Category Archives: Matthew

Why Did the Wise Men Give Gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh?

by John W. Welch

Little is known about the Wise Men. The Gospel of Matthew says they came from somewhere east of Jerusalem. The early Christian writer Justin Martyr said that they were Jewish men who came from Arabia, southeast of Judea. They may have been among the many Jewish people who were looking for the fulfillment of Israelite prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, such as Daniel’s 490-year prophecy.

Jewish traditions also spoke of temple priests who had gone into exile in Arabia awaiting a chance to return. The Jerusalem Talmud, Tacanit 4.5, mentions priests who had fled from Jerusalem and settled in Arabia around 625 B.C. Other priests may have been expelled by King Herod when he built his own magnificent temple in Jerusalem.

So, it is possible, as Margaret Barker first pointed out in her book Christmas: The Original Story (London: Continuum, 2008), that the Magi came from these priestly groups or from other groups of watchful priests awaiting the coming of the Lord of Holiness. If so, their three gifts could not have been more perfectly suitable, given by priests to their new High Priest.

 

Temple of Herod, model, in Jerusalem

Temple of Herod, model, in Jerusalem

The gift of gold would have sparkled like the gold that was required in the Temple. According to scripture, the inner doors, altar, table for the bread of the Presence, lamp stands, bowls, censers, utensils and implements of the Temple and the paneling on the walls of the Holy of Holies were to be made of pure gold or were gold-plated (1 Kings 7:48-50). Gold was incorruptible and did not rust. It was thought to have absorbed and embodied the radiance of the sun. Shiny gold objects reflected radiantly the heavenly glory of the sun.

Frankincense, a resin gathered from trees in south Arabia, provided fragrance in the Temple. The Holiness Code required incense to accompany every sacrifice “offered by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 24:7). Its sweet, billowing smoke was thought to carry prayers up to heaven. It was burned in the Temple to invite and invoke the presence of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:6 prophesied that camels would bring gold and incense from southwestern Arabia, but what about myrrh? Myrrh is another resin, drawn from the life-sustaining sap of another desert tree. It was a key ingredient in preparing the sacred oil that imparted holiness. The recipe for that anointing oil is found in Exodus 30:23-24. It calls for 500 shekel-weight of myrrh, 250 of cinnamon, 250 of calamus, and 500 of cassia to be mixed in a hin (about one gallon) of olive oil. That anointing oil was uniquely used to sanctify the temple, the ark of the covenant, and the temple vessels, menorahs, and altars. Most of all, it was used to anoint and consecrate the High Priest, and it could not be used outside the Temple (Exodus 30:26-33).

The holy myrrh had disappeared from the Holy of Holies and been hidden away in the time of Josiah according to the Babylonian Talmud, Horayoth 12a. It represented Wisdom (Ben Sira 24:15), and because of its preservative qualities it was used in preparing the dead for burial.

But more than that, this myrrh oil was known as the “dew of resurrection,” and it had anointed the royal high priests after the order of Melchizedek and transformed them into sons of God. One early Christian, Pope Leo the Great, said: “He offers myrrh who believes that God’s only begotten son united to himself man’s true nature.” That uniting of divine and human was the mystery of the myrrh oil in the Holy of Holies. Old traditions also spoke about Adam receiving gold, frankincense, and myrrh from three angelic messengers, so that he could offer proper sacrifices when cast out of Eden.

By giving Jesus these three essential, holy, and precious gifts, the Wise Men prepared Jesus, “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), to offer the ultimate sacrifice as the new and everlasting High Priest, bringing eternal light, life, and God’s presence from heaven above to earth below.

 

 

 

A Warning to the Jews (Matt. 23)

By Richard D. Draper

Tuesday, the second day after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus left the temple again, this time going out onto the Mount of Olives, where he sat and spoke privately with his disciples, overlooking the temple (Matthew 24:3). Revelation flowed on that occasion, most of it startling, some of it frightening. In only two more days (Matthew 26:2), the Savior would face his enemies and eventually death . . . and he knew it. Further, he knew what the result would be—the Jewish nation would be destroyed. What was the social setting on that day? What were Jesus’s concerns, the reasons behind the Pharisees’ persecution of him, and the disciples’ repeated questions? Knowing the questions and problems Jesus was addressing shows what issues Matthew 24 was addressing. Continue reading

Peter’s Keys (Matthew 16:18-19)

By S. Kent Brown

Somewhere near the Gentile town of Caesarea Philippi, close to the base of Mount Hermon, Jesus speaks words to Peter, his chief apostle, that find no correspondence in ancient scripture: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). (Outside of scripture, Michael the Archangel appears as keyholder; see 3 Baruch 11:2 and 4 Baruch 9:5). The question arises, What is Jesus promising to Peter? What are these keys? Latter-day Saints usually think of keys as the divinely bestowed, authorizing powers that allow a priesthood holder to exercise priesthood authority when performing an ordinance such as a setting apart, or a baptism, or a sealing in a temple. Resting beside this LDS understanding of such priesthood and temple keys are patterns that illuminate how people in the New Testament world may have understood the nature of Peter’s keys. It will become clear that the promised keys bear links to “the gates of hell,” to the next world, and to a greater knowledge of God.

To begin, we first turn to Isaiah’s record that offers the one instance of an Old Testament person receiving keys. A man named Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, is called by the Lord through Isaiah his prophet to serve as the royal treasurer. In intriguing language, the Lord hands the duty to Eliakim with the words, “the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). It appears that, among his duties, this man is to hold the key to the main door of the palace, part of his responsibility “over the [royal] house” (Isaiah 22:15). Continue reading

Healing Women

By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts

In a culture and time period that were so male-centric, the attention that Jesus paid to women was noteworthy.  All four of the gospels, and especially Luke, contain stories of Jesus healing women, teaching them, including them in his parables, and even allowing them to become part of his ministry.  In addition to three individual stories about Jesus healing women, Luke also includes a summary that notes how Jesus was accompanied in his Galilean ministry by a group of women “which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,” including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, “and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:2–3).  All this is particularly striking in the cultural context of the gospels, in which Jewish men would be wary of interaction and especially any kind of physical contact with women to whom they were not related.[1]  The fact that none of these women are directly named allows them to serve as types of all women whom Jesus invites to come to him and be healed.  Continue reading

Calming the Stormy Sea

By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts and excerpted from The Miracles of Jesus19-22.

The divinity of Jesus that the miracle at Cana symbolized was even more clearly demonstrated in those nature miracles that are the clearest examples of epiphanies, or direct revelations of a divine identity.[1]  The twin examples of Jesus’ calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee and his later walking on that same body of water are striking illustrations of this because they employ common Near Eastern symbols of creation, which often involved a deity defeating the unruly powers of chaos, which were often represented with images of stormy seas.[2]  But more importantly, because the Hebrew Bible credited YHWH, or Jehovah, with the ability to subdue the sea and tread upon the face of the waters, these New Testament miracles directly connect Jesus with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Mark 4:35–41 gives the earliest account of Jesus stilling a storm and thereby saving his disciples.  Continue reading

A Paralytic Forgiven and Healed: Mark 2, Matthew 9, Luke 5

By Eric D. Huntsman. From The Miracles of Jesus, 49–55, and cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts 

Another early miracle, the healing of the paralyzed man at Capernaum (KJV, “one sick of the palsy”), who was lowered through the roof by his friends, appears in all three Synoptic gospels (Mark 2:1–12; Matthew 9:1–8; Luke 5:17–26).  The scene is set with Jesus teaching inside a private home, which overflowed with people who came to hear him.  The only way that the paralyzed man’s friends could bring him close to Jesus was to tear up the roof of the house and lower him down through the hole.  Jesus acknowledged their efforts as a sign of their faith, but before healing the man, he makes a pronouncement that causes contention with some of the Jewish scribes present: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5).  Continue reading

Cleansing Leprosy: Mark 1, Matt. 8, Luke 5

By Eric D. Huntsman. From Miracles of Jesus, 45–49, and cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts

One of the earliest miracles recorded in the Synoptics is the cleansing of a leper (Mark 1:40–45; Matthew 8:1–4; Luke 5:12–15).  Leprosy in the biblical world was not necessarily the better known Hansen’s Disease. Instead, it was a catch-all condition for a spectrum of conditions that affected the skin or even clothing and dwellings (see Leviticus 13:1–59). While some cases may have indeed involved considerable deformity and sickness, every instance of biblical leprosy had significant ritual, and hence social, implications as the sufferer was excluded from religious life and often even the company of others.  Hence, the leper who first approached Jesus needed help and attention beyond simply being healed of his disease. Continue reading