 gifts were brought (143).

·       “Like the star motif, the dream motif portrays God, who is not mentioned in the story, as being active unobtrusively and ambiguously behind the scenes” (Boring, 143).



·       The Conflict of Kingdoms and the nature of the kingdom of God:  This theme is demonstrated in the clash between Herod and Jesus.  “Herod represents the resistance of this world to the divine kingship represented by Jesus” (Boring, 142).

·       The identity of Jesus Christ:  Already, Jesus is being identified as the King of the Jews.  Also Matthew is making the point that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to dispel any arguments against him being the true Messiah who is spoken of in Scripture.

·       The identity of the true people of God:  For Matthew, the time to reach out to the nations and tell them of Jesus is now.  As Boring says in his commentary, “the final inclusion of all nations in God’s saving plan is not to be left to the end of time” but instead we should act now to bring them into the fold of the people of God (144).


Workshop Summaries

Ask each workshop leader to summarize his or her workshop.  As they do so, point out the concepts that each lesson reinforces.  Ask workshop leaders if they have any questions about the logistics or practical application of their lesson.

Antioch Arcade:  The children will follow the star to Jesus while testing their knowledge of the story of the Wise Men.  They will discuss ways in which God helps us find Jesus and helps us to know Jesus as our Lord.

Apostles’ Playhouse:  Using a shadow screen, the children will retell the story of the Wise Men through a costumed pantomime to show how God can lead us to Jesus and that we are called to offer our gifts.  The children will demonstrate through the use of shadows and light that Jesus is the light of the world

Creation Station:  The children will learn about the special star that God created to lead the Wise Men to Jesus.  They will create two separate three dimensional stars – one to keep and one to give away as a gift.

Good News:  The children will hear the story The Fourth Wise Man, by Henry Van Dike and Susan Summers which tells of a fourth wise man who offered more than one gift to people he met along his journey in search of Jesus.  They will discus how we can offer our gifts to Jesus and others and then will choose gifts to give away.

Holywood:  The children will view the video “Jacob’s Gift” and think of a gift to give to one of God’s children.  They will make a bright star as a reminder of their gift and of Jesus who is the light of the world.

Praising Puppets:  Through a skit the children will learn about the many ways that they can offer their gifts to Jesus and to others.


Review Questions

Return to the questions that were gathered at the start of the hour.  Have they been answered?  Are there any further questions about the Bible story or about the lessons?

Closing Prayer

Close the Bible study with a prayer.


Boring, M. Eugene. "Matthew." New Interpreter's Bible, vol.VIII. Leander Keck, et al. editors. (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995). pp. 89-124 and pp. 138-145.

Spivey, Robert A. and D. Moody Smith. Anatomy of the New Testament. (New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1995). pp. 97-129.