Books about Jesus

Biography: Jesus

The monk Dionysius Exiguus (A.D. 533), who devised our modern calendar with its reckoning B.C. and A.D., miscalculated the reign of Octavian-Augustus by at least four years. Since Herod the Great died just after an eclipse of the moon which can be placed at 4 B.C. and since he was still alive at Jesus' birth, Jesus must have been born before this date.

According to Luke and Matthew, Jesus was conceived by a virgin named Mary while she was legally engaged but not yet married to Joseph of Nazareth. They were both Jews in the royal line of King David, from whence the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament was to come. When she was about to have the child, Mary traveled with Joseph about seventy miles south to their ancestral home of Bethlehem because the emperor Augustus had ordered an Empire-wide census (Lk. 2:1). Jesus was thus born in Bethlehem, fulfilling a prophecy written seven hundred years before (Mic. 5:2). Joseph and Mary were quite poor, as evidenced by their offerings in the Temple (Lk. 2:24; cf. Lev. 12:8).

The canonical Gospels record that Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth and had other children. These brothers and sisters were not sympathetic to Jesus' mission (Mk. 3:31-35; Mt. 13:55-56). Later, however, his brother James played a leading role in the church. James and another brother Jude wrote letters which are included in the New Testament.

The canonical Gospels record only one incident in Jesus' childhood. When he was twelve he impressed the rabbis in Jerusalem with his questions and answers (Lk. 2:41-52). In contrast, the apocryphal infancy Gospels (dating from the second century A.D. on) attribute all kinds of absurd miracles to the young Jesus, for example, portraying him making live pigeons out of clay and petulantly striking some of his playmates dead.(11)

Although marriage was considered a religious duty by most Jews (the Essenes were the exception), Jesus never married.

Until his thirtieth year, Jesus remained in Nazareth, presumably working as a carpenter (Lk. 3:23). Then he began his ministry by submitting to the baptism of John the Baptist. Jesus, who had no formal training as a rabbi, did not speak like the rabbis of his day; they cited their predecessors as their authorities while Jesus spoke on his own authority (Mt. 5:27-28, 7:28-29).

Since we know Jesus appeared at three or four Passover festivals, his public ministry must have lasted three to three-and-a-half years. During this time he trained a band of twelve apostles and many other disciples. He went about teaching, healing the sick and raising the dead (for example, Jn. 11). Jewish rabbinical sources do not deny these miracles but rather attribute them to demonic magic. Speaking of the miracles attributed to Christ in the canonical Gospels, F.F. Bruce comments: "In general, they are 'in character' - that is to say, they are the kind of works that might be expected from such a Person as the Gospels represent Jesus to be."(14)

Like his forerunner John the Baptist, Jesus preached that men must repent of their sins (Lk. 13:3-5), that is, men must acknowledge God's judgment against their sinfulness and seek his forgiveness and cleansing. He taught that men should seek the will of God and his kingdom, rather than any earthly kingdom or temporal goal (Mt. 6). He insisted that men should love not only their neighbors but even their enemies (Mt. 5:44).

Above all, Jesus taught that God loves men so much he had sent his only son, Jesus himself, to become incarnate as a man (Jn.1:1, 14) in order to die in their place, so that they might not perish eternally but might receive eternal life (Jn. 3:16; Mt. 20:28). For a man to receive eternal life he must be ''born again" (Jn. 3:3) by committing his life to Jesus (Jn. 1:12; cf. Rev. 3:20).

Jesus' disregard for their minute regulations (for example, prohibiting healing on the Sabbath) aroused the opposition of the Pharisees, the most respected religious leaders among the Jews. Jesus strongly denounced the hypocrisy of these antagonists. Even at the time of his greatest popularity Jesus told his disciples that he would be condemned to death, crucified and resurrected (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34).

When Jesus was given a tumultuous welcome into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the chief priests and other leaders of the Jews conspired with Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' own apostles, to arrest him. He finally was arrested on Thursday night (early Friday morning by Jewish reckoning) in a garden where he was praying with his disciples. After preliminary examinations during the night by Annas the high priest emeritus (Jn. 18), by Caiaphas the high priest (Mk. 14; Mt. 26; and Lk. 22) and by part of the Sanhedrin (the ruling assembly of the Jews), Jesus was taken early in the morning to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and accused of misleading the Jewish nation, forbidding the payment of taxes to Rome and claiming to be a king (Lk. 23:2).(15)

Though he judged Jesus to be innocent, Pilate had him scourged and crucified to placate a mob which had gathered and been stirred up by the Jewish leaders (Mt. 27:20; Mk. 15:11). Though Jesus suffered humiliation and excruciating pain on the cross, he asked God to forgive those who were responsible (Lk. 23:34). That "Good Friday," as the Sabbath approached, (16) the Roman soldiers hastened the deaths of the brigands with whom Jesus was crucified by breaking their legs. They made certain Jesus was already dead by thrusting a spear in his side.

The body of Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in an unused tomb which was carved into a rock. A large circular stone was rolled in front of the entrance and Roman soldiers were posted there (Mt. 27:62-66). When some women disciples came to the tomb early on Sunday morning to complete the anointing of Jesus' body, however, they discovered the soldiers gone, the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Upon hearing the report of this, John and Peter raced to the tomb (Jn. 20) and discovered all that remained in the tomb was Jesus' grave clothes, neatly in place (evidence, by the way, which speaks against a tomb robbery).

The empty tomb alone did not convince the disciples that Jesus was alive, but Jesus appeared to his disciples on at least ten occasions after that. All of these appearances are recorded in the New Testament; we will mention just four of them.

Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene on Sunday morning near the tomb. The other disciples did not believe her report (Jn. 20:18; Mk. 16:11). Then that evening in Jerusalem Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of the disciples, who had barricaded themselves behind locked doors. After allowing the terrified men to touch him and examine his wounds to pr



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