Luke 1 – Birth of John the Baptist Foretold & Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome

Finger Pointing UpFrom Matthew and Mark we know Jesus was born in Bethlehem so tomorrow we’ll look at…

Luke 1
Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

1 Ruins of Caesarea Maritima
Ruins of Caesarea Maritima
Now a national park on the Israeli coastline, near the town of Caesarea. The ancient Caesarea Maritima (or Caesarea Palestinae) city and harbor was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 B.C. The city has been populated through the late Roman and Byzantine era.

Its ruins lie on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, about halfway between the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the site of Pyrgos Stratonos (“Straton’s Tower”). The national park is a popular location for the summer period, having a developed promenade with restaurants and coffee shops.

The access to the Caesarea Maritima national park is via the coastal road.

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.

2 In History The Battle
In History The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (described as clades Variana, the Varian disaster by Roman historians) took place in 9 A.D. when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius (also known as “Hermann”), the son of Segimer of the Cherusci, ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions, along with their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.

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.

3 Hermannsdenkmal
Arminius (a.k.a. Hermann the Cherusker), leader of the Germanic tribes during the battle, became something of a legend for his overwhelming victory over the Romans.

During the period of national renaissance in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, German people saw him as an early protagonist of German resistance to foreign rule and a symbol of national unity.

A monumental statue of Arminius commemorating the battle, known as the Hermannsdenkmal (the “Hermann monument”), was erected on the hill of Grotenburg near Detmold, close to the site where the most popular theory of the time placed the battle.

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.

4 The Ara Pacis
The Ara Pacis (Peace and the Mausoleum of Augustus, where his ashes were placed.)
Augustae (Latin, “Altar of Augustan Peace”; commonly shortened to Ara Pacis) is an altar in Rome dedicated to Peace, the Roman goddess.

The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 B.C. to honour the return of Augustus to Rome after his three years in Hispania and Gaul, and consecrated on 30 January 9 B.C. by the Senate in celebration of the peace brought to the Roman Empire by Augustus’ military victories.

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.

5 The Forum of Augustus
The Forum of Augustus is one of the Imperial forums of Rome, Italy, built by Augustus. It includes the Temple of Mars Ultor.

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).

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

6 The Forum of Augustus
The Forum of Augustus is one of the Imperial forums of Rome, Italy, built by Augustus. It includes the Temple of Mars Ultor.

“Thy cousin Elisabeth” – it is not known whether she was a cousin, aunt or other relation to Jesus mother Mary.  The Greek word has a breadth of meaning, suggesting simply a “relative.”

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

7 In a sense Publius
In a sense, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius is among the most famous Romans. He is mentioned in the gospel of Luke:
In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This census took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Because Jesus of Nazareth was born at the time of this census, this line from the Christmas story is well-known to many Christians.

But we know a lot more about Publius Sulpicius Quirinius. He was born in the neighborhood of Lanuvium, a Latin town near Rome; his family was rich but did not boast any senators or magistrates. Octavian’s rise to power and his founding of the empire -he was from now on called Caesar Augustus- offered these people many opportunities for upward social mobility.

Quirinius was one of them. In 15 BCE, Augustus appointed him as governor with the rank of proconsul of a province called Crete and Cyrenaica. Here, he subjected the Nasamones, a native tribe.

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

1:46-55 – this hymn of praise is known  as the Magnificat because in the Latin Vulgate translation the opening word is Magnificat which means “magnify.”  This song is like a psalm, and should also be compared with the song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10).

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

“Them that fear Him” – those who revere God and live in harmony with His will, not meaning that we agree, understand or even appreciate what God does, but that we appreciate Him.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.

56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

57 Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.

8 Nasamones
Nasamones: nomadic tribe from ancient Libya, migrating between the Syrtis Major and the Awjila oasis.

The Nasamones are mentioned by several ancient authors. Writing in the fifth century B.C., the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus records that they were nomads from Libya, who were living on the shores of the Gulf of Syrtis Major and in an oasis called Augila (modern Awjila).

58 And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.

59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.

60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.

61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.

62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marveled all.

64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.

65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.

9 Bethlehem Today
Bethlehem Today
Bethlehem is the beginning of the story of our life. Its the beginning of Jesus’ human life and from that moment Bethlehem has been a holy place.

66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,

“Filled with the Holy Ghost…prophesied” – prophecy not only predicts but also proclaims God’s word.  Both Zacharias and Elisabeth were enabled by the Holy Ghost to express what otherwise they could not have formulated.

68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,

1:68-79 – this hymn is called Benedictus (“Blessed be”) because the opening word in the Latin Vulgate translation is Benedictus. Whereas the Magnificat is similar to a psalm, the Benedictus is more like a prophecy.

69 And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;

70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:

10 Jerusalem overloaded
Jerusalem overloaded
Israeli hoteliers claim they can not compete with the prices of the hotels in the Palestinian Authority.

71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;

72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;

73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,

74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,

75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,

78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,

11 Bethlehem

79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.

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.

12 Augustus
Augustus was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor, ruling from 27 B.C. until his death in 14 A.D.

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.”

13 Gaius Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general, statesman, Consul, and notable author of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.

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.

14 Extent of the Roman Empire
Extent of the Roman Empire under Augustus. Yellow represents the extent of the Republic in 31 BC, while green represents gradually conquered territories under the reign of Augustus, and pink areas represent client states.

Pax Romana (Latin for “Roman peace”) was the long period of relative peace and minimal expansion by military force experienced by the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Since it was established by Augustus, it is sometimes called Pax Augusta. Its span was approximately 206 years (27 B.C. to 180 A.D.)

– 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.

…Birthplace of Jesus.

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