Journey to Bethlehem: Joseph and Mary

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.” (Luke 2:1–5, NKJV)

Map of Journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem

Another Prophecy Fulfilled

In the earlier part of Luke’s narrative, we learn that Mary, mother-to-be of Jesus, lives in Nazareth, about 100 miles north of Bethlehem, prophesied to be the birthplace of the Messiah. How will this happen? God’s got this. He uses the secular rulers to bring his prophesy to pass. The Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus, declared that all the world under his jurisdiction should be registered.

This was done to be sure that the local authorities received what was due from each family, much like our taxation system today. In what scholars believe was an unusual occurrence, the edict declared that everyone had to go to the city they came from. Joseph, a descendant of King David, was from Bethlehem. This caused Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem while Mary was nearly ready to deliver her baby. God’s prophecies will be fulfilled!

Luke, led by God, wants to be sure his readers understand the historicity of the events he is describing. That is likely why he includes mention of Quirinius, governor of Syria. This is no mythical fairy tale. Yet, some scholars have doubted the census and even the existence of Quirinius at the time of Jesus’ birth. Of course, as archaeological expeditions continue, apparent contradictions and issues have been resolved. It seems that Quirinius was in charge of two different censuses. The one Luke describes is the first one which puts the birth of Jesus where expected.

Betrothed and Traveling

Betrothal was similar to being married. It was a serious commitment to get married in the future. It included arranged marriages. Some translations use the term “promised to in marriage” in place of “betrothal”. Joseph takes Mary with him for the census. Remember, this was Mary’s second journey south to Judah. She earlier went to visit her relative Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. As we discussed earlier, this was no easy journey. It was long, hilly and often unsafe. Yet, they must go. They complied with the harsh requirements of the tyrannical leaders and as a result, God’s purposes were fulfilled.

Key Verse

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. Luke 2:1


Lord, Thank you for being all-knowing and all-powerful. Thank you for knowing the end from the beginning. You are the Holy One, the One who orchestrates all events for your honor and glory. You are one who takes a difficult circumstance like a census and uses it to usher in salvation to all the world. May we learn and be comforted by the knowledge that our God is in control at all times. Thank you for loving us and caring for us. Amen.