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Christmas: Why is Jesus said to be of Nazareth but born in Bethlehem? 

Gary Googe Dec 20

The answer to this can be found by examining His childhood days as recorded in Scripture.  The King James Bible text mentions in twenty places that Jesus was of Nazareth though He was born in Bethlehem of southern Israel [Matthew 21:11; 26:71; Mark 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Luke 4:34; 18:37; 24:19; John 1:45; 18:5; 18:7; 19:19; Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:38; 22:8; 26:9] which is not to be confused with another Bethlehem in northern Israel.  Obviously, there must be some importance to this about Nazareth being mentioned so many times in Scripture.

We find that His birth in Bethlehem was prophesied in Scripture many centuries earlier, probably sometime between 750-700 B.C.

Micah 5:2

2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. [Emphasis added] 

We need to realize that His earthly rulership over Israel won’t come until His Second Coming.  We find in the Bible some passages that speak of things pertaining to His First Coming while others pertain to His Second Coming.  In what we speak of as Old Testament times people didn’t understand that there would be not one, but two “comings” or “advents” for Him.  We find comments about the literal fulfillment of this First Coming, His incarnation, in several passages of Scripture.

Matthew 2:1-2, 5-6

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,

You can learn some interesting things about these “wise men” in my article about them on our website.

Christmas:  What about the three wise men?

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.

Again, His literal Kingship of gaining a throne on Earth won’t occur until His Second Advent.  These “wise men” didn’t realize that either.  Nevertheless, we know that He is a King like no other, but such was not His role in His First Coming.  Now we know that “the cross” had to come before “the crown.” So, His entrance into the world here takes place in Bethlehem of Judea.

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 Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. [Emphasis added]

Again, that last phrase about ruling over His people is to do with His Second Coming [or Advent]. Then we have Luke’s account of all this, telling us much the same.

Luke 2:4-7

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.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

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. [Emphasis added]

For information about “swaddling clothes” please see my article about them.

Christmas:  What are “swaddling” clothes?

The Bible also tells us that because of his fears of an insurrection, King Herod the Great who ruled then sought to murder the child when claims were made that a future king for Israel had been born.  Even God’s angels were announcing this birth.

Luke 2:13-14

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. [Emphasis added]

Here, again, we have another comment that pertains to His Second Coming, not His First.  Note His comment about this.

Matthew 10:34-35

34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother-in-law. [Emphasis added]

Does that read like “peace” to you? It doesn’t to me either!  People mistakenly thought He’d come to run off or destroy the Roman army that was in the land and establish the prophesied earthly kingdom.  But that was not the case at all.  Even all the apostles were thinking this right after His resurrection.  Of all the things they could have asked, please note what was apparently the most pressing question on their minds.  Everyone who thinks His kingdom has already come [those called post Millennials] needs to read this.

Acts 1:6

6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? [Emphasis added]

They were all still thinking He was then going to establish the promised earthly kingdom.

Now let’s get back to our Luke passage.

Luke 2:15-22

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.

Word was spreading quickly about this birth.

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 after Christ’s birth, as per the command of the Scriptures, He was circumcised on the eighth day.

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.

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; [Emphasis added]

Because of the threat of Herod, the two-year-old boy was taken to Egypt to be protected.  Then, once word had reached them that Herod had died, Jesus was returned to Israel.  But because they feared Herod’s son Archelaus, who was by this time ruling over the area of Bethlehem, they moved to Nazareth. Therefore, the town where Jesus would spend the rest of His childhood would not be Bethlehem, but Nazareth.

Apparently, Nazareth was where Joseph and Mary had lived prior to their marriage [Luke 1:26; Luke 2:4,39,51]The taking of a census by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus had forced them to move to Bethlehem of Judah just before Jesus’ birth.  Of course, Herod had no idea that he had a part in causing the 700-year-old Bible prophecy of Micah regarding the place of Jesus’ birth to be fulfilled.  This event should remind us all as believers that God will protect us from political and national upheaval as long as He has a plan for us to be here serving Him.  We just need to be open to His guidance in our decision-making as things develop.  Furthermore, on that note, if He doesn’t have things here for us to do, why would you want to still be here anyway?  Wouldn’t entrance into a place as glorious as Heaven be far better.  This was precisely the apostle Paul’s attitude about such and should be ours.

Philippians 1:23

23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: [Emphasis added]

Therefore, it was to Nazareth that the family went.  It would be there that Jesus would have the protection He needed for the time of His childhood.

Luke 2:51-52

51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

We find that it was there that He not only matured physically and mentally, but spiritually as well.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. [Emphasis added]

Many people don’t seem to realize that He had to learn the Scriptures much as we do. We find earlier in this passage that even at the age of twelve He had become mature in His understanding of the Scriptures.  The story of His time in the Temple is a fascinating one.

Luke 2:42-50

42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.

44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.  

46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.  

Isn’t this what many people need to be doing today? Asking questions about the Scriptures! What a marvelous example He sets for us even in this!

47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.  

48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.  

49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?  

50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. [Emphasis added]  

This just shows that there are many things these people are given credit for knowing about Him, His mission, and His full identity that are false.  

Jesus spent all His early years in Nazareth leading up to the age of thirty when He entered His formal ministry to Israel.  He learned early-on that such was His commission of God.  Then later we see Him mentioning this.

Matthew 15:24

24 But he answered and said, I [Jesus] am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [Emphasis added]  

His ministry to us today as Gentiles would come later through the apostle Paul after Israel’s rejection of Him.  But at the time of Christ’s birth no one had any idea such things would develop as they did. That’s a part of why it is all spoken of as a mystery, that is, a secret known only to God.

The formal beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry to Israel began when He was thirty with His unique water baptism.  For more information about this baptism and the many other baptisms mentioned in the Bible, please go to my article about them on our website.

Baptism:  What are we to believe about it?

Therefore, overall, Christ lived in Nazareth for approximately 25 years. He was born in Bethlehem, but raised in Nazareth, thus His title is “Jesus of Nazareth” and not “Jesus of Bethlehem.”  

The word “Nazareth” means “despised place.” Its reputation is emphasized when the apostle John writes about Nathanel’s comment about it.

John 1:46  

46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. [Emphasis added]  

This just goes to show that many of the things the world despises are things God cherishes.

At Jesus’ birth He was laid in a manger, an animal-food trough, because “there was no room for them in the inn” [Luke 2:7].  When Herod sought to kill Him, Israel wept for their babies slaughtered in Bethlehem but didn’t shed one tear when young Jesus had to escape to Egypt for His life [again, Matthew 2:16-21]. Even after He came back from Egypt, He was not welcome in Israel, having to live in Nazareth, the place that was so despised [Matthew 2:22-23]. Throughout His earthly ministry, He faced continuous intense opposition, culminating in His shameful trials and horrific crucifixion.  Note the apostle John’s summary comment about all this.

John 1:11

11 He [Jesus] came unto his own, and his own received him not. [Emphasis added]

We see similar comments recorded by Luke.

Luke 9:58  

58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. [Emphasis added]

And always bear in mind that the more Christ’s thinking becomes yours and you begin to communicate it, the more you’ll see similar opposition from the same kind of people today.  The night Christ was betrayed before His crucifixion, these were His words to the apostles.

John 15:18-19  

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  

19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. [Emphasis added]  

I warn you; nothing has changed about this.  The names and faces are different in every generation, but the thinking is the same.  What we all must focus on is the reward for such that we’re guaranteed—not in this life, but in the one to come! It is my hope and prayer that you’ll do well at this judgment.

2 Corinthians 5:10  

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. [Emphasis added]

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