The Life of Jesus Christ

Whether or not Jesus actually existed, his life and teachings are an inspiration to many. Occultists and liberal Christians agree that the spiritual teachings of Jesus' life don't diminish, even when it turns out the man himself actually didn't live.

The life of Jesus of Nazereth, according to the gospels

Jesus (8–2 BC/BCE — 29–36 AD/CE), also known as Jesus of Nazareth, is the central figure of Christianity. He is commonly referred to as Jesus Christ, where "Christ" is a Greek-derived title meaning "Anointed One" which corresponds to the Hebrew-derived "Messiah".

The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee (then part of Iudaea) who was regarded as a healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, was accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was sentenced to death by crucifixion. As the Gospels were not written immediately after his death and there is little external documentation, a small minority of scholars question the historical existence of Jesus.

Christian views of Jesus (an area of study known as Christology) are both diverse and complex. Most Christians are Trinitarian and believe that Jesus is simultaneously the Son of God and God made incarnate, sent to provide salvation and reconciliation with God by atoning for the sins of humanity. Nontrinitarian Christians adopt various other interpretations regarding the divinity of Jesus. Most Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, crucified and buried in a tomb, resurrected on the third day of death, and ascended into Heaven where he resides with God the Father until the Second Coming. Most Christians also believe that Jesus performed miracles and fulfilled biblical prophecy.

In Islam, Jesus (Arabic Isa) is considered one of God's most beloved and important prophets, a bringer of divine scripture, and also the Messiah. Muslims, however, do not share the Christian belief in the crucifixion or divinity of Jesus. Islam teaches that Jesus was raised bodily to heaven. Most Muslims believe that Jesus will return to the earth as Messiah in the company of the Mahdi once the earth has become full of sin and injustice.

Chronology

Suggested years of Jesus' birth and death based on Gospel interpretations
c. 8 BC(E) Birth (earliest)
c. 4 BC(E) <Herod's death>
c. 6 AD/CE Birth (latest) <Quirinius' census>
c. 26/27 <Pilate governor>
c. 27 Death (earliest)
c. 36 Death (latest)
c. 36/37 <Pilate removed>

The Gospels on Jesus Christ

The most detailed accounts of Jesus' birth are contained in the Gospel of Matthew (probably written between 65 and 90 AD/CE) and the Gospel of Luke (probably written between 65 and 100 AD/CE). There is considerable debate about the details of Jesus' birth among even Christian scholars, and few scholars claim to know precisely either the year or the date of his birth or of his death.

While the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke do not mention a date or time of year for the birth of Jesus, it has been traditionally dated a few days after the winter solstice - December 25, and is celebrated as Christmas by many people. Many scholars note that the account in Luke of the shepherds' activities suggest a spring or summer date. The solstice dating can be traced as early as 330 among Roman Christians. Before then, Jesus' birth was generally celebrated on January 6 as part of the feast of Theophany, also known as Epiphany, which commemorated not only Jesus' birth but also his baptism by John in the Jordan River and possibly additional events in Jesus' life. Scholars speculate that the date of the celebration was moved in an attempt to replace the Roman festival of Saturnalia (or more specifically, the birthday of the God Sol Invictus).

In the 248th year during the Diocletian Era (based on Diocletian's ascension to the Roman throne), Dionysius Exiguus attempted to pinpoint the number of years since Jesus' birth, arriving at a figure of 753 years after the founding of Rome. Dionysius then set Jesus' birth as being December 25 1 ACN (for "Ante Christum Natum", or "before the birth of Christ"), and assigned AD 1 to the following year — thereby establishing the system of numbering years from the birth of Jesus: Anno Domini (which translates as "in the year of our Lord"). This system made the then current year 532, and almost two centuries later it won acceptance and became the established calendar in Western civilization due to its further championing by the Venerable Bede.

However, based on a lunar eclipse that Josephus reports shortly before the death of Herod the Great (who plays a major role in Matthew's account), as well as a more accurate understanding of the succession of Roman Emperors, Jesus' birth would have been some time before the year 4 BC/BCE. Having fewer sources and being further removed in time from the authors of the New Testament, establishing a reliable birth date now is particularly difficult.

The exact date of Jesus' death is also unclear. Many scholars hold that the Gospel of John depicts the crucifixion just before the Passover festival on Friday 14 Nisan, called the Quartodeciman, whereas the synoptic gospels (except for Mark 14:2) describe the Last Supper, immediately before Jesus' arrest, as the Passover meal on Friday 15 Nisan; however, a number of scholars hold that the synoptic account is harmonious with the account in John. Further, the Jews followed a lunisolar calendar with phases of the moon as dates, complicating calculations of any exact date in a solar calendar. According to John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew, allowing for the time of the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate and the dates of the Passover in those years, his death can be placed most probably on April 7, 30 AD/CE or April 3, 33 AD/CE.

Life and teachings based on the Gospels

Major events in Jesus's life in the Gospels

As few of the details of Jesus' life can be independently verified, it is difficult to gauge the historical accuracy of Biblical accounts. The four canonical gospels are the main sources of information for the traditional Christian narrative of Jesus' life.

Nativity and childhood

According to Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea to Mary, a virgin, by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke gives an account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her that she was chosen to bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26–38). According to Luke, an order of Caesar Augustus forced Mary and Joseph to leave their homes in Nazareth and come to the home of Joseph's ancestors, the house of David, for the Census of Quirinius. After Jesus' birth, the couple was forced to use a manger in place of a crib because there was no room for them in the town's inn (Luke 2:1–7). According to Luke, an angel announced Jesus' birth to shepherds who came to see the newborn child and subsequently publicized what they had witnessed throughout the area (see The First NoŽl). Matthew also tells of the "Wise Men" or "Magi" who brought gifts to the infant Jesus after following a star which they believed was a sign that the Messiah, or King of the Jews, had been born (Matthew 2:1-12).

Jesus' childhood home is stated in the Bible to have been the town of Nazareth in Galilee, and aside from a flight to Egypt in infancy to escape Herod's Massacre of the Innocents and a short trip to Tyre and Sidon, all other events in the Gospels are set in ancient Israel. Luke's Finding in the Temple (Luke 2:41–52) is the only event between Jesus' infancy and adult life mentioned in any of the canonical Gospels, although New Testament apocrypha fill in the details of this time, some quite extensively.

Baptism and temptation

The Gospel of Mark begins with the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, which Biblical scholars describe as the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. According to Mark, Jesus came to the Jordan River where John the Baptist had been preaching and baptizing people in the crowd. Matthew adds to the account by describing an attempt by John to decline Jesus' request for baptism, saying that it is Jesus who should baptize John. Jesus insisted however, claiming that baptism was necessary to "fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3:15). After Jesus had been baptized and rose from the water, Mark states Jesus "saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven saying, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1:10–11).

Following his baptism, according to Matthew, Jesus was led into the desert by God where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. During this time, the devil appeared to him and tempted Jesus to demonstrate his supernatural powers as proof of his divinity, although each temptation was refused by Jesus with a quote of scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy. In all, he was tempted three times. The Gospels state that having failed, the devil departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11).

Ministry

The Gospels state that Jesus, as Messiah, was sent to "give his life as a ransom for many" and "preach the good news of the Kingdom of God." Over the course of his ministry, Jesus performed various miracles, including healings, exorcisms, walking on water, turning water into wine, and raising several people, such as Lazarus, from the dead (John 11:1–44).

The Gospel of John describes three different passover feasts over the course of Jesus' ministry. This implies that Jesus preached for a period of three years, although some interpretations of the Synoptic Gospels suggest a span of only one year. The focus of his ministry was toward his closest adherents, the Twelve Apostles, though many of his followers were considered disciples. Jesus led what many believe to have been an apocalyptic following. He preached that the end of the current world would come unexpectedly; as such, he called on his followers to be ever alert and faithful.

At the height of his ministry, Jesus attracted huge crowds numbering in the thousands, primarily in the areas of Galilee and Perea (in modern-day Israel and Jordan respectively). Some of Jesus' most famous teachings come from the Sermon on the Mount, which contained the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. Jesus often employed parables, such as the Prodigal Son, and the Parable of the Sower. His teachings centered around unconditional self-sacrificing God-like love for God and for all people. During his sermons, he preached about service and humility, the forgiveness of sin, faith, turning the other cheek, love for one's enemies as well as friends, and the need to follow the spirit of the law in addition to the letter.

Jesus often met with society's outcasts, such as the publicani (Imperial tax collectors who were despised for extorting money), including the apostle Matthew; when the Pharisees objected to meeting with sinners rather than the righteous, Jesus replied that it was the sick who need a physician, not the healthy (Matthew 9:9–13). According to Luke and John, Jesus also made efforts to extend his ministry to the Samaritans, who followed a different form of the Israelite religion. This is reflected in his preaching to the Samaritans of Sychar, resulting in their conversion (John 4:1–42).

Arrest, trial, and death

According to the Gospels, Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival where a large crowd came to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!" Following his triumphal entry, Jesus created a disturbance at Herod's Temple by overturning the tables of the moneychangers operating there, claiming that they had made the Temple a "den of robbers." (John 2:13–17). Later that week, Jesus and his disciples gathered for what is known as the Last Supper, in which he prophesied his future betrayal by one of his apostles and ultimate execution. Following the supper, Jesus and his disciples went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.

While in the garden, Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers on the orders of the Sanhedrin and the high priest, Caiaphas. The arrest took place clandestinely at night to avoid a riot, as Jesus was popular with the people at large (Mark 14:2). According to the synoptics, Judas Iscariot, one of his apostles, betrayed Jesus by identifying him to the guards with a kiss. Another apostle used a sword to attack one of the captors, cutting off his ear, which, according to Luke, Jesus immediately healed. Jesus rebuked the apostle, stating "all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). After his arrest, Jesus' apostles went into hiding.

During the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus, the high priests and elders asked Jesus, "Are you the Son of God?", and upon his reply of "You say that I am", condemned Jesus for blasphemy (Luke 22:70–71). The high priests then turned him over to the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate, based on an accusation of sedition for claiming to be King of the Jews. While before Pilate, Jesus was questioned "Are you the king of the Jews?" to which he replied, "It is as you say." According to the Gospels, Pilate personally felt that Jesus was not guilty of any crime against the Romans, and since there was a custom at Passover for the Roman governor to free a prisoner (a custom not recorded outside the Gospels), Pilate offered the crowd a choice between Jesus of Nazareth and an insurrectionist named Barabbas. The crowd chose to have Barabbas freed and Jesus crucified. Pilate washed his hands to display that he himself was innocent of the injustice of the decision (Matthew 27:11–26).

According to all four Gospels, Jesus died before late afternoon. The wealthy Judean Joseph of Arimathea, according to Mark and Luke a member of the Sanhedrin, received Pilate's permission to take possession of Jesus' body, placing it in a tomb. According to John, Joseph was joined in burying Jesus by Nicodemus, who appears in other parts of John's gospel (John 19:38–42). The three Synoptic Gospels tell of an earthquake and of the darkening of the sky from twelve until three that afternoon.

Resurrection and Ascension

According to the Gospels, Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. The Gospel of Matthew states that an angel appeared near the tomb of Jesus and announced his resurrection to the women who had arrived to anoint the body. According to Luke it was two angels, and according to Mark it was a youth dressed in white. Mark states that on the morning of his resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). John states that when Mary looked into the tomb, two angels asked her why she was crying; and as she turned round she initially failed to recognize Jesus until he spoke her name (John 20:11-18).

The Acts of the Apostles tell that Jesus appeared to various people in various places over the next forty days. Hours after his resurrection, he appeared to two travellers on the road to Emmaus. To his assembled disciples he showed himself on the evening after his resurrection. Although his own ministry had been specifically to Israel, Jesus sent his apostles to the Gentiles with the Great Commission and ascended to heaven while a cloud concealed him from their sight. According to Acts, Paul of Tarsus also saw Jesus during his Road to Damascus experience. Jesus promises to come again to fulfill the remainder of Messianic prophecy.