Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome
Caesar Augustus was ruler of the Roman Empire when Jesus was born. He ruled for 45 years, from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14. Born Gaius Octavius, he was adopted by his maternal uncle, Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.), and, as was common, assumed the name of his adoptive father.
Thus, he was known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian. The name Augustus, “revered one,” was bestowed upon him by the Roman Senate in 27 B.C.
Augustus put an end to the civil wars to that raged since the dictatorship of Julius Caesar and established the Pax Romana (“Roman peace”) throughout the empire.
For this, he received lavish honors in Rome and around the Roman world. Herod the Great built the city of Caesarea Maritima and rebuilt Samaria (the former capital of the northern kingdom) in Augustus’s honor. The Greek name of Samaria, Sebastos, means “Augustus.”
The peace that characterized Augustus’s reign was marred only by the disaster of the loss of three Roman legions in a battle with German tribes at the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D.
Otherwise, Augustus used the stability of the times to carry out extensive building projects in Rome. Some of his structures have been excavated and can be seen today, such as the Forum of Augustus, the beautiful Altar of Peace and the Mausoleum of Augustus, where his ashes were placed.
Quirinius and the Census
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to be counted for a census. Luke recorded that the census taken when Jesus was born “was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was a well-known Roman military and political figure who was appointed to serve as governor of Syria in 6 A.D. At this time he carried out a census in Syria and Judea.
This census is documented in the writings of the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, 18) and is mentioned in Acts 5:37.
An obvious problem is that this census is too late to be related to the birth of Jesus, since Jesus was born prior to the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. How might one resolve this difficulty?
– It may be that Luke was aware of Quirinius’s 6 A.D. census and that Lk 2:2 means that there had been an earlier census during the reign of Herod, which was also supervised by Quirinius.
Some scholars believe that a fragmentary inscription called the Lapis Tiburtinus implies that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria, so that the 6 A.D. census was in fact his second census.
This interpretation of the Lapis Tiburtinus is open to question, however; we do not know with certainty that this inscription actually dealt with Quirinius at all.
– It may be that this verse should be translated as, “This census was before the one made when Quirinius was governor.” This would be a somewhat peculiar translation of the Greek, but a number of New Testament scholars nonetheless support it.
– The church father Tertullian believed that the census of Lk 2:2 took place during the governorship of Sentius Saturninus (8-6 B.C.) rather than that of Quirinius.
It may be that the text of 2:2 has suffered some kind of corruption, although, except for Tertullian, there is no evidence for this.
From Matthew and Mark we know Jesus was born in Bethlehem so tomorrow we’ll look at…
Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
1:1-4 – using language similar to classical Greek, Luke begins with a formal preface, common to historical works of that time, in which he states his purpose of writing and identifies the recipient.
He acknowledges other reports on the subject, shows the need for this new work and states his method of approach and sources of information.
“Things which are most surely believed among us” – things prophesied in the Old Testament and now fully accomplished.
2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
“Eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word” – Luke, though not an eyewitness himself, received testimony from those who were eyewitnesses and were dedicated to spreading the gospel.
Apostolic preaching and interviews with other individuals associated with Jesus’ ministry were available to him.
3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
“Having had perfect understanding of all things” – Luke’s account was exact in historical detail, having been checked in every way. Inspiration of the Holy Ghost didn’t rule out human effort. The account is complete, extending back to the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly life.
It has an orderly, meaningful arrangement that is generally chronological.
4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
“Herod, the king of Judea” – Herod the Great reigned 37-4 B.C., and his kingdom included Samaria, Galilee, much of Perea and Coele-Syria.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
“Righteous…blameless” – they weren’t sinless, but were faithful and sincere in keeping God’s commandments. Nobody is sinless (Rom 3:23), but can be blameless, which Paul explains in Rom 7:15-25 and 8:1. Also see Ps 103.
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
It was one of the priest’s duties to keep the incense burning on the altar in front of the most Holy Place. He supplied it with fresh incense before the morning sacrifice and again after the evening sacrifices (Ex 30:6-8).
10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
“Elias” – John the Baptists was not Elijah returning in the flesh (Jn 1:21), but he functioned like that Old Testament preacher of repentance and was therefore a contingent fulfillment of Mal 4:5-6 (see Matt 1:14, 17:10-13).
18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee and to shew thee these glad tidings.
“Gabriel” – the name can mean “God is my hero” or “mighty man of God.” Only two angles are identified by name in scripture: Gabriel (Dan 8:16, 9:21) and Michael (Dan 10:13, 21; Jude 9; Rev 12:7).
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
“The days of his ministration” – each priest was responsible for a week’s service at the temple once every six months.
24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
“The Lord…looked on me, to take away my reproach” – those without children were seen as being disfavored by God and it often brought social reproach.
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
1:26-35 – this section speaks clearly of the virginal conception of Jesus. The conception was the work of the Holy Ghost; the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, while remaining God, also “was made flesh” (Jn 1:14; 1 Tim 3:16).
From conception He was fully God and fully man. Nobody but Jesus Christ could do that.
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
“Holy thing” – Jesus never sinned (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15, 7:26; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5).
Jesus was born sinless because the supernatural overshadowing of the Holy Ghost prevented sin from being passed to Him from His mother. There are three prominent reasons why the virgin birth was necessary”
1. To fulfill prophecy (Is 7:14),
2. To be a “sign,” and
3. To avoid the curse on Coniah (Jer 22:30).