Augustus was the founder of the Roman Empire, and its first Emperor, ruling from 27BC until his death in 14AD.
Born Gaius Octavius, to an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebian Octavii family, in 44BC… he was adopted posthumously by his maternal great-uncle Gaius Julius Caesar following Caesar’s assassination. Together Marc Antony and Marcus Lepidus, he formed the 2nd Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves, and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvirate was torn apart by competition between the 3: Lepidus was exiled and stripped of his title, Antony committed suicide following his defeat in the Battle of Actium to Augustus in 31BC… and this left Augustus.
After the demise of the Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward face of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, though, he retained his power over the Republic as military dictator. By law, Augustus held powers granted to him for life by the Senate. And, he began to build the framework toward a Roman Empire.
Augustus would die in 14AD at the age of 75. He probably died from natural causes, though there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson & former son-in-law), Tiberius.
It is almost certain that Caesar Augustus never heard of Jesus of Nazareth during his whole life. But, the ripple effect of Caesar’s actions and decisions would affect Jesus, who would forever change the world – including the Roman Empire over which Augustus founded.
During his reign as Emperor, Augustus unquestionable achieved many great things… and changed the world by his accomplishments. But, it was something as simple as a census for tax purposes that forever linked him with the very birth of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Around 4BC, a census ordered by Augustus led Joseph and his betrothed wife, Mary, to return to Bethlehem, his ancestral home. While they were there, Jesus was born… which fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah’s birthplace (Micah 5:2).
The Decree by Caesar Augustus
I. The Law… Luke 2:1-3
All people were required to return to their ancestral homes because of a census.
II. The Location… Luke 2:4,5
Joseph & Mary traveled to Bethlehem. While there, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
God had been arranging things for the timing of Christ’s birth for years… making sure everything was just right:
– Much of the known, civilized world was now under one government.
Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia, expanded possessions in Africa, expanded into Germania, and completed the conquest of Hispania. From Spain to an “unimportant” area called Palestine…
– The Pax Romana guaranteed law and order throughout the whole civilized world… political peace.
This “Roman Peace” meant the Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than 200 years!
– There was an organized system of Roman roads.
– The dispersion of the Jews brought about the spread of the Jewish religion to all parts of the Mediterranean world… which would, of course, bridge to Christianity.
– A language (Greek) was common throughout.
– The Old Testament had been recently translated into Greek… the Septuagint.
– There were deep moral and religious longings that characterized many of the more serious-minded people in the pagan world; there was a human hunger for real contact with God.
Augustus never had any idea what effect his census would have on the future of the world, but that just further shows how amazing our God is – that He can orchestrate such complex and minute details as the ordering of a census at just the right time to fulfill His perfect will for His people.
Never forget that God is an active God… always working His will His way.
You can read the story of Caesar Augustus in Luke 2:1-5.