One of the most famous stories from the Bible is the account of the birth of baby Jesus.
Every year, it’s read aloud in churches and even re-enacted in plays and Nativity scenes, as shepherds are shown visiting the Son of God lying in a manger in the town of Bethlehem.
But is there something extremely important almost everyone is missing?
The answer is a resounding yes. One could even call it a yes on a biblical scale, because as we’re about to see, there is so much more that can be seen and heard when we keep our spiritual eyes and ears open to some profound truths that God has been broadcasting in Scripture for thousands of years.
No matter how many times we read the words on the pages of our Bible, there always seems to be more to learn, a deeper meaning that helps us make the transition from spiritual milk to spiritual meat. So let’s dive into Scripture to allow the Good News to become even more glorious, with all the credit going to God Almighty.
It’s already well-known that Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem, as His parents were law-abiding citizens who traveled there to pay their taxes as part of a census.
But why did God make it happen in Bethlehem?
And why was the Savior placed in a manger?
And what’s the real deal with the shepherds?
These questions have phenomenal answers when we keep in mind two basic principles from Scripture itself.
The first is that Jesus often, if not always, used parables as a teaching method.
- Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables, and he did not tell them anything without a parable. (Matthew 13:34 CSB)
- In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them. (Mark 4:34 NLT)
Parables are not illustrative stories to make their meaning crystal clear for the listening public. To the contrary, they are stories that actually hide God’s message to the general public, and are intended to be understood only by those who have ears to hear, ears that are open to accept the deep things of God. As Jesus Himself said:
“That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.
“Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You will listen and listen,
but never understand;
you will look and look,
but never perceive.
“For this people’s heart has grown callous;
their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears, and
understand with their hearts,
and turn back —
and I would heal them.
“Blessed are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear.” (Matthew 13:13-16 CSB)
In addition to parables as a divine, hidden teaching method, another extremely important principle that never gets enough publicity is the fact that God is someone who declares “the end from the beginning.”
- “I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will.” (Isaiah 46:10 CSB)
When God says He declares the end from the beginning, He means at least two things. First, He tells everyone the final outcome, the ultimate end of everything right from the start, so there are no surprises when a predicted event takes place.
Secondly, He often uses events that have a clear beginning, such as the beginning of Jesus’ human life in this case, to foreshadow, predict or prophesy about events that will happen in the future, even to the end of the Bible story. As we’re about to see, the very beginning of Jesus’ life is a real-life parable that declares the end – the end result of the whole message of Scripture. So open your eyes and ears to some spiritual truth you’ve probably never been told.
Let’s start with Bethlehem. This is the village where it had been forecast by the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be born in.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.” (Micah 5:2 NKJV)
When we read the Bible in English, we often miss what is said in the original language. And when we read the word “Bethlehem,” our eyes might race right over it as the name of any typical town, without considering its meaning.
Bethlehem literally means “house of bread” or “house of food.”
I know, you may be thinking to yourself now, “Big deal. Jesus was born in the house of bread or house of food.”
Stick with me, we’re just starting to build. Bethlehem is also called “the city of David.” The word David means “beloved” in Hebrew, so the city of David could easily be understood as “the city of the beloved.”
We’re told in the gospel of Luke that after Jesus was born of his mother Mary, He was placed in a manger.
In fact, the Bible goes out of its way to emphasize the manger, making sure the M-word is mentioned three times in the account, as if God really wants us to pay attention to this:
- 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. (Luke 2:7 KJV)
- And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12 KJV)
- They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16 CSB)
Now, let’s pause for a moment, because some people may not know exactly what a manger is. It is NOT a barn. It is NOT a stable. It is NOT a cave.
A manger is simply a box that contains food for animals. It’s a feeding trough. I like to jokingly say, “It’s where the FOOD is!”
Anyone who has ever taken a French class in school knows that one of the first verbs taught to everyone is “manger,” literally meaning “to eat.”
So, the picture we have at this point is that of the newborn baby Jesus lying in a manger (a box containing food), located in a place known as the “house of food” or “house of bread.” Remember this, because it’s important as we’ll see in a moment.
Now, let’s bring in the shepherds.
The shepherds were watching their flocks out in the field by night and were instructed by an angel of God to go into Bethlehem to witness this incredible event. Here’s the Bible account:
In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:
“Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
“This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!
When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:8-16 CSB)
Notice the babe in the manger was specifically said to be a “sign” to the shepherds. It’s a sign on both the physical level as well as the spiritual.
On the physical, the shepherds would know they would be in the correct place when they saw the infant in the manger.
But there is deep significance on the spiritual level that millions of God-fearing Christians miss. The shepherds saw not just what was happening at their present time, but they were also getting a glimpse of both the ancient past and the eternal future.
What do I mean? Remember, Jesus, whose Hebrew name Yeshua means “God saves” or “God will save,” is appearing as a human being for the first time as FOOD in the feeding box in the “house of bread” or “house of food.” God is revealing to people the true spiritual identity and purpose of Jesus.
Take a look at these stunning quotes Jesus uttered once He was an adult, and you’ll be able to begin connecting the dots:
- my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. (John 6:32 CSB)
- “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:33 NKJV)
- Truly I tell you, anyone who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. (John 6:47-48 CSB)
- my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. (John 6:55 CSB)
As the famous song about Jesus’ birth asks, “Do you see what I see?”
The Bible is telling us that Jesus is, in fact, the TRUE BREAD FROM HEAVEN whose origins are from ancient times, “FROM EVERLASTING” as the prophet Micah said.
Jesus also is looking ahead to the eternal future, explaining that He, Himself is THE BREAD OF LIFE WHO CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, and that his flesh is TRUE FOOD and his blood is TRUE DRINK.
In other words, just as we are temporarily nourished and sustained in this physical life by food and drink, so we are nourished and sustained for all eternity when we feed on Jesus spiritually. Jesus is our true food, the bread that gives us eternal life, and God the Father had Him placed in the feeding box (the manger) in the house of food (Bethlehem) to emphasize the point.
Interestingly, God asked through the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend silver on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.”
In other words, the physical food we purchase and toss down our bellies every day cannot give us life. It only sustains our mortal bodies for a temporary time before we die. The true food we should be getting into our bodies is the Spirit known as Jesus or Yeshua, again meaning “God will save.”
We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you eat,” because we know that whatever food we consume becomes part of us. The same holds true when we get Jesus inside our minds. He actually becomes part of us, and will sustain us forever when we’re raised from the dead and exist eternally with Him.
But wait. There’s more.
Remember that God declares the end from the beginning. And from the very beginning of Jesus’ physical life on this planet, the end (that is, the final outcome of events) is being announced when we connect more Scriptures.
The angel of the Lord who spoke to the shepherds near Bethlehem was announcing “good news,” specifically stating it was “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
We’re given a portion of the good news from the angel, as he said, “a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
But the rest of the story of the “good news,” which is what the word “gospel” means, is revealed when Jesus began His ministry as an adult. And the good news Jesus was preaching focused on the future “kingdom of God”:
- Afterward he was traveling from one town and village to another, preaching and telling the good news of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8:1 CSB)
- “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!“ (Mark 1:15 CSB)
As many already know, that future kingdom had been predicted far in advance by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah who, in a single famous prophecy, mentioned both the beginning of Jesus’ human life with His birth, and the end of the story with His being the head over his kingdom, the everlasting government of God:
For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7 CSB)
Now having said all this, let’s focus back on the shepherds who came to the manger.
Let’s all remember what a shepherd is. It is someone who keeps and cares for sheep. Some of the most well-known names in the Bible were shepherds, including David, Moses, Abel and Jacob. On the spiritual level, a shepherd is one who cares for God’s flock, the people who believe and follow their Maker.
Jesus is referred to as the “chief Shepherd” in 1 Peter 5:4, and Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd.”
- “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 CSB)
And we can’t forget that Jesus famously told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
So the Bible makes it more than obvious that herding sheep is not merely feeding and caring for literal animals. It is the feeding and caring for people’s spiritual needs, with Jesus ultimately sacrificing His own life so His people could have eternal life.
So what happened with the shepherds at the manger scene?
- They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18 CSB)
- The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20 CSB)
On the surface, this may not seem that important in the grand scheme of things. But again, when we keep our spiritual eyes and ears open, the message is staggering.
The shepherds represent those who take care of God’s flock of people. They followed divine instructions from a supernatural being (in this case, an angel of God) and saw the sign of a baby lying in a manger. They witnessed the true bread from heaven in a place called the house of food, the city of the beloved.
And what did they do next?
“They reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
The shepherds, the caretakers of God’s people, reported the message about the Savior, the true food from heaven who brings eternal life, and all who HEARD the message were amazed. This event clearly shows us not only the incredible events of that night, but what has been happening since then and will again happen in the future kingdom of God!
The shepherds, both then and now, are informing people of the divine message about the true food (Jesus), and those who have their ears open to hear the message are “amazed” at what the shepherds say. The people are amazed because they’re hearing how they can be saved and receive everlasting life. Yes, it’s very good news when you find out how you can avoid being dead forever!
And there’s still more.
Don’t forget that God declares the end from the beginning, constantly focusing our attention on the end of the story, letting us know the conclusion of events right from the very start.
So let’s take another look at the final mention of the shepherds in the account of the birth of Jesus.
- The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20 CSB)
The Bible text tells us that “the shepherds returned.”
This may blow your mind, but I suggest that not only is this explaining the events of that night in Bethlehem, it is also a prophecy for the future!
What I mean is that the shepherds (all leaders of God’s people in this current age) are going to RETURN in the future, to glorify and praise God for all the things they had seen and heard. This will take place when they are resurrected from the dead and raised to immortal life to instruct people again on how to receive eternal life!
This is not something I’m pulling out of thin air. There are Bible prophecies that forecast this, and you’re about to finally see them clearly right now.
In the days of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, God Himself predicted the future time still ahead of us when He would “raise up” shepherds over His people to lead them in the divine way of life.
“I will give you shepherds who are loyal to me, and they will shepherd you with knowledge and skill.” (Jeremiah 3:15 CSB)
“I will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands where I have banished them, and I will return them to their grazing land. They will become fruitful and numerous. I will raise up shepherds over them who will tend them. They will no longer be afraid or discouraged, nor will any be missing.” This is the LORD’s declaration. (Jeremiah 23:3-4 CSB)
Just as Jesus is going to return in the future, so the shepherds will return as well, being literally “raised up” by God out of the ground and given eternal life to “shepherd the people with knowledge and skill.”
This is a prophecy about what will be taking place in the kingdom of God, the kingdom which gets into full swing once Jesus returns to Earth.
It gives new meaning to Peter’s instructions to the elders among the New Testament believers, as he gives them the task of shepherds over God’s flock. Read it for yourself:
- Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5: 2-4 CSB)
How perfectly fitting that Peter mentions the unfading crown of glory for these leaders of God’s people, because it was actually embedded in the manger story when the shepherds were listening to the angel of God.
As we read previously of the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). They had a shining, brilliant light surrounding them.
This is a prediction of how believers will actually have a bright radiance of light emanating from them in the kingdom.
- “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let anyone who has ears listen.” (Matthew 13:43 CSB)
Do you hear what I hear?
We all need to focus on what happens at the end of this age when Jesus returns. Christ is going to “raise up” His shepherds from the grave to rule and reign with Him.
- “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him … ” (Revelation 20:6 CSB)
- “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – He shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Revelation 2:26-27 NKJV)
This is the glorious end to the message of Scripture. The result of everything that has taken place will be the followers of the chief Shepherd being raised up to eternal life, so they can rule and reign with God, instructing other people in a second resurrection that takes place a thousand years after Jesus’ return to Earth.
- “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.” (Revelation 20:5 CSB)
All these pieces of the Bible are scattered throughout Scripture like a jigsaw puzzle, and have been waiting to be properly fit together.
The end of God’s story is merely the beginning. It is the beginning of immortal life with our Creator who made us to be like Him, giving us the knowledge to teach others how to learn to live God’s way so that they, too, can inherit everlasting life.
The good news given to the shepherds of the past is also the good news about the shepherds of the future. Those shepherds are anyone and everyone who believes the message of God, repents of their sin (the breaking of God’s laws) and allows Jesus – the true food, the true bread from heaven found in the house of bread in the city of the beloved – to fill their own body and literally become part of them.
God has used the very start of Jesus’ human life to be a prophecy and real-life parable involving real people and actual events to tell us what’s coming in our future.
Indeed, the end has been declared from the beginning.
Blessed are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear.
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