“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)
Beginning in Luke 2:4, the Gospel writer moves from the general to the specific. He has introduced a decree issuing a census for the entire Roman world and its citizens in vs. 1-3. We now see how this decree from Rome would impact a couple from Nazareth in Galilee.
Joseph, upon hearing the news concerning the decree, displays his obedience to the government in charge by submitting himself and his betrothed wife Mary to the census. Joseph and Mary traveled from the region of Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to the region of Judea, to the City of David which is called Bethlehem. They did so because their ancestry related them to David (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:38).
Dr. John MacArthur writes that, “Both Joseph and Mary were descendants of David and therefore went to their tribal home in Judea to be registered. This was a difficult trek of more than 70 miles through mountainous terrain—a particularly grueling journey for Mary, on the verge of delivery. Perhaps she and Joseph were conscious that a birth in Bethlehem would fulfill the prophecy in Mic. 5:2.”
6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).
Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Luke records that it was her firstborn son, but subsequently not her only son (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6). Mary and Joseph would consummate their marriage and have children together. Mary would not remain a perpetual virgin.
Mary wrapped Jesus in what is referred to as swaddling cloths (σπαργανόω; sparganoo). These cloths were literally strips of material used to tightly bind a baby. It kept the baby from scratching their face or eyes with their often sharp fingernails.
Mary laid Jesus in a manger, which is an animal’s feeding trough. This face gives credence to the speculation that Jesus was born in some type of stable or caravansary. However, no actual description of the location of Jesus’s birth is given.
We also know that there was no place for them in the inn or guest room (κατάλυμα; katalyma). This was due to the presumably large number of people traveling to Bethlehem to register for the census.
The humility and relative obscurity of Christ’s birth parallels the words from Philippians 2: 5-7 which says, “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Puritan Matthew Henry writes, “The place where our Lord Jesus was born is very observable. He was born at Bethlehem; so it was foretold (Mic. 5:2), the scribes so understood it (Mt. 2:5, 6), so did the common people, Jn. 7:42. The name of the place was significant. Bethlehem signifies the house of bread; a proper place for him to be born in who is the Bread of life, the Bread that came down from heaven. But that was not all; Bethlehem was the city of David, where he was born, and therefore there he must be born who was the Son of David. Zion (Jerusalem) was also called the city of David (2 Sa. 5:7), yet Christ was not born there; for Bethlehem was that city of David where he was born in meanness, to be a shepherd; and this our Savior, when he humbled himself, chose for the place of his birth.”
Soli deo Gloria!