“The Christmas Story” is the story about the birth of Jesus Christ. However, usually people also include the story about the birth of John the Baptist because he was the “forerunner” of Jesus Christ and was born just six months before Jesus was.
The year was 7 B.C. It was about the first day of summer. (about Tammuz 1st on the Jewish calendar; about June 21st on our modern day Gregorian calendar) It was during the reign of King Herod I (also known as King Herod the Great) who reigned over Judea from 40 to 4 B.C. (Herod was appointed king of Judea in 40 B.C. by the Romans, but he did not take control of the city of Jerusalem until 3 years later in 37 B.C. That is why some sources say that he didn't begin his reign over Judea (all of Judea) until 37 B.C.) Luke 1:5–25 says,
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia (the Abijah of I Chronicles 24:10): and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said unto him, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name ‘John.’
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias (Elijah), to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.”
19 And the angel answering said unto him, “I am Gabriel, that stands in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.”
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25 “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.”
Then the story switches over to Mary of Nazareth, Galilee. It was now over five months since the angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zacharias in the temple and Elizabeth became pregnant. It was about the last month of autumn in 7 B.C. (about the month of Chislev on the Jewish calendar; about November 21st to December 20th on our modern day Gregorian calendar) Luke 1:26–38 says,
26 And in the sixth month (of Elizabeth's pregnancy) the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name ‘JESUS.’
32 He shall be great, and shall be called ‘the Son of the Highest:’ and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:
33 And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called ‘the Son of God.’
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
38 And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.
Notice in verse 28 that the angel, Gabriel, said to Mary, “Blessed art thou among women.” Thus, the angel called Mary a “woman” (an adult female), not a “girl” (a child female). Mary was an adult (at least 20 years of age) when she was engaged to Joseph. Mary was NOT a child.
Now what is the difference between Zacharias' encounter with the angel, Gabriel, and Mary's encounter with the angel, Gabriel? There is obviously a difference because Zacharias DID get in trouble for the question that he asked the angel, and he was made dumb (unable to speak) until the circumcision of John the Baptist. But Mary DID NOT get in trouble for the question that she asked the angel.
Zacharias said unto the angel, “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (verse 18).
Mary said unto the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (verse 34).
The difference is, that Zacharias' question was a question of doubt and unbelief, whereas, Mary's question was a question of, “What was God going to do to accomplish this?”
Zacharias said, “Whereby (By what? How?) shall I know this?” “How shall I know this?” This is a question that shows doubt and unbelief. In other words, “How shall I know this is true?” Zacharias' question was a question of doubt and unbelief.
Whereas Mary was just asking how she would become pregnant when she had never “known” a man. “How shall this be?” Mary did not doubt that she would become pregnant. She just wanted to know how God was going to accomplish this since she had never “known” a man. That is why she asked, “How shall this be? She said that she believed that it “shall be,” but she wanted to know how it would “shall be.”
Zacharias DID NOT believe the angel's words, but Mary DID believe the angel's words.
The angel said to Zacharias, “because thou believest not my words” (verse 20).
But Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (verse 38).
We have to switch over to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 1, now, to continue the Biblical story. Remember, we are still at about the last month of autumn in 7 B.C. (about the month of Chislev on the Jewish calendar; about November 21st to December 20th on our modern day Gregorian calendar) Matthew 1:18–25a says,
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name ‘JESUS:’ for He shall save His people from their sins.”
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name ‘Emmanuel,’ which being interpreted is, ‘God with us.’”
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son:….
We see here that Joseph married Mary immediately after she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, so that when the baby was born nine months later, people would assume that Mary must have gotten pregnant on their wedding night or soon after. No one knew—except Joseph and Mary and Zacharias and Elizabeth—that Mary was pregnant before she married Joseph. No doubt, when the angel appeared to Mary, it was very close to Joseph and Mary's already scheduled wedding day, and so Mary became pregnant right before their wedding day. Joseph and Mary did not have to move their wedding day up or elope in order to conceal the fact that Mary was pregnant before they got married. God would not have done anything to embarrass Joseph or Mary or to make it look in any way suspicious to people as to why they got married when they did. The Bible also tells us here that Joseph and Mary had no marital relations during their first nine months of marriage. (Nobody except Joseph and Mary and Zacharias and Elizabeth knew this either.) So Joseph and Mary didn't have their “honeymoon” until after Jesus was born!
At this point the story switches back over to the gospel of Luke, chapter 1. It was now about the last week of autumn in 7 B.C. (about the last week of the month of Chislev on the Jewish calendar; about December 14th to 20th on our modern day Gregorian calendar) Mary had just gotten pregnant (and married) and Elizabeth was about six months pregnant. Luke 1:39–56 says,
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah;
40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
55 As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.”
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
It was now about the first day of spring in 6 B.C. (about Nisan 1st on the Jewish calendar; about March 21st on our modern day Gregorian calendar) Elizabeth was nine months pregnant and ready to give birth, and Mary was now three months pregnant. Luke 1:57–79 says,
57 Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58 And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him ‘Zacharias,’ after the name of his father.
60 And his mother answered and said, “Not so; but he shall be called ‘John.’”
61 And they said unto her, “There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.”
62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, “His name is ‘John.’” And they marvelled all.
64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What manner of child shall this be!” And the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people,
69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David;
70 As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant;
73 The oath which He sware to our father Abraham,
74 That He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
76 And thou, child, shalt be called ‘the prophet of the Highest:’ for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways;
77 To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The Bible now jumps ahead almost six months to the time when Mary was almost ready to give birth to Jesus. It was now about the last week of summer in 6 B.C. (about the last week of Elul on the Jewish calendar; about September 14th to 20th on our modern day Gregorian calendar) The story continues in Luke chapter 2, starting in verse 1:
1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called “Bethlehem;” (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
The trip from Nazareth, Galilee to Bethlehem, Judea was south about 112 kilometers (105 kilometers south from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and 7 kilometers south and a little bit west from Jerusalem to Bethlehem), and with Mary being nine months pregnant, would have taken about a week, maybe less. The story continues…
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
It was now about the first day of autumn in 6 B.C. (Tishri 1st on the Jewish calendar; about September 21st on our modern day Gregorian calendar)
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
There are some people who maintain that Jesus was born on December 25th (instead of around September 21st). These people say that the shepherds were in the fields that night (December 25th) with their flocks. These people say that it was, and is, not that cold in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area in the wintertime. Therefore, they say, shepherds can be out in the fields with their flocks.
Their supposition, however, is erroneous. The Jerusalem-Bethlehem area is one of the coldest regions in Israel in the winter. These people base their supposition on books, encyclopedias, pamphlets, flyers, travel agencies, Israeli websites, weather bureaus, etc., that say that in the wintertime in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area, average temperatures range from about 6° to 12° Celsius.
The problem is that this information is talking about the average high daytime temperature! It is not talking about the average nighttime temperature!
It is true that the temperature can climb to over 15° Celsius in the daytime in the winter. It is also true that in the daytime in the winter some shepherds may be out in the fields with their flocks.
But each night the temperature normally drops to a low single digit temperature—even around the freezing point (0° Celsius)—even below the freezing point! It even snows sometimes and some water freezes! Also remember that “global warming” is not a myth. It is a reality. So the winter temperatures in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area were a little bit colder 2000 years ago than they are today. So even though shepherds may be out in the fields with their flocks in the daytime in the winter, they definitely would not be out with their flocks at night in the winter.
So these people that think that there were shepherds out with their flocks at night on December 25th because it isn't very cold in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area in the winter, need to get more complete information about the temperatures in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area at night!
We also have to understand that Augustus Caesar did not, and would not have, called for an enrollment for taxation purposes in the winter. Augustus Caesar knew that it would have been too hard for people to travel in the winter, when the temperatures at night were around the freezing point! So he called for the census in the summer of 6 B.C.
And God, Himself, would not have made Mary pregnant in the spring, knowing that she would have to give birth in the winter, if she was going to be outdoors at night in a manger! It would have been too cold, and too dangerous, for Mary to give birth to a baby outdoors at night in the wintertime! So, since God knew that Mary was going to give birth outdoors, at night, in a manger, in Bethlehem, God made sure that the baby came to full term and was born at the end of summer in 6 B.C., when Joseph and Mary were there for the census.
Another proof of the fact that Jesus was not born in the winter, is the fact that Jesus was water baptized by John the Baptist and entered the ministry about the time He turned 30 (Luke 3:21–23). If Jesus was born in the winter, His 30th birthday would have been in the winter, and He would have been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River in the winter. However, John the Baptist's ministry only lasted about six months—the three months of spring and the three months of summer (and maybe a week or two or so into the fall) in the year 25. John the Baptist did not baptize in the fall or winter because it would have been too cold.
Let's continue with our story.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Notice here that the Bible does not say the angels sang. It says that the angels said. There is a tradition that says the angels sang when they appeared to the shepherds in the field. There are even songs written and Christmas cards and Christmas decorations and posters and movies and books and other things made about the angels singing when Christ was born. But the angels did not sing when Christ was born. As a matter of fact, there is only one time in history when the angels sang—at the creation of the universe about 4½ billion years ago! And you would have to know your Bible pretty well to know where that verse is!
First of all, you would have to understand that in the Old Testament the term “morning stars” means “angels.” Then you would have to read the book of Job. When you got to chapter 38, verses 4 through 7, you would read:
4 “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
Now let's get back to our story.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Then the Bible jumps ahead eight days to Jesus' circumcision.
21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, His name was called “JESUS,” which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
Leviticus 12:1–3 says,
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.’”
Then Luke, chapter 2, jumps ahead 32 days to the end of Mary's purification. The purification time after giving birth to a boy was 40 days.
22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord;
23 (As it is written in the law of the LORD, “Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;”)
24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Leviticus 12:4–8 says,
4 “‘And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.
5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.
6 And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
7 Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.
8 And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.’”
These verses prove that Mary was a “sinner.” Though she lived a righteous life and was a virgin when Jesus was born, she was a sinner “by nature,” just like every other person in the Old Testament. That is why she had to bring a “sin offering” to “make an atonement for her.” She was not “immaculately conceived without sin” as some say.
Also remember that in Luke 1:46 Mary said, “my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Savior.” If Mary was not a sinner, she would not have or need a Savior.
These verses also tell us that Joseph and Mary were poor people at the time of Jesus' birth because they could not afford a lamb and a turtledove or pigeon. Therefore, Mary had to bring two turtledoves. (However, this does not mean that Jesus grew up poor, because when Jesus was about one-and-a-half years old, the wise men visited Him and His parents at their home in Nazareth, Galilee and gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.)
Jesus was now at least 40 days old. (This is about the same amount of time as modern day doctors say (six weeks) that a mother who has just given birth to a baby should take off—at a minimum—before returning to work. Doctors also usually want the mother to come in for a six-week check-up.)
Obviously, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stayed in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area all this time after Jesus was born. (Remember, Bethlehem is only about seven kilometers from Jerusalem.) And once people had done their duty, and registered for the census for taxation purposes, they would have gone home. So then the inn rooms opened up for Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus to stay in.
Let's continue with our story.
25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law,
28 Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
33 And Joseph and His mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of Him.
34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser (Asher): she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
So by the time that Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus got back home to Nazareth, Galilee, Jesus was about seven or eight weeks old.
This is the end of the Christmas story as recorded in the Bible.
Note 1: Some people mistakenly think that the wise men that are mentioned in Matthew, chapter 2, are a part of the Christmas story. They come to this conclusion because of a misreading of Matthew 2:1–2 which says,
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, “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.”
Because these verses follow the last verses in Matthew chapter 1, some people assume that the events that are listed in chapter 2 happened the same day of, or within days of, the events recorded in chapter 1. But as we have seen throughout the Christmas story in the Bible (and all through the Bible), sometimes there are many months, even years, between verses in the Bible. Such is the case here. There are almost one-and-a-half years in between chapter 1 and chapter 2 of Matthew's gospel.
The first two verses of Matthew chapter 2 are saying that the wise men saw the star first appear when Jesus was born. Then they packed up and began their journey from the east. They did not see the star or begin their journey before Jesus was born. So they could not possibly have arrived at the manger in Bethlehem on the night of, or within a few days of, His birth!
“The east” means the eastern part of the continent of Asia (somewhere around the area where China is; sometimes called “the orient”). It would have taken them about 16 or 17 months to make the journey from the eastern part of the continent of Asia to the western part of the continent of Asia. There were virtually no roads, or bridges across rivers. There were mountain ranges and underbrush and jungles and vast open plains. They would have had to travel in a caravan. They would have needed to carry food, clothing, and tents for shelter. They would have needed some sort of soldiers with weapons in case of thieves or hostile people.
There were quite a number of people that made the journey from the orient—not just three people! We can clearly see this from the next verse:
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
The king was troubled, and the whole city of Jerusalem with him. Three guys walking into the city of Jerusalem would not have troubled the king and the whole city!
The wise men—however many there were (The Bible does not say that there were three.)—and their caravan would probably have arrived in Jerusalem in the beginning of 4 B.C. (about January or the beginning of February on our modern day Gregorian calendar; about the last half of the month of Tebeth, or the month of Shebat on the Jewish calendar)
Herod then called in the Jewish Bible scholars to find out about the birth of “the King of the Jews.”
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, “In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 ‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.’”
Herod knew that the wise men and their caravan had been traveling for a long time. He also knew that the star had appeared when Christ was born—not before. So he asked them how long ago the star appeared so that he could figure out how old Christ was.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
The wise men then explained to King Herod that the star had appeared about 16 or 17 months ago. So Herod then sent them to Bethlehem.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also.”
Herod lied to the wise men when he said that he wanted to come and worship Christ. He was planning to kill Him.
Herod had erroneously made the assumption, that because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that He must live there, so He would still be there almost a year-and-a-half later. In the vast majority of cases, in those days, this would be true. People did not travel away from home to give birth to babies in a hospital that may be in another city, like we do today. But at the time of Jesus' birth, there was a census for taxation purposes going on and everyone had to go to their own city where their lineage was from to register. So at the time of Jesus' birth there were many people—including pregnant women—that were not in their “home towns.” (The Romans didn't care that they made pregnant women travel long distances for the census.)
The wise men then left.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Notice that Jesus was no longer a “baby.” He was a “young child” now. This means that He was now old enough to walk and talk. He was almost one-and-a-half years old.
Also notice that the wise men came into “the house,” not into “a manger,” or “a room in the inn.”
The wise men did not travel the 7 kilometers south and a little west to the town of Bethlehem when they left Herod. The star guided them 105 kilometers north to the town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee.
It should also be pointed out here that the star was some sort of a supernatural occurrence. It was not some ordinary occurrence in the heavens where planets and/or stars or other celestial bodies appeared grouped together or something. The star guided the wise men to a specific house in the town of Nazareth. The star was directly over the house where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living. If it was some sort of natural celestial occurrence, there would be no way you could say that the “star,” which was millions of kilometers, even light years away, and thousands, even millions of times the size of earth, could be over a specific house, and not over the house next door!
And, no doubt, the idea that there were 3 wise men, sprang from the fact that there were 3 gifts presented to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But we don't know how many wise men there were. There could have been 2, or 102, or any number greater than 1!
The wise men were then told by God to go home without returning to Jerusalem.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
The wise men, remember, were 105 kilometers north of Jerusalem in the town of Nazareth, Galilee. So instead of walking and/or riding the 105 kilometers south to Jerusalem, and then turning and going east to begin their journey home, they just simply left Nazareth and headed east towards home.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
The reason that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus left in the middle of the night, was so that none of their friends, relatives, or neighbors would know that they were leaving or where they went. That way, if Herod's men questioned, or even tortured, their friends, relatives, or neighbors to try to find out where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were, their friends, relatives, and neighbors wouldn't and couldn't tell them.
15 And was there (in Egypt) until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy (Jeremiah) the prophet, saying,
18 “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
At this point, Herod figured out that the wise men were not coming back to tell him where Christ was. He, no doubt, also learned that the wise men had never gone to Bethlehem. This is why he killed all the children from two years old and under in the entire nation of Israel, and not just in the Bethlehem area—because he didn't know where Christ was. If Herod had only killed all the children from two years old and under in the Bethlehem area, there would have been no reason for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to travel to Egypt to be safe from Herod's slaughter.
Obviously, the reason that Herod killed all the children from two years old and under, was because he knew that Jesus was about one-and-a-half years old, and if he killed all the children from two years old and under, he would be sure to kill Jesus too. But unbeknownst to Herod, Jesus and Joseph and Mary were safe in Egypt at this time.
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 Saying, “Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.”
21 And he arose, and took the young child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
23 And he (Joseph) came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He (Jesus) shall be called a Nazarene.”
King Herod I was judged by God and died on March 13, 4 B.C., shortly after murdering all the children two years old and under in Israel. So Joseph, Mary, and Jesus moved back home to Nazareth, Galilee shortly after this date.
Note 2: Sometimes you see timelines that have the birth of Christ in 5 B.C. instead of 6 B.C. These timelines will then have Jesus' death in 30 A.D. instead of 29 A.D. These timelines are simply made by people who claim that the wise men came to Bethlehem when Jesus was a newborn infant.
Note 3: It is pretty much common knowledge among Christians and non-Christians, that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th. This is just the date that was chosen to celebrate His birth. But how did December 25th come to be the date that we celebrate Jesus' birth?
Surely Jesus knew His birthday when He walked on the earth. His parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends would also have known His birthday. His twelve apostles surely would have known His birthday. But we don't have any written records of the date of His birth.
The early Christians did not celebrate the birth of Christ. They only celebrated His resurrection. So the date of His birth was forgotten.
Because the exact date of His birthday was unknown, when Christians began to celebrate His birthday, His birthday was celebrated over the years on various days.
The Romans had a festival that they celebrated every year from about December 17th to December 25th called, “Saturnalia.” This festival was a pagan festival that celebrated their belief that Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest, was in need of Sol Invictus, the sun god (of the Later Roman Empire), to complete his job. This was necessary because they were losing sunlight each day, and the sunlight was needed for the crops to grow and bear fruit and be harvested.
The date of December 25th for the celebration of Jesus' birth was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church in 354 A.D. to coincide with the last day of the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was the winter solstice on the Julian calendar. (The winter solstice on our modern day Gregorian calendar is December 20th, 21st, 22nd, or 23rd.) The idea was to draw the pagans that celebrated Saturnalia into Roman Catholicism.
The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that, “The early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25th did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that month, but because the heathens' Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”
Many of the traditions that we celebrate Christmas with, came from things that were done by the Romans in their celebration of Saturnalia.