What was the star that led the Magi to Jesus? When did they arrive?

I remember in 2015, there was an amazing conjunction between Jupiter and Venus that occurred on the night of June 30th. Sky & Telescope Magazine said that Jupiter and Venus were so close together that it resembled their convergence in the year 2 BC. Astronomers said that there hadn’t been a convergence like that at any other time in the 2,000 years since the night of June 17, 2BC.

Thanks to modern technology, anyone with a computer can see the stars and planets on their screens as they were in the sky on any given date, from any point of view, past or present. Because the stars and constellations are mathematically fixed points in the sky while the paths of the planets orbiting the sun move predictably in the sky, and our own planet’s tilt, rotation, and orbit changes our view of the sky with mathematical precision, modern software can easily display the positions of the stars and planets in the sky from any point of time or view.

I have a program on my computer called Starry Night Pro. It’s very precise and very easy to use.

This will be a very helpful tool for us to understand the star that the Magi followed. But first, lets remind ourselves who the Magi were.

Ancient Magi

The Magi were a class of priests in the region around ancient Babylon and were especially knowledgeable of astronomy. In fact, the names of the constellations and zodiac that we know today originated with the Babylonians during the 7th century B.C. The best of these Magi were counselors to the King who consulted the stars when he had decisions to make. Daniel became one of these leaders when he was brought into the king’s service and promoted to be an administrator. Now, while Daniel probably learned to understand the stars like the Magi, his authority did not lie in the stars. He found his authority in the Lord and his Word.

Matthew’s Magi

The Magi of Matthew chapter 2 were most likely trained in the line that followed Daniel and the Magi that were contemporary to him. So they were very knowledgeable in the mapping and understanding of the stars, the planets, and the constellations. But they also would’ve known all about Daniel’s prophecies, as well. So when they came to King Herod and said, 

“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.” – Matthew 2:2

they wanted to “worship” the newborn king of the Jews, because they were probably of Jewish descent or belief themselves. But how did they know what the star meant in the first place? What would compel them to use a star in the night sky to help them navigate hundreds of miles to the west, looking for a king? Let’s look at Daniel’s prophecy of the messiah in Daniel chapter 9.

Prophecy of the Messiah: 69 Sevens

The year is 539 BC and the city is Babylon, which was several hundred miles east of Jerusalem. This is where, in the book of Daniel, chapter 9, verses 20-27, we find the prophet Daniel after having been in exile there with the other Jews for almost 70 years already. Daniel is thinking that their time in exile is just about over and he decides to start praying for his people. But that’s when the angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel (Daniel 9) to help him understand how many years were left and also how long until the Messiah would arrive. 

This is where we’ll pick it up in Daniel 9:20 …

20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision: 24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. 25 “Know and understand this: 

From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’  - Daniel 9:25

It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

In summary, Gabriel explained that there would be 7 ‘sevens and 62 sevens, which likely meant 69 sets of seven years equaling 483 years or, as some suggest, possibly 7 sets of 14 years and 62 sets of 7 years equaling 532 years, from the king’s command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem to the arrival of the Anointed One, the Messiah. Then after the 69 sevens, seemingly in the middle of the 70th seven, the Messiah would be put to death putting an end to sacrifice and offering.

Now, there were four decrees related to rebuilding Jerusalem:

  1. Cyrus issued a decree around 538-536 BC to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4; 6:1-5) as well as the city itself (Isaiah 44:28; 45:13).
  2. Darius issued a decree in the year 521 BC that reaffirmed Cyrus’s decree (Ezra 6:6-12).
  3. Artaxerxes issued a decree to Ezra in the year 458 BC, giving him permission to proceed with the temple service (Ezra 7:11-26).
  4. Artaxerxes issued a decree to Nehemiah in the year 444 BC to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-8).

This means that the Messiah would be born at least sometime after 55 BC and would be put to death sometime before 39 AD. But if it’s the multiples of seven for the first group of seven, then 532 years from King Darius’ decree would bring us to within a couple of years from Jesus’ birth.

These Magi would’ve known that the 69 ‘sevens’ were almost if not already complete, and the time of the Messiah was near or even now. My guess is that the Magi had a much more accurate understanding of the timing of Daniel’s prophecy than we do, of course.

So, when the time was right, the Magi started watching for a sign. And, being the astute astronomers that they were, they naturally watched for the story to unfold in the skies. Why? Because, like Job says of God,

“He is the Maker of the Bear, and Orion, the Pleiades, and the constellations…”Job 9:9

And like David says in his Psalm,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”Psalm 19:1-4

And what a story the skies told! 


Before we look at the stars with them using Starry Night Pro, it’s important to know a few things. 

  1. The Magi knew there was a difference between stars and planets but they did, however, refer to planets as wandering stars. 
  2. There was symbolism to the planets and stars. The Magi knew 
    • Jupiter as the King Planet
    • Venus as the planet of love and fertility, and
    • The star Regulus as the King Star, which is permanently positioned in
    • The Constellation Leo, the lion, which is followed immediately by
    • The Constellation Virgo, a young woman, was associated with fertility.
  3. They also would’ve known that the lion is the symbol of the Jewish tribe of Judah, from which the Messiah would come.
  4. Between the months of August in the year 3 B.C. and December of 2 B.C. was a spectacular series of convergences of the planets Jupiter and Venus, the star Regulus, and the constellations of Leo and Virgo. This series of convergences were unlike any other that had ever been observed. And, they told a story that was particularly astonishing at this time in history as the prophesies of Daniel’s 69 ‘sevens’ came to a close and the time of the Messiah had arrived.

The Story Unfolds

Now, let’s look to the skies that the Magi themselves would’ve seen in those days using the software I told you about earlier.

August 12, 3 BC – A King will be Born.

From their point of view in the eastern region of Babylon, on the morning of August 12, 3 BC, what appeared to be a single star like none other rose in the east (as do all stars). However, this star was actually the planet Venus and the planet Jupiter so close to each other that they looked like one star. Futhermore, it was entering the constellation Leo, the Lion. Knowing that Daniel’s Messianic prophecy had come to the time of fulfillment and seeing this close convergence would’ve most likely indicated to the Magi the announcement of the coming birth of a King in the tribe of Judah whose symbol was the Lion. I’m sure they were excited about this but they kept watching.

Play the video below to see what they would’ve seen.

August, 3BC – May 2 BC: A King will be Crowned from the Tribe of Judah.

Then, over the next nine months, the King Planet passed very closely over the King Star, Regulus, three times as Jupiter went into what’s called its retrograde motion. 

Play the video below to see what they would’ve seen.

This happens quite often, every nine months, because it’s annual orbit around the sun is the equivalent of 12 years on earth. 

So as we watch Jupiter while we spin around the sun, it appears to wobble every nine months. It appears to stop in its orbit, reverse direction for a while, stop again and return to the other direction. 

What’s unique about this particular time was that its retrograde was precisely around Regulus, the King Star, forming three very close conjunctions as if it were forming a halo around it or even a three-pointed crown on a king. This is very rare. 

Furthermore, the fact that Regulus is the primary star of the constellation Leo, the lion, adds another layer to the story unfolding here. In Genesis we find that the lion is the symbol assigned to the Tribe of Judah, the line of descendants from which King David came and the Messiah would come.

Play the video below to see what they would’ve seen.

Genesis 49:9-10 says,

“You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness– who dares to rouse him? The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” ⎯ Genesis 49:9-10

Oh, the Magi are probably VERY excited now. This would no doubt imply to them that a king from the Jewish tribe of Judah would soon be crowned.

June 17, 2 BC – The Coming Birth of the King.

On the morning of June 17th, 2 BC, Jupiter and Venus Converged again and rose as a single star. This time they were closer than the Magi had ever observed and they would not be this close again till June of 2015. Considering the previous astronomical events, this must have indicated to the Magi that the prophesied Messiah had either arrived or was soon to arrive, and this star was announcing the coming birth of the newborn king.

Play the video below to see what they would’ve seen.

At the setting of the day looking westward toward Jerusalem this star that was just above the horizon in the darkening sky would have been an amazing sight to see!

September – December, 2 BC – The Journey Westward.

As the planet Venus passed through the constellation Virgo and again coming near to Jupiter during the month of September the Magi most likely began their long journey of somewhere between 500 and 700 miles depending on their chosen route, that would have taken their caravan about two or three months to travel by camel and foot.

Play the video below to see what they would’ve seen.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem expecting to find a child born to the current king, imagine their surprise that there was none. As they explained the story of the star to Herod, he was oblivious to the whole thing. So he consulted the local priests and teachers who told him that the Messiah was to be born in the town of Bethlehem, which was only 5 miles to South and just slightly to the West. They based their answer on the prophecy found in Micah 5:2

“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.” ⎯ Micah 5:2, 4

Meanwhile, Jupiter, the star they had been following all this time, was about to enter another retrograde in December. Here’s a little review of the path that wandering star has taken up to this point.

Play the video below to see what they would’ve seen.

6:00AM, December 25, 2 BC – The Star over Bethlehem. 

Early on the morning of December 25, the Magi woke up their crew, packed up their bags, loaded their camels, and started south toward Bethlehem. 

When they looked to the sky, Matthew says they were “overjoyed” when they saw the star. 

“…the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” ⎯ Matthew 2:9-10

For the star they had been following for the last year and half … the star they first saw rise with the morning sun in the east on August 12, 3 BC … the star that told the story of a messiah to be born king of the Jews … the star that led them westward to the land of their forefather, the prophet Daniel whose completed prophecy of 69 Sevens prompted them to look to the skies for a sign … the star that had evaded the despicable Herod who wanted nothing more than to kill this so-called newborn king … that wandering star, 

the King Planet Jupiter, the “Star”, had just begun its retrograde motion and stood still in the sky to the South and slightly to the West, directly above the little town of Bethlehem, just 5 miles away. As Matthew 2:10 says, “they were overjoyed.”


Following that star’s position toward Bethlehem, and maybe even asking a few people along the way if they knew of a newborn baby, the Magi arrived at the place where Jesus had been born. They entered the house, yes, the “house.”



Jesus was born in a house. Most of the homes in Bethlehem were simple homes where the family often slept in a common room and the family animals were under the same roof in a slightly lower room, connected to the family area but divided by a feeding trough, called a manger. 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” – Luke 2:7

The word used by Luke that has often been translated as “inn” means guest room. The guest room of that house in which they were staying may have been full of other guests who were also there for the census. However, the original greek doesn’t actually use the word “available.” Rather it just says there was “no guest room.” That in addition to the likelihood that Jewish hospitality would’ve compelled anyone staying in that guest room to offer it to Mary and Joseph, and the simplicity of the homes in that town at that time leads us to the logical conclusion that there simply was no guest room in that house. It was likely just one open family room connected to a lower area for the animals with a feeding trough, or manger, separating the two rooms. When the Magi visited Jesus, he was still in the same home in which he had been born. They worshiped him and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

We know there were three gifts, but we don’t know how many magi there were.

Some thoughts around the timeline

We are told in Matthew 2:7 that the Magi told Herod the “exact time the star had appeared.” This would likely be referring to the convergence of Jupiter and Venus on August 12, -3BC, almost a year and a half earlier. This would be why Herod identified boys under the age of 2, because that’s in approximate accordance with when the Magi had seen the star.

The scriptures also tell us in Luke chapter 2 that after the shepherds left, on the eighth day, Jesus was circumcised. Following that Luke tells us in verses 22 and 23 that Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to Jerusalem for the purification rites required by the Law. A Baby Dedication of sorts in the Temple of Jerusalem.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” – Luke 2:22-24

This Law is found in Leviticus 12:2-8 and states that a baby boy must be circumcised on the 8th day after his birth and that the mother must wait 40 days for her impurity to pass and then must present the child to the priest with an offering to make atonement.

This means that whenever he was born, after the shepherds visited him, after Jesus was circumcised eight days later, and after the Magi visited him on December 25th, Mary finished out her 40 days of purification after his birth and they brought Jesus to Jerusalem for his “dedication” and then they would have started making their way home. 

Now, Herod was expecting the Magi to return from Bethlehem within a few days. After all, Bethlehem was only 5 miles away. But they didn’t, so he probably realized what was happening about a week after the 25th by which time Joseph and Mary may have already been in Jerusalem or even on their way back to Nazareth. So when Herod’s directive to slaughter the babies who were born in and around Bethlehem became known, while Joseph and Mary may have already left, the census would’ve traced them back to Nazareth. Either way, they were in danger and the Angel warned them to flee to Egypt until Herod died later the next year in 1 BC.

All this leads us to this timeline.

  1. The Magi may have been watching for a sign of the Messiah as early as 55 BC and as late as 4 BC.
  2. The Magi saw the first sign in August of 3 BC.
  3. Jesus was likely conceived sometime in February or March 2 BC.
  4. The Magi likely started their journey around September 2 BC.
  5. The Magi arrived at the place of Jesus’ birth on December 25, 2 BC.
  6. After the Magi left, Jesus was taken to the temple.
  7. Then Joseph and Mary, upon being warned about Herod’s plan to execute boys under two, escaped to Egypt until Herod died in 1 BC (See “On the Death of Herod” resources below).

So, you see, the Star of Bethlehem is not just an inconsequential side story. It is an essential aspect of understanding the full story of the birth of Jesus. And now, you know the Story of the Star.


Let’s not allow ourselves to be confused about what the miracle is here. The Story of the Star should not inspire us to turn to astrology for signs and wonders or to the papers for our daily horoscopes. The planets, the stars, the constellations truly have no bearing on the matters of life on earth in and of themselves. They carry no weight, no authority, no power. Their job is to declare the glory of God as he wills it.

And neither are we to look for the fulfillment of prophecies in every gathering of the planets nor every motion back and forth of their paths. We can too easily get lost in the search for hidden meanings, dates, and symbols.

The Story of the Star should lead us to an important conclusion here, today. And that is this.

 The miracle of the Messiah is not found in the stars,
it is found in the Promises of God.

The Magi trusted the Word of God given to Daniel. They trusted his promise of the Messiah. And their trust was confirmed by the story that unfolded in the skies around them. We, too, can trust the promises of God. And, my hope is that today, our trust in him can also be confirmed by the story of the star.

Why this is Important

Some might be wondering why I’m telling this story. Why is it important to know the Story of the Star. 

Knowing the Story of the Star, scientifically confirms the day, month, and year on which the Magi visited Jesus after his birth—December 25th, 2 BC. We don’t know exactly what day Jesus was actually born but we do know that it was before the Magi arrived and was likely sometime between late November and December 25th. It may have been the night before they arrived. We just don’t know. But we do know the date of their visit.

Because we know the date of their visit, we know that celebrating Christmas on December 25th has its roots in the original biblical story as told by Matthew, suggested by no less than 10 of the Early Church Fathers in 2nd and 3rd centuries, and can be confirmed by the science of astronomy allows us to dispel any rumors that Christmas has its roots in pagan religions. 

Celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th is firmly rooted in the biblical story of the Gospels. 



Starry Night Pro 7 by the Simulation Curriculum Corporation

Stellarium, an Open Source software by Timothy Reaves – http://www.stellarium.org

NASA’s Eyes by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology

Supporting Articles 

A nice visual summary was created by Clay Frost for MSNBC based on John Mosley’s “The Christmas Star” is available at http://www.askelm.com/video/real/xmas_star.htm

“Progression of a Triple Conjunction” by Andrina G. Hanson, published November 2014, Facts and Faith

“The Star of Bethlehem: Astronomical Perspectives” by Gerardus D. Bouw, published in Biblical Astronomer, Volume 17, Number 122

“Breathtaking ‘Double Star’”, by Kelly Beatty and Alan MacRobert, Senior Editors of Sky & Telescope, posted to their website June 28, 2015

“The Messianic Time Table According to Daniel the Prophet” by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, published in Issues: A Messianic Jewish Perspective, Volume 5, Number 1, Jews for Jesus http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v05-n01/timetable

“The Bethlehem Star” by Rick Larson, DVD 2007

“An Evaluation of The Star of Bethlehem DVD” by Danny Faulkner, December 2010, for Answers in Genesis –https://answersingenesis.org/holidays/christmas/an-evaluation-of-the-star-of-bethlehem-dvd


“Did Herod the “Great” Really Die In 4 B.C.?” by Juan Antonio Revilla and John D. Keyser for Hope of Israel Ministries

“Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse” Letters to the Editor debate dates of Herod’s death and Jesus’ birth” Biblical Archeaology Society