Several years ago, I visited the Holy Land for the first time. The trip renewed my confidence that our Christian faith is not built on manmade philosophies or legendary myths, but on historically accredited events recorded by actual people in verifiable places still standing today.
One of my most profound and specific takeaways occurred in Bethlehem. More than just a “little town” of Christmas carol melodies, Bethlehem is a real place with significant biblical history and theological importance. Through the mentions of Bethlehem in Scripture, we come to see how Jesus fulfilled and proved himself as the Lamb of God, the Shepherd-King, and the Bread of Life.
Lamb of God
The first mention of Bethlehem in Scripture is in Genesis 35:19–21 as the site of Rachel’s burial. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, one of the patriarchs in the lineage of Jesus, and her name means “ewe”—a lamb or sheep. This passage also tells us that Rachel was buried at Migdal Eder—a Hebrew term translated as “tower of the flock.” According to Jewish history, it was at Migdal Eder in Bethlehem that unblemished firstborn male lambs were born, wrapped in cloths, and brought to Jerusalem as Passover sacrifices in the temple—an extraordinary foreshadowing of the Lamb of God to come.
Later in Scripture, Micah announced that to the “tower of the flock” would come a king (Micah 4:8)—the one true King Jesus, who was first introduced to the world by John the Baptist as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
This Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wrapped in cloths, and eventually brought to Jerusalem during Passover, where he “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:12)—just like those unblemished male lambs wrapped in cloths and brought to Jerusalem for sacrifice from Migdal Eder in Bethlehem.
Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17), and we see him here fulfilling the law regarding the Passover lamb—a sacrificial lamb born in Bethlehem, bearing the sins of God’s people by dying in their place in Jerusalem.
Because of the lamb’s blood over the Israelites’ doorposts in Egypt, God’s wrath passed over them in mercy. And for those of us who put our faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God, his blood over our lives causes God’s wrath to pass over us in mercy for eternity.
Bethlehem is perhaps best known in Scripture as the city of David—the unlikely shepherd boy who defeated a giant and later became a king. Scripture prophesied that from David’s line would come a son whose house and kingdom would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:12–16).
That son was Jesus—a biological descendent of David through the line of his father, Joseph. Scripture describes him as the “great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20) who conquered the giants of death, sin, and shame, taking his place as the true King of God’s people.
It is to this King that God has given “the throne of his father David to reign forever” (Luke 1:31–33). Even now, he is ruling and reigning at his Father’s side as a Lamb standing as though it had been slain. Before him, all those around the throne fall in worship, declaring that “to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:6–14).
Bread of Life
Until the day we join those around the throne in glorifying and enjoying this Lamb of God and Shepherd-King in our eternal home forever, he promises to sustain us with all we need, one day at a time, like daily bread. Bethlehem means “the house of bread,” and from this house came the One who revealed himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
Bethlehem means ‘the house of bread,’ and from this house came the one who revealed himself as the Bread of Life.
This Christmas, and every day, we will be tempted to seek satisfaction in the temporary pleasures and perishable possessions of this world, only to be left hungering again for satisfaction of our deepest needs—for steadfast love, abiding peace, enduring joy, unshakable hope, lasting meaning, redemptive justice, abounding grace, and a glory beyond our own.
Jesus invites us instead to set our hearts and hopes on him—the Bread of Life born in the house of bread who came down from heaven and gives life to the world, because those who come to him will never hunger and never perish (John 6:33–35). This is good news and great joy. In the house of bread, the city of David, a Savior was born to us. And he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10–11).
Don’t Miss Him
The most emotional moment of my trip took place in Bethlehem as I watched a young boy carrying his lamb just outside the city gates. He was unacknowledged by the bustling crowds, as Jesus so often was then and still is today in the chaos of our lives and the bustle of Christmas.
But even as frazzled, self-focused, world-enthralled people rush right past the Lamb of God born in Bethlehem for us, we remember the angels who sang, the shepherds who came, and the wise men who knelt before the Lamb of God, the Shepherd-King, the Bread of Life.
As we treasure all this in our hearts (Luke 2:19), our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice (Luke 1:46–49). From the little town of Bethlehem to wherever we find ourselves this Christmas, he has done great things for us.