Christmas is coming. Here are the facts (that we know of, up till December 2015 that is) about the historic events circulating the rich baby Jesus.
Zero disrespect for referencing the Savior of mankind (my Lord and God) as the “rich baby Jesus”…just a statement of fact as you will soon see.
What year was Jesus born?
In the western hemisphere, we split time by the birth of Jesus Christ.
First up, let us dismiss the smoldering lie among the ignorant pin-headed nabobs who declare the Christ never existed. The proof of the birth of Jesus is not alone given testimony in the New Testament (though IF it were, with the nature of the New Testament and its transmission, that would itself be irrefutable proof… to be discussed in another article at another day).
Early Jewish documents such as the Mishnah and the writings of Josephus (an early Jewish historian), and the first-century Gentile historians Thallus, Serapion, and Tacitus, all testify that the one called Christ lived in Palestine and died under Pontius Pilate. As the famous, world renowned scholar F. F. Bruce put it, “The historicity of Christ is as certain as the historicity of Julius Caesar” (NT Documents, 119).
Now it stands to reason that if Jesus Christ lived, he must have been born. The Gospels tell us that His birth was shortly before Herod the Great died (Herod was the Roman client king of Judea). Herod’s death can be determined with certainty.
Josephus records an eclipse of the moon just before the death of Herod. This happened on either March 12th or 13th in 4 B.C. Josephus also tells us that Herod died before the Passover feast. This feast took place on April 11th, in the same year, 4 B.C. So Herod the Great’s demise occurred between mid March and early April in 4 B.C.
Pretty weird that Jesus was born no later than 4 B.C.; seeing as how B.C. means ‘Before Christ’! But our calendar, which splits time between B.C. and A.D. was invented in 525 A.D.
That was when Pope John the First tasked a monk by the name of Dionysius to invent a standard calendar for the Church. It seems that Dionysius may have been enjoying some festive eggnog whilst coming to the division of time (which humanity will end up using for thousands of years) because he missed it by four years…!
Now the Gospel According to Matthew tells us that Herod killed Bethlehem’s babies two years old and under. The earliest Jesus could have been born then would be 6 B.C. It seems as though the smart biblical scholars (the smart Christian biblical scholars) are relatively confident that Jesus was born in either late 5 or early 4 B.C.
The Day Jesus Was Born…Xmas marks the spot
Was Jesus really born on December 25th? Virtually every month on the calendar has been proposed. So why December?
The tradition for December 25th is ancient. Hippolytus, in the second century A.D., argued that this was Christ’s birthday. Meanwhile, in the eastern Orthodox Church, January 6th was the date followed.
But in the fourth century, John Chrysostom argued that December 25th was the correct date and from that day till now, the Church has observed the 25th of December as the official date of the birth of Jesus.
Of course, in modern times the date has been challenged. The scholars point out that when Jesus was born the Bible says that shepherds were watching their sheep in the hills BUT sheep were usually brought under cover from November to March. As well, sheep were normally not in the fields at night. However, other early sources suggest that sheep around Bethlehem were outside year-round.
So, December 25 fits tradition and the Bible story.
Of course, we can’t be absolutely certain of the day of Christ’s birth. An early winter date seems as reasonable a guess as any. And December 25th has been the front runner for eighteen centuries.
We can blame the early church for the uncertainty. You see, they did not celebrate Christ’s birth.
To them, it was insignificant. They were far more concerned with his death . . . and resurrection.
The Visit of the Magi (The Wise Men)
When Jesus Christ was born, men–known as magi–came from the east to worship Him. Were they wise men . . . kings . . . or astrologers?
The Gospel of Matthew begins the second chapter with these words: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.'”
Who were these wise men from the east? Matthew doesn’t mention their names, nor how many there were.
They may have come from Babylon. And since the distance spanned nearly 1000 miles, there must have been more than three individuals as a caravan would be needed to safely span the distance…especially when carrying cargo of precious metal and perfumes.
The Biblical record stating that all of Jerusalem was troubled at their arrival (Matthew chapter 2, verse 3) also speaks to the caravan consisting of many individuals, animals and cargo.
Since Matthew doesn’t give us much of a personal biography of the magi, nutty Christians throughout church history have filled in the blanks. By the 6th century A.D., these mystery men were given kingdoms and names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar were the alleged names of these alleged kings.
But this has nothing to do with the biblical account: we really have no idea what their names were. But one thing we do know for sure: they were not royalty. The ancient magi were religious and political advisers to eastern kings.
So, were they astrologers? They had followed a star to Bethlehem…
Well, not all magi were astrologers, for Daniel the prophet was the chief of the magi in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Certainly through his influence many (undoubtedly) of the magi carried on their religious and political duties as worshipers of the One true God.
Also there are some biblical scholars who believe that Isaiah predicted that a star would appear when the Messiah was born. If this interpretation is correct, then the magi who worshiped the newborn king were clearly influenced from the memory of Daniel for he almost surely taught them from Isaiah.
Lastly, although a few believe that the ‘star’ they saw was a natural celestial phenomenon (a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter…?) this could not explain how the star stood right over Bethlehem. Clearly, the ‘star’ was completely of supernatural origin. Nothing to do with astrology.
Gifts of Gold Bullion
And they gave Jesus gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gifts of great monetary value.
Interesting to mention the frankincense and myrrh specifically. The gold would be of great need and use. Soon after the visit from the Magi; Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus would have to flee to Egypt, an unknown land with no family and friends, fending for themselves as they waited the many years to travel back to Nazareth. The gold would cover these immense costs … as would the gifts of frankincense and myrrh. (Some say the gift of wealth from the magi followed Jesus into His ministry…still looking for confirmation on that…)
So back to the frankincense and myrrh.
Perhaps they had read Isaiah’s prophecy that “nations will come to your light, and kings to your rising . . . They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news. . . ” (Isaiah, chapter 60, verses 3, 6). This explains the frankincense, but not the myrrh.
Now myrrh, like frankincense, was a perfume. But unlike frankincense, myrrh was used to embalm corpses. Jesus himself would be embalmed with this very perfume (The Gospel of John, chapter 19, verse 39).
If the magi were thinking of Jesus’ death when they brought the myrrh, they no doubt knew of it from Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel, chapter 9, verses 24-27). In the ninth chapter of Daniel we read that the ‘Messiah will be cut off’ and this ‘will make atonement for iniquity’ and ultimately ‘bring in everlasting righteousness’
Hitler in Bethlehem
One of the most heinous atrocities in human history was the murder of Bethlehem’s babies by Herod the Great.
In the Gospel According to Matthew, we read that Herod the Great was troubled at the course of events surrounding the potential birth of the Messiah. Later, when the wise men did not report back to him, he became furious and ordered all the baby boys up to two years old in and around Bethlehem to be slaughtered.
How many babies did Herod kill?
Though some scholars put the number at 200, most reject that number. Bethlehem was a small community. Most scholars have the number between 20 and 30.
However, the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew chapter 2, verse 16 could mean ‘babies’ and not specifically ‘boy babies’. Herod may have had a fear of a mother shielding her baby boy with the dress of a baby girl, so then ordering the death of every baby could very well have happened. This would push the number to as high as 60.
How old was Jesus when this event occurred?
According to the best chronological evidence, he could not have been more than three or four months old. He was more than likely born in the winter of 5 or 4 B.C.–Herod died in the early spring of 4 B.C. So why did Herod slay all children up to two years old? (answered in the next question…)
Why was this event not recorded outside of the Bible?
Josephus, the Jewish historian, gives us a brief bio on the scumbag called Herod:
He murdered his favorite wife’s father, drowned her brother and then killed her. He executed one of his most trusted friends, had his barber killed, and had 300 military leaders put to death. Then he slew three of his sons, allegedly suspecting them of treason.
Josephus tells us that “Herod inflicted such outrages upon (the Jews) as not even a beast could have done if it possessed the power to rule over men” (Antiquities of the Jews 17:310). Killing babies was not out of character for this cruel king. And killing them up to two years old–to make sure he got the baby Jesus lines up with his insane jealousy for power.
So it may seem that perhaps the clandestine killing of three or four dozen babies may have went relatively unnoticed during the reign of that cockroach, Herod the Great.
What we have learned about Christmas time
On a lonely winter night in 5 or 4 B.C., God invaded history by taking on the form of a man. He was born in a small town just south of Jerusalem in Bethlehem.
His mother placed the infant king in a manger, a feeding trough, because the guest room where they were to stay was occupied. The birth of this king was celebrated that night only by his mother, her husband, and a handful of shepherds.
The shepherds had been in the fields around Bethlehem, guarding the lambs which, ironically, would die at the next Passover. An angel appeared to them and spoke: “today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 verse 11). In the excitement of the celestial spectacle, they rushed to see their newborn king.
Shortly after the birth of the Messiah, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem and inquired of king Herod (the cockroach) where the real King of the Jews was to be born. The elite of Herod’s court knew the Scriptures well, they led the magi to Bethlehem. It seems as though they knew the Scripture but did not believe the Scripture… they did not even bother to travel the five or six miles to Bethlehem to see for themselves.
But Herod believed. That’s why he sent butchers to Bethlehem to slaughter innocent children, in hopes of destroying this rival to his throne. But he was too late. The magi had come and gone and the baby Jesus was journeying to Egypt.
The magi believed. They had traveled nearly a thousand miles to worship the new born King. They were guided to Bethlehem by a supernatural celestial phenomenon and by the Scriptures. Apparently, their ancestors had been instructed by the Prophet Daniel about the coming Messiah. When they saw the Christ child, they fell down and worshiped him. This was God in the flesh. They could do no other.
We should do no other.
“He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
The Gospel According to Luke, chapter 1, verses 32 and 33.
| Rev. Daniel Gabriel |