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)
Who was Caesar Augustus? He was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Actually his name was Octavianus and he took the name Caesar—I think he had a right to it. Now the name Augustus was not a name at all but a title. When the senate submitted to him certain titles like king, emperor, and dictator, he was not satisfied. Instead he chose the title Augustus. It had a religious significance, and it was an attempt to deify himself.
It was no accident that Dr. Luke mentioned the name of Caesar Augustus. This man signed a tax bill that the whole world (of that day) be taxed. He needed money to raise an army to control his vast empire and to live in luxury himself. Notice Luke’s historical reference that this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria: And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:3–7)
Joseph and Mary came out of Nazareth in Galilee and went into Judea to Bethlehem, the city of David. Joseph did this because he was of the house and lineage of David. Why did Mary have to go to Bethlehem? She also was of the lineage of David.
I am thrilled when I read this simple, historically accurate passage with tremendous spiritual truth behind it. Caesar Augustus attempted to make himself a god. He wanted to be worshiped. He signed a tax bill which caused a woman and man, peasants, living in Nazareth, to journey to Bethlehem to enroll. That woman was carrying in her womb the Son of God! This is tremendous! This Caesar Augustus tried to make himself God, but nobody today reverences him or pays taxes to him. But that little baby in Mary’s womb—many of us worship Him today and call Him our Savior.
Caesar Augustus was merely the tool in God’s hand to bring to pass the prophecy “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). This is a remarkable account.
Everything that happened was arranged by God. If anyone had said to Caesar, “Wait a minute; women about to give birth are going to have to be moved in order for you to get your taxes,” I think he would have replied, “I do not care about babies or their mothers; I am only interested in taxes, armies, money and luxury.” Well, that is all gone now, including Caesar.Dr. Luke gets right down to the little human details in this passage. He is saying that Mary put swaddling clothes on this little child—baby clothes and diapers on the Son of God! How perfectly human He was - God manifest in the flesh!
From J. Vernon McGee’s Edited Messages on Luke ©1983