Because Epiphany is primarily observed by Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican Christians, many Protestant believers don’t understand the spiritual significance behind this holiday, one of earliest feasts of the Christian church.
What Is Epiphany?
Epiphany, also known as “Three Kings Day” and “Twelfth Day,” is a Christian holiday commemorated on January 6. It falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the Christmas season.
Though many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God to the world in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.
Epiphany originated in the East. In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), with Christ revealing himself to the world as God’s own Son:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9–11, ESV)
Epiphany was introduced into Western Christianity in the 4th century.
The word epiphany means “appearance,” “manifestation,” or “revelation” and is commonly linked in Western churches with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child (Matthew 2:1-12).
Through the Magi, Jesus Christ revealed himself to the Gentiles:
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.”
… 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.
… 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.
On Epiphany some denominations commemorate Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), signifying the manifestation of Christ’s divinity as well.
In the early days of church history before Christmas was observed, Christians celebrated both the birth of Jesus and his baptism on Epiphany. The feast of Epiphany proclaims to the world that a child was born. This infant would grow to adulthood and die as the sacrificial lamb. The season of Epiphany extends the message of Christmas by calling believers to manifest the gospel to the whole world.
Today in Europe, Epiphany celebrations are sometimes just as important as Christmas, with celebrants exchanging gifts on Epiphany instead of Christmas, or on both holidays.
Epiphany is a feast that recognizes the manifestation of God in Jesus, and of the risen Christ in our world. It is a time for believers to consider how Jesus fulfilled his destiny and how Christians can fulfill their destiny too.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.