Much is said concerning the star of Bethlehem that appeared on the night that Jesus was born. Unfortunately, much of what is said is not correct. For example, in the carol The First Noel, it is said that the star continued shining both day and night. Not so. According to the biblical record, the star appeared the night Jesus was born and was seen by the magi who were in the east (probably Babylon). It also may have been seen by the shepherds. Scripture states that when the angel appeared to them to announce the birth of Jesus, the glory of the Lord shone round about them. I contend that the star was not a literal star, but a special manifestation of the glory of God in the appearance of a star. If so, then the shepherds saw the star just as the magi did. More than likely, the magi began their journey to come to Jesus the very next morning, and if so, probably arrived in about 2 weeks. However, they needed to stop in Jerusalem to seek directions (imagine that, men stopping to ask directions!) to where Jesus was. Had the star been guiding them, no directions would have been necessary. Scripture then records that the star they saw (aorist tense verb meaning an action in a point of time in the past) reappeared to them and led them to Bethlehem, only 4-5 miles from Jerusalem.
There are two important aspects of the account of the star and the magi. First, the magi were expecting to see the star at some point in time. A prophecy was given in Daniel’s day, which would have been around 540 BC. The prophecy stated that Israel’s Messiah would present himself to the nation 483 years after Cyrus would issue a decree to rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25-26). Before he could present himself, he had to be born, and that time was the present for them. Secondly, his coming would be associated with the appearance of a star (Numbers 24:17). Interestingly, both prophecies were issued in the region of Babylon. The magi would have been familiar with them and, more importantly, they believed them. Consequently, for them, it was only a matter of time until the prophecies were fulfilled. And when that night came, they were prepared to respond faithfully.
The same Bible that recorded the prophecies of Jesus’ first advent speak of His second coming. First, He will come for His own in what is known as the rapture of the church. Seven years later He will come to judge the world for its wickedness. Today there is no special manifestation of the glory of God in a starlike appearance. However, the heavens declare the glory of God every day and night (Psalm 19:1). There is no specific timetable as to His return as was given in the book of Daniel. There are no special signs for the rapture as there will be for the second advent. Believers are to expect that at any moment the trumpet could sound (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Unfortunately, many have tried to determine when the rapture will occur, and in doing so, have given unbelievers more reason not to believe. But even though man may err in his understanding of prophetic events, the reality of them is still certain. Jesus may return in the next minute or the next millennium or even later. While we may be uncertain concerning the time of His coming, may we not be uncertain about the reality of His coming. Just as the magi waited night after night and searched the sky for the sign of His coming, may we be just as faithful to live in expectancy by obedience to His will. The magi’s persistence was rewarded. So will ours be.