Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Following the Star

Roland Clarke

You've probably heard about the wise men who discovered a special star. This star was a sign that a King had been born. You may wonder why the magi decided to take a very long journey to find this special person. There are several clues that are helpful in discovering what motivated them.

The first clue is mentioned in Genesis 1:14-16. God made stars and stars shine light. Not only do they provide geographical direction, they are a beacon of hope, pointing the way out of darkness back home.

Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth... two great lights ... also the stars.”

A second clue is found in Numbers 24:15-17 where a mystic from Moab named Balaam foretold that a king would one day arise in Israel,

This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
the message of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who bows down with eyes wide open:
I see him, but not here and now.
I perceive him, but far in the distant future.
A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel.

A third clue is hidden in a prophecy which foretells the birth place of Messiah, a world famous peacemaker and ruler of Israel.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace. (Micah 5:2-5)

The fourth clue involves a special star sighted by eastern astrologers. They believed it indicated that a King was born. How could they possibly have known about Balaam's oracle? Many years earlier a Jewish prophet named Daniel was forcibly exiled to Babylon where he became chief of the wise men under King Nebuchadnezzar. Undoubtedly, he spoke of this oracle which he knew so well, to astrologers and others under his leadership. Balaam's intriguing oracle of a royal star-sign would become much clearer 500 years later when the magi undertook the long journey to Bethlehem as told in Matthew 2:1-11;

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

We see a fifth and final clue in 2 Peter 1:19;

You must pay close attention to what they [the prophets] wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.

Like the magi each of us can choose to go on a journey, whether we are searching to find Jesus or we are seeking to know him more.

What does the Messianic title “Morning Star” mean?

You may have read the earlier five clues somewhat casually which point to Jesus as the Messianic King. However, we are now moving into deeper water which will require you to engage your mind fully. It seems fitting to quote the words of Jesus, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart ... and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) As our search for truth takes us deeper let me assure you that your extra effort will be rewarded as the psalmist David testified, “I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure.” (Psalm 119:162) Remember also that God has promised, “If you look for me wholeheartedly you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:13) As we earnestly seek God, we ought to pray and ask him, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things from your word.” (Psalm 119:18, NIV)

As we continue to explore the fuller meaning of the earlier clues let me remind you that the last clue we looked at in 2 Peter 1:19 portrays Jesus using two images of light – dawning Day and Morning Star. So it makes sense to take a closer look at light.

Light & salvation

First, we should note there is a close connection between light and salvation as seen in Isaiah 49:6. This verse foretells the Messiah will bring light and salvation to the world. Two other Messianic prophecies which also link light and salvation are Luke 1:77-79 and Luke 2:29-31. There is another key observation that helps us understand the message Christ commissioned his disciples to preach throughout the world. It has to do with the special name which the angel of God instructed Joseph and Mary to give Christ when he was born – the name Jesus, meaning “God is salvation.” It is not difficult to see how this correlates with Messiah's mission as foretold in Isaiah 49:6, that is, he “will bring my [God's] salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6, NIV)

Why are light and salvation so closely connected?

Salvation has many nuances but its primary meaning, especially in the OT, relates to saving people from death. For example, Isaiah 25:7-9 foretells a day when God will bring salvation by destroying death and wiping away tears forever. Furthermore, Scripture often likens darkness to death and light to life. (Psalm 56:13, Isaiah 59:8-11,16)

The light of life

Whenever Jesus healed critically ill people he dispelled the encroaching shadow of death and lit up their life. Matthew 4:13-24 portrays Christ's extensive healing ministry as being “a great light” to those “living in the land of the shadow of death.” This doesn't merely mean he gave such people a sense of hope. Christ gave them new life, especially when he healed those stricken with terminal illness or raised the dead. Metaphorically speaking he gave them the light of life. It is not surprising, therefore, to see that Jesus claimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)

Rebirth and eternal life

However, Jesus not only gave new life to people whom he raised from the grave, he gave new life in a deeper spiritual sense, i.e. rebirth to whoever truly believed in him. (John 3:3-12) He even promised to give eternal life. (John 17:3; 5:24; 3:16) Sometimes Jesus explained eternal life by assuring those who followed him that they would “never see death.” (John 8:51; 11:26; 6:46-51) This is basically what immortality means – never seeing death.

Jesus triumphed over death

In conclusion, we read that God “has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:10) Note: other Bible translations render the word “illuminated” as “bring to light.”

If you look carefully at 2 Timothy 1:10 and Isaiah 25:7-9 you will notice both passages teach that God will destroy death. However, the latter specifies exactly where death will be destroyed – Mt. Zion/Jerusalem. This is precisely where Jesus prophesied he would die and three days later break the grip of death. (Luke 18:31-33) As the apostle Peter said in Acts 2:24 (NIV), “it was impossible for death to keep its grip on him.” The resurrection of Jesus dramatically proves he won the victory over death. This victory is expressed using slightly different imagery in Revelation 1:17-18 where Jesus says, “I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. [the grave]” (Revelation 1:17-18, NIV)

I realize that many believers (as well as unbelievers) will read this article. Christians will be glad to know that we have made a way for you to share this Good News with your unsaved friends. Simply download and print a one page pdf containing the 5 clues pointing to Jesus as the Messianic King. (This article, titled, Following the star, is enhanced with colour graphics.) I trust you will also want to familiarize yourself with the preceding five paragraphs. Ask the Spirit of God to help you apply and adapt them as you share these insights with your friend.

I would also encourage you to read two short meditations that expand on the twin themes of light and salvation, titled, Lighting up the darkness, and Signposts to Paradise. Another helpful article is titled, Practical insights for shining the light at Christmas. If you want to read a long, detailed analysis explaining “The Star of Bethlehem” it is available online here.

Introducing stars as a conversation topic

Here are some practical pointers for how to begin a conversation on the topic of stars so that you can explore how various Bible prophecies point to Jesus as King. Consider using (or adapting) one of these two questions:

“Have you ever wondered why there are so many star decorations at Christmas time?”

“Have you ever wondered what was so special about the star that inspired the wise men (magi) to set out on a long journey in search of a newborn King?”

In addition to these two questions there are other questions you could raise (or observations) which are very relevant especially to people from countries to the east of Israel, such as Jordan, Syria, Iraq or even Iran/Persia. You might want to try arousing their curiosity by referring to the phrase, “east of Israel” which appears several times in this article.

1) Balaam was from Moab, east of Israel, which basically corresponds to modern day Jordan.

2) The magi in Matthew 2 came from somewhere east of Israel, probably Iraq/Iran, which was reputed to be a leading centre for the study of astrology. Also note: the phrase “magicians and enchanters” in Daniel 1:20 is translated “diviner-priests and mediums” in the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

3) Daniel was chief of staff in the council of wise men in Babylon, Persia, east of Israel.

4) Daniel (Danyal) is acknowledged by Muslims as a prophet of God. In fact, there is a shrine in Iran which is revered by Muslims as the burial place of Danyal. Of course, Iran is east of Israel.

If you want to discuss these themes further feel free to email me here.

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.


The Bible emphasizes that Jesus Christ is the Messianic King but do Muslims believe this? Authoritative Islamic Hadith writings speak clearly of Jesus (Isa) as coming in the last days to rule the earth. Although the Qur’an does not explicitly confirm this, it does contain clues which are consistent with the Hadith and even confirms what the prophets said about Messiah being a king. We read in Surah 3:45, “Behold, the angels said: O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from him: his name will be Christ Jesus.” (Yusuf Ali's translation)

Muslims know that Mary’s baby received a name from God himself, as revealed through the angel. Unfortunately the Qur’an does not clarify what the name Messiah means. However, commentator Yusuf Ali acknowledges it means ‘to anoint’. In a footnote to Surah 3:45 he says that it comes from the Old Testament practice of anointing “kings and priests to symbolize consecration to their office.” (bold added for emphasis)

Do Muslims accept Jesus as King of kings? Most emphatically not! I explained this in the final footnote of my article, Converging Destinies: Jerusalem, Peace and the Messiah. It reads: The Bible calls the Messiah ‘King of Kings’ (Revelation 17:14). This is consistent with what the prophets taught about the worldwide rule of Messiah (as well as various sayings from the hadith). However, another tradition in the Ahadith says the opposite, “Allah's Apostle said, 'The most awful name in Allah's sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be (that of) a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings)'.” (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, number 224) This issue of Messiah being King, typifies the contradictions underlying some of the outward similarities shared by Muslims, Jews and Christians. More importantly, it shows a fork presenting two radically different roads which cannot both lead to the truth. This underscores the need for readers to make a choice.