If you’ve studied astronomy you know that the Universe is made up of billions of galaxies and within each of those galaxies are billions of stars. We also know that the universe is a like a giant clock- in other words the planets- for instance orbit in patterns that can be mathematically predicted. We know exactly where planets will be and where they’ve been. A common example is this: We know, for instance that Halley’s comet, last passed in 1986 and the next time will be in 2061. we know what’s happening with mathematical precision. And now, with computer tracking, we can see what the skies looked like from any place on earth at any time in history- on any date, from any spot on our planet, looking at any direction in the sky.
You would think then that we could go back to the point where the Magi were looking into the sky and we could see what they saw. So, modern day astrophysicists can re-create what took place at the time of Christ’s birth. (If we knew when the Magi showed up). Guess what? We can know pretty closely- based on Herod’s reign, which is referenced in Matthew 2. In fact, because of some challenges in calendars and dating through the years, it might be that the stars and the planets can get us closer to the time of Christ’s birth than our own calendars. Astrophysicists can go back and look at a window of time- (say a 5/6 year window and see if anything unusual happened in the skies that would have been unique. Matthew says the Magi came from the East- most likely Babylon (modern day Iraq) and they studied the stars. Many scholars believe that these Magi were descendents of those referenced in Daniel- many of the exiles stayed there.
So these Magi see a star move over Bethlehem and “stop”. Do stars stop? No. In fact, neither do they “move”. We know it’s not that stars move but the rotation of the earth causes them to appear as though they move. Stars don’t move, but planets do as they rotate around the sun. The Ancient Greeks called them “wanderers”- (planes) which is where we get our word for them: planets. They were called “wandering stars”. (Remember they didn’t have telescopes. All that they saw was with the naked eye- planets/stars, it was hard to tell the difference). In fact, planets weren’t known to be planets until relatively recently- Uranus was discovered in 1690, though first thought to be a star. Neptune in 1846, and Pluto in 1930- though earlier this year, poor Pluto was demoted in status. But do planets stop? Yes, they do- or they appear to. It’s called retrograde motion. Based on the rotation of the earth- a kind of moving platform, a moving observation deck and the movement or orbit of a planet, it would appear to freeze in the sky for period of time- amazing. And what we’ve discovered through computer tracking is- sure enough, Jupiter was in full retrograde motion and aligned with Venus, and they formed the brightest “star” any human alive would have ever seen. So bright, in fact, for anyone looking, with knowledge of the night sky (like the Magi), it would have been quite obvious. They followed it to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem.
But here’s what hit me, and this mind-blowing: When God flung the Universe into existence and set all things in motion (and remember- mathematically, you can follow the stars and the planets) it means that before anything was created, God knew exactly when His Son Jesus would be born. He knew when Venus would align with Jupiter (in full retrograde motion) and multiply their light together. He knew when the Magi would come, looking for the star of the Messiah. No wonder the prophets foretold His coming- it had been set in motion before anything was even made! No wonder Scripture says:
“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 1 Peter 1:20
Check out computer animation of retrograde motion online. You can also learn more at sites like www.bethlehemstar.net