These “wise men” were members of a priestly caste known as the Magi who practiced the art of astrology. They believed the sun, moon, and stars gave off periodic signs that foretold future events and the destiny of individuals and nations. They probably came from the territory of ancient Babylonia, since this nation had a prominent class of magicians and wizards who read the signs of the stars (Isa 47:13). This verse shows that Jesus’ birth had worldwide implications. Although born a Jew in Jewish territory, He was worshiped from the very beginning by other nations-represented by these pagan magicians-as one who was destined to become a universal king.
A popular Christmas carol (“We Three Kings of Orient Are”) that identifies these people as rulers who were three in number has no biblical basis. The number three has been assumed from the number of gifts they presented to the young Jesus (Matthew 2:11).
MATTHEW 2:1 – When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men [Magi, NIV] from the east to Jerusalem.