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History Of Epiphany: Big Evil, Bright Light And Pure Love

History Of Epiphany: Big Evil, Bright Light And Pure Love
Some wise men, the Greek term “Magi,” from the East saw a star signaling the birth of the king of the Jews. Then they set out to find Him.

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History Of Epiphany: Big Evil, Bright Light And Pure Love

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:10

4 B.C. was a time of big evil and darkness in Judea.

King Herod* was a ruthless tyrant, executing his wife, mother-in-law, and other family members when he thought they were plotting against him. It was dark spiritually too.

*indicates this person has a short bio in SPIRITUAL LIVES.

The scriptures had been silent for 500 years, and all their prophesies seemed unfulfilled. The Temple had been turned over to the Sadducees, and the Pharisees were repressed for condemning Herod’s living the lavish Roman lifestyle and forsaking Moses’ Law.

Surrounded by a 2000-man personal guard, Herod turned Judea into a police state enforced by the powerful Roman army.

The Story of Epiphany begins in this Big Evil

Jesus’ disciple Matthew gives the only account in chapter 2 of his Gospel.

Some wise men, the Greek term “Magi,” from the East saw a star signaling the birth of the king of the Jews. We don’t know who they were, how many there were, or how they discerned the significance of the star, but when they did, they set out to find him.

They went to King Herod in Jerusalem for help. After consulting with his wise men and the Old Testament, Herod sent them to Bethlehem where the prophet Micah said He would be born. Herod asked them to report back to him so that he might worship Him too.

When they were on their way, they saw the start leading them to Bethlehem and standing over the place where Jesus was.

And when they came into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:11

After this, God warned them not to return to Herod, and they returned to their country by a different route.

Light fills the story

Like all scripture, this story is inspired by the Holy Spirit. God had all this planned, every detail beginning with the light of that star. Some astronomers have speculated that the star was a natural celestial event, like a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn or Jupiter and Venus, a comet, or a supernova. (Wikipedia)

The Bible story of Balaam*, written by Moses* in 1492 BC, prophesies that

there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel. Numbers 24:17.

These ancient astronomers, the Magi, saw the light of that star because they were looking for it. Just who they were and where they were from is unknown, but what is remarkable is that they saw it and the Jews did not.

More remarkable still is that this star moved and led them first to the wicked King Heold and later to the very house where the Christ child lived. God’s hand in all of this is visible in two ways:

John Chrysostom identified as significant of the meeting between the magi and Herod’s court:

“The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way, the birth of Jesus would be made known to all.”


That the key players in this theophany were Gentiles, the “other sheep not of this fold” that Jesus later referenced and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Isaiah 60:3

The Isaiah* reference may be the source of the assumption that the wise men were kings. Second-century Tertullian thought so. He argued their visit fulfilled Solomon’s prayer in Psalm 72—“May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts.”

But he found Isaiah 60 to be the most compelling evidence:

“Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn…and all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”

It’s impossible to miss the clear parallels to Matthew 2.

Another clear parallel is in

The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD. Isaiah 60:6

It is likely the Magi came on camels, although Matthew does not mention them. He mentions that “they presented unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Verse 11.

What about those gifts? They too are of divine appointment.

Gold was given to kings, and the Magi’s gift of gold recognizes Jesus as the “king of the Jews” they had come to find. Frankincense was an incense used in worship, here recognizing Jesus* and God.

Myrrh was a costly substance used in perfume and for medicines but primarily in embalming the dead. At the time, it was more expensive than gold. Here it was given for its value and rarity apart from its association with death. Prophetically, it prefigures the myrrh used by Nicodemus to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

Here again, we see the Holy Spirit at work for things unseen by the Magi or Joseph* and Mary.* Apart from the spiritual significance of these gifts, their market value was essential for the poor family to finance their flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.

The story ends with God’s warning Joseph and the Magi in dreams of the impending danger and giving them directions for their safety.

Why do we call this event “Epiphany?”

The word means a “sudden realization” and I believe it operated here doubly.

First, the wise men realized that this baby boy was God, clothed in flesh, and that drove them to their knees in worship.

Second, this is the first indication we have in the life of Jesus that his ministry will not be just for Israel but for people of all nations.

Epiphany = Theophany

A Theophany is an “appearance of a deity,”

a personal encounter with a deity, which is an event where the manifestation of a deity occurs in an observable way.[2][3] Specifically, it “refers to the temporal and spatial manifestation of God in some tangible form.” Wikipedia

While the western church focuses on the Magi seeing God in the Christ child, the eastern church has focused on Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, when heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.- Matthew 3:17

Short History of Epiphany

Epiphany as a holiday seems to have arisen in the East around 200 A.D. when January 6 was designated at first as the date of Jesus’ baptism.

The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus. The holiday is listed twice, which suggests a double feast of baptism and birth. The baptism of Jesus was originally assigned to the same date as the birth because Luke 3:23 was misread to mean that Jesus* was exactly 30 when he was baptized.

Epiphanius of Salamis says that January 6 is Christ’s “Birthday; that is, His Epiphany.” He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day although he assigns the Baptism to November 6.

The scope of Epiphany expanded to include the commemoration of his birth; the visit of the magi, all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to and including the Baptism by John the Baptist; and even the miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee.

In the Latin-speaking West, the holiday emphasized the visit of the magi. The magi represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, so this was considered a “revelation to the Gentiles.”

In the East, Egeria (also known as Silvia) described to a group of women a celebration in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which she called “Epiphany” that commemorated the Nativity. Even then, in 385, there was special music for the day.

Around this time (late 4th century) St. Gregory of Nazianzus commemorated Jesus’ Baptism on Epiphany, but still observed Christmas as “the holy nativity of Christ.”

By the beginning of the 5th century, the Eastern church in Egypt celebrated the Nativity and the Baptism together on January 6. The Armenian Apostolic Church (the oldest Christian church in the world) continues to celebrate January 6 as the only commemoration of the Nativity.

In 567 the Council of Tours proclaimed that the entire period between Christmas and Epiphany should be considered part of the celebration, creating what became known as the twelve days of Christmas, or what the English called Christmastide. On the last of the twelve days, called Twelfth Night, various cultures developed a wide range of additional special festivities. – Bruce Forbes

From that time on, Epiphany has been celebrated by all Christian churches on January 6. Customs and celebrations vary by country.

In the West, the evening preceding Epiphany is called Twelfth Night and the time between December 25 and January 6 is known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. Epiphany is celebrated with special pastries in many countries, and children often receive small gifts in their shoes in honor of the Magi’s gifts to the infant Jesus. The holiday also has a number of traditions involving water as a reflection of Jesus’ baptism, including the blessing of houses with holy water.

Celebrate Epiphany today.

The Magi saw the star – God is always at work around us, and we should be seeking Him in all His works.

The Magi learned what God meant from reading His word. He is speaking to us today through the Bible. Don’t say God isn’t speaking to you if you never open His Book to hear Him.

The Magi put finding the king first. Wise men and women still do.

The Magi fell and worshipped Jesus. We should too, bow in reverence outwardly and humbly in our hearts.

The wise men gave Him precious gifts in adoration. Our gifts should be in adoration but also in gratitude and thanksgiving for dying for us to wash our sins away and open the door to everlasting life.

Epiphany is a feast, and we should be joyful and merry. It is also the end of Christmas, time to take down Christmas decorations and move on to a new season.

Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ baptism and divinity but serves as a prelude to His ministry, which the church now celebrates through His death and Resurrection. We now can walk with Him day by day from His first word “repent” to His last “I am with you always even unto the end of the world.”

1 We three kings of Orient are;

bearing gifts we traverse afar,

field and fountain, moor and mountain,

following yonder star.


O star of wonder, star of light,

star with royal beauty bright,

westward leading, still proceeding,

guide us to thy perfect light.

2 Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,

gold I bring to crown him again,

King forever, ceasing never,

over us all to reign. [Refrain]

3 Frankincense to offer have I;

incense owns a Deity nigh;

prayer and praising, voices raising,

worshiping God on high. [Refrain]

4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume

breathes a life of gathering gloom;

sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,

sealed in the stone-cold tomb. [Refrain]

5 Glorious now behold him arise;

King and God and sacrifice:

Alleluia, Alleluia,

sounds through the earth and skies. [Refrain]

John H. Hopkins, 1857

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