Summary: The coming of Christ forced upon humanity a choice between serving Caesar, the god of this world, and the Kingdom of God.
Luke 2__1-14 Caesar or Jesus
Christmas 2007 December 25, 2007
"Caesar or Jesus"
As Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth he relates the story of 3 Kings. No, I’m not talking here about the visit of the Magi, the Wisemen from the East. I refer to 3 better known kings: King Jesus, Caesar and Herod the Great. Luke, by referring to Herod and Caesar August firmly establishes the time in history when Jesus’ birth took place. He relates a real historical event. He tells the story of a brutal tyrant, Herod the Great who made the first Christmas hideous with the slaughter of innocent children.
Luke also tells of Caesar Augustus and Tiberius Caesar. These earthly Caesars, earthly kings, were celebrated as bringing peace on earth through military might. The general Octavian, defeated Mark Antony in a naval battle that ended a civil war and established Octavian as ruler of the Roman Empire, named Caesar Augustus beginning a period of peace. It was also the beginning of the Pagan Emperor’s cult in which prayers were offered not only for, but to the divine Caesar, blessed by the gods with military victory and able to establish the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome.
Church and state became one in first century Roman Empire - as the cult of the emperor increased to the point where near the end of the first century Nero could proclaim that he was a god, it became treasonous in the empire to not participate in the religious rites and especially to affirm that there was only one God.
In the 19th and much of the 20th centuries it was popular in many universities, seminaries and even in pulpits for Christian teachers to refer to the birth stories as myth. As time has moved on we have the results of nearly two centuries of archaeological research that explains many of the references in the Bible to places and events. In 2004 John Dominic Crossan wrote "In Search of St. Paul." Crossan retraced the steps of Paul around the Mediterranean Sea, investigating the archaeological digs and verifying and explaining the times and places that Paul visited. He makes the Scriptures come alive for us making it clearer what it meant to live as a Christian under the rule of the Roman Caesars. (2)
Luke places the birth of Jesus in the days when Herod was a puppet king of Judah under the rule of Caesar Augustus who wanted a census of everyone living in the empire at a time when Quirinius was governor of Syria. This caused Joseph and Mary to make the journey to Bethlehem in order to comply with Caesar’s demand.
John Dominic Crossan in his book has a chapter about "two savior kings." One is Caesar and the other is Jesus. Crossan refers to archaeolgoical finds such as statuary, plaques, inscriptions on public buildings, and literature
and gives us great detail about how the emperor cult caused statues and altars to the emperor to be established in cities across Europe and the Mideast. He quotes from an ordinance in one of the cities in Greece that during the reign of Tiberius (Caesar when John the Baptist was preaching according to Luke 3) there was to be a five day festival including food, prayers, sacrifices, reading of the law, erection of a stone monument,sporting games and musical performances honoring the royal family. . .the caesars.
"The chief of the market place (our equivalent of a shopping mall) shall celebrate the first day of the god Caesar Augustus, son of the god, our Savior and Deliverer: the second day for the emperor (Tibeerius Caesar Augustus, father of the fatherland; the third day for Julia Augusta, the Fortune of our nation and the city; the fourth day (of Victory) for Germanicus Caesar; the fifth day (of Aphrodite) for Drusus Caesar; and the sixth day for Titus Quinctius Flaminius. . . ."
Luke and the other Gospel writers knew what they were doing when they refered to Jesus as King of the Jews. That is why Luke makes clear that the birth of the King of the Jews, the Divine Son of God, was at a to time when the Caesars reigned. The symbol of a star announcing that the light of heaven had entered this earth made dark by calling Caesar god was not an accident. The Magi made their trek not to Rome to visit the divine caesar, but to ancient holy Jerusalem and thence to Bethelehem - the house of bread where the Bread of Life, the Bread come down from Heaven would appear.
Within the Roman Empire everyone knew that Caesar claimed for himself the title, "Savior of the World." He boasted that he ruled the entire world; therefore he demanded that all acknowledge him as king and ruler. Unknown to him, in the year 4 B.C., a rival was born, Someone Who also claimed to be Savior and King.