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Jesus’ birth - The mystery solved
SoVaNow.com / December 12, 2013
If you think about it, it doesn’t take much of a Bible student to understand that Christ was not born in the middle of winter. The main reason is that at that time of the year in Bethlehem, it gets cold, especially at night, and shepherds would not be out in the fields with their sheep in winter.
Is the Bible wrong about this? No. We can tell from God’s Word the exact time that Christ was born. The very familiar account of Jesus’ birth is given in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, but to really find the answer to our question, we must be familiar with the times and customs of that day. The story really begins way back in the Old Testament, with Adam and Eve.
We know that God created all the races on the sixth creation day—He rested on the seventh, and then he formed Adam, because He didn’t have a man to till the ground. God needed a farmer; someone to take care of the land, and the growing of plants for food.
Another reason for starting another line of people was because God knew that mankind needed salvation. It would have to be a blood sacrifice and that blood must be pure in order to be an effective sacrifice. According to God’s timetable, when the time was right, the blood of Christ would provide the only pure sacrifice that could atone for the sins of mankind. Cain killed Abel, and that left only descendants of Seth to be the line to Christ. So, this line from Seth had to produce unmixed blood all the way to Christ.
We read of many instances in the rest of the Bible where God protected the line of Seth’s descendants from Satan’s interferences. Satan has been active all through the centuries trying to prevent Christ from making the necessary sacrifice. His work against Christ intensified in the Garden of Eden, and he was very active in Christ’s day, tempting Him and throwing many obstacles in the way. He was especially active in using the priests of Jerusalem, who were actually responsible for the crucifixion.
We fast forward in our investigation to the time of the reign of King David of Israel, where we get the necessary background to help us understand the scriptures concerning Zachariah, and Elisabeth, and their connection to the birth of Christ. There were 12 sons born to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. Levi was the third son of Jacob by Leah. Another son of Jacob who plays a part in the birth of Jesus was Judah. The twelve sons grew to adulthood, married, produced children that formed groups called ‘tribes’. The males of the tribe of Levi were the priests, and served as such for each of the other eleven tribes that had descended from Abraham.
By the time King David reigned over Israel, the priest-tribe of Levi had multiplied to the extent that some of them were not afforded an opportunity to serve in the Temple. David divided the priesthood so that all would have an opportunity to serve in the Temple. He divided the duties into twenty four groups called ‘courses’. Each course was given a name, and the priests who were assigned to a course would perform duties in the temple twice a year for one week. Their duties would be determined by lot, and the priest had to remain on duty in the Temple for the full seven days.
The Jewish day was from one sunset to the next sunset. The courses started at sunset on the Sabbath and ended at sunset on the day before the next Sabbath. Since it was not lawful to travel on the Sabbath, when he had served his course, the priest had to remain in Jerusalem until the Sabbath was over before going home.
There is something else we should know about the priests. Levite women were referred to as ‘daughters of Aaron’, because Aaron, the brother of Moses, was the first Levitical priest. A Levite man or woman was free to marry from any of the 12 tribes, but, in the case of a male, if he married a girl of any other of the eleven tribes, he could not serve in the Temple. In order to serve a course, the priest had to be a full-blood Levite, and be married to a Levite girl. The Levite women usually married priests, but were not required to do so.
Priests came only from the tribe of Levi, and all the tribes, being descendants of Abraham, had Levitical priests among them for the purpose of keeping them instructed in the Law of Moses and in living Godly lives, as well as attending to the duties of the Temple.
With that background, we continue our investigation in the first chapter of Luke, verse 5: “And there was in the days of Herod the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abiah: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.” Here we have a date: it was while Herod was king over Israel. The course Zacharias was serving was the course of Abiah. This course was the 8th course, and was from June 13 thru June 19, in the year 5 BC. Zachariah could not leave before the 20th, because his course would not be completed.
Luke 1:6: “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”. Translated into modern English, this reads: “They fulfilled all the legal requirements of a Levitical priest and his wife to follow the commandments of God to serve in this course of Abiah.”Zacharias was a full-blood Levite, and his wife, Elisabeth was a Levite, also.
Luke 1:7 “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.” This is making it very specific, and repeated for emphasis, that he was serving his week as priest, executing that office in the course of Abiah, as we have said. The duties were assigned by lot, and the lot fell on Zacharias to burn incense in the Temple. We see the hand of God moving and causing the lot to fall to Zacharias.
Luke 1:10 “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.” When the incense was burned, it was a special time of prayer. They believed that the prayers went up with the smoke of the incense, making it better for God to hear them.
Luke 1:11 “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”. A literal angel, the mighty Gabriel, appeared to Zacharias. This would be quite a moving thing to have happen to you.
Luke 1:13 “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.” God named John. The meaning of the name “John” is “God’s Gift”, and he was indeed a gift from God. He would be a servant of God, becoming known as “John the Baptist”. God will also name Jesus, and both will be divine, perfect births.
The story continues in verses 14 through 17, with the angel Gabriel speaking to Zacharias, describing John and the blessed life he would have. Zacharias challenged the mighty Gabriel when he asked, ‘What kind of sign will you give me to show that this is going to happen? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman’ (verse 18). He got a sign, alright. He would be unable to speak until everything he had been told came to pass (verses 19-22).
In verse 23, we read: “And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.” We have another date here. Remember, we said that the course was seven days, from the 13th through the 19th. The 20th was the Sabbath, and it was unlawful to travel on that day. The Sabbath ended at sundown, so it is unlikely that he ventured out before daylight on the 21st. Zacharias and Elisabeth lived somewhere near Nazareth, because Mary, upon learning she was pregnant, walked to their home to tell her cousin Elisabeth the blessed news.
Zacharias started his trip home on the 21st. We must consider that Nazareth was at least sixty miles away from Jerusalem, as the crow flies, and both cities are located in hill country. We cannot accurately tell how many miles he traveled over and around the mountainous pathway. And, we must take into account that Zacharias was an old man, so we can estimate that it would have taken him about 2 1⁄2, possibly 3 days to make the trip on foot, but a little less if he traveled by donkey. We are not told what method of travel he used. But, he would likely arrive at his home late on June 23rd or on the 24th. When he was home, Elisabeth conceived—likely on June 25th.
The scene changes and we have a connection between the conception of John the Baptist and the conception of Jesus: “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” (Luke 1:26). What about this sixth month? It was Gabriel who had appeared to Zacharias, and now, six months later, he pays a visit to a young virgin named Mary. So, John is six months in his mother’s womb, but the day is December 25, the very day we call ‘Christmas’.
Luke 1:27 “To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.” ‘Espoused’ means engaged, or betrothed. It lasted for a year, and was as binding as marriage. It could be dissolved only by divorce. If the man died before the wedding, the girl was a widow. Notice that Joseph was not a Levite, but “of the house of David”, which means Joseph, the man she is engaged to was of the tribe of Judah, or a Jew.
Mary is a cousin to Elisabeth, (Luke 1:36), and we have read that Elisabeth was “of the daughters of Aaron”, meaning she was a full-blood Levite. We learn in Luke, chapter 3 that Mary’s father was named Heli, and he was a Jew. (More about this later.) Elisabeth could not be cousin to Mary through Heli—both her parents were Levites, so the relationship was through Mary’s mother, who had to be a Levite. This makes Mary half of the tribe of Judah and half of the tribe of Levi. Why is this important? Judah is the King line and Levi is the Priest line of the Hebrews. Through Mary, Christ is given the credentials to hold the title of both King and High Priest.
Luke 1:28 “And the angel came in unto her, and said, hail thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Mary was blessed, indeed. The time had come, and on that December 25th, Gabriel came to Mary with the message from God that she was to become the mother of “Immanuel”, meaning, “God With Us”.
Luke 1:29 “And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” Mary was puzzled at the meaning of the message from the angel. She was not challenging Gabriel as did Zachariah. She was puzzled as to how it could happen, since she was a virgin.
Luke 1:30 “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.” The name Jesus in Hebrew is “Y’shua”, and means “Yahveh’s Savior”. “Yaheveh” is God’s name that is so often pronounced “Jehovah” in the English language.
Gabriel continued by telling Mary that Jesus’ father will be God, and that “The Lord shall give unto Him the throne of his father, David”(verse 32). David, the great king of Israel, is Jesus’ ancestor through Mary and her father, Heli, and He will inherit David’s throne. We know from other Scriptures that at Jesus’ second coming, He will set up His kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. This happens after Satan comes as the Antichrist, serving for the period known as ‘the tribulation of Antichrist’.
Gabriel also tells Mary that Jesus’ kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, which means that it does not end at the close of the thousand years, but it will last for the eternity.
Luke 1:36 “And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her which was called barren:” (37) ”For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” And it is not. God can do anything He wants. Gabriel is confirming the time, as we have calculated, and we have come to the 6th month. It’s the 25th of December, the date that Almighty God began dwelling with man in the form of Jesus. Both of these pregnancies were perfect, because they were by Divine Order of Almighty God, and His timing is always perfect. That makes it easy to track them, and to understand them.
Verses 38-45 give the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth to tell her what had taken place, and how the unborn John the Baptist leapt in Elisabeth’s womb at the very presence of the newly conceived Son of God. How much more evidence do we need to realize that life begins at conception?
Verses 46 through 56 give the beautiful words of praise of Mary, that theologians have given the name of the Latin noun “Magnificat”. The remaining verses in Luke, Chapter 1, chronicle the birth and prophecies concerning John, ending with: “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel” (Luke 1:80).
Luke 2:1-20, and Matthew 1:18-25, and Matthew, Ch.2, especially verses 1 thru 12, are the old familiar passages recited in Christmas plays in our churches, and in the many other things we do as we celebrate Christmas.
The genealogy given in the first chapter of Matthew is actually the genealogy of Joseph, Mary’s husband, who has nothing to do with the conception of Jesus. Let’s look at verse 16: “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, Who is called Christ.” This verse tells us that Joseph’s father was named Jacob.
The genealogy given in Luke‘s third Gospel, is the genealogy of Mary, and we read, “And Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the Son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,”(Luke 3:23). Do we have a contradiction here? Not at all. We just have to ‘rightly divide it’, and find that in the case of Jacob and Joseph, Matthew uses the word ‘begat’. This means that Jacob was the natural biological father of Joseph. “As was supposed” is a term that means “as by law”, or as we say, “in-laws”. Joseph was married to Mary and became “son-in-law to Heli, Mary’s father. In the Greek language, the word is ‘nomizo’, and means “to lay down a thing as law; to hold as by custom, or usage; to reckon correctly; take for granted.” “Begat” in the Greek is the word ‘genao’, a word, when used of the father means “to engender”, or as we say today, ‘to father a child’ or ‘to impregnate’.
Joseph’s natural or biological father, the one who ‘begat’ him, was named Jacob. Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, but he was, as we say today, the step-father of Jesus. In the first seventeen verses of Matthew’s account, in giving the genealogy of Joseph, Matthew did not trace his ancestry any further back than to Abraham. But, Luke in presenting Christ as both human and Divine, took the genealogy all the way back to Adam, then to God, who was actually Jesus’ father.
While Luke focuses on the angel’s announcement to Mary, Matthew tells of the angel’s visit to Joseph, who is said to be betrothed to Mary. Then he is planning to divorce her when he learns she is pregnant, because he knows he is not the father. Then she is called his wife. To our way of thinking, these passages can be somewhat confusing. But, if we understand the normal Jewish marriage procedure, the relationships are perfectly clear.
There were three steps that the couple took. First, there was the engagement, which was often made when the boy and girl were just children. Usually, the parents arranged for the wedding, but professional match-makers were often used. Marriage was thought of as much too serious to be left only to love.
Then came the betrothal. This gave formal sanction to the engagement. The engagement could be broken if the girl changed her mind, but once the betrothal was entered into, it was absolutely binding.
The betrothal lasted for a year, during which time the couple were known as man and wife, but they were not allowed to have conjugal rights. Divorce was the only way to end a betrothal.
This was the case with Mary and Joseph. They were betrothed, and therefore regarded legally as man and wife. The only way to end it was for Joseph to divorce her.
The last step was the marriage itself, and this took place at the end of the year of betrothal. It was at this stage that Joseph learned Mary was pregnant. He later learned that the Child was begotten by the Holy Spirit. Most men would have immediately had Mary stoned to death or made a public example. It shows the kind of man Joseph was in not doing that.
Joseph loved Mary and didn’t want to hurt her in any way, although at first he naturally thought that she had been unfaithful to him. He wanted to spare her from having an illegitimate child, so he decided to divorce her secretly, according to the law, by writing her a “bill of divorcement” (Deuteronomy 24:1)
Why did God have to do it this way? It had been prophesied long before that a virgin would conceive, and God’s prophecies always come to pass exactly as they are written.
Why was it necessary that the mother of the Savior to be a virgin? So the world would know that God is the Father; not some human male. Our Savior was born perfect, and lived a sinless life on earth in order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. His conception would of necessity be sinless, also. This is why that all through the Scriptures God had to intervene in the lives of those in the line leading to Jesus. Mary was the one God chose to be the mother of our Lord, and God does not make mistakes.
Why was Mary the one? Only the Father knows that, but she was “highly favored” of God. She must have loved Father very much and served Him faithfully because that’s the way we find His favor.
God did not make a mistake in choosing Joseph for his role in history, either. He was a very gentle man; a devout man who knew and followed the Law of Moses, and knew the prophecies concerning the Messiah. This is the reason he readily accepted the explanation given to him by the angel.
Some people refuse to celebrate Christmas because they say it is a pagan holiday. To call the day of the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ a pagan holiday is blasphemy, and ignorance in the highest degree.
It does not matter what else happened on that day down through the years. Many other things happened as well. Many people in every generation have been born on October 31. Should they refuse to celebrate their birthday because Halloween, being a pagan tradition, falls on that day? Of course not!
Neither should we refuse to celebrate Christmas on December 25. The difference is, now you know it was not Christ’s birthday, but, the day He was conceived; the day God began to dwell with man, as “Immanuel”. We can now celebrate His conception.
If you want to celebrate His real birthday, that was the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Tisri, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, our September 29.
Knowing how forgiving and understanding our Father is, I am sure He will allow us to celebrate Christ’s birth on any day. The important thing to Him is that we return His love and remember to celebrate that Christ came into the world as our Savior.
I think it would make God and Jesus happy if we celebrate both the conception on December 25, and the real birthday on September 29.
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