It started with Mary. She was a young Jewish girl engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. Mary thought she had her life planned: marriage, bearing children, raising a family, growing old together with Joseph, one day seeing her own grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren.
Mary had no idea that she would experience a monumental, life-changing event, a major step that would be part of the overarching Plan of God, affecting all people—past, present and future.
One day, Mary came face to face with an angel. Actually, it was an archangel, named Gabriel. He, along with Michael and Lucifer, is one of three Cherubim named in the Bible. Each archangel had charge over one-third of hundreds of millions of angels (Rev. 12:4; 5:11).
God had sent Gabriel to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, to carry out a special mission. “Hail, you who are highly favored,” he greeted young Mary. “The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.”
Mary knew about Old Testament accounts of God-fearing men and women who had encountered angels. Now she was standing before such a being. Naturally, she was startled, rendered virtually speechless; after all, God rarely sends angels to appear before human beings.
As Gabriel watched her struggle to find the right words in response, he said, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
The angel’s words put her at ease—though she was taken aback when she heard Gabriel deliver earth-shattering news: “Behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name ‘JESUS.’ He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
For centuries, the house of Judah had suffered under the brutal attacks, conquests and oppression of foreign kingdoms and empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks—and now the Romans. With each generation of the Jewish peoples came a national longing for the long-awaited Messiah, or Christ, which means “anointed.”
“Finally,” Mary thought, “the Messiah will arrive and set things right!” Then she thought deeply within herself: “Christ will be born through my flesh?—How can this be? I have never been with a man.”
Mary was a virgin. Truly the conception and birth of this special Child, who “shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), would be extraordinary—miraculous—unique in all history.
Gabriel explained that her special pregnancy would be made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit—the same limitless power God used to create and sustain the vast, ever-expanding universe (John 1:1-3; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).
Mary had much to think about. There was Joseph, her fiancé, who expected to marry a virgin: Would he believe Mary’s explanation that her pregnancy was of God? There was her family: Would they think Mary had shamed herself and her family members by being unfaithful to Joseph? And there were her friends, neighbors and peers: Would they conclude that she would give birth to an illegitimate child?
To encourage her, Gabriel announced that Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin, “has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:36-37).
His words strengthened Mary. She replied, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word” (vs. 38). No matter what she would encounter from this point forward—even possibly being ostracized by Joseph and all her loved ones—Mary was determined to follow God’s will.
Two Cousins—Two Very Special Pregnancies
Mary went to stay with Elisabeth for a while, and learned that her elderly cousin had also encountered Gabriel. First, the archangel had appeared to Elisabeth’s husband, Zachariah, telling the priest that his wife would give birth to a son, despite her advanced age and never having bore any child.
Gabriel told the parents they were to name the baby “John,” saying the child “shall be called the prophet of the Highest: for [he] shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways” (Luke 1:76).
Zachariah and Elisabeth would rear John to be set apart for special service to God: For the rest of his life he would abstain from wine or strong alcoholic beverages. Also, John was to be filled with God’s Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15).
Gabriel explained that John, “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), was to “prepare the way before…the Lord” (Mal. 3:1)—Christ’s First Coming. (John’s Elijah ministry would be a forerunner of another man centuries later—an end-time Elijah—whose ministry God would use to prepare a people for Christ’s Second Coming.)
Character and Genealogy
Three months later, Mary returned home, not knowing how Joseph would react to her noticeable pregnancy. Joseph, quite naturally, was shocked. As she told of her account with Gabriel and that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son, the Christ, Joseph struggled to control his emotions. As much as he wanted to believe Mary, it was hard for him to believe she had not been unfaithful to him—that she was somehow a virgin, yet obviously pregnant, and that God was the father of her unborn Child.
How could such a thing possibly be? Joseph may have thought.
According to the custom of the day, an engagement was considered a binding agreement, with the engaged couple viewed as being practically married. Thus, Joseph was considered (by tradition) to be Mary’s “husband” (Matt. 1:18-19), except they were not to engage in sexual relations until after their official wedding ceremony. Seeing that Mary was clearly pregnant and knowing he was not the father, Joseph naturally felt betrayed. Legally, it was within his rights to publicly humiliate her.
But Joseph was made of unusual character, and deeply loved Mary. Instead of calling attention to her alleged adultery, he decided to handle the situation honorably by quietly annulling their agreement to marry.
That night, as Joseph weighed the matter in his mind, Gabriel appeared to him in a dream. The archangel confirmed that Mary had not been unfaithful, and that the Child she carried was of God. Joseph awoke and followed Gabriel’s instruction to take Mary as his wife, not to engage in sexual relations until after she gave birth, and to help her rear Jesus into adulthood.
Since God can turn the hearts of kings and commoners alike to fulfill His great purpose, He could have selected any couple at random to bear and rear His Son. Yet God chose Mary and Joseph for at least two reasons:
First, God had foretold long ago that a Messiah—an anointed King and Savior—would come from the Israelite tribe of Judah, born from the line of King David. Both Mary and Joseph were Jews, descended from David; through their genealogy, Jesus could confirm that He descended from the Davidic bloodline both physically (through His mother) and legally (through His step-father, who was Jesus’ legal guardian).
Second, though Mary and Joseph were not perfect, they were people of honor and character. Adultery and all other forms of promiscuity were common then as they are today—yet Mary saved her virginity for her future husband. Also, rather than rebelling against God, she submitted to His will, despite the rumors and whisperings of being an unwed mother. And Joseph, despite initially presuming the love of his life had been unfaithful to him, acted honorably instead of with public indignation (Matt. 1:19).
Jesus’ Birth: Separating Fact From Fiction!
Most people are, to varying degrees, familiar with the tale about Joseph and a pregnant Mary journeying to Bethlehem, a small village just outside Jerusalem, to register in an empire-wide census decreed by Rome. According to the story, the couple arrived to find Bethlehem filled with visitors from the region, leaving the young couple without a place to stay at the local inn. Ever resourceful, Joseph and Mary made the most of the situation by temporarily staying in a stable, where the young mother supposedly gave birth to Jesus on December 25.
Then shepherds out in the wilderness witnessed a great star in the heavens—a sign that the Christ Child was born. Also, three “wise men” from the East came to Bethlehem to honor Jesus. Herod, Rome’s client king over Judea, felt threatened by Jesus’ existence. Since he could not find the Child, Herod decided to massacre all baby boys that were estimated to be Jesus’ age.
Or so went the account, which grew over the centuries, weaving chapters from the Bible with Xmas myths originating from Babylonian mystery religions practiced by idol worshippers since the tower of Babel! To understand the events surrounding Jesus Christ’s birth and His early years, we must separate fact from fiction.
First, despite what billions today believe, Jesus was not born on December 25, or even in winter. He was, in all probability, born in early autumn.
Notice the Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5, page 370, New York edition: “It was custom among Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts about the Passover [early spring], and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain.” The first rains began in early to mid-fall.
Continuing with this same quote: “During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As…the first rain began early in the month of March-esvan, which answers to part of our October and November [begins sometime in October], we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground, the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact…See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.”
Luke 2:8 explains that when Christ was born “there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Note that they were “abiding” in the field. This never happened in December. Both Ezra 10:9-13 and the Song of Solomon 2:11 show that winter was the rainy season and shepherds could not stay on cold, open fields at night.
Numerous encyclopedias plainly state that Jesus was not born on December 25. Even The Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this!
Then from where did the festival associated with this date originate?
Read the following quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica, under “Christmas”: “In the Roman world, the Saturnalia (December 17) was a time of merrymaking and exchanging of gifts. December 25 was also regarded as the birthdate of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun of Righteousness. On the Roman New Year (January 1), houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. To these observances were added the German and Celtic Yule rites when the Teutonic tribes penetrated into Gaul, Britain and central Europe. Food and good fellowship, the Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees, gifts and greetings all commemorated different aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights, symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always been associated with the winter festival, both pagan and Christian” (15th Edit. Vol. II, p. 903).
Next is a quote from the December 1984 Toronto Star article: “We owe a lot to Druids, Dutch,” by Alan Edmonds: “The Reformation cast a blight on Christmas. By then, of course, clever ecclesiastical politicians had adopted the pagan mid-winter festival as the alleged birthdate of Jesus, of Nazareth, and thrown in a few other pagan goodies to make their takeover more palatable.”
December 25 was not selected because it was the birth of Jesus Christ or because it was near that date. It was selected because the 25th of December coincided with the idolatrous pagan festival Saturnalia!
In any event, we do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth (though in all likelihood, He was born in the fall). While God certainly could have made it clearly known, He chose to hide it from the world’s eyes.
For years, the birth of Jesus has been shrouded in the pagan trappings of Christmas, whose traditions and practices predate Christ’s earthly ministry by thousands of years! (Our booklet The True Origin of Christmas thoroughly explains this in greater detail.)
Billions around the world exchange gifts with each other every December 25, believing they are following the “three wise men’s” custom of giving birthday gifts to Jesus. Yet the “three wise men” of the Xmas myth are called “magi” in the Bible, magicians from the East—Scripture does not specify how many had come to visit Jesus. Also, the magi gave gifts to the Christ Child out of respect and royal tradition: They acknowledged Him to be a king, and thus treated Him as such, practicing the custom of giving gifts to a royal ruler. These were not birthday gifts—by the time the magi visited Jesus, He and His parents were no longer in the stable; they were in a house, and the Bible refers to Christ as a “young child” (Matt. 2:8, 11), not a baby. Much time had passed between Jesus birth and the magi’s visit. This is why Herod massacred baby boys up to two years old—he wasn’t sure how many years had gone by since Jesus had been born!
When we separate fact from fiction—that is, biblical truth from the lies and deceits of pagan myth and legend—we get a better, much clearer, view of the true Christ!
Christ’s Ministry—Vastly Overlooked Purpose
When the magi asked Herod, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:1-2), Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (vs. 3).
Why? Herod learned from the Jewish religious leaders that Christ was foretold to be born in Bethlehem—this came from God’s Word. You would think that Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” would be excited over the news, not “troubled.”
Herod and the religious authorities of the day felt threatened by Christ’s very existence—why?
The story of Jesus Christ’s miraculous conception and birth is known worldwide and has been taught from generation to generation for nearly 2,000 years. But what did it mean? What was its true significance?
The Bible identifies Jesus as “the Word,” an eternal, all-knowing, all-power God-being “who was with God, and…was God” (John 1:1). “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (vs. 14)—He voluntarily lowered Himself to become limited, corruptible flesh, subject to weariness and death.
The world and its varying and competing denominations, sects, arms, churches and movements of professing Christianity preach that Jesus came to save the whole world. “For God so loved the world,” their pastors, teachers and religionists frequently recite, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Even those who have never opened a Bible are familiar with the biblical account of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit, thus cutting themselves off from the utopian Garden of Eden—and more importantly, from the One who created it: God.
Subsequently, every man, woman and child for the past 6,000 years have had at least one thing in common: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “All” means ALL—not “some,” not “most.” Every human being—even Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Daniel and other righteous, faithful servants of God—has sinned.
But what is sin?
The leaders and instructors of the world’s two billion-plus professing Christians talk about sin—more accurately, they talk around sin, freely promoting their own human interpretation and personal opinion of what sin is—yet they do not stand before their listeners, open their Bibles and read aloud I John 3:4: “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4).
God’s Word is plain—blunt—it means what it says. Simply put, sin is lawlessness. That law—God’s Law—is “holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12) and is “spiritual” (vs. 14). Religionists preach a message of “Come as you are,” shamelessly proclaiming that “Jesus did away with the Law” and removed “the terrible burden of keeping it.”
Yet the Word of God—“quick [living], powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12) and “cannot be broken” (John 10:35)—declares the opposite: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3).
Breaking even one of God’s commandments earns the offender the same penalty as breaking all of them. Notice: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if you commit no adultery, yet if you kill, you are become a transgressor of the law” (Jms. 2:10-11).
The penalty of sin—the wages one earns for breaking God’s Law—is plainly defined: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Some have tried to rationalize this verse. “This doesn’t literally mean death,” they claim. “It means being cut off from God.”
Yet God declares that man is already cut off from Him! Notice: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2).
Because of sin, of lawlessness, humanity is already separated from God. Death is the ultimate state of being cut off from our Maker. This is twice reiterated in the Old Testament: “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20).
There are two ways to satisfy the wages of breaking the laws of God:
(A) One can die for his own sins and thus pay the penalty. But there is one problem: Once a sinner is dead, he stays dead.
(B) Someone else can die in that person’s stead. However, the rest of Ezekiel 18, verse 20, shows that a human being cannot pay for the sins of others; each person can only pay for his or her own transgressions.
It takes the death of a supreme, innocent, eternal God-being to satisfy the penalty for all of man’s sins—past, present and future.
Humanity needed a Savior!
“In the beginning was the Word,” the apostle John wrote, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Two divine Beings, both called God.
In Genesis 1:26, it was God—Elohim, a uniplural term in the original Hebrew, indicating more than one—who said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”
Through the Word, “All things were made…and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3)—“For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him” (Col. 1:16).
The Word voluntarily decided to be born of a woman, to become God in the flesh. Because He was the Supreme Creator, His divine life far out-valued His creation. And because He was physical, He could be capable of committing sin; yet if He never strayed, never broke God’s laws, He as a God-Being in the flesh could offer His sinless, innocent life as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice. Man would have a Savior.
But human beings, who love to go to extremes, focus almost exclusively on Jesus’ role as Savior—but ignore that Christ was born to be a king! False religious leaders, whether knowingly or unknowingly, assert that Christ’s role as Savior is the “climax of the plan of God for humanity.”
It is not the climax—it is the beginning of God’s Plan and purpose for mankind. A Savior is necessary for sins to be forgiven, for people’s lives to be wiped clean, no longer under the penalty of death. Yet religionists and theologians of this world leap to the conclusion that “the forgiveness of sin will solve man’s problems.” The trends, problems, troubles and ills saturated throughout man’s governments and societies will not suddenly disappear if everyone simply said, “I accept Jesus as my Savior,” and ask God to forgive their sins.
Something else must take place, and Christ set the pattern to follow: conforming to the laws and ways of the kingdom of God. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. He was sent to qualify to replace Satan as world ruler. Upon His Second Coming, Christ will establish God’s government on the earth to rule all nations. During His First Coming, Jesus represented God’s kingdom and instructed all whom His Father would call (John 6:44). He taught them how to obey the gospel—to come out of the world’s ways and become ambassadors of God’s government of peace, following Christ’s command to “Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
Remember, Gabriel told Mary that God would give her Son “the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
At the end of His ministry, Jesus said, “My kingdom [government] is not of this world” (John 18:36). When asked if He were a king, Christ responded, “You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause [reason] came I into the world” (vs. 37).
This was prophesied in the book of Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever” (Isa. 9:6-7).
For this reason, Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” were troubled. They feared losing their positions of civil and religious leadership Rome had permitted them to enjoy. They were also fearful of how the Roman Empire would react to the appearance of a “rival king” claiming rulership over Judea. Yet these carnal minds did not understand that Christ would not set up His kingdom from Jerusalem in their lifetimes, but at the end of the age.
There is something else they did not grasp: When the Son of God does return, nothing can stop Him from establishing His world-ruling supergovernment—not Satan or his demons, and certainly not the armies and governments of men!
Jesus Christ was born into humble circumstances, yet His life and ministry—and the Work He is leading today from heaven—lays the groundwork for man’s incredible future and potential.