“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:1–11 ESV)
What do Christians mean when we say that the wise men followed a star? Was it just a star in the sky? If so, that would have given them a direction but would not have led them to a specific house. If the star indeed was over the house, we obviously cannot think of a star the size of our sun hovering over a specific building in Bethlehem. So what was this star? The New Testament does not give details. What we do know is that there is an extensive Jewish tradition identifying stars and angels. This is found in many intertestamental texts but one biblical one is: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3 ESV) While not mentioning angels, scholars are agreed that Daniel is speaking of resurrection as becoming like angels. If the star was an angel, it makes more sense of how the wise men were able to go to a specific house. Two questions are left: why appear as a star instead of an angel and why disappear so that they would need directions from Herod? The reason for the star, was that the wise men were pagans and would have interpreted them as gods rather than angels. As for Herod, that was a purposeful detour to announce to Herod that there was a new King of the Jews. This interpretation, while not proven, seems to make sense of the evidence.