The birth of Christ Jesus

The birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)

Vocabulary note:

Caesar Augustus (v. 1) - Luke is the only Gospel writer who relates his narrative to dates of world history. Caesar Augustus was the first emperor of Roman who lives from 31 B. to AD 14. He expanded the empire to include all the countries around the  Mediterranean Sea including Israel.

Bethlehem - The birthplace of Jesus Christ. Bethlehem was situated about eight kilometres (five miles) south of Jerusalem in the district known as Ephrathah in Judah.  The prophet Micah in Micah 5:2, predicted that Bethlehem in Ephrathah would be the birthplace of the Messiah and not the town of the same name in Zebulun in Galilee near Nazareth (Josh. 19:15). This prophecy of Micah is quoted in Matthew 2:6. It is significant that the King of kings, who was of the house of David, was born in David's ancestral home town (1 Samuel 16:1, 16; Luke 2:4,11).  (See also Bethlehem.)

  1. Why did Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem? (vv.1-4) Where was the baby born? (v.7)

    Answer: Was a human perspective, Mary and Joseph was required by ordered of the Roman Emperor Augustus to return to their ancestral home for the purpose of an empire wide census that was used for military and tax recording. Because both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David, they would have to return to the birth place of David which was Bethlehem (see 1 Samuel 16:1, 16). As a result Jesus was born when they had arrived at Bethlehem. Behind the order of the Emperor was God's guiding hand and timing that made possible the fullfilment of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that it would be in Bethlehem that the promised eternal ruler would be born. Note that the prediction of Micah 5:2 indicates that the origins of this ruler would be "from of old, from ancient times". This indicates that although Jesus was born into history in Bethlehem ~ 700 after Micah wrote this verse, Jesus the son of God already exist years before the time Micah. Here is a reference to the existence of the son of God from eternity past.

    Note: In John 8:57-58 Jesus said "before Abraham was born, I am" (NIV). In this Jesus claimed to exist before the time of Abraham who live 2,000 years before His birth. Jesus also claims to be the "I am" the name God gave to Moses when he asked Him what God's name was (Exodus 3:13-14).

Jesus' first worshippers (Luke 2:8-20)

Vocabulary note:

Shepherds - Men who took care of flocks of sheep. In this case they lived near Bethlehem with was close to Jerusalem where the temple was located. These sheep that they were taking care of may have been used as part of the animal sacrifices for man's sins that were continually being offered in the temple.

  1. Why were the shepherds frightened (vv. 8,9)? 

    Answer: When they saw the glory, holiness associated with the angels sent by God from heaven they were overwhelmed with fear. Angel a spirit beings who live in God's presence and reflect some of God's great purity and thus reflect the authority of God Himself as ambassadors for Him. This again demonstrates how far short of God's standards of justice, holiness and moral purity mankind is by comparison even with lesser beings as angels. We saw the same thing with a angel appeared to Mary in Chapter 1.


  2. What was the angel's good news (vv.10,11) ?

    Answer: one of the angels told the shepherds the good news (gospel) that all people will know great joy because the long awaited promised Saviour was born. The Saviour who would save mankind from death and judgement for their rebellion against God. This Saviour is Christ the promised anointed Messiah who would rule in justice and in truth. He is the Lord the master who is King over all kings the final authority, God. This is the greatest good news possible for this sick, suffering and evil world of sinful mankind. He is the promised one of Genesis 3:15 who would by His crucifixion would crush Satan's power in this world (see study on Genesis 3).


  3.  What did the shepherds do after the angels left (vv. 13-16)?

    Answer: The shepherds believed the angels message and wasted no time but hurried to see this child, their Saviour the lamb (a young sheep) of God that would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Isaiah 53:6-10). How appropriate it was that the first people to hear the good news was those who took care of sheep.


  4.  How did everyone react to the news, including Mary (vv.17-20)?

    Answer: The shepherds after seeing Jesus could not stop telling everyone about what they had seen. Having seen the child themselves, they now had evidence that would satisfy others and accordingly they became the first preachers of the “gospel,” "the good news" and went and told others that the Messiah had come. One of the first duties of those who are new believers and a duty in which they delight, is to proclaim to others what they have seen, felt and learned. It should be done in a proper way and at the proper time but nothing can or should prevent a new Christian from telling his feelings and views to others: his friends, to his parents, to his brothers, and to his old friends.

Jewish birth laws obeyed (Luke 2:21-38)

Vocabulary help:

Circumcision: Circumcision was peculiarly, though not exclusively, a Jewish rite. It was enjoined upon Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, by God, at the institution and as the token of the covenant, which assured to him and his descendants, the promise of the Messiah (Genesis 17:10-14). It was, thus, made a necessary condition of Jewish nationality. Every male child was to be circumcised when eight days old (Leviticus 12:3). The cutting off all round of the foreskin (the projecting skin in the male member) was a symbol of the removal of the corruption of a sinful heart Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4. The biblical notice of the rite describes it as distinctively Jewish; so that, in the New Testament, "the circumcision," and "the uncircumcision,"  (not circumcised) are frequently used as synonyms for the Jews and the Gentiles. As a rite of the church it ceased when the New Testament times began (Galatians 6:15; Colossians 3:11).

  1.  What did Mary and Joseph  do after His birth (v. 21-24)?

    Answer: His parents followed the religious practice of having the male child circumcised (see above) on the eight day after His birth. Then later they offered the required sacrifice (Leviticus 12:2-8) and dedicated Jesus to the Lord which was required for the first born male (Exodus 13:12-13). In doing this we see that from birth Jesus obey all the laws of God as indicated in the Old Testament.

 Wise men from the east worship Jesus Matthew 2:1-12

Vocabulary Note:

King Herod (the great) - is the King mentioned at the birth of Jesus. He reigned from 37 to 4 B.C. He is to be distinguished from the other Herods in the Bible. Herod was a non-Jew who was appointed King of Judea by the Romans and reign during the time of Jesus' birth. He was ruthless, murdering his wife, his three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle and many others. He was also responsible for the deaths of the babies in Bethlehem mentioned in Matthew 2.

Magi (Wise Men) - the men from the East who were led by a star to come to Israel to worship the infant Christ (Matt. 2:1, 7, 16). The role of the star in Matthew 2 suggests a connection with astrology. These astrologers, pursuing their observations of the stars in the heavens, encountered a sign of God. This does not mean that the Bible says that it is OK to be involved in astrology but that God broke through their misguided system to make the great event known. Note that we are not told the number of Magi who came. Traditionally we consider that there was three because of the three gifts that they brought (Matt. 2:11). The joy, rejoicing, worship, and gifts that mark the response of these wise men to the birth of Jesus is quite a contrast to the troubled state and murderous intent of Herod and his advisers in Jerusalem (Matt. 2:1–12).

The Gifts   Gold - is associated with human wealth, power and authority.

Incense - from the Latin "to burn," "a mixture of gums or spices and the like, used for the purpose of producing a perfume when burned"; or the perfume itself of the spices, etc., burned in worship.  Incense is a type of perfume that is associated with the worship and prayer to God.  It was burned as an offering to God on the altar in the tabernacle and the temple. The purpose of this incense offering was to honour God. Incense symbolized and expressed the prayers of the Hebrew people, which were considered a pleasant aroma offered to God.

Myrrh - a substance  that is mentioned in Exodus 30:23 as one of the ingredients of the "oil of holy ointment"; in Matt. 2:11 it was among the gifts brought by the wise men to the infant Jesus; and in Mark 15:23 it is said that "wine mingled with myrrh" was offered to, but refused by, our Lord on the cross. Myrrh was also used for embalming of the dead. See John 19:39.

Archelaus - (v. 22) Roman history tell us that Archelaus, was one of the sons of Herod the Great and with his brother, Antipas, was brought up at Rome. At the death of his father King Herod, (B.C. 4), his kingdom was divided between his three sons, Herod Antipas, Archelaus and Philip. Archelaus' portion of the kingdom included the province Judea which included Bethlehem. Archelaus
possessed a cruel and tyrannical disposition similar to his father. At one of the Passovers he caused 3,000 of the people to be put to death in the temple and city. For his crimes, after he had reigned 9 years, he was banished by Augustus, the Roman emperor, to Gaul, where he died.

  1. Why was it that the Magi came to Jerusalem to find Jesus (Matthew 2:1-3)?

    Answer: Some how God had communicated to these non-Jewish scholars from the east of Israel that a special baby had just been born in Israel who would be a King in Israel and whom all people should worship. The uniqueness of this child was demonstrated by the appearance of a special star. Again the Old Testament prophecies given to Abraham that one of his descendants would bless the world or all mankind was starting to come true. Even at Jesus' birth he was drawing the worship of scholars from non Jewish cultures.


  2. How did Herod know how to answer the wise men's question (Matthew 2:4-6 and footnote and Micah 5:2)?

    Answer: Herod was not aware of the teaching in the Old Testament to the promise of a Christ (Messiah or special king in Israel) but he knew who to ask. He turned to the experts in the law (the law of God which is another name for the Old Testament). These exports were aware of the prophecy of Micah 5:2 which was written ~ 700 years before the time of King Herod. Micah specifically mentioned the birth place as being in Bethlehem near Jerusalem and not another Bethlehem in the area of the Sea of Galilee in the North near the town of Nazareth.

    Additional thoughts: It is interesting to note that although the priests knew the promise of God, they made not attempt to go and worship the Christ themselves. This is consistent with the general disbelief of the religious leaders to the claims of Jesus as we will see throughout the Gospels.


  3. We read in Luke 2:1-7 that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth in Northern Israel in the province of Galilee.  Why then was Jesus born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem in the Southern  province of Judah? How does the birth place of Jesus relate to the promise of God to King David (2 Samuel 7:11-13, 16)?  When you consider the prophecy in Micah 5:2 and the actions of Caesar Augustus the Roman Emperor, what does this tell us about the authority and power of God?

    Answer: From the genealogies of Jesus in the books of Matthew and Luke we learn that both Jesus' mother Mary and his adopted father Joseph were descendants of King David. The promises in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah indicates that the Messiah (Christ) would be born in the village were King David was born. It is interesting that Mary and Joseph were not in Bethlehem because they were trying to fulfill the prophecies but it was because of the order of the Emperor in Rome. They were force to travel south to Bethlehem because of the census that Caesar Augustus had commanded. They were returning there because Bethlehem was Mary and Joseph's ancestral home.

    Additional thoughts: We see here the power of God to direct history to fulfill His purposes and plans for mankind. This is also one of many examples of promises in the Bible that have been fulfill through Christ Jesus. It shows that the Bible, written over ~1500 years by many different human authors, is a unique book. Here is another example of the Bible's consistency, unity and accuracy that can only speak to one divine author, the eternal God Himself.
    (See also  How can we know the Bible is the Word of God ?)


  4. How sincere was King Herod's desire to go and worship Jesus (Matthew 2: 3, 7-8, 16)?

    Answer: It is clear that King Herod was a deceiver and only wanted information so that he could destroy this threat to his power.

    Additional information: Although Satan (the devil) is not mentioned here he is behind the scenes trying to influence events. Here we see the struggle between Satan's offspring and the offspring of the women mention in Genesis 3:15. This conflict will continue throughout the life of Jesus until the death and resurrection of Jesus. It still continues today between those who reject Jesus and those who believe in Jesus (Ephesians 6:10-18). In the end because of the death of Jesus, God has destroyed Satan's power in the life of God's children and has guaranteed the final victory over evil spirits. The battle is still present today but the final victory is guaranteed (Revelation 12:7-12).


  5. When we compare verses 7 and 16, what does this tell us about how long it took the wise men to travel from their home country to Jerusalem?

    Answer: From Herod's questioning of the Magi and his later killing of all males in Bethlehem 2 years old and younger it is clear that the Magi had told them that they had been travelling for ~ 2 years from their home country east of Israel. They could have come from Iraq, Iran or even farther East as far as from China. The Bible does not give specific information on the country or countries of their starting place.


  6. What do we learn from the response of the wise men when they found Jesus (vv.9-11)?

    Answer: They gave gifts and worshipped the baby Jesus. Here were wise men, scholars, experts in their field of study who humbly travel for 2 year to come an give gifts and worship a foreigner a child. 

    Additional thoughts: Who or what do you worship? Is it yourself, money, success, another person? Jesus is worthy of your worship. He is worthy of the worship of all mankind and it is the wise who are willing to humble themselves before the God of the universe and recognize their need of forgiveness for their failure to honour and obey Him. (Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 5:6-13; 15:3-4)


  7. How did God protect His son from the attempts of man to destroy Jesus (vv. 9-23)?  Consider God's communication to man and the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus.

    Answer: God protected His son from the attempts to destroy Jesus by supernaturally communicating to both the Magi and the parents of Jesus. God provided for the parents of Jesus through the gifts of the Magi as they lived in Egypt until God again told them it was safe to return to Israel.

Conclusions and Application

How would you summarize this study as it relates to the following?

  • Who Jesus is

  • The significance of the location of Jesus

  • The significance of the first worshipers of Jesus

  • The significance of the response of the Wise men to that of the Jewish leaders

  • The significance of the Old Testament prophecies

  • The working of God's plan to save man from the sin introduced in Genesis 3

If you have any questions e-mail us.