A Tale of Three Kings
By Randy Bushey
Most of us are familiar with the tale of three kings who travel from the east in the Christmas story. But who are the most prominent three kings mentioned in the Christmas story? You might be surprised by Randy Bushey’s suggestion.
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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:1-3).
Not to be missed in the biblical Christmas story is role of 3 kings; not the 3 kings of 19th century Christmas carol – we don’t even know how many Magi attended, whether 2 or 12.
But as the story unfolds, the arrival onto the stage of 3 historic monarchs is significant. Here’s how:
Octavian Augustus Caesar
Octavian Augustus Caesar was the 1st Emperor of the Roman Empire. Not a man given to great modesty, he is said to have declared on his deathbed: “I found Rome built of clay. I leave it to you in marble.” But his consolidation of power over much of the known world was by any measurement, impressive.
He desired – and was granted – the designation Augustus, or “the illustrious one” as a title conferring religious authority, a semi-divine status, invoking in the minds of his subjects the realm of deity.
However, this man – the most powerful man on the face of the earth during his reign – is reduced to a simple footnote in the biblical account: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world (Luke 2:1).
And a major headache was created for the common people of many nations. The arduous task of suspending work and travelling to their hometowns was difficult for all citizens of the Empire; but it was particularly repugnant to Jews. The census was to update Rome’s taxation rolls, and the whole exercise was an unwanted reminder of Jewish subjection to Gentile masters.
It was the pronouncement of Augustus that instigated the journey of the pregnant couple to Bethlehem, and the occasion of the birth of Jesus in that City of David.
Herod the Great
This all happened in the final months of the reign of Herod the Great. Herod had reigned for the better part of 4 decades, and as an act of honour the Senate of Rome conferred upon him the title King of Judea.
Herod is remembered principally for 2 characteristics:
- his unparalleled ability as an architect and builder: he so radically refurbished and enlarged the Jewish Temple so that it became one of the most impressive structures of ancient world, and is commonly referred to as Herod’s Temple. He also built the port city of Caesarea (including the fresh-water aqua-duct transporting fresh water from 18 km away, a beach-front theatre and hippodrome), and the remarkable mountain-top hideaway of Masada.
- his propensity for irrational cruelty: he was among the most violent, paranoid, and tyrannical rulers of his era. He arranged the deaths of his favourite wife (of 5), several sons including his hand-picked heir to the throne Antipater.
However, history remembers Herod for the slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem as recorded in Matthew 2 as he tried to eliminate a perceived rival, the infant who was the legitimate title-holder, the authentic King of the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus of Nazareth
Don’t overlook this key feature to the story: 3 prominent historical persons, each with an eye to the status of God. Augustus and Herod were out-sized, momentous characters, continuing to attract the attention of historians 20 centuries later. But impressive and significant though they were, neither is anywhere close to being in the same league as the third.
Jesus of Nazareth is the King of Kings, the eternal Son of God. He is of the substance and essence of Almighty God. He is the uncaused Cause, the Creator of the cosmos, the Necessary Being.
Takeaway: In this tale of 3 kings the final chapter, yet to be completely written will see the first 2 kings submit to the 3rd. They will be forced to bend their knees, compelled to declare His transcendent sovereignty together with every other ruler, intellectual, member of the clergy, or common person in history who has rejected His pre-eminence., His ultimate Kingship. Their fate will be aligned with those of the Jewish mob who proclaimed at His crucifixion, “we have no king but Caesar”.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2/9-11).
Christ has already ascended to His coronation. God’s unparalleled potency has already caused this to occur:
“That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1/20,21).
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Images Courtesy of:
King & Bible – SpencerWing
Three Kings – Creative Commons
Augustus Caesar – Till Nierman
Herod the Great – Public Domain
Jesus of Nazareth – Henry Ossawa Tanner
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