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Friday, November 27, 2015

In the Fullness of Time: 4 Historic Facts about the Nativity of Jesus Christ

The Year

As for the year of Jesus Christ’s birth, it is estimated to be between 6-4 B.C. as Luke 1:5 refers to “The days of Herod” who died in 4 B.C. Ironically, 1 A.D. (Anno Domini or “In the Year of Our Lord” ) is not an accurate date as the calendar was slightly miscalculated by Dionysius Exiguus but has since become the world-wide accepted format. 

Dionysius Exiguus invented Anno Domini years to date Easter.

The Day

As for the day of His birth, some scholars say that it could not be December 25th because the Shepherds would not be out in the fields in the winter. They would suggest it was rather sometime in the spring. Others claim that it is indeed December 25th including Sextus Julius Africanus ( 2nd century A.D.), Hyppolytus (3rd century A.D.) and later, John Chrysostom. It was decided to celebrate Christmas on this date at least partially because the Roman Church wanted to have a replacement holiday for the pagan festival of Saturnalia. 

The simple fact is that no one really knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth and that, ultimately, it does not matter. Had God wanted the exact date to be known He would have recorded it in Scripture. As is usually God’s way, it is more important that we know the Why than the When, Where or How.

Cyrenius of Syria 

There has always been some debate among secular historians as to the accuracy of Luke when he says  

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-2).” 

The difficulty lies in the fact that Cyrenius was not an actual governor until 6A.D., however it is highly likely that he was in a position of leadership ( which is all that the Greek word for governor implies) much earlier. 

Coin - Cyrenius (Quirinius) Governor of Syria when Jesus was born.

James, Faucet & Brown add two more widely acceptable reconciliations for this verse by Luke:  

1) A nuance of translation:  "This registration was previous to Cyrenius being governor of Syria"--as the word "first" is rendered in Jhn 1:15 15:18. In this case, of course, the difficulty vanishes.”

2) "But it is perhaps better to suppose, with others, that the registration may have been ordered with a view to the taxation, about the time of our Lord's birth, though the taxing itself--an obnoxious measure in Palestine--was not carried out till the time of Quirinus.” In other words, the enrollment for the taxation started earlier while the taxation itself was not executed until later on. 

Augustus Caesar and the Pax Romana

In the book of Galatians, chapter 4, Paul speaks of the timing of Jesus Christ’s entry into the world in broader terms …

“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons…” Gal 4:4-5

David Guzik comments, “For those who were under bondage to the law, it may seem that Jesus' coming was late. Paul assures us that it was at just the right time.” We often wonder how long it will take for the Lord Jesus to return again – but like the Incarnation it will at just the right time as judged by the Father. 

With an understanding of the world at this special time in history we can see at least one of the reasons why Paul referred to it is the “fullness of the time” or when the time was just right. The Roman ruler, Octavian, had defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. and had begun an empire-wide peace that had been unprecedented in the world. He became the first Emperor of Rome and took the title Augustus. He reigned until 14 A.D. 

Statue - Agustus of Prima Porta

As Boice (quoted by Guzik)  puts it:  "It was a time when the pax Romana (*Roman Peace) extended over most of the civilized earth and when travel and commerce were therefore possible in a way that had formerly been impossible. Great roads linked the empire of the Caesars, and its diverse regions were linked far more significantly by the all-pervasive language of the Greeks. Add the fact that the world was sunk in a moral abyss ... and that spiritual hunger was everywhere evident, and one has a perfect time for the coming of Christ and for the early expansion of the Christian gospel." 

As much as Augustus Caesar was viewed as a political saviour at the time, the world needed something more… a Saviour of the soul. And thus Jesus was born and lived and died, not in the pomp and ceremony of Augustus, but in a manger, as a carpenter and on a cross. 

Christmas is not about a day or a date. It is not about power, politics or materialism. It is about celebrating, along with the angels of Heaven, the birth of the soul Saviour, Jesus the Son of God. 

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

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