Jesus' Birth--Part 1
Dec 24, 2007
The prophet Daniel must have had some understanding of the times and seasons of the Messiah's coming, for he prophesied of a 490-year period to the Messiah's work (Dan. 9:24-27). Early in his career, Daniel had been made the "chief prefect over all the wise men [Magi] of Babylon," (Dan. 2:49, NASB) as the result of his success in interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
But it was not until the arrival of the Magi shortly after Jesus' birth that we begin to see the evidence of Daniel's influence over four centuries earlier. How did they know to come at that time? We are not told, but certainly they would have discussed what Daniel had told them, and they would have watched the calendar to know the end of the 490 years that Daniel had prophesied (Dan. 9:24-27).
By the time of Jesus' birth, however, Babylon had long ceased to be the empire dominating the East. It had been taken over first by Cyrus of Persia in 537 B.C., and the Persian Empire had in turn been conquered by Alexander the Great two centuries later. The Grecian Empire had split into four parts when Alexander died, just as Daniel had prophesied (Dan. 11:1-4). By 250 B.C. Parthia had declared its independence from one of those four--the Seleucids.
Rome encroached upon the Seleucid Empire from the West, while Parthia squeezed it from the East. These wars actually allowed Judea to become independent from 164-64 B.C. before Rome took Judea. As the Seleucid Empire was gobbled up by its rivals, it was not long before Parthia and Rome became the rivals. In 40 B.C. the Parthians temporarily drove the Romans out of Asia altogether. In coming to Judea, the Parthians set up Antigonus as King in Jerusalem. He was the last of the line of Judean kings that had begun their rule in 164 (i.e., the Maccabees).
But the Romans fought back from 40-37 B.C. and took back Jerusalem, putting Herod on the throne. Herod was the first of the Idumean kings, and he finally put Antigonus to death. Meanwhile, Mark Antony, the lover of Cleopatra of Egypt, led an invasion of Parthia in 36 B.C. Antony was defeated, and at that point, Parthia and Rome reached a peace treaty, which held together until 58 A.D.
Thus, Jesus was born in a time of relative peace on Rome's eastern border. It was the evening of the feast of Trumpets, Sept. 29, 2 B.C., when Jesus was born. Three months later, the Magi arrived after seeing various signs in the heavens. Having been well schooled in such matters, they understood that the "King of the Judeans" had been born, and they came to see Him.
One can only imagine the excitement in the schools of the Magi in Parthia that the great prophecies of their revered ancient prophet, Daniel, were now coming to fruition. They had already seen the rise of four empires prophesied in Daniel 4 and no doubt knew that Rome was the fifth unnamed empire of "iron." This would have factored into their advice to the kings of Parthia.
Meanwhile, there were also Roman events that would shape the birth of Jesus. The Roman Senate had proclaimed Augustus Caesar to be "Father of the Country" on February 5, 2 B.C. The decree then went out from the Roman government that the whole Roman world should endorse this decree by their signatures. Cyrenius, the great expert on enrollment and taxation, was sent to Syria to begin this project. The governor of Syria was Saturninus, who wanted to be in Rome that summer for the festivities celebrating Augustus' silver jubilee--his 25th anniversary since being proclaimed "Augustus" in 27 B.C. This is how Cyrenius came to be lieutenant governor of Syria just for the summer of 2 B.C., standing in for Saturninus for a short time. (Saturninus' successor, Varus, came as governor of Syria by the following November.)
So by late summer of that year, the Syrian enrollment was complete, and it was time to move south to enroll all the Judeans. Joseph then took Mary to Bethlehem to sign this document, because everyone had to sign it in the town of their family inheritance. Bethlehem was the "city of David," and both were of that family.
This is how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, according to the prophecy of Micah 5:2. A long trip like that for a pregnant woman must have been difficult. Perhaps the trip was too much for her and actually brought about the delivery. But others had arrived as well for the enrollment, and so there was no room in the inn. The kind innkeeper, however, let them take shelter in the stable, or cave.
This is how Jesus came to be placed in a manger. Bethlehem means "house of bread," and so He was placed in a manger to be food for the people. The angels then informed certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay keeping their sheep. Being September, it was not a cold winter's night yet. In that part of the world, the shepherds always brought their sheep off the hills by November. The last thing they were dreaming of was a white Christmas. That would have been their worst nightmare.
The shepherds immediately left their sheep and came to the little town of Bethlehem and found the family and saw the newborn baby lying in the manger. The Magi had just started on their journey from Parthia, so they were three months late for the birthday celebration. In those days it took quite a while to make such a journey.
Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem for the next three months, probably holding Bible studies about the coming of the Messiah and what His work would be. When Jesus was eight days old, He was circumcised and named Yeshua, which in the Greek language was Iesous (Luke 2:21). In the 1700's when the "J" was adopted by the English language, it was written as Jesus.
When Jesus was 40 days old, He was taken to the temple in Jerusalem, which was about five miles northwest of Bethlehem. Luke 2:22-38 tells of the events that occurred that day. Mary's time of purification was according to the law in Leviticus 12, where a woman had to be purified 40 days after giving birth to a son, or after 80 days if she gave birth to a daughter.
Jesus was brought to the temple on November 7 of 2 B.C. Because the family was poor, they brought "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" (Lev. 12:8 and Luke 2:24). You see, the wise men, being late, had not brought them any gold yet, so they were not able to bring a lamb to the temple for Mary's purification. Even so, they did bring the true Lamb of God, but probably did so unknowingly.
At the temple, an old man named Simeon ("hearing") was waiting for them. He apparently knew from studying the Scriptures that the name of the Messiah would be Yeshua ("salvation"). Furthermore, it had been prophesied to him personally that he would see the Messiah before he died. Nothing further is known, but when he saw the child and heard that He was named Yeshua, the Holy Spirit instantly confirmed to him that He was the long-awaited One. He took up the child in his arms, and said (Luke 2:29, 30),
"Now, Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy Yeshua."
He had long HEARD the word of the Lord, as indicated by his name Simeon, which means "hearing." But now he finally SAW as well. An elderly lady named Anna also rejoiced and provided a double witness to the temple of the birth of the Messiah. Her name means "grace," and she was the daughter of Phanuel, or Peniel, "the face/presence of God." She saw Jesus' face and saw in it the presence of God. She was one woman who was not hindered by the veil that Moses had put over his face. That veil had not hindered Moses from seeing; rather, it prevented the people under Moses from seeing the face of God (Ex. 34:33; 2 Cor. 3:15).
But Anna was GRACE, whose veil was removed in Christ.
This is the first part of a series titled "Jesus' Birth." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones