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Augustus Caesar and Jesus

The month of August is named for Augustus Caesar. As an adjective, august means that which inspires reverence or admiration or meaning of supreme dignity or grandeur, majestic, venerable or eminent.

“Augustus” is a title, from the Latin, Imperator Caesar Divi F. Augustus (September 23, 63 BC – August 19, 14 AD.)

Bust of Augustus Caesar

Bust of Augustus Caesar

Augustus’ real name was Octavian or Octavius. He was the nephew of Julius Caesar and was adopted as heir in Caesar’s will. Octavian adopted his adoptive father’s name, Gaius Julius Caesar and thus began his fourteen-year struggle to gain control of the Roman Empire.

Octavian’s pathway to greatness was not an easy one nor a likely one. In the Roman world of who is who Octavian’s only real claim to fame was being the heir of the recently murdered Julius Caesar.

When Octavian took his deceased uncle’s name it was more than a marketing device that identified himself with the great Julius.

In 42 BC Octavian was allied with Antony and Lepidus in what was called the Second Triumvirate. All three wished to cash in on Caesar’s popularity and pronounced the murdered Julius a god of the Roman state.

Octavian, quick to recognize the benefit of being associated with a god had coins struck with his image on one side described as “Caesar, Son of a God” and Julius Caesar on the other described as “the God Julius.”

Octavian himself was not much of a soldier and he suffered from ill-health and was possibly a hypochondriac. Oddly, for a Roman of his rank, he appears to be quite cowardly. In alliance with Antony, Octavian defeated Caesar’s murderer’s Brutus and Cassius at the two battles of Philippi in Macedonia. Octavian claimed prior to the first battle his medical adviser advised him against participating in the battle on the grounds of a bad dream. He spent the battle hiding in a marsh. For the second battle of Philippi he claimed he was sick.

This was in fact bad publicity and Octavian later personally led an expedition to Dalmatia and then to Spain. He was wounded in Dalmatia and injured in Spain and got sick in Spain and from the point on never led any army anywhere entrusting the expansion of the Empire to others.

After the Battles at Philippi he and Antony shared the Roman world. Octavian in Rome while Antony was quite content in Egypt with the famous Cleopatra, last of the Ptolemies who had ruled Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great.

Coins bearing the images of Antony and Cleopatra

It was an uneasy peace between two ambitious men and it eventually led to war. The catalyst that led to the last conflict was Octavian’s extra-legal Oaths of Loyalty that he required of Italy and the western provinces. Antony saw it for the power grab that it was and the civil war was renewed with vigor.

Octavian’s able Admiral and strategist Agrippa defeated the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra at the naval Battle of Actium (31 BC). Antony and Cleopatra famously committed suicide after the defeat thus leaving Octavian in control of the vast Roman Empire. Octavian had Cleopatra’s son Ceasarion killed. Caesarion was the son of Julius and Cleopatra, not Antony, so in reality Octavian had his half-brother killed.

English: The Roman Empire under Augustus Caesa...

English: The Roman Empire under Augustus Caesar (31 BC – AD 6) Italiano: Impero romano sotto Ottaviano Augusto (31 a.C. – 6 d.C.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Octavian took the name Augustus in 27 BC to inspire reverence in his person. He was immensely popular, although some in the Roman Senate were deeply suspicious of his motives to restore the Republic.

Coin_of_Augustus.jpg

The inscription reads Augustus, son of the divine (Julius)

Augustus Caesar rose to the top through war by eliminating his enemies. He established what was known as the Praetorian Guard, a private body-guard of considerable strength designed to protect him from surviving enemies and dangerous political rivals that might have the support of the legions. Augustus Caesar lived until was 76 years-old, a rather long time for a Roman in the first century A.D. with health problems.

Augustus is best known for his organizing abilities and his ability to give the look of a Republic while retaining most of the actual power for himself and his successors. He basically reorganized everything, Roman law, government, the legions which became a professional standing army and even ironically Roman morals be those what they were.

As an old man Augustus’ life was filled with grief. His own family was messed up and it depressed him. There was a massive revolt in Illyria and the German tribes destroyed three Roman legions along the Rhine river thus destroying the myth of Augustus’ Pax Romana.

Three Roman Legions were destroyed toward the end of Augustus’ long reign. Illustration from Osprey.

Augustus was a cruel man, even ruthless, common in his day but also someone who  mellowed in his old age. He lived rather simply for an Emperor, at least compared to his successors. His impact on western civilization is considerable and he is the only person next to his famous uncle to have a month named after him.

Augustus Caesar is mentioned in the Bible.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to 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, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 ESV)

It was a city in the tribal territory of Judah. The ancestors of King David lived here — Ruth, Naomi, Boaz, Jesse, etc. It is mentioned 40 times in the Old Testament. Besides being the birthplace of David (1 Samuel 16) it was fortified by the Judean King Rehoboam (ca. 926 B.C.; 2 Chron 11:6) and resettled by Jews after the Babylonian Exile (Ezra 2:21; Neh 7:26). It is mentioned 8 times in the New Testament, especially in connection with the birth of Jesus (Matt 2:5–12, 16; etc.).http://www.holylandphotos.org/browse.asp?s=1,2,6,15,104

Luke, the careful historian and author of this gospel probably did not know the exact the date of the edict (in those days) but did know the decree was issued from Augustus Caesar in far away Rome. The local people would have been able to get closer to exact date by realizing the birth of Jesus occurred when Quirinius was governor of neighboring Syria.

There still is controversy regarding the date but most conservative scholars put Jesus’ birth around 5 or 6 BC. This would mean that Augustus Caesar still had about 20 years left in his reign when Jesus when born in the Roman back water province of Judea in Bethlehem as prophesied in the Old Testament.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

A prophet praying.

Augustus was born in Italy in a town near Rome to a prosperous family of knights (equites, a kind of upper middle class).

Jesus was born in Bethlehem to a poor family, the son of a carpenter.

Augustus’ lineage was largely traced through his adoptive uncle Julius, or rather the divine Julius as we’ve seen.

Jesus’ lineage was traced back to the Old Testament characters of Abraham and Israel’s King David (Matt. 1:1-17).

Augustus real name was Octavius Caesar and as already noted Augustus Caesar is a title.

Jesus’ real name is Jesus meaning salvation. His title is Christ, meaning Anointed or Messiah (Matt. 1:16).

Augustus declared his divinity through his uncle Julius.

Jesus declared his divinity at age 12 when he said to his parents: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV)

Augustus’ was a young man when he emerged from relative obscurity to begin his battle for ascendancy over the empire.

Jesus was 30 when he emerged from relative obscurity to establish his ministry (Lk. 3:23)

Augustus was popular with the masses and most of the powerful but still had rivals that he feared.

Jesus was at times popular with the masses but the powerful hated him and the masses turned on him (Matt. 9:34; Lk. 23:18-25).

Release to us Barabbas!

Augustus’ eliminated his enemies.

Jesus taught people to love their enemies (Matt. 5:43-45).

Augustus’ was famous for the Pax Romana, a Roman peace which meant that Rome kept order in much of the western world.

Jesus came to promote a different kind of peace, a peace between God and rebellious man (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:1-10).

Augustus feared betrayal by rivals and surrounded himself with a Praetorian Guard of approximately 5,000 men.

Jesus knew that he would betrayed in order that all would be fulfilled. He surrounded himself with 12 men called disciples, one of whom would betray him (Matt. 10:4)

Augustus would obtain the Pax Romana through the strength of the legions.

Jesus would being about peace between God and man through his death on the Cross for all who trusted in him (Jn. 3:16-21).

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

Augustus could command 28 legions spread over the vast Roman empire.

Jesus could instantaneously have more than twelve legions of angels at his disposal (Matt. 26:53-54) but chose not to in order that Scripture be fulfilled.

Augustus ruled over approximately 5,000, 000 Roman citizens (and millions more non-citizens and slaves).

Jesus rules in the hearts of the multitudes who have trusted him and Lord and Savior over the centuries (Rev 7:9, Rev 19:6).

Augustus ruled an empire through the strength of the legions.

Jesus rules an empire through the hearts of his people (Matt. 5-7).

Augustus’ empire stretched from the Sahara in Africa to the edges of Parthia and Armenia in the east to the Rhine River in the north.

Jesus’ empire is not limited to time and space (Col. 1:1-15).

Augustus’ empire came to end in AD 476.

Jesus’ kingdom will have no end (Phil. 2:6-11; Rev. 11:15)

Augustus’ is still in the grave.

Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and the grave could not hold him (Heb. 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:20-28)

Augustus has a month named for him and no one is offended.

Jesus has a greeting named for him, Merry Christmas, and many are offended.

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13 comments on “Augustus Caesar and Jesus

  1. One little historical quibble to note. Actually his real name was “Bob.” Little known fact!

  2. […] Augustus Caesar and Jesus (broeder10.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Very interesting to read of the contrast between the earthly emperor Augustus and our divine Lord Jesus Christ, both contemporaries in real time history.
    Seline Augustine, Chennai, India. 24.2.2015

  4. Great article! Just a thought on the legions: Augustus may have had 28 at his command, and Jesus “more than twelve”, but one of those angels at Jesus’ command was enough to wipe out an entire army overnight, without waking up the beseiged city (Isaiah 37:33-37). 🙂 It’s not quantity, but quality that counts! 😉

  5. If Augusta/Octavian died in AD 14 at age 75 and Jesus dies in AD 33 ish., wouldn’t it have been Tiberius who was the Caesar at the time?

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