Jesus Born in a Bethlehem Manger: Significance & Meaning


Christmas means “Christ-mass” or to worship Christ. The actual date of Jesus’ birth, the decorations, or the gifts are not the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about the spirit of worship of Jesus Christ. When you get a glimpse of Jesus, it stirs up true worship and releases God’s peace and blessing.

Christmas is the celebration of God’s passionate pursuit of mankind. God is breaking into the brokenness of this world with His love and power. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem’s manger reveals how God works to bring about His purposes in the world.

Christmas means different things to different people. There can be beautiful memories and traditions around Christmas. But what does the Bible say about Jesus’ birth? Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Why was He placed in a manger? The Bible’s answers to these questions unlock the true meaning of Christmas.

Jesus placed in a manger in Bethlehem is not just a sentimental scene. It’s the way God’s Kingdom operates. From the manger to the cross, God’s way is displayed.

Will we learn Jesus’ ways so that our weariness and heaven burdens will be lifted? God is in control. He even uses a burdensome governmental edict and census to bring about the fulfillment of His promises of a Savior.

Jesus Born in a Bethlehem Manger: Significance & Meaning

Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of a 700 year old prophecy.

Jesus’ birth in the town of King David’s birth reveals that God is in control. God even allows a government mandated census to bring about the fulfillment of His promises of a Savior.

The Bible records in Luke 2:4-7 that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in the country of Israel, on the continent of Asia, in the region referred to now as the Middle East.

Micah prophesied 700 years before Jesus was born, that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was the city where David, the second king of Israel, was born.

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)

The timing was terrible for Mary and Joseph as they were preparing for Mary to give birth. They were displaced from their home. The circumstances seemed unjust. Yet it was what God allowed. 

Nazareth was Mary and Joseph’s hometown, in the Northern Israel region called Galilee. A government census forced them to leave the comfort of their home and travel about 90 miles south to Bethlehem. It was the time for Mary to give birth, so Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not in their hometown of Nazareth.

The Shepherd’s Valley in Modern Day Bethlehem - Photo by David Kim
The Shepherd’s Valley in Modern Day Bethlehem – Photo by David Kim

God sometimes allows things for a purpose much greater than our temporary comfort. He is maturing His people to rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem reveals how God brings about His Kingdom on the earth.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem because there was a government mandated census. The census required everyone to return to their hometown (Luke 2:1-3). Joseph was from the lineage of David, so he had to go to Bethlehem.

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)

Jesus would come to the Earth as Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” The circumstances of the entry of God’s Kingdom into the world would seemingly rest on man’s unjust government.

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem reveals that God is in control. He is on the throne in heaven. God uses the good and even the bad things that happen in the world to bring about His eternal, good purposes. Nothing can stop God’s ultimate purposes.

There will be no end to the increase of God’s government and peace. When Jesus returns, He will fully bring God’s Kingdom, including His justice.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

Not only does this fulfill the prophecy that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, but there is much more:

How does God raise up His Ruler? In the context of weakness and government oppression.

God uses an ungodly decree on Earth to accomplish His eternal purposes to bring about a Savior born in Bethlehem.

This is the way God’s works in the world. He uses the weak to shame the seemingly wise and powerful.

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem also reveals that it was always in God’s plan to save His people. He did not leave a world in brokenness. He planned to do this before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). In God’s perfect time, Jesus, the Son of God, was born.

Why was Jesus born in a manger?

Many depictions of Jesus’ birth, or nativity, show Him in a stable or barn. But the Bible does not say that Jesus was born in a stable or a barn. It’s true that Mary wrapped the baby with swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.

A manger is a feeding trough for animals. A manger is not the same as a stable or a barn where animals are kept. A manger, or feeding trough, is often found in a stable or barn, so Jesus could have been born in a stable. But the Bible does not say that.

Jesus was not born in a manger, but He was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, after He was born.

Was Jesus born in a cave? An ancient tradition from a second century document says that Mary gave birth to baby Jesus in a cave, or grotto, in Bethlehem.

In Bethlehem today, there is a structure called the Church of the Nativity. It was commissioned in 327 A.D. and built over the grotto, or cave, which marks the traditional spot where Jesus was thought to be born. A 14-pointed silver star marks the spot. The inscription in Latin reads: Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born.

The grotto, the cave, where Jesus was thought to be born - Photo by David Kim
The grotto, the cave, where Jesus was thought to be born – Photo by David Kim

Luke 2:7 tells us that Mary laid Jesus in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Perhaps this was because the city was overwhelmed by out-of-town people because of the census.

Why is it significant that Jesus was born in a manger? The manger draws attention to the challenging and humble circumstances around Jesus’ birth. Many cultures wrap babies in swaddling cloths to help the baby calm down. Some say that it mimics the mother’s womb and soothes the baby. But it is unusual to place a baby in a manger. 

Whether it was a cave, a stable, or somewhere else, Luke tells us that Mary laid Jesus in a manger (Luke 2:7).  It was not a hospital with white linens. It wasn’t in a comfy, cute story-book basket or a soft crib with sanitized, matching bed sheets.

A manger is a feeding trough for animals.
A manger is a feeding trough for animals.

Why was Jesus born and laid in a manger? To teach us that it’s into those very places of brokenness, the manger scenes of our lives, that God sends His Son.

The manger where Christ was laid represents life improvised. It’s not plan A, it’s not plan B. It was never something anyone would have ever chosen. But it’s what life is right now.  It’s what’s available because the other options have fallen through. We pick up the pieces of our lives and try to move on. It can be in relationships, jobs, health issues, disappointments, trials, the pain.

It’s what makes people ask: “If God were working in my life, surely, THIS couldn’t be happening… If God exists, why is there so much evil in this world? And in MY life?”

Our lives are not always the picture-perfect Christmas card. It’s into the reality of brokenness in our world that the hope of God and the light of the world begins to reveal His life. There is a baby lying in a manger, He is Christ, the Lord.

It’s into those very places of brokenness, the manger scenes of our lives, that God sends His Son.

Oftentimes, we want God to wave His magic wand over our lives and make all the problems go away. We want God to remove all our weaknesses and problems. Sometimes, God says: That’s where I want to reveal myself. That’s where My strength is made perfect, even in your weakness.

Jesus Christ did not come as some would have imagined in His first coming. In His Second Coming, He will return as the King and Judge. But God first came to us as a Baby in the Manger and eventually, as the Lamb of God who would lay down His life on the cross.

Jesus placed in a manger in Bethlehem is not just a sentimental scene. It’s the way that God’s Kingdom operates.

Jesus was not born in a King’s place, but placed in a manger. He came as a humble servant, as the Lamb of God, to ultimately lay down His life as a sacrifice for sin.

From the manger to the cross, God’s ways are displayed. Will we learn Jesus’ ways so that our weariness and heaven burdens will be lifted? Will we truly be able to experience as the popular Christmas song “O Holy Night” say: A weary world rejoices?

Jesus invites you to learn His ways and bring your burdens to Him. All who are burdened and heavy laden can come to Him.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Come and Behold Him!

Christmas is an invitation to come and behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Let the lights of Christmas draw you to behold Jesus, the light of the world, Whose light shines in the darkness (John 8:12)

Let the music of Christmas open your ears to the declaration of heaven and the hosts of angels who appeared to the shepherds and announced: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

Let the candy canes of Christmas remind you of the Great Shepherd who will lead and guide His people like a shepherd with the shepherd’s staff (Psalm 23).

Let the Christmas tree and the gifts under the tree remind you that God so loved the world, He gave His Jesus, who died on the cross, a tree (1 Peter 2:24). Let it stir true joy and celebration in your heart, that God gave the best He had, His only Son (John 3:16)

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:11 (ESV)


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Here are others articles that you might find helpful:

What Is Worship According to the Bible? Definitions & Foundations

How to Get to Heaven According to the Bible: It’s NOT by Being Good

One Bible Study resource that I highly recommend is: Unlocking the Bible: A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible (You can check out the reviews on this link to Amazon). It has a chapter on every book of the Bible, is very clear, and has great insights. Be sure to get the book and not the one that has just diagrams, charts, and images. The covers look very similar.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.


Read the Christmas Bible Story

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 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, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 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.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:1-21 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

David Kim

I'm David Kim and the Bible has been a passionate pursuit of mine for many years. This is a site where I get to share with you some of the things that I’ve been learning. I’m a husband, a father, pastor of a church in Northern California, and a life-long student of the Scriptures.

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