There were several events that took place in the Roman world right before the time of Jesus that added an interesting twist to the the Bible Ascension story. There was another person on the world stage that was purported to have also ascended to heaven and was sitting at the right hand of God. This is a fascinating story when placed against the backdrop of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Let’s take a brief look at the scenario that played out in Rome just before and during the time of Jesus coming to earth.
Julius Caesar was the first of the Caesar family to be in charge of Rome. Rome began as a republic, which meant that all it leaders were to be in office only for a specified period of time. Julius’s army won a great victory over the Gauls and was celebrated back home as a hero. On arriving back at Rome, Julius marched his troops directly into the city to show the power of his command. This display of military might was forbidden in Rome’s constitution. Because Julius was such a powerful leader, many citizens, along with a large group of influential people began pushing to have Julius made the permanent emperor of Rome. An opposition group, led by Brutus and Cassius, felt this would be the down fall of Rome. You know the story, they assassinated Julius, fled the city, and assembled an army in the East to fight for the republic. Mark Anthony and Octavion, Julius’s son, also gathered and army and went to avenge the death of Julius. The two armies met on the Plain of Drama near the ancient city of Philippi and Brutus and Cassius were defeated and committed suicide. Approximately ten years later, Octavion and Mark Anthony battled each other for the sole ruler of Rome. At the battle of Actium, Anthony and his cohort, Cleopatra, lost to Octavion and were also compelled to commit suicide. Now, Octavion was the sole survivor for the throne. He immediately declared himself the next Caesar and then made a declaration that was even more sinister. Octavion declared that his father Julius was a god and that at his death he had been taken back to heaven to sit at the right hand of Zeus, the supreme god. To prove this, he noted that a bright comet had appeared in the sky during Julius’ funeral procession and that this was a sign that that Julius was being taken back up to heaven to take his immortalized place among the other gods. If Julius was indeed a god and was in fact in heaven seated at the right hand of Zeus, then the logical conclusion was that Octavion was the, ”son of god”! Octavion declared that his father had put him in charge on earth and that he was now also a divine ruler as the son of god. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, “the exalted or supreme one.” He had statues of himself erected all over Rome with inscriptions on them such as, “Son of God”, “Savior of the World”, “Worshiped Son of the Worshiped God,” and “Son of the Divine Caesar.”
Do you see the problem in Luke? Luke 2:1 says, “In the days of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born”! On the scene at the same time in history are two men who claim to be the Son of God and both claim to have been give all authority in heaven and earth by their father (Matthew 28:18)! When Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 8:6 that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, He is not just making an idle statement about Jesus. He is directly challenging the authority of Caesar and claiming that Jesus is the one and only King of Kings and Lord of Lords (see 1 Timothy 6:15). Knowing history makes the Text so much richer and make it come alive. Jesus is Lord! Not Caesar!