Biblical Studies (NT)/II. JESUS
NOTE: This lesson seeks only to accurately represent the Gospel portrayal of Jesus. It is not intended as a religious or doctrinal statement, and students should form their own opinions as to the nature and reliability of the Gospel accounts.
- 1 JESUS’ LIFE AND MINISTRY
- 1.1 The Birth of Jesus
- 1.2 Jesus’ Childhood
- 1.3 Phases of Jesus’ Ministry
- 1.4 Jesus’ Baptism
- 1.5 The Temptation
- 1.6 The Sermon on the Mount
- 1.7 The Transfiguration
- 1.8 The Triumphal Entry
- 1.9 The Olivet Discourse
- 1.10 The Last Supper
- 1.11 Jesus’ Trial and Crucifixion
- 1.12 The Resurrection
- 1.13 The Ascension
- 2 WHO WAS JESUS?
- 3 Test Your Knowledge
JESUS’ LIFE AND MINISTRY
The Birth of Jesus
In the year 4 or 5 B.C., the Romans held a census. Being of the house and lineage of David, it was necessary for Joseph and Mary, who was ready to give birth at any time, to go to Bethlehem to register. On arrival in Bethlehem, there was no room for them at the inn, so the pair took shelter in a barn, and this is where Jesus was born. For a crib, they had to lay the infant Jesus in a manger (a trough or box used for feeding horses and cattle). Luke says that on the day Jesus was born, an angel appeared to shepherds in the fields, saying, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).
It may seem like a contradiction to speak of Christ being born four years Before Christ (B.C.), but there is a logical explanation. When Jesus was born, dates in the Roman Empire were reckoned from the founding of the city of Rome. Later on, after Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman world, the emperor Justinian commissioned a monk named Dionysius Exiguus to make a new calendar which was reckoned from the time of the birth of Christ. This calendar was made in 526 A.D. Unfortunately, long after the Christian calendar was made, it was found that Dionysius had made an error in his calculations and placed the birth of Christ several years later than the actual event. So, according to our present calendar, the most likely date of Christ’s birth is actually 4 or 5 B.C.
Not much is recorded concerning Jesus’ childhood. After eight days he was circumcised, according to Jewish law. He was presented in the temple after the time of his mother’s purification - forty days - and the customary offering was made. As mentioned earlier, the family fled to Egypt while he was still a baby, but were soon able to return when Herod the Great died. Luke writes, “The Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40).
The next we hear of Jesus is the visit to Jerusalem with his parents at the age of twelve. After his parents realized that he was missing, they went to look for him. They found him in the temple discussing with the teachers: “All who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (Lk 2:47). Of the next eighteen years, all that the Bible tells us is that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk 2:52).
Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary lived and where Jesus grew up, is in Galilee, about fifteen miles east of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and about twenty miles from the Mediterranean coast. The everyday language of Galilee was Aramaic, but due to the Roman occupation, there were many non-Jewish people in the area, and Greek was common also. Jesus would also have been exposed to Hebrew, as it was the language of the scriptures and was regularly heard in the synagogue.
Phases of Jesus’ Ministry
Jesus’ ministry, from the time of his baptism until his ascension, can be divided into six basic phases:
- a) Early Judean
- b) Galilean
- c) Later Judean
- d) Perean
- e) Passion Week
- f) Post-Resurrection
For approximately eight months after his baptism, Jesus ministered in and around Jerusalem, a period which has come to be known as the Early Judean Ministry. Most of what we know about this time comes from the Gospel of John, as the Synoptic Gospels give very little attention to it. After this time, he journeyed back to Galilee to begin what has come to be known as the Galilean Ministry. The Synoptic Gospels give great attention to this period, with about half of Matthew and Mark and about six chapters of Luke being devoted to it. It probably lasted about two years. Following his departure from Galilee, Jesus spent several months in Judea (the Later Judean Ministry) and Perea (the Perean Ministry). Returning to Jerusalem for the final week before his crucifixion (Passion Week), he stayed in Bethany, a few miles to the southeast of the city. His crucifixion took place at Calvary, just outside Jerusalem’s city wall.
The post-Resurrection phase of Jesus’ ministry took place in the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension to heaven. After appearing to his disciples in Jerusalem after the Resurrection, Jesus went back to Galilee, where he sojourned with them in a pre-arranged meeting place. He then returned to Jerusalem one last time before his ascension, which took place just outside the city in or near the village of Bethany, on the Mount of Olives.
The event which marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was his baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. This probably happened in 26 A.D. when Jesus was thirty years old. The location was a place not far from Jericho, at or near the spot where the waters divided for Joshua and the Israelites to cross into Canaan (i.e. Palestine). Matthew writes, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And Jesus, when he had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Mt 3:13,16,17). This was, in a sense, Jesus’ inauguration. From this point forth, he publicly assumed the role of what is called in Hebrew, Messiah; in Greek, Christ; and in English, Anointed One.
After his baptism, Jesus went out into the barren mountain wilderness near Jericho for forty days where he fasted and was subjected to temptations by Satan. Satan’s efforts proved fruitless and he eventually left Jesus alone, whereupon angels came and ministered to Jesus. This event is significant theologically in that it shows that Jesus could be tempted. He remained resolute, however, even at a time when he was at his weakest, having fasted forty days in the wilderness. The passage also indicates that, in the Bible’s view, Satan is a real entity who is bold enough to challenge the Son of God himself. Had Jesus succumbed to temptation, his purpose for coming into the world would have been negated, for he would have been corrupted and, according to the law of Moses, would no longer have been an acceptable sacrifice.
The Sermon on the Mount
The main themes of Jesus’ teaching are outlined early on in the gospels in the Sermon on the Mount, which can be found in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew. There is an abbreviated form of it in the sixth chapter of Luke, sometimes called the Sermon on the Plain. It is not known if it is from the same sermon or a different one which contained many similar themes. In it, Jesus emphasizes the need for purity and righteousness, even in the face of adversity. Those who remain faithful, even through tribulation, will be greatly blessed. He teaches that scripture is reliable, saying, “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled” (Mt 5:18).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expounds the most important and basic of the Mosaic laws, urging us to go beyond mere physical obedience and seek absolute moral and spiritual purity, assuring us that “he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt 7:8). He gives us a model prayer, so that we might know how to pray. He stresses one of the most fundamental of Christian precepts, that of forgiveness, saying, “If you do not forgive people their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:15). He reminds us to do good, “And your Father who sees in secret will himself reward you openly” (Mt 6:4). He concludes the sermon by comparing those who heed his teachings to wise men who build on a rock, and those who ignore his teachings to foolish men who build on sand.
Towards the end of his Galilean ministry, Jesus took Peter, along with the brothers, James and John, up onto a mountain by themselves. Once they had arrived at the spot Jesus desired, he began to pray. As the disciples looked at him, he was transformed so that “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light” (Mt 17:2). Then Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with him about his approaching death in Jerusalem. The disciples were so afraid that Peter nervously suggested that they erect three tabernacles, one for each of the men in the vision, for in reality he did not know what to say or do. As he spoke, however, he was overshadowed by a cloud from which came a voice, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Hear him!” (Lk 9:35). At this, the disciples fell to their faces in fear, but Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid. When they looked up, he was alone again and had regained his normal appearance.
The Triumphal Entry
At the end of March (Nisan in the Hebrew calendar), probably in 29 or 30 A.D., Jesus went up to Jerusalem with his disciples for a religious festival: the Passover. Before the week was out, Jesus would be arrested, undergo a mock trial, and be executed by crucifixion. All of the gospels, but particularly John, give considerable detail concerning this final week, which is a measure of its importance. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he received a great welcome from the people, which belied the fate which awaited him in the coming days. Matthew writes, “A very great multitude spread their garments on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And when he came into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, ‘Who is this?’” (Mt 21:8,10).
The Olivet Discourse
On Tuesday of the Passover week, Jesus gave his famous “Olivet Discourse,” so called because it was given on the Mount of Olives. This is Jesus’ great end-times discourse in which he speaks of the great tribulation to come at the end of the age. He warns of false prophets who will arise in the last days and speaks of signs which will indicate that the end is near. He also speaks of a second coming of the Messiah, saying, “As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt 24:37). In the days of Noah, the world was full of immorality. Despite the warnings of Noah that a great flood was imminent, everyone continued about their business as though nothing were going to happen. Consequently, when the time came, they were thoroughly unprepared. So it will be, Jesus says, in the end times.
The Last Supper
During Passover week, Jesus stayed outside of the city in Bethany, but came into Jerusalem to teach. Matthew writes, “The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled together at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted that they might take Jesus by trickery and kill him” (Mt 26:3-4). They were soon to find the opportunity they needed when Judas Iscariot came to them and agreed to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
On Thursday evening of Passover week, the day before the crucifixion, Jesus ate the traditional Passover meal with his apostles. When they were sitting at supper, Jesus identified Judas as the one who would betray him. Jesus then instituted the sacrament of communion, in which bread and wine are consumed as a memorial of his sacrifice, the bread representing his body and the wine, his blood.
The Passover, which had been observed by the Jews since the Exodus more than a thousand years earlier, is highly symbolic in this context. When they were slaves in Egypt, the Jews were passed over by the angel of death because they put the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their door posts, as instructed by Moses. In this instance, Jesus himself is considered to be the sacrificial lamb whose blood allows his followers to escape spiritual death.
Following the Passover meal, which has come to be known as the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples went out to a place called Gethsemane, where they entered a garden: “Jesus knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is your will, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly. And his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk 22:42,44). This is known as the Agony in the Garden. While they were there, Judas led his enemies to him, accompanied by a large crowd carrying swords and clubs. They then led him away to the high priest for trial.
Jesus’ Trial and Crucifixion
Jesus first came before Annas at about midnight. Annas was Caiaphas’ father-in-law and his predecessor in the office of high priest, and he still retained a powerful influence. After questioning Jesus, Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas. At Caiaphas’ residence, Jesus came before the Sanhedrin: a council of seventy, made up of Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, scribes, and elders, all of whom were presided over by the high priest. They condemned Jesus on the charge of blasphemy, supported by false witnesses. However, they could not put Jesus to death without the permission of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and since Pilate was not Jewish, they knew that he would not be impressed with a charge of blasphemy. Therefore, they concocted a charge of treason against Caesar, with which they brought Jesus before him when morning came.
When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to King Herod Antipas, whose jurisdiction was over Galilee and who was in Jerusalem at the time, presumably for the Passover feast. Herod mocked Jesus and sent him back to Pilate. However, after interviewing Jesus, Pilate was convinced of his innocence and would have set him free, were it not for the crowd, which was becoming unruly, raising fears of a riot. Matthew writes, “When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this innocent person. You see to it.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’ Then he released Barabbas to them; but when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Mt 27:24-26). Jesus was then taken and crucified along with two criminals, one on his left and one on his right. When evening had come, Joseph, a wealthy man from a town about twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem called Arimathea, came with Nicodemus and took Jesus’ body and laid it in his own tomb, which had never been used. A heavy stone was rolled in front of the entrance and at the request of the Jewish leaders, a guard was placed in front of it.
The day after Jesus’ crucifixion was the Sabbath, when no one was allowed to perform any tasks, either for business or of a personal nature. But the following day, three female disciples - Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome - came to anoint Jesus’ body with oil and spices. When they arrived, an angel was waiting for them, who told them, “He is not here. He is risen as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. Go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead, and indeed he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him” (Mt 28:6-7). Later, the apostle Paul would write to the disciples at Corinth: “Christ is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20-22).
During the next forty days, Jesus appeared on several occasions to his disciples, first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee, and again in Jerusalem. Then after forty days, he ascended to heaven: “He led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, that he was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God!” (Lk 24:50 53).
WHO WAS JESUS?
The Word of God
In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, we read these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1,14). As we continue to read the passage, it becomes apparent that the flesh in which the Word “dwelt among us” was that of Jesus. Though the Bible is often referred to as “the word,” this passage is clearly using the term in a different sense, for it says that the Word “was God.” This Word is therefore another term for the spirit of God. When John says that it “became flesh and dwelt among us,” he does not mean that God became flesh in a literal sense, but that God manifested himself in a physical body: the body of Jesus.
The Word, as it is used here, is also called the Name of God, or the Holy Name. In Revelation, the author describes a vision of Jesus and says, “He had a name written that no one knew except himself... and his name is called the Word of God” (Rev 19:12-13). This name will eventually be revealed, however, for John says that people “shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). Since the Name of God is clearly not a physical thing, it is reasonable to conclude that the phrase, "his name shall be written on their foreheads," is a figure of speech which is used to express a spiritual concept in concrete terms.
There is a mystery here, for the Gospel of John says that the Word was both with God, and was God. Most Christian sects explain this enigma with the doctrine of the Trinity, which says that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three manifestations of God, distinct, yet in essence, one. If the Word was the spirit of God manifested to us through the body of Jesus, then Jesus may be considered an incarnation of God. Notwithstanding, in the New Testament the Son makes himself subordinate to the Father. The Trinity is a challenging concept which has often been a source of controversy. Nevertheless, belief in the Trinity has, for many centuries, been considered a mark of orthodoxy within many Christian churches.
Both Human and Divine
The paradoxical nature of Jesus, as both human and divine, is evident from the very beginning, in his conception. He is said to be born of a human mother, but conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit while his mother was yet a virgin. So while he was the son of Mary, he was also the son of God. Hence the two titles by which he is often described: “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” As the Son of Man, he grew to physical maturity and was subject to sickness and death like anyone else. But as the Son of God, he was without sin, ageless, divine, and had power over life and death.
Both the human and the divine sides of the Messianic nature are clearly taught in the Bible. His humanness is shown in the fact that apart from his supernatural conception, Mary carried Jesus through all the stages of a normal pregnancy and he was born in the normal way. He was even circumcised after eight days, as was the custom with the Jewish people. He grew in size and increased in worldly knowledge like other children, for Luke says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk 2:52).
From a strictly physical point of view, he appeared to be like any other man, and many people saw him as just a normal man. For example, the people of the area where he grew up were offended by his wisdom. They felt that he should act and speak just as they did, without making what they thought were pretensions to supernatural wisdom. They said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brothers James, Joses, Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things? And they were offended by him” (Mt 13:54-57).
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was a carpenter by trade. It was customary for the eldest son to learn his father’s trade, and this is what Jesus did, since from a human point of view, Joseph took the place of a father to him. Therefore, as a young man, he learned a trade and apparently worked for his living as any other man. As a human being, he was subject to pain, hunger, emotions, and death. For example, on the cross he complained of thirst (Jn 19:28). Isaiah described the Messiah as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3) -- words which are understood by Christians as finding their fulfillment in Jesus.
But the New Testament also teaches that Jesus was divine. Perhaps his most dramatic claim to deity is in a dispute with the Pharisees, who were trying to trick him with words and find reasons to accuse him. Jesus quotes from the book of Exodus, where God sends Moses on a mission to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Moses anticipates that the Israelites, living in a land of many gods, will want to know which one sent him. The Exodus account says, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am, so say to the children of Israel, I Am has sent me to you’” (Ex 3:14). Consequently, the words “I Am” were recognized in Israel as a divine name for God. In his discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus said, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am’” (Jn 8:56-58). The effect of this on the Pharisees was so profound that they immediately tried to stone Jesus for blasphemy, but the Bible tells us that somehow he hid himself from their sight and left the temple grounds where they had been talking.
The Sacrificial Lamb
The climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry is the Crucifixion, where he sacrifices his life as an atonement for the sins of the world. This is both a sacrifice of the Father and of the Son, for the Bible says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). In another messianic prophecy, Isaiah says:
- His visage was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Is 52:14, 53:3, 6, 7)
However, the Son of Man is also the Son of God, and he has power over life and death. Three days after his crucifixion, he rose from the dead and walked among his disciples for forty days, after which, he ascended to heaven. According to the New Testament, he will return at the end of this age and rule over the earth during a thousand years of peace (see the lessons on Revelation).
Test Your Knowledge
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