A captivating photograph depicting a radiant nativity scene, showcasing Jesus as a newborn, while the wise men kneel before him, offering their precious gifts.

How Old Was Jesus When The Wise Men Visited?

Were you wondering how old Jesus was when the wise men came to visit him? If you want a quick answer, tradition holds that Jesus was likely a young toddler when the magi arrived.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll look at the biblical account of the wise men’s visit, what we know about their journey and its timing, estimates of Jesus’ age at the time, and the significance of this event in the Nativity story.

The Biblical Account of the Wise Men’s Visit

The Star That Guided Them

The Gospel of Matthew provides the main scriptural account of the visit of the wise men to see the young Jesus after his birth (Matthew 2:1-12). Matthew describes how “wise men from the East” saw a star that signified the birth of the “king of the Jews” and traveled to Jerusalem to worship him.

Many assume there were three wise men based on the three gifts mentioned, but the Bible does not specify their number. The wise men refer to the star as “His star” indicating it was a miraculous sign meant specifically to herald the birth of Jesus.

This star guided them on their journey first to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem once they conferred with King Herod. The wise men’s faith and diligence in following this star to find and worship the prophesied Messiah shows Gentiles were also seeking the Savior at his birth.

Herod’s Meeting with the Wise Men

When the wise men arrive in Jerusalem, they ask King Herod where the newborn king of the Jews can be found. Herod “was disturbed” by this news of a potential rival for his throne. However, Herod hides this and tells the wise men he wants to worship the child too, asking them to report back to him when they find the child so he can also pay homage.

However, Herod actually planned to kill the baby Jesus. Fortunately, the wise men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they leave Bethlehem by a different route.

Finding Jesus in Bethlehem

After leaving Herod’s palace, the star guides the wise men to Bethlehem and stops over the house where the young Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph. Matthew does not say Jesus was an infant at this time but simply refers to him as a “child.”

Some speculate Jesus could have been up to two years old by the time the wise men found him. When they enter the home, they pay homage to Jesus and present him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These expensive gifts traditionally honored kings and gods.

So by presenting them, the wise men acknowledge the infant Jesus as the prophesied King of the Jews and the divine Son of God. After visiting Jesus, the wise men heed the angel’s warning and avoid telling Herod.

Their visit was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah receiving honor from nations around the world (e.g. Psalm 72:10, Isaiah 60:6).

When Did the Wise Men Arrive?

The Journey of the Magi

The Gospel of Matthew states that magi (often translated as “wise men” but more accurately astrologers) from the East came to Jerusalem looking for the newborn “King of the Jews”, whose star they had seen at its rising.

They first met with King Herod, who asked them when the star had appeared to try to determine when the child was born. Herod told the magi to come back and tell him after they had found the child so he could worship him too.

However, after the magi found Jesus and offered him gifts, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so went home by a different route.

Most scholars estimate it would have taken the magi several months to make the journey from the East following the star. They likely would have needed to prepare supplies and organize a caravan for their travel through the desert.

The Gospel mentions they first saw the star at its rising, meaning when it first appeared on the horizon. So by the time they reached Jerusalem, Jesus may have already been several months old.

Estimating the Timing Based on Herod’s Edict

We can estimate the likely time frame when the magi arrived based on King Herod’s actions in Matthew 2:

  • When Herod realized the magi were not coming back, he ordered all male children 2 years old and under in Bethlehem and vicinity to be killed. He likely chose this age range based on when the magi had reported first seeing the star. He wanted to make sure the new “King” was eliminated.
  • Jesus’ family fled to Egypt before this happened. They only returned after Herod died sometime between 4-1 BC.
  • So Jesus was likely born before Herod’s death in 4-1 BC, and the magi had probably arrived within the previous 2 years while Herod was still alive.

Another perspective argues that Herod ordered the massacre of all infants under age 1, which would place the magi’s visit closer to Jesus’ actual birth. However, Herod likely chose a wider age range to be certain.

Given the time required for the magi’s journey, Jesus was probably at least several months old when they arrived.

Most historians estimate Jesus’ birth around 6-4 BC based on the biblical clues. So the magi likely arrived in Jerusalem anywhere from 2 years before Herod’s death up to a few months after Jesus’ birth, between 6-3 BC.

Their long and arduous journey following the star resulted in them presenting gifts to the infant Jesus sometime between 6 months to 2 years after his birth.

How Old Was Jesus When the Wise Men Visited?

The Traditional View: Around 1-2 Years Old

The traditional view held by many biblical scholars is that Jesus was around 1 or 2 years old when the wise men visited him. According to the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph fled with him to Egypt to escape King Herod’s order to kill all baby boys under age 2 (Matthew 2:13-18).

This suggests Jesus was still an infant or toddler when the wise men arrived and saw him.

In addition, Herod asked the wise men when they first saw the star that led them to Jesus. Then Herod killed all boys in Bethlehem up to 2 years old, assuming the Messiah would be younger than that (Matthew 2:7-8, 16). So Jesus was likely around 1 or 2 when the magi visited him.

Alternative Theories and Estimates

However, some scholars estimate Jesus could have been older when the wise men visited, possibly around 2 to 5 years old. One theory is that the star the wise men saw and followed did not appear until months or even years after Jesus was born.

So by the time they traveled to see Jesus, he would have been a toddler.

Another view is that Herod did not order the massacre of boys in Bethlehem right after the wise men left. There could have been a significant delay between their visit and Herod’s brutal order, allowing more time for Jesus to grow older.

So in the end, while most believe Jesus was an infant or toddler when the magi appeared, some estimates say he could have been up to 5 years old.

The Significance of the Wise Men’s Visit

Recognition of Jesus as King and Savior

The wise men’s visit showed that Jesus was being recognized as the prophesied King and Savior, even at his young age. The gifts they brought – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – were incredibly valuable items that clearly showed they viewed this child as royalty, worthy of honor and worship (Matthew 2:11).

This foreshadowed Jesus’ later ministry where he would be praised by crowds waving palm branches and crying “Hosanna!” as he entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9). The wise men’s long journey from afar also reminds us that Christ’s rule and saving power extends to people of all nations.

Foreshadowing of Jesus’ Mission to the Gentiles

In visiting Jesus, the wise men, likely from Persia or Arabia, were among the first Gentiles to worship him. This points forward to a major aspect of Jesus’ ministry – extending God’s salvation beyond the Jews to all the peoples of the world.

Jesus later directly commissions his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), a mission that the early church wholeheartedly embraced. So this visit of outsiders coming to honor the Christ-child foreshadowed his future followers traveling far and wide, telling people everywhere, “We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.”

(Matthew 2:2)


So when the magi finally arrived to present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, Jesus was likely a young toddler no more than two years old. Their visit bore testimony that this child was the prophesied Messiah and Savior of the world, sent not just for the people of Israel but also for the nations.

We hope this detailed look brought more insight into how old Jesus was when the wise men visited as part of the very first Christmas!

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