Written by Rev Zheng Biqing
“1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”Luke 2:1,10
We love to recite chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke every year during the Christmas season. Dr. Luke chose to begin his nativity narrative purposefully with the decree of Caesar Augustus. Augustus was the first Roman emperor who initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana in 27 BCE. It is a period of time when the Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries.
Among the first century artifacts that were unearthed by archaeologists is a white marble-stele inscribed with a decree dated 9 BCE issued by Paulus Fabius Maximus, the then proconsul of the Asia province. He decreed for the new year to begin on the birthday of Augustus for all cities in Asia. Below is an extract of the decree:
“The most divine Caesar…we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things…; for when everything was falling and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aspect; Caesar…the common good Fortune of all…The Beginning of life and vitality…all the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year… Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us Augustus, whom it filled with virtue for the welfare of men, and who, being sent to us and our descendants as a Saviour, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and having become manifest, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times, in surpassing all the benefactors who preceded him…, and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of good news.”(cited from Richad Harsley, Liberation of Christmas)
I believe you are as astonished as I am at the similarity between the description of Augustus and our long-expected Messiah! The decree deified Augustus as the savior god and placed the hope of world peace on his shoulder. It was during the reign of this man-declared “messiah” that the true Divine in heaven sent the true Messiah into the world. He is the true begotten Son of God, the true resurrection and the life, and the true Beginning and End; for from Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. He will shatter the yoke that burdens the world, and He will burn every trampling boot of battle and every bloodstained garment as fuel for the fire. There will be no end to His government and its peace. With His birth, a new age and a new Kingdom have dawned. Augustus lived 75 years and he is no more. But the Lord Jesus lives even today! One day He shall descend from heaven again in majestic glory and set His throne on the new heaven and new earth, and we will live in His reign forever! Praise Immanuel, God with us! Amen!