“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register” (Luke 2:1–3, NIV).
Sadly, too many read those words and overlook the importance of Caesar Augustus’ role in the birth of Christ. Yet it is an excellent example of how God works through the will of man to accomplish his own purposes. Because of Caesar Augustus, God the Father’s plan for the entry of his Son into this sin-cursed world happened exactly on schedule.
This pagan king considered himself to be a god. He ruled the entire Mediterranean world from Parthia to Britain and ushered in the Pax Romana or Roman peace. As a result he had the power to enforce his will on the Jews.
Rulers usually demanded a census so that they would know how many able-bodied men were available for military service. In the case of the Jews, Augustus wanted to know how much tax money he could exact from them. Why he insisted that they travel to their hometowns is a mystery. He did not realize that, by enforcing his own will on the Jews, he was carrying out the sovereign will of God.
From eternity past God determined to put his marvellous plan of salvation into action by sending Jesus as a little baby at that particular point in time (Galatians 4:4). Six hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Daniel prophesied that in the time of the fourth kingdom, God would set up an eternal kingdom (Daniel 2:44). The fourth kingdom was the Roman Empire. Moreover the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2.
How wonderful are God’s plans! He would accomplish his plan of salvation in history as promised from the beginning of time (Genesis 3:15). Jesus, who is the promised Seed, came to earth to die for sinners. Caesar Augustus played a pivotal role in this plan.