The Birth of Jesus
Luke now turns the page, focusing upon the birth of Jesus. He writes in Luke 2:1, 2,
1 Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of [hagemonyuo, “ruling or administrating his duties in”] Syria.
Quirinius conducted a second census in 6 A.D. when he was full governor of Syria. Luke must have known that, so he specifies that he is talking about his FIRST census. This earlier “census” is what brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Luke thus dates Jesus’ birth according to events that were happening in Roman history. So in order to understand Jesus’ birth, we must know something about Roman history.
Anniversary Celebrations in Rome
The people of Rome were planning a huge 750th anniversary celebration in the summer of 2 B.C. Rome was at its height of power. Augustus Caesar (whose name was Octavian) had brought stability and peace to the empire, and it was his 25th anniversary since being awarded the title of “Augustus” in 27 B.C. In fact, our month of August is named after him, just as July was named after Julius Caesar before him.
The Roman senate enthusiastically proclaimed Augustus as Pater Patriae, “Father of the Country” on February 5, 2 B.C. in honor of his Silver Jubilee (25 years). They also decided to conduct an unusual census, decreeing that every citizen in all parts of the Roman Empire should ratify Augustus as Pater Patriae. It was to be like a vote of confidence to honor Augustus.
This was not the usual census that was taken every 17 years. A census had already been taken in 12 B.C. Another would be taken in 6 A.D. as described in the Wikipedia,
“After the banishment of the ethnarch Herod Archelaus in 6 AD, Iudaea (the conglomeration of Samaria, Judea and Idumea) came under direct Roman administration with Coponius as prefect; at the same time Quirinius was appointed Legate of Syria, with instructions to assess Iudea Province for taxation purposes. One of his first duties was to carry out a census as part of this.”
The census of 12 B.C. is far too early to be the one which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Likewise, the census of 6 A.D. is far too late, even though it took place while Quirinius was Legate of Syria. But the universal registration of all citizens that were required to ratify the senate’s decree proclaiming Augustus as Pater Patriae perfectly fits the time frame for Jesus’ birth in September of 2 B.C.
Who was Quirinius?
This special census was placed in the hands of Quirinius (or “Cyrenius,” KJV), Rome’s foremost expert on taxation and census-taking. The main problem was that he was not governor of Syria until 6 A.D.
The governor of Syria who was there to welcome Quirinius was Saturninus. He had been governor for just two years, having replaced Varus in 4 B.C. But Varus had been reappointed governor of Syria and was due to replace Saturninus later in 2 B.C. The problem was that neither Varus nor Saturninus wanted to miss the celebrations in Rome that summer. Saturninus wanted to leave early, but Varus would certainly not relieve him sooner than necessary. So when Quirinius arrived in Syria, it allowed Saturninus to leave early, and hence Quirinius became the acting governor of Syria, as Luke says.
Quirinius had a high enough rank to fill the position of governor, and precedent for this had already been established. But according to Roman records, Quirinius was not the actual governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth. The governors of Syria in the years before and after Jesus’ birth were:
Marcus Titius (7 B.C. and earlier)
Publius Varus (7 or 6 B.C. to 4 B.C.)
Gaius Saturninus (4 to 2 B.C.)
Publius Varus (2 B.C. to 1 A.D.)
Gaius Caesar (1 to 4 A.D.) He was Augustus’ grandson.
Lucius Saturninus (4-5 A.D.)
Publius Quirinius (6-12 A.D.)
We do know, however, that Quirinius was sent to Syria in March of 2 B.C. Judea at the time was a province of Syria. We also know that Luke calls Quirinius “governor,” but yet he uses the term to denote the general administration of duties, because in Luke 3:1 he refers to Pilate as “Governor of Judea,” when in fact he was a Procurator.
Historical records show that Governor Saturninus was still in Syria as late as May of 2 B.C. But then there is a gap in the historical records, and nothing is known for sure until November when Varus was the governor. In the six-month historical blank space, Jesus was born. It was the only possible year in which He could have been born during an administration of Quirinius in Syria and when a census was being taken.
No doubt the census in Syria was completed by late summer, and then Quirinius went to Judea in September. His officials went to each town in Judea, and all the people were required to return to their home towns to register their approval of Augustus Caesar. This brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem so that Jesus could be born on the evening of the feast of Trumpets (New Year’s Day), Sept. 29, 2 B.C.
The Trip to Bethlehem
Luke 3:3-5 says,
3 And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
Joseph and Mary were not yet married, for Luke tells us that they were yet “engaged.” This indicates that Mary was still living at home with her parents in Nazareth. They apparently had decided to postpone the marriage until after the birth of Jesus. Even then, given the circumstances, it is not likely that they held a public wedding, which would only serve to draw further criticism from those who did not believe her story.
So why did Joseph bring her along on the 80-mile trip to Bethlehem in that condition? If Mary was of the house of David, why did her father not make the trip with them? Most likely he did, for it would not have been prudent for them to travel alone and unchaperoned, even if they were part of a caravan.
Mary’s father was legally allowed to represent the family in this census. If alive, he would have been required to make the same trip to Bethlehem to register. A more intriguing question is why Mary even came along on this difficult trip while she was so far along in her pregnancy.
This seems to indicate that she was in some danger if she were to be left alone with her mother at home in Nazareth. Nazareth was an ultra-conservative religious settlement of Jews who were quick to execute anyone who strayed from the “righteous” path. In fact, as we will see later, after Jesus’ first sermon upon returning from the wilderness, the men of that city wanted to cast Him off the nearby cliff (Luke 4:29).
With Mary pregnant out of wedlock, there were many, no doubt, who advocated stoning her. If her father and fiancé had left her behind, they would have had reason to worry about her safety during their absence. But God used all of these circumstances to ensure that Mary would go to Bethlehem, so that Jesus would be born there as Micah 5:2 had foretold,
2 But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be counted among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
In the Hebrew text of this verse, counting every 49th letter from the 4th yood (?) spells Yeshua. If you read every 48th letter in the verse, it spells out the names of Mary and Joseph. It was well known among the rabbis of the first century that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, for they considered Micah 5:2 to be a messianic prophecy. The verse tells us the city (Bethlehem), the tribe (Judah), His name (Yeshua), and His earthly parents (Mary and Joseph).
To this we may add that He was born at the feast of Trumpets, at the dawn of a new year, 532 years after the Edict of Cyrus had been issued, allowing the Judeans the right to immigrate back to the land of their fathers. The number 532 is 76 x 7. As 76 is the biblical number of cleansing, it was the required number of years to provide full and complete cleansing, after the nation had been brought back from death to life.
Was Jesus Born in a Stable?
After Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus was born there just as the prophet Micah had foretold. Luke 2:6 and 7 says,
6 And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Matthew devotes only one verse to Jesus’ birth (Matt. 1:25), not even telling us that He was born in Bethlehem. Mark’s gospel begins with the ministry of John thirty years later, and John likewise says nothing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. It appears that Luke alone sought out those who witnessed Jesus’ birth and got the story during Paul’s two-year confinement at Caesarea.
Many years later a Greek Christian novelist wrote an imaginative account of Jesus’ birth and early life. The book is called The Protoevangelion, written, scholars believe, around the year 200 A.D. It says in 12:5 that Joseph and Mary were traveling alone and that she gave birth in a cave about three miles from Bethlehem. Joseph went to town to find a midwife (13:1), and Mary gave birth before he returned.
In 12:11 it also has Joseph describing that location as “a desert,” when it in fact was rich farmland. The author was obviously unfamiliar with the geography of Palestine. Neither did the author take into account the historical circumstance, for surely many others had to go to Bethlehem to register in the census. In fact, Luke says that the town was crowded with people from out of town, all there to ratify the document honoring Caesar as “Father of the Country.”
Luke says that Mary laid Jesus “in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” The traditional Christmas stories were written later by those who did not understand the hospitality culture of the day, nor the layout of the simple homes that the people built for themselves, and this has influenced many of the translations including the KJV and the NASB.
There may have been a commercial inn in Bethlehem. No one can say for sure. But Luke did not mean to imply that a commercial inn was full. The A.V. says that the “guest-room” of the house was already occupied, and for this reason, Jesus was laid in the manger. This is more accurate, because the Greek term katalyma (“inn”) was, in fact, the guest-room of a simple house.
The usual Greek word for a commercial inn was pandocheion. The prefix pan means “all,” and the rest of the word means “to receive.” A pandocheion, then, means “to receive all,” and refers to a commercial inn. In fact, this Greek word was adopted into other languages such as Armenian, Coptic, Arabic, and Turkish, all using the word to mean a commercial inn.
On the other hand, Luke says Mary gave birth to Jesus in a katalyma, “a place to stay.” This was not a commercial inn but a guest room in a house. We see this later, in Luke 22:10-12, when the disciples had to follow a man with a water pot on his head and ask, “Where is the guest room [katalyma] in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” The owner of the house had an “upper room” for them which had been built on the roof to house his guests.
Wealthy people in those days had separate quarters for their animals, but the average poor residence housed the animals with them at one end of the house near the door. There are thousands of such houses in Palestine even today. Kenneth E. Bailey describes such houses, saying,
“People of great wealth would naturally have had separate quarters for animals. But simple village homes in Palestine often had but two rooms. One was exclusively for guests. That room could be attached to the end of the house or be a ‘prophet’s chamber’ on the roof, as in the story of Elijah (1 Kings 17:19). The main room was a ‘family room’ where the entire family cooked, ate, slept and lived. The end of the room next to the door was either a few feet lower than the rest of the floor or blocked off with heavy timbers. Each night into that designated area, the family cow, donkey and a few sheep would be driven. And every morning those same animals were taken out and tied up in the courtyard of the house. The animal stall would then be cleaned for the day….
“The door on the lower level serves as an entrance for people and animals. The farmer wants the animals in the house each night because they provide heat in winter and are safe from theft.” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 29).
The fact that the animals lived in the house is seen in 1 Sam. 28:24, when King Saul was housed in the guest room of the witch of Endor. It says, “the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly slaughtered it” to feed her guest. She did not need to find the calf out in the field or even outside the house.
In another story Jephthah made his rash vow to sacrifice the first thing that “comes out of the doors of my house to meet me” (Judges 11:31). He expected an animal to be released in the early morning as usual, but tragically, his daughter came out first (vs. 34).
The mangers for the animals were often hollowed out stones at the far end of the main room of the house, within reach of the animals in the stable. Because the guest-room was already occupied, the householders offered Joseph and Mary that end of the room. There Mary gave birth, and she was able to place Jesus in a straw-filled manger that was cozy and just the right size for a baby.
We are told nothing about the family that provided hospitality to Joseph and Mary, but they were witnesses of this simple birth that fulfilled the hopes and dreams of prophecy. Such hospitality toward travelers was customary, and it would have been a shame to the community to deny lodging to a traveler in need, especially a pregnant woman.
Keep in mind too that this was like an extended family reunion, because all the people who had come to Bethlehem on that occasion were of the house of David. So this family offered what they had—the far end of the house near the stable.
The women of the house were there to assist in Jesus’ birth. Naturally, the men would have left the room, and perhaps a local midwife may have been called. Though Luke gives us the most detailed account, the story is brief. It is perhaps significant also that it took a doctor to pass on these details to us.
Attending the actual birth of Jesus were the women of the house in which Joseph and Mary were guests. When the birth and cleanup were complete, the household would have returned. Perhaps while they were absent they visited with neighbors, but we do not know what was said beyond the birth of a child.
The Shepherds of Bethlehem
We read in Luke 2:8-12,
8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”
Here we see that the first known angelic visitation, announcing the birth of the Messiah, was not to kings or priests, but to shepherds. In those days shepherds were poor, uneducated, and at the low end of the social scale. Kenneth Bailey tells us, “Five lists of ‘proscribed trades’ are recorded in rabbinic literature and shepherds appear in three out of five” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 35). Bailey finds this incredible, given the fact that Psalm 23:1 says, “Yahweh is my shepherd.” How could shepherding be a forbidden trade? Yet it shows how despised shepherds were to the learned class.
The fact that these shepherds were still watching sheep in the hills shows that it was not yet December. The traditional date of December 25 was far too late in the year for that climate and elevation.
Luke’s main purpose in telling this part of the story was not to date the birth of Jesus but to show God’s interest in the lowest class of people. The angel did not visit the palace of Herod, or the mansion of the high priest, nor did the angel even visit a regular priest in the temple as occurred at the announcement of John’s birth. The honor of this visitation was given to common shepherds.
The shepherds were frightened at the sight of the angel. It seems that angels always find it necessary to spend the first moments of their visitation dispelling men’s fear. The shepherds’ assumption, perhaps, was that the rabbis were correct in despising their profession, and they could only assume that it was beneath the dignity and majesty of God to relate to them, except perhaps to bring judgment upon them.
The uneducated shepherds were wrong. The educated rabbis were equally wrong. Here we see Luke healing another breach, this one between shepherds and rabbis, or between educated and uneducated, rich and poor, high-born and common people. This was a message that Theophilus could not have missed in reading the account.
The angel told the shepherds the “good news,” that is the gospel. It was not just good news for the rabbis but “for all the people.” In fact, the good news was of such universal appeal that the rich and powerful soon opposed it, for they perceived that it threatened their position of power over the people. The equality of the people in the sight of God was not a message that they could easily support. If they had viewed their authority as being under God, and if they had viewed themselves as stewards of God, they would not have felt threatened. However, they had usurped ownership of power, and therefore they had something to lose if this Messiah should become King.
Christ the Lord of Hosts
In Luke 2:11 the angel announces that the Messiah has been born in the city of David. Further, he is called “the Lord” (kurios, “the possessor, ruler, owner”). Bethlehem was the land inheritance of David’s family since Joshua had divided the land among the tribes and families. Now the Inheritor had come as the lord or patriarch of that family and that city, as prophesied by Micah.
There were two cities of David. The one was Bethlehem; the other was Jerusalem, or more specifically, the hill of Zion (2 Chronicles 5:2). David was born in Bethlehem, but he ruled from Zion over all Israel. So also Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but His throne was to be in Zion, had it not been usurped.
In the second coming of Christ, however, both Bethlehem and Zion have a broader meaning and application, for He now comes to rule the world from the New Jerusalem and a New Zion. This New Zion is not the old Zion any more than the New Jerusalem is the old Jerusalem.
The prophetic shift also moves from Judah to Joseph, as Gen. 49:10 tells us,
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff [khakak, “lawgiver, one who decrees”] from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience [yikkahah, “submission”] of the people.
In other words, someone of the tribe of Judah was to hold the scepter until the coming of “Shiloh,” at which time the people would submit to this new ruler or lawgiver. Who is this new ruler? It is Joseph, whose prophetic dreams proved to be correct when his brothers (including Judah) bowed before him in Egypt. Hence, Christ’s first coming was in Bethlehem, for He had to be born of Judah and specifically in the house of David. But His second coming is through Joseph and the tribe of Ephraim, Joshua’s tribe, in order to inherit the calling of Joshua in leading us into the Kingdom.
Regulus, the Lion’s Lawgiver
The “lawgiver” in Gen. 49:10, KJV is a reference to Regulus, the bright star between the feet of Leo, the Lion in the heavens. Regulus, the “regulator,” is the lawgiver or ruler and represents Christ in this verse.
We could say that Regulus represented both David and Joshua, for each was a leader (or “regulator”) and a type of Christ in his own way. Christ was “David” in His first coming, but “Joseph” when He comes again, this time with his robe dipped in blood (Gen. 37:31; Rev. 19:13).
Hence, when the angel announced to the shepherds that the Savior has been born in the city of David, calling Him “Christ the Lord,” I believe that the term “Lord” meant more than being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16). He is all of that, of course, but the angelic statement applied more specifically to the fact that He was the Captain of the Lord’s Host, who had spoken to Joshua in Joshua 5:14 just before the battle of Jericho. For this reason, when the angelic message had been delivered, we read in Luke 2:13, 14,
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
The angelic “host” is not a choir of singing angels. They are the army of heaven. Perhaps the angel who spoke to the shepherds was the same Captain of the Lord’s Host that had spoken to Joshua many years earlier. He reappeared again at the birth of the greater Joshua, or Yeshua.
It is also of interest to note that in the months before Jesus was born, Jupiter, the King’s Planet, had come into conjunction with Regulus, the King’s Star. It was this astronomical event that brought the magi first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. The arrival of the magi is told in Matthew’s account, but not in Luke, but we know from astronomy that Jupiter did a loop over Regulus, “crowning” that star before moving west. The magi went to Jerusalem, because it was called in Isaiah 1:26 the City of Righteousness (Sedeq, or Zadok). Sedeq was also the Hebrew name for Jupiter; hence, Jerusalem was also known as the City of Jupiter, the royal city of the King’s planet.
Three months later, on December 25 Jupiter appeared to hover over Bethlehem, as viewed from Jerusalem, and this was how the magi were able to locate Jesus specifically.
Hence, we see the role that Regulus played in the first coming of Christ. Gen. 49:10 implies that Regulus will again play a role in the second coming of Christ. Jupiter and Regulus were in conjunction three times in fairly rapid succession:
September 14, 3 B.C. (Succoth)
February 17, 2 B.C. (Purim)
May 8, 2 B.C. (Second Passover)
The final conjunction formed the loop, or halo, which “crowned” Regulus. These were signs preceding the birth of Jesus, and the magi arrived in late December when Jesus was three months old. Joseph and Mary had been led to remain in Bethlehem during that time, probably discussing the events with friends and relatives in evening Bible studies.
The arrival of the magi brought danger, however, and they escaped to Egypt before Herod ordered the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem. Herod was nearly 70 years old at the time, and he was very upset that Rabbi Matthias had inspired some of his students to remove Rome’s golden eagle from the temple wall a few weeks earlier. In the midst of the investigation, the magi arrived, asking about the new king that had been born “King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2).
Herod was thoroughly alarmed at the magi’s innocent question, and when the magi returned home without informing him of the location of this royal baby, he simply killed all the children in Bethlehem under two years of age. About two weeks later, on January 9, 1 B.C. he burned Rabbi Matthias at the stake and deposed the high priest (also named Matthias).
This event, Josephus tells us, was marked by a lunar eclipse (Antiquities of the Jews, XVII, vi, 4). The editor’s footnote tells us that this took place at the eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C. However, this note is incorrect, as I explained in chapter 9 of my book, Secrets of Time. It was the lunar eclipse of January 9, 1 B.C. for only then was Herod approaching 70 years of age, as Josephus says earlier (Antiquities, XVII, vi, 1).
Herod then became very sick and was taken to the hot springs at Callirrhoe on the far shore of the Dead Sea, where he died on January 28, 1 B.C. Interestingly, Callirrhoe is now the name of one of the moons of Jupiter.
The House of Bread
The sign which the angel gave to the shepherds of Bethlehem was that they would find the baby lying in a manger. How was this a sign? Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Jesus was to be the bread of life (John 6:48) that the people were to “eat.” John 6:53-55 says,
53 … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.
To eat is to hear and assimilate His words. He was laid in a manger to show that He was to be food for us in the House of Bread.
The shepherds went to the town of Bethlehem, obeying the word of the angels. Luke 2:15-18 says,
15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
Communications were not as advanced as they are today, but certainly everyone in Bethlehem would have heard of this event. The town was not large, and no doubt the shepherds already knew the midwives. “Is there a baby born tonight? Which house? We must see this child immediately! We have been sent by God!” The shouts would have brought everyone into the street to hear what had happened.
Even so, three months later, King Herod was surprised by the news from the magi, who came inquiring about the newborn king (Matt. 2:4). Herod sent them to discover the identity of the child (Matt. 2:8), presuming that Bethlehem was His place of birth, but yet he seemed to know nothing. Perhaps Herod’s spies—if they heard anything—did not take the report seriously, seeing that it came from ignorant shepherds who posed no threat. Besides, why would God visit despised shepherds rather than honored priests?
19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
Verse 19 gives the impression that Luke had talked to Mary personally, for he knew what was in her heart. It may be, however, that during Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea, Luke made the trip to Bethlehem to talk to some of the old people who may have remembered these events. Paul was arrested in 58 A.D. and spent two years in Caesarea before being taken to Rome for trial. Hence, Paul’s faithful companion, Luke, had little else to do during this time and probably interviewed those elderly witnesses who were then at least 70-80 years old, who would have remembered these events.