Where Was Jesus Born and Why Does it Matter?
When the Christmas season comes around, many of us fall into a groove of going through the motions. Buy presents, attend the Christmas Eve service at church, see the family, and so on. As we look into the spiritual origin for the holiday, however, it can give us renewed purpose and help us to find the passion for celebration we may have lost. One of the many questions people have about the historical side of Christmas is “Where was Jesus born?” It may surprise some people to know this is one question rather easily answered. Even better, it has incredible significance to the Christmas story. Every aspect of Jesus Christ’s birth is a fascinating part of the story God is telling. By the time we’re finished talking about it, not only will you know how to answer “Where was Jesus born?,” you’ll have an understanding on why it matters.
Where Was Jesus Born?
At the time when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, a census (or tax) for the Jews was announced by the Romans, who were controlling much of the world around this period. The Roman empire required both quality logistics and reliable funding in order to succeed and this meant it was not uncommon for Jews in Israel to pay taxes to Rome. To make these taxes effective it was also important for the Romans to know how many people were in a town, who they were, and so forth. When Caesar Augustus called for the census singled out in Luke 2’s account of Jesus’ birth, it meant Mary and Joseph would need to travel to Bethlehem. This is due to the fact that Joseph was of the lineage of King David. You may recall David, the youngest son of Jesse, was himself born in Bethlehem long before the time of Christ. The royal connection of David’s birth is why Bethlehem is famously known as “the city of David.” In Luke 2:11, the angel appearing before the shepherds explicitly announces the birth of the Messiah at this spot on the map by declaring:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
While Mary and Joseph reported to this town for the census, she went into labor and delivered Jesus (Luke 2:6). In summary, the question of “Where was Jesus born?” is answered by looking at Bethlehem.
What is Significant About Bethlehem?
Reading through the Biblical account, we see how God is moving in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth. God uses the people of this world to accomplish His plan in ways we could never imagine. Before we discuss why it matters that God ordained Jesus’ birth as He did, though, you should know what significance there was in everything going down in this small town.
The book of Micah in the Old Testament of the Bible is not one we often hear sermons from today, but it contains an important prophecy concerning the future of God’s people. After laying out the troubles to come for the people of God, Micah 4-5 promises a new hope in Israel. Most important for our purposes is Micah 5:2, which says:
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will come forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His times of coming forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
In case our interpretation of this prophetic passage isn’t trustworthy enough, we can read in Matthew 2 about how the Magi and Herod’s advisors used Micah 5:2 in order to narrow down the birthplace of the Messiah.
Now that we know why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem, we can further appreciate how God accomplished the task using the Roman government. Even as God revealed His plan for the Savior’s birth to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), He had already worked out how to get Mary and Joseph from Galilee to Bethlehem at the right moment.
Why Does It Matter Where Jesus Was Born?
You may be wondering why it matters whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem versus any other town in the region. Beyond the prophecy we have already mentioned, you need to understand just how much of Jesus’ life was foretold long before He ever took His first breath on this earth as a human.
There are literally hundreds of prophecies surrounding the life of Christ, all of them written centuries before Mary ever knew she was going to bear a child. With a discerning eye you can look at the Old Testament and see prophecies about His birthplace, His ministry, and His resurrection.
What does this tell us about God? For starters, He is both capable and willing to deliver on His promises made through the generations. It also tells us the birth of Christ is not something which happened by chance or at the last moment. God has been working through a story of redemption across the history of mankind. One of the most comforting truths to come out of this revelation is knowing the faith of billions of Christians over 2000 years can be backed up using the historical record and places which still exist on the map today.
Can We See Bethlehem Today?
Believe it or not, Bethlehem is a place you can still visit to this day. Unlike Santa’s workshop or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this is one aspect of the Christmas story you can physically experience. The “little town” is a little bigger these days partially due to the tourists and pilgrims passing through. One area many people wish to see is the Church of the Nativity, a UNESCO World Heritage Site considered to be the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Now that you know more about the origin of Christmas and the prophecies foretelling it centuries before, how would you like to join us on a life-changing journey to the Holy Land? Each year Premier Israel takes a number of trips alongside respected theologians, historians, and experts as we trace the story of the Bible and witness the beauty of the Middle East. Click on the banner below to find out how you can join Premier Israel on an unforgettable adventure. If you’d like to know more about the Christmas story from the Hebrew perspective, be sure to check out our new podcast, “Mysteries of the Messiah,” hosted by Rabbi Jason Sobel found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.