The Gifts of the Magi: Clues to the True Nature of Christ

Gifts of the Magi to Christ the King

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him… On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

We all know the story of the Magi visiting the newborn King about two years after His birth and lavishing Him with gifts that would confuse the modern-day reader if we received them at that age and in this time. Many may also know the names of all or some of those gifts, but in our familiarity with the Christmas story, and the human tendency to only lend credence to the literal, we may miss the significance of this presentation altogether. Yes, the giving of the gifts was meant as an act of worship, but was there worship in the gifts themselves?

Throughout scripture, God uses symbolism as a way to point to a transcendent understanding that defies human logic. He uses words, objects, and even people to act as a stand-in for things that have a higher purpose than we might attribute to them on the surface. We see this in the parable of the sower, who wasn’t merely planting grain for harvest, but scattering seed on the fertile landscape of humanity in anticipation of a supernatural harvest. This is what we’re missing if we miss the point of the gifts presented to Jesus in His Bethlehem birth home. The interpretation of their meaning can bring us to a fuller understanding of the true nature of Christ. So, let’s explore the three gifts and what they tell us about the King of humanity.


This is one gift that I know many of us would love to receive on Christmas morning. Gold has been the standard by which we measure the value of all other things for centuries, and it was no different in antiquity. Gold was used to build palaces for important figures, it was fashioned into jewelry to show wealth and status, and it was given to kings as an act of reverence. This last point is where gold enters our story. Gold was a symbol of royalty.

To illustrate this point, and God’s use of symbolism, we’ll use a story from the very first book of the Bible. In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his servant to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac from among his relatives. When the servant arrives in Abraham’s ancestral home, he prays for God to give him success in his quest by allowing the woman who draws for him a drink of water from the well, and offers to water his camels, to be the one that God has chosen for His servant Isaac. When Rebekah meets these requirements, it says, “… the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.” (v. 22) At first reading, this may not mean much, but when we look closer something much deeper begins to emerge. Rebekah would give birth to a nation; a child named Jacob who God would later personally rename Israel. More importantly, through Israel she would become the grandmother of Judah from whose royal lineage would come King David and eventually the child of our story, Jesus Christ, the King of all kings. So, when this simple servant of history puts a gold ring in the nose of the mother of Israel, and adorns her arms with gold bracelets, he is marking the point in history from which God would raise up a King who “… will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:33)

When the Magi laid gold at the feet of the two-year-old babe, whether they knew it or not, God intended to inform the world that this is the King who would ransom many from sin and death. In several places in scripture, we also see God using gold as a symbol of purification. In speaking of the remnant of Jews who will remain in the end times, he says, “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.” (Zechariah 13:9) Though Jesus would live a sinless life, He would take on the sins of the world as a way to purify the living dead from their sins. In this way, He was a stand in for you and for me. We’ve been refined like gold because of the work of our Loving Savior on the cross and through the free gift of God’s grace have been adopted into the Kingdom that will see no end.


If you’re like me, when you hear the word frankincense, your mind probably conjures up scenes of a green, block-headed monster terrorizing unsuspecting villagers—associated more with Halloween than Christmas. But that’s a totally different Frank. Here, we’re talking about a gum-like resin from the trunk of Boswellia trees that was known for its sweet aroma when burned. For that very reason, it was used in ceremonial Temple offerings to God. In Leviticus 2:1-2, when the instructions for the offerings are delivered, it says:

“When anyone offers a grain offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it. He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the alter, an offering made by fire. A sweet aroma to the LORD.”

This was done as an act of worship to thank God for His constant provision. He provided them then, as He does us today, with sustenance, and this act was a reminder to them that He is the giver and sustainer life. But what does this have to do with the gift of frankincense that the wisemen of the gospels delivered to God’s incarnate Son? Well, God the Father and God the Son are the same in their essence as the Holy Deity. Put another way, just as Jesus is fully human in his incarnate form, He is just as much fully God and should be worshipped as such. The frankincense that travelled to Bethlehem over two thousand years ago should be a reminder to us today that Jesus is God and that He deserves all our worship and praise. He was, is, and always will be the author and sustainer of life, and we should never cease to glorify Him with all our lives.


So, gold was the symbol of Jesus’ royalty, and frankincense pointed directly to His Deity, but what does myrrh tell us about Christ? First, we should define exactly what myrrh is and how it was used in Biblical times. Myrrh is another sap-like resin that comes from the bark of certain trees. Myrrh had several uses in antiquity, including its use as a perfume and an oil used to consecrate priests for their holy work in the Temple. But myrrh had one other more somber use in the time of Christ, and this use points to the purpose of its inclusion in the gift giving of the Magi.

By now, you have likely correctly surmised that myrrh has something to do with death. Myrrh was used in the ancient world as an embalming spice to prepare the dead for burial. This is why the three travelers of old laid at the feet of the toddler King the gift of myrrh. God was foreshadowing the greatest sacrifice in the history of the world. He would give as the replacement for our sins His only begotten Son to suffer and die on a Roman cross. John 19 tells us that on the night of Jesus’ death:

“Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus… With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.”

And with that, God gave you and I the most perfect gift—the free gift of salvation, by way of grace through faith. We can’t earn it, and we certainly don’t deserve it. This Christmas season, when you sit down to unwrap presents, surrounded by loved ones, remember the gifts of the Magi and how they point to the perfect Savior who gave up His life for the ones He loves. Remember that He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and that He deserves to be the ruler of our lives. Remember that He is Holy God and that He deserves all our praise and worship. And remember that the grave could not hold Him and that years later that baby boy in the manger would walk out of that tomb triumphant and sit at the right hand of God the Father, as the deliverer of all humanity. As His birthday nears, I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite Christmas songs by Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, and Matt Redman: “Noel…. Noel… come and see what God has done!”

Merry Christmas!


2 Responses

  1. You write so inspired and beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and beliefs in such a way anyone would understand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *