We read in Mtt 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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”.

Now, there could be only one king for Judea at a time which Herod was( Verse 1). When the Magi visited the palace, they must have expected a baby born in the clan of the king and who would someday be crowned new king. Till then, the child would be called ' prince '. If they really meant king, they would be signalling the arrival of a new king, crowned on birth, to supplant the ruling king. That would no doubt, cost them their lives! But, the Magi were ' wise' and would never consult the ruling king with such a detrimental news. My question therefore, is: Why did the Magi refer to Infant Jesus as King of Jews ?

3 Answers 3


A possible answer is directly connected to an astronomer's view of what the Magi would have seen in the sky, many months before Christ was to be born.

An article on this was in 1 September 2009 ‘Weekend’ magazine which was reviewing a BBC2 documentary on Christmas Eve that year. It gave that explanation of David Hughes, Professor of Astronomy at Sheffield University. The first conjunction was in May, giving them plenty time to plot the next two conjunctions (in September and November) and travel the very long distance to Jerusalem (over which the second conjunction appeared) at the time of Jesus' birth. The Bible shows a time gap between Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Magi.

Three years before Herod’s death, there was a rare triple conjunction that would make the planets involved appear to be traveling backwards and, on specific days, to have actually stopped. All planets do this, but it is very rare when two do so at the same time. This could account for the biblical use of the word ‘east’ in the birth narrative of Jesus. It wasn’t just that the Magi from Persia saw the first sighting in the east, but also that this remarkable ‘traveling backward’ illusion (when viewed from earth) would give more reason to speak of “in the east”, plus an understanding comes as to the strange ‘standing still’ bit (that would happen last).

Zoroastrian Magi viewed Jupiter as representing a new king; Saturn the old. The planets coming together would signify a change of ruler. This happening in Pisces would speak to them of Israel as they associated Pisces with Israel.

Once arrived in Jerusalem, their open declaration of their arrival to Herod the Great garnered them further direction – the religious leaders confirmed that prophecies showed Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This was after they had asked, "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." Matthew 2:2 K.J. Then, the ‘star’ appearing to stand still above Bethlehem would absolutely assure them that their astronomical calculations and astrological expectations about a new king of Israel were sound.


First, the text does not say that the magi reported to Herod that the "King of the Jews" had been born. They asked in Jerusalem about where he might be found. No doubt they knew of expectations about the Messiah because many thousands of Jews still lived in their area of origin: the former Babylonian empire. The next line of the text says "When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled..." The likely sequence of events would be that the magi's question was reported to Herod by his agents among the people of Jerusalem, rather than that the magi came voluntarily to Herod with the question. Herod then interrogated them and hoped to use them as his spies:

8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”

Herod, being Jewish himself, pretended that he would accept the infant Messiah, and the magi played along. But of course Herod was lying and the magi knew this, for they did not return as directed. This accounts for Herod's allowing them to proceed rather than acting against them.

Regarding calling him "king" rather than "prince," title King of the Jews is a reference to the Messiah's mission to restore the throne of David. Herod's position was given to him by the Romans, and many Jews did not accept his legitimacy. It's true Jesus wasn't king yet; and in fact he never became king. That was simply the title that people used in referring to the coming Messiah, regardless of his age. So King of the Jews in this context means 'future king' not 'present king.' Thus, when Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem, Matthew 21:5 reports that this was done in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah:

Say to daughter Zion, ‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’

Conclusion: the magi asked about the (future) King of the Jews because this was how people spoke of the Messiah, even if he had not yet fulfilled the task of restoring the throne of David. The magi apparently used the title when first asking in Jerusalem about the infant's whereabouts, and Herod learned of their question indirectly.

  • Thanks, Dan Fefferman. The Magi being kings themselves, must have had easy access to Herod. Verse 7 which speaks of ' secret talk ' between Herod and the Magi took place after the king had consulted high priests and learned men. The Magi must have met Herod even before that and had been asked to rest for sometime. My humble view is that they directly came to the palace in Jerusalem from the East. Commented Jan 15 at 15:18
  • Please also note the Evangelist' s statement that the king and the whole of Jerusalem with him got disturbed on hearing the Magi. Commented Jan 15 at 15:23
  • Jesus never became king? He was executed as King if the Jews. Under Roman law Pilate's authority was absolute. Effectively he was Caesar over Judea. His proclamation that Jesus was King of the Jews meant in the eyes of Rome Jesus was in fact King of the Jews. Like Caiaphas Pilate did not understand the significance of his actions. That does not change the legal significance. He declared Jesus was King of the Jews and then executed Him for that reason. Commented Jan 15 at 15:37
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan ... "The whole of Jerusalem" is a hyperbole, similar to Luke 3:15 where "all men" wonder if John the Baptist was the Christ. Their question caused a stir, and was reported to Herod. He was known to kill several of his immediate family members as possible usurpers, so it is perfectly in character for him to be disturbed at a possible threat to his throne. Any of his supporters would also be worried about such reports since his legitimacy was question widely. Commented Jan 15 at 21:54
  • 3
    "The Magi being kings themselves" I'm not so sure they were. They might have been royal advisors, but my understanding is that they were probably just Zoroastrian priests.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jan 16 at 11:54

When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews. In the Gospel of Matthew 27:11, it is written:

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' 'You have said so,' Jesus replied."

Pilate then had a sign placed on the cross during Jesus' crucifixion that read "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (John 19:19). This is why Jesus is often referred to as the "King of the Jews" in the Christian tradition, as it reflects the acknowledgment of his kingship during the events leading to his crucifixion.

Old Testament prophecies, including those about the Jewish Messiah, Judaism does not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The designation "King of the Jews" is the Christian theological interpretation of the New Testament.

It's, essentially, a Roman attempt to save face politically by using public mockery.

Interpretation of "King of the Jews", myself, I see as a form of ridicule by the Romans, particularly by Pontius Pilate. Pilate, in the Gospel accounts, seemed to use the title to emphasize Jesus' supposed claim to kingship and to downplay any potential threat that Jesus might pose to Roman authority.

While the intention behind Pilate's situational use of the title may have been to undermine the significance that Jesus' claim to kingship might have had, it takes on a different meaning for Christians. The events of Jesus' crucifixion, including the title "King of the Jews," are part of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies and humanity's redemption.

Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Christians interpret this as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus.

Micah 5:2

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

This is seen as a prophecy regarding the birthplace of the Messiah, fulfilled in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Isaiah 53 Often referred to as the "Suffering Servant" passage, this chapter speaks about a servant who will suffer for the sins of others. Christians interpret this as a prophecy about the suffering and sacrificial death of Jesus.

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is seen as a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Psalm 22 This psalm includes descriptions of suffering and being forsaken, and many see it as a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus.

  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 16 at 18:55
  • I apologize, I just wanted to express the patronizing usage by the Roman's, which doesn't get enough attention. As well, Judaism does not acknowledge it.
    – JayCravens
    Commented Jan 16 at 19:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.