The Star of Bethlehem
The following presentation is a summarized version of the movie, “The Star of Bethlehem.” The majority of the information in here is the paraphrased, original work of the author, Fred Larson, with some additional commentary on my part. The reason that I am presenting this today is since we all believe that the Bible is the Word of the Living God, and since the word of God is truth, we should be able to see a match up all of the information in the Bible to recorded (and/or accurately recreated) events in the past.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a mathematician and astronomer who discovered (again) that the stars moved in specific patterns. These patterns were so regular, they ran like clockwork. Kepler gave us the mathematical laws of planetary motion. These laws are still used today by our astronomers because of their exceeding high accuracy to determine where the stars will move in the sky. Sir Issac Newton gave us some additional refinement with perturbations, or slight irregularities in motion. Regardless, the stars are very predictable and we can accurately recreate, using software, what the skies would have looked like backwards and will look like forwards in time. If you are interested, the software used by Fred Larson is Starry Night (about $50).
Before Kepler, there was another group of people who had puzzled out the movements of the stars. This may have been the Eastern School of Magi, possibly referenced by the Apostle Matthew in his Gospel.
The Stars in the Bible
Let’s look at the mention of stars in the Bible. The oldest book in the Bible is likely Job. In the book of Job, there is already mention of stars, and God is taking credit for them:
He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
Please note that the NIV Bible’s study notes indicate the the constellation of the Bear is the same as Leo. This will be important later on.
31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? 32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?”
Notice that this is the second time Leo (the Bear) is mentioned in the Bible.
God is basically saying, “Job, can you make the stars do what you want them to do?” And the implied answer is no. God is saying that He made the stars. He is taking credit for the stars and the planets.
Isaiah tells us to look up to the heavens:
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
God is the one who brings them out, and He is the one who names them.
It has been estimated, after looking into space with the Hubble telescope, which is free from the distortion of air and pollution, that there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the Universe as big as the Milky Way galaxy, and each of those galaxies have about 100 billion stars in each of them. God calls each of these stars by name and not even one of them is missing or out of place. They are exactly where God wants them to be.
David, a man after God’s own heart, talks about the stars in the Psalms:
Pay particular attention to the verbs that David is using here.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. (emphasis added)
Isn’t it interesting that David, verb after different Hebrew verb, is saying that the stars are communicating?
Paul also says that the Jews had heard the message of the stars. Let’s turn to Romans 10:17-18:
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
In this passage, Paul rhetorically asks if his people, the Jews, had heard that the Messiah had come. He then quotes David, indicating that the Jews knew that the Messiah has come because the stars have told them. Can you make that argument unless something interesting has happened in the sky? You cannot, unless something has.
Jesus Himself has said that the sun, moon, and stars will be used as signs:
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing [turmoil of action] of the sea [of people]. (Additional information added in brackets  for clarity)
So, is it OK to look for signs in the stars in Heaven? Apparently so. But we know that Astrology is bad, so why is Astronomy OK? Well, let’s use a thermometer as a metaphor. A thermometer will tell you the temperature, but the thermometer does not create the conditions that are giving you that temperature. The thermometer is merely an indicator, not a causation agent. Astrology tells us that the stars rule our lives. The Bible tells us that the stars are indicators for things that are going to happen. Additionally, astrology is equated to idolatry.
And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars-all the heavenly array-do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.
Matthew Tells Us The Nine Characteristics Of The Star
Because people only look to Matthew to tell us that there was a star, and then they close the Bible and don’t look any further, nearly everything in the sky has been postulated as the Star of Bethlehem. But the book of Matthew gives us nine specific characteristics that this star must exhibit in order to fulfill the requirements of the scriptural clues that we are provided.
These will easily eliminate many incorrect claims. And even if something matches eight of the nine characteristics, we will say, “that is interesting, but the word of God is Truth”. Whatever occurs MUST match all nine characteristics.
So, let’s go to the second chapter in Matthew and look at the clues.
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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Note that the time of the death of Herod is very important. Josephus puts his death around 4 BC, which would make us look for the event before that time period. But modern scholarship puts the death of Herod about 1 BC. We should then look in 2BC to 3BC.
Next there were magi. Magi comes from Magus, which means magicians. We are shown in Acts that there were bad magicians (Acts 8:9-24, Simon the Sorcerer). But Philo, a Jewish historian and philosopher who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, tells us that there was a school of magi in the East that were very knowledgeable in the natural order, and were able to explain the natural order to others. He praised them highly. He didn’t praise all of the magi, but this school in particular.
Fred Larson has a theory about this. Matthew, in particular, went specifically out of his way to tell us they were from the East. These proto-scientists may very well have been the descendants of Daniel and his friends. Daniel never went home to Israel, but stayed where he was. He most likely trained up others. Let’s look at Daniel chapter one to see what the word of God has to say about Daniel and his friends:
19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
The magi asked a question that was loaded with three clues. Whatever they saw in the sky suggested to them:
- The Jewish Nation
In the Bible, it says that they saw the star in the East. This is not a correct translation. The Greek is en tE anatolE, which means rising in the East. Not all stars rise in the East. Pole stars do not, for example.
The magi were most likely of Jewish descent. When they came, they asked about a Jewish King, and they wanted to worship. Who would want to worship a Jewish King? Probably someone of Jewish descent.
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
Herod was disturbed when he heard this. This is an indirect clue. In ancient times, people in the summertime would sleep on their roofs to get out of the heat, and off the first floor which gave them some protection from criminals. In today’s world, we have to deal with light pollution and air pollution. But back then, the desert air would have been crystal clear, and they would have been able to see all of the stars in the sky. The most light that they would have seen would have been a torch. They were intimately aware of what was going on in the night sky, because they didn’t have the Internet or TV to distract them after the sun went down. They would have seen and known what was going on in the sky every night it wasn’t cloudy. Herod had no idea that the star had come. No one was talking about it. So, what was it?
Let’s look at our next clues in Matthew:
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
The star had an exact timing. That was another clue (v.7).
Herod’s chief priests, when asked where the Messiah would be born, quoted the prophet Micah. It’s a fateful prophecy.
“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. 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.”
Bethlehem was where the magi found the child. Not his birth, but where he was staying when the Star of Bethlehem stopped in the sky.
Herod then accepted that what the magi had told him was true. In 2 Kings 11:1, we see that when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. When the people had learned that Herod heard a that new boy king had been born, and he believed it, they feared for their own children’s lives. Herod, by his actions, bore out their concerns.
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said,”Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
The star went ahead of them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. It was 5 miles south on the main road (due South).
They originally saw the star when they were in the East, and now they still saw the star after their 700 mile ride from Babylon (about 60 miles south of Baghdad) to Jerusalem. Therefore, the star endured. It then was located in the Southern sky, and was over Bethlehem. Finally, it stopped over the place where the child was. Can a star stop? Yes it can.
So, was it a shooting star? Unlikely – shooting stars are brief.
Was it a comet? Probably not. Although a comet could possibly be it, and this is soft science – they were usually signs of doom. Even as late as early last century – around 1910, when Haley’s comet arrived, the churches were packed with people who thought the world was going to end. Additionally, several cultures kept very good astronomical records that have survived even to this day, including the Chinese. There are no comets recorded in 3 BC to 2 BC. Besides, Herod was surprised. If it was something extraordinary, he would have known about it, because it would have been the talk of the town. So, it must have been something ordinary, but explained extraordinarily. Even if it was a Nova, Herod would not have had to ask when it appeared.
Most stars are in the fixed class, but the planets (also known as wandering stars) may provide an explanation. Jupiter is the largest planet, about nine times the diameter of the Earth, and the highest god in the Roman pantheon revered after it. It takes about 12 years to go around the sun, and was known as the king planet.
Jupiter would need to do some completely interesting things to fulfill all nine characteristics. Let’s take a quick look to see if that is what occurred.
The nine points are:
- It signified a birth
- It signified kingship
- It was related to the Jews
- It must rise in the East like most stars
- It appeared at an exact time
- Herod didn’t know it had appeared
- It endured over a considerable period of time
- It went ahead of magi as they traveled from Babylon to Jerusalem (to the west)
- The star stopped (in the Southern Sky)
Birth of a King
1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
In a very unusual astronomical event on September 11th, 3 B.C., Virgo follows Jupiter in the sky. The star Virgo then rises directly behind the Sun in the sky at sunrise, and the moon is at her feet – the feet of the constellation of Virgo. It is a small crescent moon, because it is the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah. It is a representation of a life just starting. This is may possibly be describing the sign of the Son of Man – the conception of Jesus – because conception is the birth of life according to the Jews and (many) Christians.
On September 12th, 3 B.C., the planet of Jupiter rises in conjunction with Regulus (which means regal, or King, or Rex, which means king). This would have been seen probably two or three times every 50 years, so it did happen with some regularity. But what it did in September of 3 B.C. to 2 B.C. was extraordinary. Jupiter looped around Regulus with retrograde motion. It appeared to act very strange. Jupiter’s looping is shallow, but in this time-frame it made three close approaches to Regulus, and in its laps performed a halo over Regulus. By the way, Regulus is also known in Latin as Alpha Leonis, or Alpha Leo – the Alpha-Male Lion.
Related to the Jews (The Lion of Judah)
Which of the twelve tribes produced the Messiah (this isn’t a trick question)? Judah of course. And which animal is associated with Judah? The lion:
9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
In a most spectacular astronomical event, Jupiter crowns Regulus three times in the sign of Leo, between the legs, forming the scepter during the next twelve months.
The Brightest Star, Rising in the East
Nine months after Virgo was clothed with the Sun, with the Moon at her feet, and the twelve stars crowning her head, on June 17th, 2 B.C., Venus and Jupiter came in close conjunction. They literally stacked upon each other like a snowman. This created the brightest star in the sky that ANYONE had ever seen at that time. And off rode the magi to Jerusalem.
A Southern Star
They have traveled 700 miles west from Babylon to Jerusalem, and it is now November 5th, 2 B.C. At 7:00 AM, Jupiter is now in the Southern Sky, pointing the way to Bethlehem. But the star is still moving…
A Stopped Star
Since the stars are always stopped (otherwise the constellations would be unrecognizable), what was Matthew talking about? Planets can engage in what is called retrograde motion, so a planet can appear to stop in the sky. Since we are viewing the stars from a moving platform, just as a car going slower than us appears to be going backwards, yet is still traveling forward, Jupiter did exactly that. On December 25, 2BC, Jupiter finished its retrograde motion and appeared to have stopped moving in relation to the other stars in the sky over the little town of Bethlehem.
Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. When they arrived, Jupiter was just coming over the horizon, just above Bethlehem. They arrived at a house in Bethlehem, not the birth of Jesus in a manger. The Greek indicates that he is now a toddler (paidion). He is no longer a newly born infant – He was 6 ½ months old. They arrived on the first Christmas. They didn’t know it was what we now call Christmas – they used a different calendar system back then: that date had no meaning for them. But it may be a sign to us. The planet Jupiter fulfilled each of the nine criteria in the proper time frame for it to be the one and only Star of Bethlehem.
Now you know that the Star of Bethlehem was actually the planet Jupiter, set in motion at the beginning of time. This is significant because what that means is that God, omniscient, knew exactly when and where His Son Jesus would be conceived, born, and was at the time when Jupiter stopped. He knew exactly where Jesus would be on each of these important dates in history.
This tells us a couple of things. First, when you press and squeeze God’s word, it will stand up to any scrutiny. Second, it speaks of God’s knowledge, power, and beauty in poetry that He wove these events to coincide with the Sun, Moon, and Stars, announcing to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear their wonderful speech, as they continually pour it forth.
And there is something else that you should know. In Matthew 24, Jesus says what will happen just prior to His coming:
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The disciples recognized that important events would be preceded by signs. Jesus Himself said that the sun, moon, and stars would be used as signs in Luke 21:25. And Matthew records for us what Jesus said would just precede His coming:
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days
“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
Note in verse thirty that it says “THE SIGN of the Son of Man in heaven” (emphasis added). This is a specific, unique sign in heaven – using the sun, moon, and stars. John gives us this sign in Revelation:
1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
This is the astronomical event that occurred at the conception of Jesus. And it appears to be the sign of the Son of Man. Since the stars run like clockwork, we find something very interesting. Just prior to the next occurrence of this event, Jupiter will be in or near the womb of Virgo for 1 day short of 42 weeks. The gestation period for human children is between 37 and 42 weeks. She will be pregnant indeed before she gives birth! And when she gives birth, the sign of the Son of Man will appear – The woman (Virgo) was clothed with the Sun (behind the sun as it rises) with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
This event doesn’t occur very often. The next known calculated occurrence of this event will be on September 23, 2017. Prepare your hearts, for the return of Christ is imminent. I am not saying that Christ will return on September 23, 2017. What I am saying is that this may be the sign that will precede his coming, and that the next occurrence of this sign in the stars will be a very long time indeed. Given that God is revealing Himself worldwide to people in dreams and visions where His ambassadors are unable to work, it would appear that this may very well indeed be the sign of the time of His coming.