WHAT WAS THE “STAR OF BETHLEHEM?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
What was the “Star of Bethlehem?” (A more correct term would be “Star of Nazareth,” since the Star guided the wise men to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.) Was it a literal sphere of hot gas (a “star” as we commonly call it)? Was it the conjunction of two planets? Was it a comet? Was it a supernova? Or, was it something else?
The Bible says in Matthew chapter 2: “ Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.  When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,  And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.  Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.  When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”
Various explanations have been offered regarding the identity of the so-called “Star of Bethlehem” (from now on, we will use the term, “Star of Nazareth”). Some say it was a union of Saturn and Jupiter, others say it was a comet (ball of rock and ice burning up as it entered Earth’s atmosphere), and still others say it was a literal star exploding (supernova). These explanations are popular because they enable people to approximate the year Jesus was born (for if we could find some unusual event in astronomical history close to the beginning of the first century A.D., that year would be roughly the year of Jesus’ birth). Historians estimate Jesus’ birth to have ranged from 7 B.C. to 4 B.C.—this estimate is good enough for me, and the year is beyond the scope of this discussion anyway. What we want to understand in this Bible study is that a naturalistic explanation (a supernova, a comet, or a planetary conjunction) is unnecessary and actually not a view a Bible believer would be inclined to have. We do not have to reduce the Bible’s miracles in order to agree with human viewpoint and satisfy scholars’ questions.
WHY MATTHEW ALONE WROTE ABOUT THE STAR
A large number of modern scholars actually believe that Matthew fabricated the account of the Star of Nazareth (since Mark, Luke, and John make no reference to the event in their Gospel records, the Star is not believed to be historical fact). Dear friends, this is unbelief at its pinnacle, since the Four Gospels are not meant to read 100 percent identical (these four books read differently because they are independent witnesses of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and had they read similar, scholars would dismiss them as conspiracies). The reason why Matthew alone records the account is because the Star of Nazareth is associated with Israel’s King, and Matthew’s theme is Jesus Christ as King! Mark portrays Jesus Christ as Servant (the Star is this unnecessary in his account), Luke depicts Jesus Christ as Man (the Star is thus unnecessary in his account), and John depicts Jesus Christ as God (the Star is thus unnecessary in his account).
STARS AND ANGELS IN SCRIPTURE
In the Bible, on at least four occasions, angels are referred to as “stars.”
When Lucifer (later named Satan), the cherub, an angelic-like creature, fell into sin, the Bible says of him: “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north” (Isaiah 14:13). Lucifer wanted an even greater role, a grander position in heaven than what God had already assigned him; he wanted to “exalt [his] throne above the stars of God.” This language is suggestive of Lucifer wanting to rule over other angelic beings in creation, angelic beings Scripture call “the stars of God.”
In reference to the Creation Week, JEHOVAH God says to Job in Job 38:3-7: “ Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Angelic beings were present when God made heaven and earth—they watched Him working and they rejoiced, singing to and praising Him! Notice how they are called “the morning stars” and “the sons of God.”
The Prophet Daniel, when referring to the future rise of the Antichrist, the wicked world ruler of the coming seven-year Tribulation, wrote in Daniel 8:10: “And it [the antichrist] waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.” The Antichrist will be working in accordance with the power of Satan (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9), to the extent that he will influence some of the fallen angels in outer space / the second heaven (cf. Job 15:15; Job 25:5; Ephesians 6:12) to come down to earth and work their wickedness here. Notice how Daniel called these fallen angels “stars.”
In Revelation 12:4, John the Apostle elaborated on Daniel’s prophecy: “And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.” Again, note how John called these fallen angels “stars of heaven.” These evil spirits will be active on Earth during the latter part of the Tribulation period.
THE LIKELY IDENTITY OF THE STAR OF NAZARETH
Considering the Bible uses the term “stars” to apply to both spheres of gas and angels, the “star” of Matthew chapter 2 that the wise men saw was probably an angelic appearance. The Star of Nazareth did not behave like a celestial star, a comet, a pair of planets, or the like: a natural explanation just would not make sense. Matthew 2:9 says, “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”
The Star “went before [the wise men],” “till it came and stood over where the young child was.” It would be strange for a comet, a celestial sphere of gas, or a pair of planets, to cross the sky and pinpoint the very location of the Christ Child (who was as much as two years old). The Scriptures say that the Star actually led the wise men to the house of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth (which the wise men would not have otherwise located). This activity would be indicative of something living, something that had a mind and that could give directions—planets, comets, and stars as we normally think of them cannot do such things. An angel, however, could reason, provide directions to a house. The Bible is filled with accounts of angelic beings helping people, instructing people, revealing information to people, and so on. It is on the authority of these verses that we conclude the Star of Nazareth was an angel whom God sent to guide the wise men to the house of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth.
Even as Gentiles, the wise men had access to the Old Testament Scriptures. They knew of the prophecy in Numbers 24:17: “I shall see him [the Messiah Jesus], 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.” Messiah would come one day, Balaam predicted, and a Star would be associated with His coming. The wise men knew that when they saw this event in the sky during the timeframe of Daniel 9:24-27, the King of Israel had arrived, and they rejoiced to see Him finally on earth!