|Volume 17 Number 12 December 2015||
In 2 B.C., Augustus celebrated his 25th year as Emperor. Rome was celebrating its 750th year of existence. Festivities were held in Rome, its provinces and client kingdoms. There were magnificent displays and carnivals throughout the Empire. A new forum was dedicated bearing Augustus’ name.
Augustus was seen as a type of “Prince of Peace.” He was given the title “Pater Patriae” (Father of the Country) on February 5, 2 B.C. This was the traditional day that honored peace and reconciliation among all classes of people in the Roman Empire. Throughout this year he was recognized as the one who brought peace and tranquility to the world. He was titled the guardian and keeper of the Empire.
The Roman poet Virgil forecast that a child destined to bring in a Golden Age of peace and prosperity would be born at this time. Seutonius, in the 2nd century, stated that Romans at this time had long believed that it was destined for the empire of the world to be given to someone coming from Judea. Tacitus records that the majority of Jewish people believed that at this time the east would renew its strength and from Judea a ruler would come. (Interestingly, later around A.D. 60, Nero was advised by some of his court astrologers that it was prudent for him to move his seat of the empire to Jerusalem because that city was destined to become the capital of the world.)
Active war had nearly ceased, and large numbers of legionary soldiers had been reduced from military service over the last five years. The pirates of the seas had been almost abolished, making sea travel extremely safe. The Greek language was spoken by a large portion of the known world. The Greek translation of the Old Law, the Septuagint, was widely read and circulated in the Gentile world.
Roman philosophers were looking for a new direction to stem the tide of society’s self-destruction. Family life in the Empire had sunk to an all-time low. There was widespread moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Thus, many were looking for something to fill the void in their lives.
Well-designed road systems made traveling easier than it had ever been. Several nations had large sailing fleets making long distance traveling easier than it had ever been.
The Jews were scattered throughout the world, thus giving a familiarity of monotheism to much of the known world. There were very interesting and rare astrological events occurring over the previous 4 years and during 2 B.C.
“But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). As we proceed through this lesson, keep in mind the phrase, “the fullness of time.” The word fullness is “pleroma” in the Greek. It means "that which fills up, that which makes something full or complete.” God, who knows all things, had a plan. His plan was to bring forth a Redeemer, His Son. The timing for that Redeemer was all-important. His coming was to be at the perfect time in man’s history. Daniel had given a prophecy that the Messiah would come during the Roman Empire (Daniel 2). Jesus would claim in Mark 1:15 that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Was Jesus right or was he lying? Was He the greatest con man in history? Was He really the “only begotten Son” (John 1:18)? Did God really “become flesh” and tabernacle among us (John 1:14)? Was God made in the likeness of man and found in fashion as a man (Philippians 2:5-8)? Was God, who was in the beginning (John 1:1), manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16)?
It was a great honor to burn incense in the Temple. Because there were so many priests in the tribe of Levi, one’s turn to burn the incense might only come once in a lifetime. Zacharias was getting his opportunity. What a thrill to enter the Temple to burn the sacred incense on the holy altar.
As he was going about this duty, the angel Gabriel appeared to him on the right side of the altar and informed him that his wife of many years was going to have a son. Elisabeth had been unable to bear children. It is interesting that the angel told Zacharias that his prayer had been heard. Since he and his wife were very elderly, we must assume that his prayers had been going up to God for many years.
Their son, John, would be great in the sight of the Lord. He was going to bring many Israelites back to a proper faith. However, most importantly, we are told in Luke 1:17 that John would prepare the people for the Lord. Surely Zacharias thought of Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” Perhaps Isaiah 40:3 came to his mind, which says, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Similarly, Malachi 4:5 reads, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
In Luke 1:6, we are told that Zacharias and Elisabeth were righteous before God. They walked in all His commandments and ordinances blameless. (Zacharias was allowed by the Law to retire from Temple service at the age of 50. However, a priest could voluntarily continue to serve. Those who did so were given the highest honor and respect among the Jews.) God chose godly parents to rear the Lord’s forerunner. This child would also be a miraculous child, born of a barren elderly mother.
Zacharias found this hard to believe, and thus, he was struck dumb (and possibly deaf) until the child was born and circumcised. Zacharias’ speech was miraculously restored after he wrote on a tablet to tell everyone that the child would be called John. He then prophesied that his child would go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways (Luke 1:76) and that he would be called “the prophet of the Highest.”
Six months after Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, he appeared to a young virgin in the town of Nazareth. Mary was told that she was going to have a son as well. Her child would be the result of the Holy Spirit coming down upon her. Her child was to be called “the Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32). He would be called “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). His name was to be Jesus (Luke 1:31).
In Genesis 3:15, Satan was told that enmity would be put between his seed and the woman’s seed. God did not say it would be the man’s seed. This is the first prophecy regarding Christ. Unlike all other babies born, Christ’s birth was not the result of a physical man’s seed. He was the result of the Holy Spirit and Mary’s seed.
Mary was told that her cousin, Elisabeth, was also pregnant by the power of God. With this new revelation, Mary rushed to visit Elisabeth. As Mary approached, Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and told Mary that she (Mary) was blessed among all women. She also acknowledged that Mary was pregnant with the Lord. She said her son jumped for joy in her womb as Mary approached. (It was told by Gabriel that John would have the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.)
Mary replied with joy toward God. Her reply recorded in Luke 1:46-55 is thought to have been sung. She said that God was remembering the mercy of which He spoke with Abraham. This is in reference to the covenant God made with him in Genesis 17. Mary stayed for three months before returning home about the time John was born.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, a man of the house of David. When Joseph was informed of Mary’s pregnancy, he was unsure what to do. He was contemplating canceling their wedding when an angel appeared to him in a dream and confirmed for him that the child was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). He was told that the child’s name would be Jesus. We are told in Matthew 1:22-23 that all this was done so that Isaiah 7:14 would be fulfilled. “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.”
With this information, Joseph married Mary. This means that Joseph was now the legal father of Jesus. In Luke 3:23 when Jesus began His ministry, we are told that it “was supposed” that He was Joseph’s son. Neighbors had no idea that Jesus was actually the Son of God. In Matthew 1, the lineage of Christ is given. It is interesting to note that in verse 16 we are told that Jacob begat Joseph “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.” Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus and thus could not “begat” him.
Joseph was a descendant of David (Matthew 1; Luke 2:4). Thus, Jesus’ birth begins the fulfillment of Jeremiah 23:5, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”
Approximately thirty years after His birth, Jesus in Matthew 22:42-46 asked the Pharisees how David could prophecy that Jesus would be David’s Lord and David’s son at the same time. They could not answer the question without affirming the virgin birth.
In Romans 1:3, we read, “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The word for “made” is “became.” The word for biological inheritance, “born,” is not used. The same word is used in John 1:14 when it says “the Word was made flesh” and in Galatians 4:4, “when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” This coincides with Jeremiah 31:22, “For the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man.” The pregnancy and birth of Jesus is not just another natural pregnancy and birth.
This legal sonship to Joseph also fulfilled Isaiah 11:1-2, “And there shall come forth a rod [“a shoot” ASV] out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots; and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, and the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” Luke 3:32 documents that Jesus was indeed from the lineage of Jesse.
Approximately six months later, Joseph took Mary with him to Bethlehem to take care of a required poll tax by Caesar Augustus. While there, Mary gave birth to Jesus. His birth in Bethlehem fulfilled the prophecy given 700 years earlier in Micah 5:2, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Only God has been from everlasting. This fulfillment is just another indication that His birth was indeed miraculous and that Jesus is God.
An angel appeared to shepherds in a field near Bethlehem (Luke 2:9). These shepherds were likely those in charge of the Passover lambs used in the Temple. This area about 5 miles southwest of Jerusalem was where these lambs were kept. The fields had a watchtower called Migdal Edar, the Tower of the Flock. There were special mangers in this area for birthing. Only those lambs without spot or blemish were kept here after birth. How appropriate that those in charge of the Passover lambs will be some of the first to see the Lamb of God.
The angel informed them that Christ the Lord, the Savior, had been born in the city of David. They would know the child because he would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and would be lying in a manger. The shepherds were witness to a multitude of angels praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The shepherds saw Jesus and told everyone they could about what they were told and what they had seen. People wondered but evidently did not take it too seriously. Otherwise, Mary and Joseph would have been swamped with onlookers. It must be remembered that shepherds were considered the lowliest of those in a career. The Jews would not believe that God announced the Messiah’s coming through lowly shepherds.
When Mary’s 40 days of purification were fulfilled according to the Mosaic Law detailed in Leviticus 12:2-6, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and present the proper sacrifice. Every male was to be dedicated as holy to the Lord.
In the Temple was a just and devout old man, Simeon. The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. On this day, he was brought to the Temple by the Spirit. Simeon saw the baby Jesus (now about 6-weeks-old) and took him up in his arms. He said that God could now let him die because he had seen the salvation and light of not only the Israelites but also of the Gentiles (Luke 2:29-32).
One would think that nothing at this point could surprise Mary and Joseph. Yet, they marveled at what Simeon said. The Jews as a whole had a misconception that the Messiah was coming to set up an earthly kingdom with the Jews as His ruling people. Simeon was reiterating what Isaiah had stated in Isaiah 9:2, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” and in Isaiah 60:1-3, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”
The multitude of angels had stated that there would be peace on earth. Simeon, by the Holy Spirit, was showing that this would be peace for all nations through the light of salvation brought by Jesus.
Simeon was not finished. He next blessed them and spoke directly to Mary (Luke 2:34-35). He told her that her son would cause many to rise and many to fall in the nation of Israel. Her son would be a sign spoken against and a sword would pierce through her soul. This prophecy of their son must also have brought questions to their minds. How would a sword pierce Mary’s soul?
Why Mary was addressed with this and not Joseph can only be conjectured. It was possibly because Joseph died by the time Jesus was crucified and would not witness the death of his son. We know that he is not mentioned during the crucifixion records. Then, Jesus from the cross told John to take Mary as his mother.
Immediately recorded after Simeon’s interchange is an interchange with a prophetess named Anna. Anna was 84 years old and a widow. She stayed in the Temple praying and fasting night and day. She also saw the baby Jesus and gave thanks to God for allowing her to see the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:38).
After Mary and Joseph completed their requirements of the Law of Moses, they returned to either Bethlehem or Nazareth to resume their normal lives. (Most commentators believe they returned to Bethlehem. They believe Luke simply did not record certain events.)
Sometime later, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. They told Herod that they had seen the star indicating the birth of the King of the Jews. They desired to worship Him and to present Him with frankincense, gold and myrrh. The Septuagint version of Isaiah 60:6 has foreign dignitaries giving such gifts to the Messiah.
These wise men are more than likely the Chaldean Magi. These individuals were known as the greatest astronomers of the known world. Egyptian, Roman, Persian and Greek astronomers, among others, went to their schools to learn.
It is apparent that this group knew of a prophecy that indicated that the Messiah would be born and that there would be astronomical indicators of such. While we cannot know for sure, it is possible that Daniel gave the prophecy. When he was in Babylon, he became the chief of the astrologers and Chaldeans (Daniel 5:11). The Jews highly admired the Magi, partly because of Daniel’s association and because the Magi did not worship idolatrous images of God. Philo speaks very warmly of them.
There are some very interesting astrological events that occurred during the years 3 to 1 B.C. The planets, stars and constellations had patterns, which rarely occur. Time will not permit us to go into all of these, but notice just a little of what Roman history recorded. In June of 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus came so close that they appeared as one giant star. They appeared in the Constellation Leo, “the Lion,” the Royal Constellation. This constellation was dominated by the Star Regulus, the King Star. The Romans saw this as demonstrating Roman rule and domination. Jupiter was considered the guardian and ruler of the Empire. Venus was believed to be the beloved mother of the family of Augustus.
This occurred during a full moon. A sheep was led along the Via Sacra and was sacrificed to Jupiter on June 17th, with the day named The Trust of Jupiter. Thirty three days later, Jupiter and Regulus came together. The King planet and the King Star together. The Romans saw this as heaven’s approval of Augustus in Rome.
In August, four planets aligned longitudinally very close together in the Constellation Leo – Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury. Roman and other ancient astronomers looked upon this as the sign of a new beginning in historical affairs. The Romans looked to Rome because of these astrological signs. The Magi instead headed for Jerusalem.
Whether the star, which they were following, was a natural but prophesied event or whether it was a supernatural event, it was miraculous. Something had been foretold and it had come to pass. I personally believe it was a combination of both.
Herod inquired (demanded) of the chief priests and scribes as to where the Christ was to be born. Herod was completely convinced that the wise men were indeed looking for a real person. He was told of the prophecy of Micah 5:2. Herod told the wise men to go to Bethlehem and then come back and tell him where they found him. It was Herod’s intention to kill the child. He certainly did not want a new king rising up against the Roman Empire.
(In 63 B.C., there had been prophetic dreams and astrologic signs suggesting a “king of the Romans” was to be born who would become the most powerful ruler ever in the Empire. It was ordered by the Roman Senate that all baby boys be killed. Augustus Caesar was born that year and grew to become the most powerful ruler the Empire had ever known. Herod was well aware of the history. He did not want a repeat.)
Before sending them on their way, he found out exactly when they first saw the star. We know it was approximately two years before because later Herod killed all children two-years-old and younger in the Bethlehem area. He did this when the wise men did not come back and tell him where they found Jesus. They went home a different way because God told them not to return to Herod. The death of the numerous children caused great grief and fulfilled Jeremiah 31:15, “In Rama there was a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
After the Magi visited Jesus, an angel of God told Joseph to take his family into Egypt to save the child from Herod. When Herod had died, an angel told Joseph he could return to Nazareth. Hosea 11:1 had foretold, “out of Egypt have I called my son.” We are told in Matthew 2:23 that the prophets had foretold that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Indeed, he spent the rest of his life growing up in Nazareth until the time of His ministry.
The evidence presented thus far should dismiss any doubt that the birth of Jesus was a miraculous event. His forerunner, His presence in Mary’s womb, the place of His birth, the proclamations by numerous witnesses, His home and more, all connected with the miraculous and with prophecy.
Consider just a few of the names and
titles used in reference to the child, Jesus.
“Jesus” – In Matthew 1:25, Joseph called His name Jesus. Jesus means “Jehovah’s salvation.” In Isaiah 12:2, we read, “I will trust and not be afraid; for Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” In Hebrew, the word salvation is Yeshua, or Jesus. In Psalm 9:14, David said he would rejoice in God’s “salvation.” Again the word Yeshua. Luke 2:11 reads, “unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour.”
“Christ” – This is the Greek equivalent of Messiah, which means “anointed.” In Luke 2:11, it is stated about the baby Jesus, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” It was prophesied in Psalm 45:7, “Thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” He is also referenced in prophecy in Psalm 2:2 as the anointed.
“King” – The wise men wanted to know, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). It was prophesied in Psalm 2:6 that God would set “my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” In Jeremiah 23:5 we find, “I will raise unto David… a King who shall reign and prosper.”
“Lord” – This title denotes authority and dominion. “For unto you is born this day… Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). When Elisabeth saw Mary coming toward her, she declared, “the mother of my Lord.” In Psalm 110:1 in reference to the coming Christ appears, “The Lord said unto my Lord.” Jesus reiterated His right to this title in John 13:13, “Ye call me Master and Lord… so I am.”
“Immanuel” – In Isaiah 7:14 it is stated that the virgin would conceive “…and shall call his name Immanuel.” This was fulfilled in Matthew 1:23 where we find that the name means “God with us.”
“Governor” – This title means one who goes first, leads the way and is chief in war. In Matthew 2:6 it is stated about Mary, “out of thee shall come a Governor.” This was fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 22:28, “He is governor among the nations,” and in Zechariah 9:7, “He shall be as a governor in Judah.”
Why is the miraculous birth so important?
If His birth was not by a virgin, then He is not God. His deity would be called into question. Yet, even the demons confessed Him as the Son of God in Matthew 8:29. Were they lying? Why would the demons perpetuate that lie? It would serve them no purpose.
Paul declared Him to be God who purchased the church with His blood in Acts 20:28. Peter declared Him to be the Son of the Living God in Matthew 16:16. If Paul and Peter were wrong, then their inspiration would be called into question, and thus so would all of their teachings.
Jesus Himself declared that He is the Son of God (John 18:37; Matthew 27:11). If He was not, then He was a blasphemer and a liar. The Jews who accused Him of such (John 10:30-33) would have been right. Such a man certainly should not be followed in any way.
God declared Him to be His Son in Matthew 3:17 at His baptism. If He really was not, then God is a liar and cannot be counted worthy of speaking any truth.
His authority was impossible if He was not born of a virgin. If He is not God, then He could not be tried as required and prophesied (Isaiah 28:16). Without being properly tried, He could not be the Author of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9). Only the one born of a virgin was to be the one with authority (Isaiah 9:6-7).
His once-for-all resurrection would be impossible without the virgin birth. All other resurrected individuals died again: Lazarus, saints at Christ’s death. If no virgin birth, then there would be no death and no resurrection (Hebrews 2:14-15).
If no virgin birth, then there is no atonement possible through His death. Hebrews 10:5 states, “A body thou hast prepared for me… sacrifices and offerings thou wouldest not.” All the sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to Him on the cross (Hebrews 9:18-22; 10:1-18). If Jesus is not God and the perfect Lamb, then He gives no atonement.
If there was no virgin birth, then there was no Ascension and Coronation. Daniel 7:9-14 tells us that “the Son of Man [Christ] was brought to the throne and given dominion, glory and a kingdom that all people should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
His mediatorial work is impossible without the virgin birth. Hebrews 4:14-16 says Jesus is a high priest who can be touched with our infirmities and was tempted in all ways as we are. We, therefore, can come boldly unto the throne of grace. However, if he is not God, then He is not our Mediator.
The Second Coming is impossible if Jesus Christ was not born of a virgin. John 16:28 quotes Jesus saying, “I came out from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” Back in Chapter 14:1-3, He stated, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
We began by bringing our attention to “the fullness of time.” Indeed, the miraculous birth of Jesus came in the fullness of time. God through His providence brought all things to a zenith – everything physically and spiritually perfect. The world was made ready for the coming of the Saviour.
Christ fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus stated in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” He stated in Luke 24:44 that all things written by Moses, the prophets and in the Psalms about Him must be fulfilled.
We preach Christ crucified. Without his miraculous birth, the crucifixion would mean absolutely nothing. God did become flesh, and in the flesh, He died a horrible death so that we might have the hope of eternal life in Heaven. In Matthew 1:21 we read, “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Hopefully this lesson has convinced you that Jesus is the Son of God. Each person needs to be willing to confess that fact. Each soul needs to be baptized in water for the remission of his or her sins. With baptism one washes away sins (Acts 22:16) and comes up out of the water ready to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Only by doing this will a person have the hope of seeing in heaven the One who emptied Himself, took on the form of a servant, was crucified, rose again and now rules on the throne of heaven.