Just before Christmas this year a rather rare astrological event could be seen in the night sky to the southwest of where I live. The planets of Jupiter and Saturn where almost aligned. This created a larger than usual “star” in the night sky.
I rarely go out to look at anything in the night sky. My night sky is dominated by the glare of the Target parking lot. I went out to see this one, and, sure enough, there was a brighter than usual star. So what? Had I not been forewarned, I would not have noticed it. It didn’t come anywhere near the depictions shown on Christmas cards. I would not pack up my camel and head to the southwest at the appearance of this conjunction.
The movement of the planets and stars is very regular and predictable. Mathematical models have been made and from these, computer modeling of the night sky. For a price, you can get a program that can show you what the night sky would have looked like from any vantage point on Earth, at any time in history. That is not interesting enough for me to fork out the cash, but one question does pop out of history. What did the Wise Men see that led them to Jesus? Was it supernatural and therefore would not appear in the program of the stars? Or was it natural and, if so, what does that mean?
One very plausible theory is that it was natural and involved a conjunction similar to one visible before Christmas this year. You can learn more about it at bethlehemstar.net. The theory points out that near the time of Jesus’ conception an even rarer conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and a larger star know to the ancients as the King star occurred when viewed from the Middle East. This would have been only slightly larger than the recent conjunction, and since there were no Targets around, rather prominent in the night sky. Still, the disinterested would not have noticed it at all. That is exactly what we are looking for.
The Wise Men were astronomers. They looked at the sky with regularity. King Herod probably could not have cared less. The Wise Men arrive in Jerusalem not Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1). They tell the king that there was a star indicating the birth of the King of the Jews. Herod knew nothing of it. They did not follow the star to Jerusalem. They went to Jerusalem because the conjunction happened with the King Star in the constellation of Leo (the Lion), which was known as the symbol of Judea. Bethlehem becomes the destination after they are told the prophecy from Micah 5:2:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, for you shall come forth for me a ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.Micah 5:2
Once they are told to go to Bethlehem, they head toward the village which is almost straight south of Jerusalem. Matthew says “the star went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.” Interestingly, Jupiter (which is bright enough by itself), would have appeared to the south of Jerusalem at about the right time for the Wise Men to arrive around December 25 in the year that Jesus would have been born, 2 BC, according to this theory. Jupiter would “show up” because the sun set. Just like our recent conjunction was best viewed 45 minutes after sunset. It would also be headed for the horizon as it too was setting.
So was this just a bunch of superstitious ancient astrologers coincidentally wandering into Bethlehem to find a family who already had a Messiah complex? Not likely. First, astrology versus astronomy. Astrology attributes luck and fate to the power and alignment of stars. That is not at all what is being said here. This would be a sign in the sky that God built into nature to draw the Wise Men to Bethlehem at precisely the time God chose to have His Son born there. Conjunctions like this don’t happen often. Jupiter setting to the south of Jerusalem at the right time is also unlikely. The odds against this happening by chance are huge.
God wanted to note for all of posterity that the person told about in prophecy arrived at a set time in a set place. He wanted to do it in a clear, yet subtle way; for Satan would try to thwart God’s plan by murdering the child. That is exactly what Herod tries to do but is too late.
By itself the Bethlehem star doesn’t prove the birth of a Savior for mankind. In conjunction with prophecy and eyewitness accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus it makes a powerful case unlike any other in human history. The Messiah was not sent to establish a political kingdom as some have misinterpreted the Old Testament to say. His victory was to be over Satan not Caesar. The peace was not an end to world war. It is actually more important. It is peace for humans with God. We fall under the eternally condemning judgment of God’s Law without Jesus. Two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, it can seem like an ancient and possible fictitious event, but the Bethlehem star is something that can be shown through mathematical model and almost observed from my back porch on December 21.
There is actually more to be learned about the night sky of that time and how it correlates with Revelation 12. I send you to the Bethlehem Star website for that information.