‘In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David, called Bethlehem because he was descended from the house and family of David’ (Lk 2:1-4).
We are familiar with the rest of the story. So we are skipping it for the time being and instead focusing on the first verse as it is more relevant now than ever. ‘In those days / a decree went out / from Emperor Augustus / that all the world / should be registered’. I have divided this sentence into five parts because we need to discuss each of them independent of other parts. Let us study them one by one.
In those days
This is related to the time when the emperor ordered a census of his subjects. What was so special about those days? The Roman empire was ruling over major parts of the Holy Land and surrounding areas. It was the wealthiest empire of the time. Administrative, judicial and revenue systems were perfectly in place in all the provinces. Conducting a census was not a difficult exercise from the government’s side. People would not hesitate to register themselves for they feared the emperor’s military strength. Nobody was given an exception from this registration, not even pregnant women. This is why Joseph had to take his expectant wife also along with him to Bethlehem.
Was the timing of this census relevant in any other context? Yes. It was the time appointed for Jesus, the promised Saviour, to come to this world. In this sense, ‘in those days’ means in the days immediately preceding the birth of Jesus!
A decree went out
It was an order from the government. It was mandatory, not voluntary. No exceptions, not even religious exceptions were permitted. Because the government wanted to have a detailed record of each and every citizen. It is the state’s duty to care for every citizen. Without proper records how can the state look after the welfare of its subjects? You might argue. No, No. I do not want any service from the state. Please excuse me from registration. But it was not possible. Because it was the command of the sovereign ruler. And you are only one among his millions of subjects!
From Emperor Augustus
True, the decree originated from the most powerful emperor on earth at that time. With all the power – military, political and economic – in their hands, the Roman empire had the wherewithal to meticulously execute the decree of its emperor. Especially so when Caesar considered himself god and demanded that he be worshipped. As such, for an ordinary citizen a decree from the emperor was as good as divine commandment.
That all the world
Emperor Augustus wanted all the world to be registered. Looks a bit strange, indeed. Because he was ruling only a part of the world at that time. At its peak the Roman empire consisted of Western Europe (including England and Wales, Spain, Italy, France and Greece), Northern Africa and West Asia. It was nowhere near a global empire in the strict sense. But undoubtedly, it was the most influential and powerful empire of the time. Why then, should Luke mention a decree to get all the world registered? Maybe it was a usage commonly found in the Bible. In Esth 13:2 we read about King Ahasuerus introducing himself as ‘ Master of the world’. And in 2 Chr 36:23 we read the statement of King Cyrus of Persia acknowledging that ‘the Lord, the God of heaven, had given him all the kingdoms of earth’. In the New Testament, there are instances where a person claims authority over the whole world. In the first case it was the devil himself boasting about his authority over everything in this world in his attempt to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus himself once used the phrase ‘ the ruler of this world’ ( Jn 12:31). And in the Book of Revelation we come across a ‘beast’ who was given authority over the whole world for a limited period for the fulfilment of prophecies (Rev 13:7).
Should be registered
Perhaps this is the key word. The emperor commanded that every person under the sun should register themselves with the government. In old times, we used to call it the census, which was by and large an exercise at the macro level to get basic data about the population. But of late, this concept has undergone a sea change with governments insisting that each and every person should have a unique identification number or citizen number so as to avail public services, social security benefits and other utilities.
In short, the registration of citizens was a mandatory exercise imposed upon all the subjects just before the birth of Jesus. You might wonder why the issue of an old census conducted some two thousand years back should be raked up again when the census has become a part of our life for the past two centuries. Let me tell you; this Bible verse has a direct bearing on what is happening in our days. The registration of citizens was made mandatory by the emperor, but we should not forget that it was also part of the divine plan for salvation. God wanted his son to be born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. God wanted Joseph the Righteous and the Blessed Virgin to be at the right place for this great event to take place at the right time!
If this happened in the first coming of Jesus, it can happen before his glorious second coming as well. When the rulers of this world compel each and every person to get registered in a unique way, God will lead His people, the elect or remnant, to a place prepared for them, where they will be provided with the bare necessities of life. If Joseph and Mary had to be satisfied with the warmth of a manger for their newborn, can we expect anything better in the coming days when we have to say an emphatic ‘No’ to the ‘ruler of this world’?
A universal registration of citizens is the perfect backdrop for the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is not a mere wish or imagination; the Book of Revelation tells us that this registration process should precede the second coming. When we read about the mark of the beast that is going to be forced upon mankind, ‘remember that it is the number of a person’ ( Rev 13:18). In other words, they are compelling us to get registered with this unique mark that represents our identity.
Doubting Thomases would say; “But no such exercise is being conducted nowadays apart from the routine census done by individual countries”. They are right. Officially there are no plans to conduct a global census. What we do nowadays is to consolidate the population figures of all countries together to arrive at the global population. At present it is around seven and a half billion. But we are talking about a different kind of census and in this case never think that enumerators will come to you to collect the necessary details in a format specially designed for the purpose. Instead the government will simply use your unique identification number to which everything else would have been linked by then.
I told you, the key word is ‘should be registered’. Now look around and see what is happening in your country and elsewhere in the world. Vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, linking vaccination status to citizen number, preventing the unvaccinated from entering public places and even churches: all these happen before our own eyes. Before imposing these restrictions, they insisted that every person should have a unique citizen number, by whatever nomenclature it was called. India, the biggest democracy that accounts for a sixth of the world population, calls it Aadhar Number. And China with a population of 1.5 billion calls it Resident Identity Number. It is an 18 digit unique identification number. Instead of 18, we can read it as 6+6+6 also, of course, if you are not averse to linking current events to Bible prophecies. Now imagine a number with 18 digits. If my understanding is correct, it is not billions or trillions, but a hundred quadrillions and it is really mind-boggling! When the world population is just 7.5 billion (which is a 10 digit number) what would have prompted them to introduce an 18 digit citizen number? In some countries the citizen identification number is called Social Security Number. Some other countries call it simply Citizen Number. Some others prefer the term Resident Number.
After all, what is there in a name? Simply nothing. Their purpose is same; to track the citizens! Governments would claim that their intentions are such noble things as having a database for good governance and making cash transfers from the government hassle free and fast. When you are required to mention your citizen number while filing your income tax returns, it serves as a kind of check against black money. When you are required to mention this number in your medicare or insurance claims, it acts as a kind of database about the health status of citizens. When you are required to mention this number at a free-food counter, its role is to ensure that state funds go to the needy and deserving only. When they ask your citizen number for issuing passport, it is to cross check your previous history so as to eliminate the possibility of a history sheeter getting a passport and using it for committing crimes. See, how noble and lofty are the intentions!
But behind all these so-called advantages, the naked truth remains that compulsory registration of citizens is the best tool available to the state to monitor the activities of each and every citizen. Once you are caught in the net, the state knows how to manipulate, coerce, pressurise or threaten you. We have been seeing exactly what George Orwell wrote or even more than that. It is going to be harder in the coming days and as of now, mandatory vaccination is the tool they prefer the most.
Now let us go back to where we started from and re-read the verses in the current context.
In those days: In the days just preceding the second coming of Jesus Christ, a compulsory registration of citizens will be mandated.
A decree went out: It will be an exercise with all the force of the state behind it. There will not be any exceptions, because it is a decree from the sovereign state and we are mere subjects!
From Emperor Augustus: For a change this decree is coming not from Augustus Caesar but from such august institutions like the United Nations, World Health Organisation and two hundred plus ‘kings’ who rule the countries of the world.
That all the world: Yes. It is not limited to any particular country on earth. It is universal. All the world should be registered. Now we should thank the Holy Spirit for having inspired Luke the Evangelist to write that the registration exercise was for all the world, even when he knew that it was applicable to the Roman empire only!
Should be registered: Repeat, should be registered. Otherwise you will be stopped at the grocery, metro station, bank, hospital,church, toll plaza and perhaps at every place outside your house. During a famine, you will beg for a loaf of bread and you are not going to get it unless you are registered with the new citizen id which can be linked to your vaccinations status.
Are you afraid? There is no need to get afraid now. And there is no use of getting afraid too. If you start fearing now, what will you do when the real persecution begins? This is only the beginning. Difficult times are in store for us. Unless you bow your head in total submission to the global power, you are treated as perhaps ‘non-citizens’, a term that even the most pessimist of all would not dare to utter. But we are moving fast to a situation where everything earthly will come with a price and the price will be a mark on our hand or forehead.
Let me conclude with a familiar verse from the Book of Revelation. “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number or its name” (Rev 13:16). This time is already upon us. We have to be prepared because the days ahead are not going to be comfortable as it has been in the past.
John continues : “This calls for wisdom”. Let us pray for the wisdom to discern the signs of the times and to make informed decisions in everything we do. Be alert. Because the enemy comes stealthily and he will never disclose his true intention until it is done. We have seen it in the Garden of Eden. We have seen it in the life of Judas. We have seen it many times in our own life. So be alert. Coming days will witness the ‘hour of trial’ that is going to test the inhabitants of the earth. Let us place our trust in Jesus Christ who promised: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth’ (Rev 3:10).
Now it is a vaccine and it is only the beginning. God alone knows what they are planning next. But one thing is for sure. When you are discriminated against for not falling in line with the ‘global registration of persons’ – by whatever name it is called – understand that it is the beginning of the end. It is as plain as it looks. We have entered a period where Rev 13: 16-18 is being fulfilled. Our only consolation is in our Lord’s promise that ‘for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short’ (Mt 24.22), because at any cost, we need to endure to the end. ‘But the one who endures to the end will be saved’ (Mt 24:13).
The gospel testifies that the registration of citizens conducted during the reign of Augustus Caesar was the first of its kind. The events that changed the course of human history forever started with the first registration exercise. It is perfectly logical to expect the consummation of history too to start with a mandatory registration of citizens. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to guide us in these turbulent days.