The Wise Men
by Rev. Martin Pryke
…The teaching of the Lord's second advent helps us to understand how it came about that the wise men could ever have made this journey and this act of adoration, and helps us to recognize the deeper significance of the story. To grasp this we must first go back to the time of the fall of mankind.
As soon as the Most Ancient Church began to fall away from its glory it was foreseen to what depths mankind would plunge itself, and the Divine Providence operated to redeem men from the frightful consequences of their own folly. It was foreseen that the descent would be so serious that men would lose their vision of God-Man and that the power of the hells would become so great as to endanger the very free will of the human race. Thus it was also foreseen that salvation could be insured only by God Himself assuming the Human, revealing Himself anew and overcoming the power of the hells.
It was not only seen that such an incarnation would be necessary, it was also proclaimed to men that it would take place. From that time forward there was a series of prophecies concerning the coming Messiah which served not only to give hope to the world in its darkness but also to preserve the concept of the Divine Human, for only God-Man could be pictured as coming in the flesh.
These prophecies pre-date the Old Testament, for they began in the time of the Ancient Church which was raised up to replace the fallen Most Ancient Church, and which received its revelation in written form - the Ancient Word. One of the earliest of these prophecies contained in the Ancient Word is to be found in that part of the Word which was copied by Moses to form the opening chapters of Genesis. ' The prophecy is found in the words spoken by Jehovah to the serpent after it had tempted Adam and Eve to the first act of disobedience: "And Jehovah God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." (Genesis 3: 14, 15) Here the seed of the woman is the Lord who was to come into the world to destroy the power of the seed of the serpent. The powers of evil would bruise the heel of the Lord, that is, would attack the assumed human, even to destroying it by death; but the power of the Lord would bruise the head of the serpent, which is to subjugate the hells.
For the moment it is important to remember that such prophecies of the Lord's advent as this were well known to the men of the Ancient Church. That church, although centered in the land of Canaan, was spread throughout the whole of what we now know as the Middle East, and even beyond it; which means that the Messianic prophecies were widely spread throughout the inhabited globe of that time. Nor did these become suddenly lost at the time of the fall of the Ancient Church and the establishment of the Israelitish Church, or when the Old Testament was being written. Throughout Old Testament times, and even later, these prophecies still remained with a few who were descended from the Ancient Church and may even still have possessed remnants of the Ancient Word. The New Church scholar will undoubtedly recognize many such remnants as he delves into the antiquities of these lands. Not only did a knowledge of the coming Messiah remain, but "the science of correspondences remained among many Eastern nations, even until the Lord's coming." (SS 23: 3)
A most interesting example of this is to be found in the case of the prophet Balaam. It will be recalled that at the time when the sons of Israel were about to enter the land of Canaan and had conquered that part of the land which lay to the east of Jordan, the king of Moab, in the south, became fearful lest they should attack and conquer him. He therefore sent to Syria for the prophet Balaam, that he might curse the Israelites for him. Clearly Balaam was renowned as a great prophet; yet despite the bribes and threats of Balak, the king of Moab, he did not curse the sons of Israel, but blessed them, for he had said that he would speak only those words which the Lord put into his mouth.
We are told in the Writings that Balaam was one of those who still had a knowledge of the Ancient Word and of correspondences. He still worshiped, and was obedient to, the one God. Thus, when he was inspired to bless the Israelites, he spoke of the Messiah who was to be born among them, and spoke of Him as a star: "I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth." (Numbers 24: 17)
Such learned and good men lived long after the time of Balaam. They studied the ancient manuscripts and the science of correspondences. Among them were those who knew from their studies that a Messiah was to come who would indeed be the Savior of the world and would inaugurate a new era on earth. Among such men are to be numbered the wise men of the gospel story who saw the star, and followed it to worship the infant Lord.
Like Balaam, they knew that the Messiah was to be born among the descendents of Jacob; and when the time came, and their spiritual eyes were opened to see a star in the spiritual world such as they had never seen on earth, they knew from the ancient prophecies, and from their knowledge of correspondences, that this announced the arrival of the Messiah for whom they had looked. Their wonder and joy knew no bounds: they began their journey, to follow the beckoning star.
The Writings tell us that the wise men came from Syria - which may possibly be taken in a wide sense to include northern Arabia and Mesopotamia; for "in Syria were the last remnants of the Ancient Church, and therefore in that land there still remained the knowledges of good and truth." (AC 3249) Some of those who possessed this remnant of ancient knowledges perverted and misused them in magic - this notably in Egypt; but those meant in the Word by "wise men" did not "care for such things, but solved difficult problems and taught the causes of natural things. In such things as these the wisdom of that time chiefly consisted." (AC 5223)
The wise men who followed the star sought to worship and adore the Messiah whose advent had been made known to them. Traveling many weary miles, they bore gifts which should be tokens of that worship: gold, frankincense and myrrh. These three gifts - which have led men to suppose that there were three wise men - represented the internal worship of which they were a clear symbol. They represented good as it is on the celestial, spiritual and natural planes. The life of good is our true and spiritual gift to the Lord; it is the genuine internal worship which is regeneration.
The bringing of gifts to kings and priests who were approached was, in ancient times, a "holy ritual, signifying initiation." (AC 4262) This was known to the wise men, as was the signification of the three gifts which they chose. From their knowledge of correspondences they selected gifts which represented the internal worship of the spirit that they wished, above all things, to lay at their Savior's feet.
The story of the wise men becomes, then, more than an appealing story, a pretty fantasy; it becomes a lesson and an inspiration. If we will follow the knowledges of good and truth made known to us in the Word, even as the wise men followed the star; if we will bring before the Lord the offering of a regenerate life - love to Him and the neighbor, the life of good - even as they presented their gifts of gold, and frankincense and myrrh; then may we truly see the Lord our Savior, bend the knee before His throne, and serve Him to eternity.
-New Church Life 1961;81:533-537