AUGUSTUS CAESAR'S PART IN CHRIST'S BIRTH
Luke 2::1-7 says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of hDavid, because he belonged to house and lineage 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.” Luke in this passage of the birth of Christ makes a reference to one of the greatest rulers and leaders that the world has ever known. His name was Augustus Caesar. Luke connects the birth of Christ with the first Emperor of the ancient Roman Empire. This great ruler played an important part in the birth of Christ. Had itnot been for him, one of the prophecies about Christ may have failed. Yet we seldom hear anything about the part Augustus had in the Lord's birth. I would like to talk to you about what Augustus did for Jesus and what Jesus for Augustus.
First of all, let me introduce this great man to you. Since he is connected with the birth of Christ, we should know something about him. He was born Gaus Julius Caesar Octavian. He was the grandnephew of Julius Caesar, the founder of the Roman Empire who turned the empire over to Octavian whom the people of Rome called Augustus Caesar, that is, “Exalted Caesar.” The name Augustus means exalted. He ruled the Roman Empire from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. The word of God reveals that Jesus Christ was born when Augustus Caesar reigned over the Roman Empire. It is an absolute certainty that Christ was born between 27 B.C. and A.D. 14. The birth of Christ is no superstitious idea invented by Christians. Jesus and Augustus were contemporaries for several years. It is agreed by most all historians that he was one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.
The World Book Encyclopedia gives him high praise. He was a peaceful ruler who went to war only when it was absolutely necessary. He initiated a time of peace that lasted 200 years. I am not acquainted with any other period of human history when there were 200 years of peace. This great man never dreamed that during his reign, he would have a part in helping a king to be born, called the Prince of peace, and who was far greater than he, a king who would not only be the greatest leader the world would ever know, but he was to be King of Kings and ruler over all kings. The World Book Encyclopedia
gives this account of the achievements of Augustus: “He restored pace and orderd after 100 years of civil war. He maintained honest government, a sound currency system, and free trade among the provinces. He developed an efficient postal system, improved harbors and established colonies. An elaborate highway system, connecting the most remote parts of the empire, was built during his reign.” I suppose we would call him a benevolent dictator. Dear Reader, this man's name is always in your house if you have an English calendar hanging on your wall. Every time you write a check in the month of August you keep this man's memory alive. He was given the name Augustus which means “exalted” as a compliment to his greatness. Moreover, they gave his name to one of the months of the year, the month of August. The memory of the man lives on by his name on the calendar.
All this information about Augustus is informative and educational, but what part did the first Emperor of the the Roman Empire have with the birth of Christ? A most important part indeed! During his reign, the Virgin Birth of Christ was about to take place, and God was about to make a visit to the earth. Mary was just a few days from delivering God's only begotten Son. However, the near birth of Jesus was about to take place in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem. The birth of Jesus had to take place in Bethlehem because one of the prophecies said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the town of David. No Jew could rightfully claim to be the Jewish Messiah unless he was born in Bethlehem. Micah the prophet made this significant prediction, “But you Ephrathah, though you are small among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the one to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting”(Micah 5:2). When the wise men came from the East seeking to worship the newborn King of the Jews, Herod the Great sent the wise men to Bethlehem, after being correctly informed by the Jewish leaders. It was a well understood fact by Jewish scholars thatd the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem.
But how could this take place when Mary was near the time of delivery, and she was in Nazareth many miles away from Bethlehem? All evidence pointed to the fact that the birth of the Son of God would take place in Nazareth and not Bethlehem. How was this problem solved? Augustus Caesar solved this problem for Jesus, Mary and Micah's prophecy. How it happened is revealed in Luke 2:1, “And it came to pass in these days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” To do this all had to go to their hometown and register for the census. In obedience to the command of Augustus, Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem and shortly after they arrived the Virgin birth of Jesus took place. Unable to get a room in the Inn, they had to be content in one the stall's reresesses appropriated to the animals on which tshey rode. When Jesus was born they laid him in a manger which was simply a crib where cattle were fed. Yet how shall we explain the connection, if any, that August Caesar had in the birth of Christ. How did it happen that Augustus decided to have a census taken for taxation at just the right time that would allow Joseph and Mary to make it to Bethlehem? The decision of Augustus to have a census definitely helped Jesus to be born in the city appointed by God. The Emperor definitely played an important part in the birth of Christ. Scripture does not explain what prompted Octavian to make this decision in such a timely manner. Unbelievers would say it was just an accident, but there was nothing accidental about the Virgin Birth of Christ. It was determined this birth would take place in Bethlehem sometime in eternity. This was a predestined event, and God was not going to allow anything to prevent that birth at the place God had decided. The very least we can say about it is that it was providential, if not miraculous. Augustus decided to have a census at that time because God wanted him to have a census. How God worked it out is not revealed, but God definitely had a hand in this remarkable event. It may be that God decided the entire Roman Empire be taxed near the time of the Lord's birth.
While Augustus had a part in helping Jesus be born in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus also helped Augustus by immortalizing his name in histdory. . Had it not been for Jesus this man's name would have passed into oblivion. Who knows anything about thisman who lived 2,000 years ago. Very few! It is true that by naming the month of August after his name has kept his name alive. But how many people in the world know the month of August received its name from him? Not many, I would say. Only people acquainted with the history of the Roman Empire some 2,000 years ago would know where the month of August got its name. In spite of the fact he is considered among the greatest leaders the world has ever known, the memory of the man has almost disappeared. However, Jesus has immortalized his name in history. He is mainly remembered by the world because every year in December this statement in the New Testament is read and heard by many people all over the world, “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world to be taxed.” Among those to be taxed were Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, and the result was the birth of Christ in the city of Bethlehem and not in Nazareth.
Finally, let me say a few words about this child who born King of the Jews in Bethlehem. The wise men from the East named him correctly when said to Herod the Great in Jerusalem, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews. Not only was He to be the King of the Jews, He was also born to become the king of all nations. The apostle John gave the world this description of Jesus Christ some 60 years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God. And the armies in heaven clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name ritten: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”(Revelation 19:11-16).
This is a figurative description of the king Jesus became over all nations after His ascension to heaven abut 33 A.D. He began His reign on earth on the Jewish day of Pentecost, fifty days after He died on the cross. This passage describes the characteristics of His warfare against evil and wickedness. Augustus Caesar stablished a government that brought 200 years of peace to the earth, but he used the sword and brute force. But Christ uses but one weapon, the word of God, and it is represented as a sword coming out of His mouth. As the Prince of peace He has brought to the world the peace of God that passes all understanding, to all who receive and obey the gospel. This figurative passage portrays the spiritual march and conquest of Christ against on this earth. I agree with those who believe this passage portrays a purified , blood-bought church following Christ, holy and true, and His church on white horses carry the word of God in triumphant power to the nations. The armies of the Christian saints, all united under Christ, led by Him and strengthened by Him are marching to the final great conflict with hosts of evil.
Four names are given the white horse rider who represents Christ. The white horse is a symbol successful or victorious warfare. Four names are given Him that clearly identifies Him as the Lord Jesus Christ. One name applied to Him is Faithful and True. He has been faithful and true to God and all of His followers, and so will He ever be. He has been a true friend to Christians. The second name applied to Him is an unknown name, a name no one knows except Christ Himself. There are aspects of His nature and person known to us, in order that we may love and reverence.Him. But there are other aspects which to us are unknown. The third name given Him is more majestic than any yet mentioned. His name is “The Word of God.” This same name is given Him in John 1:1,14. The meaning of this name is that Christ is the revealed expression of the mind of the invisible God the Father. The last of these names assigned to Jesus is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” This is one of the most impressive names given Christ in all the Bible. It symbolizes the position and power over all kings and rulers in the world, all of whom must eventually submit to Him who is the invincible Word of God. All who refuse to submit will be destroyed when He returns with all His mighty angels. The day will come when all who have served as earthly kings and monarchs will understand the meaning of these words, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” I agree with those who think the warfare described in this passage refers to what is taking place between the followers of Christ and the Devil and his angels throughout the period of the world's existence.