(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
to his own
the town of David, because he belonged to the house and
line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who
was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger
because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields
nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly
host appeared with the angel, praising God…
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.
Despite his humble birth in terms of human standards, God’s very angels celebrate Jesus’ arrival. They do this to announce that he is the Son of God.
Heb 1:5-6 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
So the Son of God was taking on flesh to also become the Son of Man.
John 1:1, 14 … the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
SON OF GOD
The OT prophet Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem:
Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
But Mary, pregnant with Jesus, lived not in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth.
Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
So how would God effect the fulfilment of Micah’s prophecy?
BORN IN BETHLEHEM
The answer was the census of Augustus.
Octavian was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. The Roman Senate formally deified Julius Caesar in 42 BC, and Caesar Octavian (later called ‘Augustus’) henceforth became Divi filius (“son of a god”).
(63 BC – 14 AD)
Jesus of course is known as the “Son of God”.
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
So twice within the span of about 70 years two men would be acclaimed first as the “son of a god”, and then as “Son of God”. But Augustus Caesar, the man the Romans claimed as the “son of a god”, imposes a census along with all the associated bureaucracy, that will force Joseph and Mary to return to their home town of Bethlehem.
So God uses the rival “son of a god” as the very instrument to ensure that the true “Son of God” is born in Bethlehem in order to fulfil prophecy. So the census reminds us that Jesus is the SON OF GOD.
son of a god
Son of God
But the census also shows us that Jesus was the SON OF MAN. He shared in our humanity and was numbered and counted with men.
Philippians 2:5-7… Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
So how did Jesus identify with humans? He did it in the following ways:
SON OF MAN
IN HIS BIRTH – Some census form in the first century Roman archives recorded the fact that a Jewish boy called Yeshua (Jesus) was born in Bethlehem.
Justin Martyr (2nd cent) wrote to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius: “Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judaea.” 1
Tertullian (2nd – 3rd cent)writes, “… and lastly, His enrolment in the census of Augustus - that most faithful witness of the Lord’s nativity, kept in the archives of Rome?” 2
1 Justin Martyr, First Apology, 34 2 Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4:7
1) IN HIS BIRTH
IN HIS BAPTISM –
As the sinless Son of God, Jesus had no
need to be
baptised for repentance. But as the
Son of Man he would identify with sinful
man in order
“to fulfil all righteousness”. (Matt 3:13-15)
I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?
Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.
2) IN HIS BAPTISM
IN HIS SUFFERING - Just as all men suffer, so too Jesus shared in the human experience. He was “a man of sorrows and
grief” (Isa 53:
He knew what
it was like to
stand beside a
He knew the
3) IN HIS SUFFERING
… and worrying about
his mother’s provision.
John 19:25-27 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother… When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
And he wept when he saw the sorrow of his friends, Mary and Martha, upon the death of their brother Lazarus:
John 11:33-35 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled… Jesus wept.
He what it was
like to have a
the support of his
family, for “even
his own brothers
did not believe in
him” (John 7:5).
house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
He understood what it felt like to be rejected because “He was despised and rejected by mankind” (Isa 53:3) and “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11). He faced rejection from his hometown.
Mark 6:3 “Isn’t
this the carpenter?
Isn’t this Mary’s
son and the brother
of James, Joseph,
Judas and Simon?
Aren’t his sisters
here with us?”
And they took
offense at him…
And he wept over his beloved city of Jerusalem when they rejected him.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (Matt 23:37)
Do what you came for, friend. (Matt 26:50)
He knew what it was like to be betrayed by a friend.
Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss? (Luke 22:48)
‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ (John 13:18)
IN HIS DEATH - Just as all men die, Jesus too identified with humans in succumbing to death. And his death was unfair – he died like a common criminal though he was neither violent nor deceitful.
4) IN HIS DEATH
Isa 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the
rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his
We might be tempted to think that Jesus somehow had an unfair advantage over us. But he was truly a man and faced the same challenges we do.
He was born as
a helpless baby
THE HUMANITY OF JESUS
He was tempted.
Heb 2:18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
He got thirsty. On the cross Jesus cried, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)
He got hungry.
Matt 4:2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
He got tired. When he passed by the Samaritan town of Sychar, “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well”. (John 4:6)
He needed sleep. During the storm on the sea of Galilee “Jesus was sleeping” (Matt 8:24).
On the way to Golgotha, Jesus initially carried his own cross (John 19:17) but the soldiers subsequently commandeered Simon of Cyrene and “forced him to carry the cross”
Luke 5:15-16 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Jesus felt the pressure of always having to deal with people’s problems. Just like us – he sometimes needed a break from people and the constant busyness. He found it necessary to maintain his prayer life and needed to escape to spend quality time with the Father.
His knowledge was limited.
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son… (Matt 24:36)
He was troubled at the thought of the future.
Matt 26:37-38 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.
He had blood.
He had flesh and bones..
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Lk 22:20)
Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. (Lk 24:39)
He could suffer physically and die.
Matt 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his
must go to
So why did Jesus become a man? He was born to die. He became a man so that he “might taste death for everyone.”
Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
He bore our pain, sorrow and sin so that we could experience peace and healing.
Isa 53:4-5 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
TASTED DEATH FOR ALL
THE SAME FAMILY
Now maybe you have some embarrassing
relatives or family members you are
But Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers.
Heb 2:11-12 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not
He says, “I will
name to my
the presence of
I will sing your
In order to save us, Jesus had to be part of the same family.
In fact, in the NT Jesus is referred to as:
Son of God:
(most of these references by others)
Son of Man:
(most of these references by himself).
If Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers, how then can we be ashamed to call him our brother and Saviour? And so Jesus said:
before men, I will
him before my
Father in heaven.
disowns me before
men, I will disown
him before my
Father in heaven.”
Interestingly while today it is a common heresy to deny the deity of Jesus (i.e. that he was God), the earliest Gnostic heresies of the 2nd to 4th century often denied his humanity.
E.g. Docetism was a doctrine, important in Gnosticism, that Christ’s body was not human but either a phantom or of real but celestial substance, and that therefore his sufferings were only apparent.
In modern times we are often so busy defending the fact that Jesus was God, we again forget that he was truly human.
But at Christmas time we are reminded of Jesus’ humanity when we focus on the fact that once he was just a baby in a manger.
He came as a child so that he could face and conquer every challenge common to humanity.
We trust him with our lives because he is God. But we love him more because we know that - like us - he too was once a tiny helpless baby.
Had he been man only, his sacrifice would have had no power; he would have just been a persecuted prophet and martyr like many others.
Had Jesus been God only, his sacrifice on the cross would have been effortless and easy.
But he was both man and God – able to suffer when faced with a cruel death, but also able to redeem sinners.
Heb 2:14-17 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death… For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Why is Christmas one of the
most popular holidays?
Not only is it the
celebration of Jesus’
birth, Christmas gives
people a sense of
It reminds us that
we have a family we
belong to. On Christmas, we give gifts to our children, parents, siblings, relatives and even friends.
Maybe you don’t have an earthly family? The birth of Jesus reminds us that we belong to a heavenly family. Jesus was born into our family, calls us “brothers” and later proclaims to us that we have God as our Father.
Hark! The herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn king
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim “Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! The herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn king!“
Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the godhead see, Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hail the heav’n-born prince of peace!
Hail the son of righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV:
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Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:
New American Standard Bible®,
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WHEN WAS THE CENSUS?
Josephus recorded that Quirinius conducted a census in AD 6/7. As Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus died in 4 BC this leaves a discrepancy of over 10 years though, causing liberal and secular scholars to claim that Luke made a mistake. However Luke was an educated doctor who consulted widely for his gospel (Luke 1:1-4) and he took great care to reference historical events.
Additionally, the census of AD 6 did not include Galilee so it cannot be the census Luke is referring to. The census was only of Judea, Samaria, Idumaea and Syria. 1
We also know that Luke was well aware of the census in AD 6/7. Josephus links this particular census to an uprising led by Judas of Galilee and Luke in the Book of Acts demonstrates his knowledge of both the census and this corresponding uprising.
Acts 5:37 “After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.”
1 It was prompted by the banishment of Archelaus from the tetrarchy of Judea in AD 6, when Judea (including Samaria and Idumaea) was placed under the general oversight of the Roman governor of the province of Syria.
In his gospel Luke refers to the census when Jesus was born as “the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria”, the word ‘first’ implying that there was more than one census by Quirinius.
In fact Augustus himself notes in his Res Gestae (The Deeds of the Divine Augustus) that he ordered a wide-spread census of Roman citizens in 8/7 BC 1 which would fit in perfectly with Matthew’s timing regarding Herod’s death and the Bethlehem star.
But the problem is that Quirinius (who Luke links to the census) was only appointed legate governor of Syria in AD 6, after the removal of Herod Archelaus from Judea.
1 http:// classics.mit.edu/ Augustus/ deeds.html#71 (written 14 AD)
8. “Then again, with consular imperium I conducted a lustrum alone when Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius were consuls (8 BC), in which lustrum were counted 4,233,000 heads of Roman citizens.”
But speaking of Quirinius, Luke doesn’t actually use the political title of ‘governor’ (‘legatus’), but the broader term ‘hegemon’ which is a procurator. So while Saturninus was the official governor (‘legatus’) of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth, Quirinius may have been in charge of the census because he was the procurator at the time. In fact Justin Martyr supports this, writing in his Apology that Quirinius (Cyrenius) was a ‘procurator’, not a governor.
Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judaea. 1
1 “The First Apology Of Justin” Chapter 34 http:// www.earlychristianwritings.com/ text/ justinmartyr-firstapology.html
According to Wikipedia:
A fiscal procurator (procurator Augusti) was the chief financial officer of a province during the Principate (30 BC - 284 AD). A fiscal procurator worked alongside the legatus Augusti pro praetore (imperial governor) of his province but was not subordinate to him, reporting directly to the emperor. The governor headed the civil and judicial administration of the province and was the commander-in-chief of all military units deployed there. The procurator, with his own staff and agents, was in charge of the province’s financial affairs. This included the collection of taxes… 1
1 http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Procurator_(Roman)
The office of fiscal procurator was always held by an equestrian, unlike the office of governor that was reserved for members of the higher senatorial order. The reason for the dual administrative structure was to prevent excessive concentration of power in the hands of the governor, as well as to limit his opportunities for peculation (i.e. to steal or take dishonestly). It was not unknown for friction to arise between governor and procurator over matters of jurisdiction and finance. 1
So it is quite possible that Quirinius was the fiscal procurator at the time Saturninus was the governor. With the collection of taxes as part of his portfolio, the census (normally for taxation purposes) would have been his concern.
1 http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Procurator_(Roman)
Gleason Archer writes, “In order to secure efficiency and dispatch, it may well have been that Augustus put Quirinius in charge of the census-enrolment in Syria between the close of Saturninus’ administration and the beginning of Varus’ term of service in 7 BC It was doubtless because of his competent handling of the 7 BC census that Augustus later put him in charge of the 7 AD census.” 1
Archer also says that Roman history records Quirinius leading the effort to quell rebels in that area at exactly that time, so such a political arrangement is not a stretch. 2
1 Archer, Gleason L. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1982 p.366
2 http:// www.comereason.org/ roman-census.asp#2
In 1912… the discovery by W. M. Ramsey of a fragmentary inscription at Antioch of Pisidia arguably established Quirinius was in Syria on a previous occasion… His role was more military to lead a campaign against the Homanadenses, a tribe in the Taurus Mountains. This is confirmed by Tacitus. This means that Quirinius would have established a seat of government in Syria, including Palestine, from the years 10 to 7 BC. In this position he would have been responsible for the census mentioned by Luke. This census of 7 BC would therefore have been the ‘first’ census taken when Cyrenius was governor (Luke 2:2) and the historically documented census of 6/7 AD was really the second. 1
1 http:// www.historian.net/ NTHX.html
This timescale is corroborated by the 2nd century Christian lawyer Tertullian who ascribes the census taken at the time of Jesus’ birth to the era when Saturninus was governor of Syria. Writing about the heretic Gnostic Marcionites who didn’t believe that Jesus was a man, but was rather a spirit, he says:
But there is historical proof that at this very time a census had been taken in Judaea by Sentius Saturninus, which might have satisfied their inquiry respecting the family and descent of Christ. 1
Sentius Saturninus was propraetorial imperial legate of Syria from 9 to 6 BC.
1 Adversus Marcionem (Against Marcion) Book 4, ch 19, v.10 http:// www.tertullian.org/ anf/ anf03/ anf03-31.htm#19_10
Another inscription, the Lapis Tiburtinus, was found in 1764 near Tivoli (Tibur). Composed after 14 AD, the inscription names an unknown personage who was legate of Syria twice. The man is described as having been victorious in war. 1 Quirinius was a Roman soldier so it is not impossible that he is this unnamed person.
A totally different take on the issue is presented in a recent article by John Rhoads, who argues that Josephus misdated Quirinius’ census. 2 If he’s correct, then the attempts to exonerate Luke are largely unnecessary, as the criticism is based on trying to harmonize Luke with Josephus (and when there’s a discrepancy liberal scholars automatically attribute the error to the gospel author).
1 http:// www.historian.net/ NTHX.html 2 http:// www.etsjets.org/ files/ JETS-PDFs/ 54/ 54-1/ JETS_54-1_65-87_Rhoads.pdf