Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matt 2:11b (NASB)
The wise men opened their treasures, and from within their treasures they presented to the Child Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Could there be some added significance or possible symbolism in each of these gifts?
The Revell Bible Dictionary says ‘… the tabernacle showed that God is willing to meet with human beings here on earth. As symbols, both tabernacle and Temple foreshadow the ultimate meeting of God with man in Jesus’ incarnation.’ Page 959
Note what God had earlier commanded the sons of Israel to bring for the construction of the tabernacle in the book of Exodus (especially those I have capitalized below).
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. This is the contribution which you are to raise from them: GOLD, silver and bronze, blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, SPICES FOR THE ANOINTING OIL AND FOR FRAGRANT INCENSE, onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:1-8 (NASB)
You might be interested to know that in addition to gold, the spices the Israelites brought for the building of the tabernacle included both frankincense and myrrh. Let’s look at what part each of these gifts played in the tabernacle of the Exodus.
Starting with gold. ‘The mercy seat and cherubim that sat on top of the ark were made of pure gold. “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.”’ Exodus 25:22
Then on to frankincense. ‘Now when anyone presents a grain offering as an 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 then bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests; and shall take from it his handful of its fine flour and of its oil with all of its frankincense. And the priest shall offer it up in smoke as its memorial portion on the altar, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD.’ Leviticus 2:1-2 (NASB)
And finally to myrrh. ‘Moreover, the Lord spoke to Moses saying “Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, … You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, … You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to me.”’ Exodus 30:22-30
As a preview of things to come regarding Christ, please note that while God commanded the sons of Israel to bring their contributions for the construction of the tabernacle, these gentile wise men were inexplicably drawn (NOT commanded) to Jesus bringing gifts (NOT contributions) and to worship Him as the King of the Jews …
So what could be the symbolic significance of the gifts given to the baby or toddler Jesus?
Why gold? Jesus is the person (not place) through whom God comes to meet with us. I might add that there is one major difference between the Old Testament mercy seat and the New Testament temple – the former was a meeting place while the latter is a dwelling place.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. John 15:4 (NASB)
Why frankincense? Jesus is the one offering of a soothing aroma to the Lord that will rescue those who believe from the very wrath of God. It is only by His work on the cross that the believer can enter into the holy of holies and meet with God.
Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Heb 10:11-14 (NASB)
Why myrrh? Just as Aaron and his sons were consecrated and anointed with a holy anointing oil of myrrh for their service as priests to God in the tabernacle, so Jesus was also anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit and the power (Acts 10:38) and now intercedes on our behalf before the Father as a great high priest.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)
Obviously this is just one of many possible interpretations – but hopefully it may cause each of us to stop and consider the possible messages offered in the gifts of the magi as we read and/or observe reenactments of the nativity this Christmas.
In closing, here are just a few final verses to consider regarding Jesus as tabernacle/temple:
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. John 2:19-21 (NASB)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, CHRIST JESUS HIMSELF being the corner stone, IN WHOM the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD, IN WHOM you also are being built together into A DWELLING OF GOD IN THE SPIRIT. Eph 2:19-22 (NASB)
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. Rev 21:22 (NASB)
Celebrate the birth of Jesus today and everyday!