Good Tidings of Great Joy!

THE SCRIPTURES SAY, “It came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. … All went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 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:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 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.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

“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. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”—Luke 2:1-18


This simple record of the birth of Jesus brings great appeal to the imagination and is well known by Christians throughout the world. Despite all the centuries since the event occurred it has more meaning today than ever before. It is a most beautiful story. The background for these events might cause people to say that the world was no different then than now, because we still have tax problems, and it was a tax problem that took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

But the tax problem confronting the nation of Israel was of more serious significance to them than is ours. To the Israelites it was a reminder that they had lost their national independence. Under King Solomon the nation occupied a position of glory and respect among other nations. At the time Jesus was born, these ‘chosen people’ (Amos 3:2) of God were under the relentless and exacting domination of the Romans, and this is why they were compelled to pay tribute to Caesar.

Israel had been a vassal nation since 606 B.C. That was the year when their last king, Zedekiah, was overthrown. He was conquered by Babylon, whose king at that time was Nebuchadnezzar. Practically the whole nation was taken captive to Babylon, where they remained for seventy years. Then that world empire of Babylon was overthrown by the Medes and Persians, and the Israelites were permitted to return to Judea, not as a free people, but under the domination of the Medes and Persians; then the Greeks; and finally, the Romans—as at the time Jesus was born. When Israel’s last king was overthrown, God’s prophet, Ezekiel, declared that their kingdom authority would be overturned three times (Ezek. 21:27), until he came whose right it was, and it would be given to him.

These three overturnings of kingdom authority mentioned in Ezekiel occurred after the humbling of Israel by Babylon, and the Babylonians were overthrown by the Medes and Persians, who were, in turn, overthrown by the Greeks, who were then overthrown by the Romans. Following this third ‘overturning’, no world empire has intervened between the overthrow of the last remnant of the Roman Empire and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.


At that time, the rightful ruler of the world came upon the scene. Yet, while destined to be earth’s greatest king, he was born under very humble circumstances and laid in a manger. There was no worldly fanfare or splendor associated with the birth of this king. Nor was his birth announced to the great and learned of Israel, but rather to humble shepherds. Never before in history was the birth of a king announced by an angel, yet none of the ‘great ones’ of earth were advised of his birth.

The shepherds were surprised and startled by the appearance of the angel to them, causing the angel to say, “Fear not.” The shepherds may well have thought that a dire calamity was to befall their nation, Israel, but they were quickly assured to the contrary. Instead, the angel said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Israel was expecting a Messiah to come, and although he had come, they were unaware of who he was.


However, the Christ—Messiah—of promise was to be a Christ and a Savior not only to Israel, but to all nations. When Jesus was eight days old, he was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. While there, the Prophet Simeon, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said of Jesus as he took the child in his arms, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”—Luke 2:29-32

To faithful Israelites like Simeon, and the shepherds in the hills of Judea, the words of the angel, and the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah meant salvation or liberation from the Roman yoke of bondage. Isaiah 42:6 reads: “I the Lord … will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.” And Isaiah 49:6 reads: “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” The angelic message and these Old Testament prophecies have far greater depth of meaning than national salvation for the Israelites. The prophetic message of the angel was an assurance that both the Jews and Gentiles—all people—are to be saved from the bondage of sin and death. Jesus was God’s gift to the world, and the Bible declares that those who believe on him are to have everlasting life.—John 3:16

This great event occurred almost twenty centuries ago, yet the millions who have believed in Christ have continued to die. Not a single individual from the day Jesus was born until today has escaped death. Salvation from death means that when God’s due time comes, mankind will be given the opportunity of living forever as human beings right here upon the earth. This is why God created man, and placed him upon earth. The privilege of living forever was lost because of sin, and Jesus, as the Savior of mankind, will deliver the people from death.


The ‘due time’ for this to happen, as mentioned in I Timothy 2:6, speaks of Jesus Christ, “who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” It was not the ‘due time’ when Jesus was born, nor has it yet come. The angel’s message was a prophecy concerning future developments in the plan of God. Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world, but his death as man’s Redeemer was necessary before anyone could be saved. But even though Jesus died to redeem the world nearly two thousand years ago, the opportunity to escape death through faith in him, and to live forever upon the earth, has not yet been offered to anyone.

During all of the centuries since Jesus lived, those who have believed in Jesus have been given the opportunity of laying down their lives sacrificially, as Jesus did. Through faith in his shed blood, the Christian life of sacrifice is acceptable to God. The Scriptures show that all who are faithful unto death will, in the resurrection, be rewarded with glory, honor, and immortality. (Rom. 2:7; Rev. 2:10) But this arrangement is for Christians only, and is operative during the Gospel dispensation. Those who gain that which the Scriptures describe as the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14; Rev. 20:4,6), will be associate kings with him during the thousand years of his reign for the blessing of all the families of the earth. It will be during that age that believers will not grow old and die, but will have the opportunity of living forever, if they obey the laws of the kingdom.

So, too, the angel’s message of peace on earth and good will toward men is a prophecy of the future and is to be fulfilled. Many think of the angelic announcement as merely the expression of a beautiful sentiment or idealism which will never be realized by the nations. But, as other scriptures similar to Isaiah 9:6 speak of Jesus as “The Prince of Peace,” so the prophecy in Isaiah, as well as the angelic announcement, will become realities.

The expression, ‘good will toward men’, has more particular reference to God’s goodwill expressed on behalf of mankind through the birth of Jesus. It was further emphasized by Jesus’ death as the Redeemer of mankind. His goodwill is finally to be revealed to all the nations through the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. The Prophet Isaiah declares that then “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”—Isa. 52:10

When we take this scriptural view of the angelic message, we can understand why the angel labeled it as ‘good tidings of great joy’. This is a joy that is coming to the entire world, and it will be a lasting joy for all mankind. It will be a joy of health, and life, and peace; a joy in a renewed and restored earth, with the curse of sin and death removed. It will be a time when there will be no more war, nor strife of any kind; a time when the scripture will also be fulfilled, “There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”—Rev 21:4

Dawn Bible Students Association
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