Why Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh?

Alfred Edersheim

When taken as gifts for a newborn king, the items that the Magi brought appear inappropriate, especially the frankincense and myrrh. Gold fits the idea of kingly wealth, but perfumes would not have met the same standard.

We must, instead, imagine the gifts as offerings of foreign dignitaries. Just as diplomats from other countries often bring gifts representing their cultures, these magi brought the products specific to theirs. They honored the King of the Jews in a way that fit their nationality. In this way, in fact, they stood in as representatives of all the non-Jewish nations. Their acknowledgement presaged the offer of grace to all peoples of the earth, and their gifts hinted at the coming of Gentiles to offer themselves to Christ.

The ancient church also understood the gifts to symbolize aspects of Christ's life and ministry, the work He would do. The gold, as mentioned before, suggested His royalty as King of the Jews and Lord of lords. In the frankincense, they saw His divinity. The myrrh represented His humanity—and that to the fullest extent because myrrh suggests death and burial. Thus, the gifts came to show Jesus as King, God, and Man.

Adapted from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim (Book II, Chapter VIII).

Originally published May 26, 2010.

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