The Significane of Christmas – The Town of Bethlehem


This article will consume about six minutes and thirty seconds of your day.

Journey to Bethlehem

Journey to Bethlehem

Last week we concluded our Christmas post with a better understanding of exactly what prompted Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. If you have not done so already, please read The Significance of the Time so that you are on the same page as the rest of us.

Luke 2:4,5

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Let’s dig right in. We meet Joseph for the second time in the book of Luke. Luke informed Theophilus (the recipient of the book, 1:3) in 1:27 that Joseph was of the lineage of David, and is seen doing so again in our current verse. Why is this so important?

In Psalm 89:3,4 the Psalmist (David) recounts what we call the Davidic Covenant (established in 2 Sam. 7) by saying, “‘I [the Lord] will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.'” This promise meant that only an heir of David could be considered a rightful heir to the throne.

We also see in Micah 5:2 (which we will come back to later in this article) that the one who is to come from Bethlehem is also to “be ruler in Israel.” And even further we see in Zechariah, “behold, your king [Jerusalem] is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey (Luke 19:35)…his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (9:9, 10). So, we see that the Old Testament (which the original audience of the New Testament would have been aware of) is speaking to a ruler, a king, coming out of Bethlehem. Luke’s mention here in verse four of Joseph being of the house of David is crucial for us to grasp because in it we see the fulfillment of a covenant made to King David, a covenant of a lasting throne through his lineage. The child to be born is rightful heir to the throne both legally, through his earthly father (see genealogy in Matt. 1), and physically, through his mother (see genealogy in Luke 3). The birth that is to follow in verse seven is the culmination of this covenant.

So, in verse four we have already seen why it is so important that Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem. This return to their ancestral home allows us to see that the Son to be born is of the lineage of King David and is thus a rightful heir to the throne.

With that covered, let’s return to the first part of verse four. We learn that Joseph and Mary are traveling “up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth…to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” First, understand that “up” does not mean the direction north. Whenever you read of someone traveling to the area around Jerusalem (Bethlehem was approximately six miles south of the city) you will read that they went “up.” This is a description of the elevation. Jerusalem and the surrounding area sits on hill and is thus a trek “up.”

These details given to us by Luke allow us to do something that I enjoy doing when I read the Bible: put ourselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the people we read about. The details “Galilee…Nazareth…Judea…Bethlehem” give us points so interest, areas to study, maps to examine. So look at a map!

Notice where Nazareth is, and then look where Bethlehem is. With the term “up” in your mind, and the fact of Mary being pregnant (v. 5), imagine this trip. Traveling ninety miles on foot. This is a small rabbit trail, but I want to urge you to read your Bible like this, doing as much as you can to fully grasp what the text is saying.

They are traveling to a place called Bethlehem, which is also called the city of David, or the town of David. This simply means that Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, and most likely the place where he grew up as a boy (1 Sam 16:1; 17:12). Simple as it is, it further proves the legality of Jesus’ right to the throne.

Another important note about the location of Bethlehem is that it fulfills the prophecy spoken in Micah 5:2 (which is our memory verse for the week): “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days.” The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, as a result of the census ordered by Octavian (the Roman Emperor at the time), and the obedient travel of Joseph and Mary, is what fulfilled this prophecy.

We finally come to verse five. Did you ever wonder why Mary would have traveled such a great distance while being so near to giving birth? Well, if you have, I have several suggestions, none of which can be proved or disproved by Scripture. The first is that Joseph wanted her to go so that she would avoid ridicule in Nazareth. Although they were married prior to leaving for Bethlehem (Matt. 1:24), if she carried our Lord for nine full months this would place the conception before their marriage. This fact alone would cause Mary shame at the hands of her family and friends (who would believe their story?) (Geldenhuys, pg. 100).

A second suggestion is that both Mary and Joseph were aware of the prophecy given in Micah (Ibid.). With knowledge of who the child was they may have seen the dots being connected by the census and their need to register in Bethlehem. Maybe with this knowledge Mary decided that despite being pregnant she would travel to Bethlehem in order to play a further role in the fulfillment of this prophecy.

A third and final (for us) suggestion is that Joseph and Mary may have viewed their trip to Bethlehem as a permanent move. “The Greek word tekton applied to Joseph in the New Testament designated one who lived by working with his hands – a carpenter, a stone mason, and even a farmer in some papyri. Bethlehem was the historical headquarters for the stonemason’s guild and therefore a more natural residence than Nazareth for a builder” (Summers, pg. 100).

Whatever the reason was for Mary to decide to accompany Joseph to Bethlehem to register for the census, she did, and as we will learn in verses six and seven (next week) she gives birth to her firstborn while in the small town. This birth fulfills the covenant to King David as well as the prophecy in Micah 5:2.

This will conclude our brief study of Luke 2:4,5. I realize that this article is a lot of facts and maybe things that you don’t really have time to learn more about, and may even be a bit disorganized (for which I apologize). But, I want you to see this story, that I am sure you are very familiar with, in a new light. A viewpoint of recognizing all of the details that Luke covers and that are at play in the hand’s of God. Recognize the sovereignty of God in all of this. Look at the facts and see how they all connect, prove each other, and fulfill Old Testament prophecy.

With that being said: Have a Merry Christmas this Sunday and may you begin to view this day, and season, in a new light as a result of your careful examination and study of scripture.

(view the bibliography entries for sources mentioned in this article here).

This Week’s Christmas Verse – Micah 5:2 – “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel”


(C) F. Lokot 2007. All rights reserved

Continuing our observation of the Old Testament prophesies concerning the coming of our Savior, this week’s verse is found in the book of the minor prophet, Micah. This verse speaks to the location in which our Lord was to come as an infant…quite fascinating, actually. Even more fascinating is when we will read verses in the New Testament that show the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. I digress, enjoy this week’s verse and be sure to stop by during the week with your thoughts.

Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

This verse is also timed perfectly for this week’s Christmas article. On Friday we will be studying the significance of the town of Bethlehem. Be sure to subscribe via email below so that you don’t miss it!

This Week’s Memory Verse – Isaiah 9:6 – “A Son is Given”


The verse we are studying this week is another short, simple verse, but one that packs a full punch and a lot of information into one sentence. 
 

Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given; 

and the government shall be upon his shoulder, 

and his name shall be called 

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

 

Just as last week’s verse, Isaiah 7:14, this verse is helping us to focus our attention on Christ this season. Take a few minutes each day and read this verse. I also encourage you to set aside some time to study the significance contained in the words. What does it mean that the “government will be upon his shoulder?” What is so significant about the four names given to him: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?” Who is the “us” referred to?
 

Enjoy this one and share it with your friends and family! Make sure you are subscribed to email updates, below, so that you can read part one of our three part Christmas series (this week we will learn why Bethlehem was so significant).

The Significance of the Bread of Life


The Feeding of the Five Thousand by Hendrik de Clerck

In the Gospel according to John there are a total of eight “I AM” statements. Around each of them there are events that help speak to the meaning of the statement. The statements also relate directly to God in the Old Testament, and point to the deity of Christ. In this paper, this author has chosen to examine the first “I AM” statement found in John 6:35, “I AM the bread of life.”

The first I AM statement occurs after a fascinating miracle. So fascinating that Matthew, Mark, and Luke also record the same event in their Gospel’s.[1] This miracle is the feeding of the 5,000, which takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ third year of ministry, before he and his disciples make their way to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 6:4).

At this point in Jesus’ ministry he has become quite popular because of “the signs that he

Get the PDF Version

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was doing on the sick” (v. 2, ESV). Because of his popularity there is a large crowd that follows Jesus and his disciples up a mountain off the coast of the Sea of Galilee.

When Jesus sees the large crowd he asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (v. 5). John adds his commentary when he says that Jesus asked this to test him, because Jesus already knew what he was going to do (v. 6). Philip answers the Lord, “two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to eat a little” (v. 7). One denarius was a day’s wage, meaning that 200 denarii would equate to 8 months of income.[2] “But the crowd was so large (v. 10) that even such a large sum of money would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite”.[3]

In response to this problem, Andrew brings to Jesus a boy who has “five barley loaves and two fish” (v. 9). It is with this small amount of food that Jesus feeds the 5,000 so that they all “had eaten their fill” (v. 12).

Added context to the first “I AM” statement is after this miracle has taken place. The next day, Jesus and his disciples arrive in the city of Capernaum (v. 21, 24) and the crowd finds him there. In response to a question from the crowd, Jesus says, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (vv. 26-27). They then ask what they need to do, “to be doing the works of God” (v. 28), to which Jesus responds, “believe” (v. 29).

An amazing part of this passage is the next verse. Keep in mind that the context of all of this is the feeding of the 5,000, as discussed above. In response to Jesus telling them to believe, they essentially say, prove it: “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?” (v. 30). This is the context of the first I AM statement. Just a few verses after this request for Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God Jesus proclaims to the crowd, “I AM the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).

As stated in the opening paragraph, all of the “I AM” statements point back to God in the Old Testament. In the verses before the “I AM” statement from Jesus, the crowd tells him that Moses gave their fathers manna to eat from heaven while they were in the wilderness (v. 31). Jesus corrects them and says that it was God who provided the bread (v. 32).

While the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God provided to them manna every single day. This manna served as their nourishment while they were in the wilderness and provided life for them. Just as Jesus states that he is the Bread of Life, so to was God to the Israelites before they arrived to the promised land.

While the connection with God in the Old Testament to the Bread of Life “I AM” statement is obvious in light of the context, the deity of Christ is even more obvious. The manna that the crowd is speaking about was a temporary solution to a temporary problem that the Israelites had. They needed food to live on a daily basis and God provided this to them as they needed it. Although this is extremely miraculous, the crowd here in John 6 is still only looking after their physical needs in referencing the manna from heaven. Not just the physical need of hunger, but even that of their desire for “a messianic revolt…Manna was thought to be characteristic of the kingdom of God.”[4]

Jesus is not speaking of a physical condition, but a spiritual.

He says to them, “the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven” (v. 33). Immediately Jesus draws a parallel to the manna that came from heaven. Just as it came from heaven, was of God, so to is “he” who comes from heaven. They are both provisions from God. While using the parallel of the manna, Jesus takes a turn in the minds of the crowd and says that this bread, the new bread, “gives life to the world” (v. 33).

He continues the turn, so to speak, in verse 35, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” This is different than what the manna did in the wilderness. While the manna was from God, and from heaven, it only provided temporary relief from hunger. The bread that Jesus gives, his life, gives eternal life to the world, “whoever comes to [him]…whoever believes in [him]” (v. 35).

This thought is continued a few moments later in verse 49: “Your fathers at the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” And in an effort to speak to the eternal life that is given to those that believe in Him, he tells them that he is the bread that came down from heaven (v. 51).

The deity of Christ is again spoken of a few verses prior to 51. In verse 46, Jesus says, “not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Jesus later promises that any who “feed on [his] flesh, [the bread of life], and drinks [his] blood has eternal life, and [he] will raise him up on the last day” (v. 54, also v. 39, 44). Not only is Jesus from God (vv. 38, 44, 46, 50, 51), but he can do something that only God can do: provide eternal life (Rom. 6:23).

“I AM the bread of life” (v. 35). Such a simple statement yet full of profound meaning for all of those who heard these words spoken from the mouth of our Lord, and those who have the ability to read them in their Bible today. When John wrote his Gospel he almost always has a discourse go along with a miracle, and with this first “I AM” statement, his readers are able to sit on that mountain with the multitude and partake in the temporary solution to a temporary problem. John’s readers are also able to stand in the crowd as Jesus is peppered with questions and are given opportunity to see how it was God who provided the manna, not Moses. The readers of John’s Gospel are able to witness “Jesus…making clear his heavenly origin and the fact that he alone supplies the spiritual need of his hearers”.[5] Finally, as a part of the audience of John, his readers are given an incredible truth: if they believe in Christ, if they eat of the bread he gives, he “has eternal life, and [Jesus] will raise him up on the last day” (v. 54).

Footnotes:

  • [1] Morris, Leon. Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 300.
  • [2] Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 269.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Towns, Elmer. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. DChattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 63.
  • [5] Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 111.

Bibliography

Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.

Morris, Leon. Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Towns, Elmer. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002.

Photo Credits:

Article header photo credit: The Feeding of the Five Thousand by Hendrik de Clerck (no date). http://www.catholictradition.org/Eucharist/hidden-treasure5d.htm

Bibliography Photo Credit: http://www.maicar.com/GML/Bibliography.html

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