The shepherds were definitely at the manger with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. We read in Luke 2:15-16, When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
So the shepherds were there for sure, but what about the Magi? If you were to buy a nativity set for your shelf or your lawn, the Magi would be included in the set, but is this the biblical portrait of that night? Here’s why I believe they were not present with the shepherds.
- Matthew 2:1-2, After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When did the Magi arrive in Jerusalem? It says “After Jesus was born.” On the night Jesus was born they were some 900 miles away in the east. The star prophesied in Numbers 24:17 appeared once Jesus was born. Once the Magi saw his star they knew he had been born and they set out to worship him. And they certainly didn’t fly those 900 miles. When Ezra the priest returned from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem, it took them four months to complete the 900 mile journey. The Magi may have made better time since they would’ve been traveling on horses, but we’re still talking a minimum of a couple months. And this is why Matthew 2:1 records that “After Jesus was born…Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…”
- Matthew 2:7-9 says …Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. Though Herod told them to go to Bethlehem, the star guided them to where the child actually was, which was back in Nazareth.
- This is why Matthew 2:11 says of the Magi “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him…” It doesn’t say “On coming to the manger” rather “On coming to the house…” Joseph and Mary left their home in Nazareth to participate in the census (Luke 2:1-4). Since they were from the tribe of Judah, they had to go to Bethlehem some 80 miles to the south. But after Jesus was born and after they participated in the census, they would’ve returned home.
- Additionally, we read in Matthew 2:13 that right after the Magi presented their gifts to Jesus and then returned east, “…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So that’s just what Joseph did. But once the danger had passed Matthew 2:23 tells us that he led his family back to Nazareth. So the picture painted in Matthew 2 is that the Magi visit Jesus in Nazareth. Right after their visit, Joseph and family flee from Nazareth to Egypt. Then, once the danger had passed, they returned to Nazareth.
I’m not saying you should return your navitity scenes or anything 🙂 I just want you to know the biblical record of the navity 🙂