Regardless of the view one holds of Jesus, it must be admitted that no man has ever influenced the course of human history as He has. From this standpoint alone, He and His life demand serious consideration. Moreover, it is His pervasive influence that constitutes one of the strongest evidences for His claims, for His influence is out of all proportion to the relative obscurity of His life. Men far greater by the standards of this world have had far less influence. Actually, His life was rather unpromising, historically speaking. Born in a stable to peasant parents of a despised race, He never obtained much education, never wrote a book, never acquired any wealth, never marshaled an army, never held political office and, with the exception of a brief period during His infancy, never even traveled more than a 100 miles from His home. He was 30 years of age before He began His public ministry, which ended ignominiously at a Roman cross. In short, He had, and did, nothing to portend greatness and everything to insure, seemingly, that it would be squashed. Yet, whose life has not been touched in some way by His?
This is the historical question concerning Jesus: "how do you account for Him?"
The search for answers only uncovers more questions. Is He a mere myth? Not only does Jesus defy the mythological mold, but such an assertion would have one believe that an imaginary Jesus could accomplish what a real Jesus could not! Is He a mere man? He claimed to be the Son of God (Jn. 10:36), equal to the Father (Jn. 5:17,18; 10:30; 14:7-10), sinless (Jn. 8:46), and the Savior (Lk. 19:9,10). He also claimed to perform numerous and various miracles (Mt. 11:2-5). Such claims are so bold and fantastic that it is doubtful men would have even heard of Jesus were they not true. Men who make such claims are either ignored or shut away by society.
Yes, others have gained great followings - Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, etc. - but not by making the claims and doing the things Jesus did. The false prophet knows that the greater his claims are the greater the chances of exposure are. Even if his lies are not provable, they must not be disprovable by ordinary observation. Jesus made the greatest claims a man could make, and He has substantiated them with the inspired records, the institutions, and the faith He has given to men. Jesus' eminence in history can only be explained as men look to Him and exclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!" (Jn. 20:28).
II. His Birth and Youth
Information about the birth and youth of Jesus is sparse. Only Matthew 1,2) and Luke (1,2) have anything to say about the early part of His life. This should not be surprising, considering that it was what He taught and did during His public ministry which was especially pertinent to His purpose in coming to the earth. He was miraculously conceived by a virgin, Mary, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the lineage of David. In order to register for a census they traveled from their home in Nazareth of Galilee to Joseph's ancestral home, Bethlehem of Judea, where Jesus was born. He was given the name "Jesus", roughly meaning "Savior", while "Christ" (Hebrew, "Messiah"), meaning "anointed one," became His title. The date of Jesus' birth can only be approximated. He cannot have been born later than 4 BC, since this is the year of the death of Herod the Great, in whose reign Jesus was born. Luke provides more exact and concrete information by noting that John the Baptist began His ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius' reign (Lk. 3:l, 2) which would be 26 A.D. It appears that Jesus was baptized by John not long after the latter began his ministry, so a date of 26 A.D. is also assigned to Jesus' baptism. Luke also notes that Jesus was about 30 when He was baptized (Lk. 3:23), meaning that He could have been 28 to 32 years old. This would still place Jesus' birth in the range of 6-4 BC. After a flight to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod and a brief stay there, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returned to Nazareth, where Jesus seems to have lived and worked as a carpenter (Mk. 6:3) until the time of His ministry. The only view of Jesus' youth is that provided by Luke in an account concerning Jesus' attendance at the Passover in Jerusalem when He was 12 years old (2:41-52).
III. His Ministry
After His baptism and a 40-day period of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began His public ministry. Since the first Passover of Jesus' ministry was the 46th year of the temple's building (Jn.2:13,20), and Herod began to renovate the temple in 19 BC, a date of 27 A.D. is placed upon this first Passover of Jesus' ministry. It appears that Jesus' public ministry lasted a little over three years. This determination is made, not only by counting the references to the Passover, the second of which is questionable, in the Gospel of John (2:23; 5:1; 6:4; 13:1), but also by the consideration that the activities of Jesus could not very well be squeezed into a shorter period.
Jesus' ministry may be divided into three parts.
(1) Early. This part of His ministry lasted from His public identification by John until the arrest of John. Though Jesus did spend some time in Galilee, this part of His ministry was primarily spent in Judea and is detailed by John (1-3).
(2) Middle. This was by far the lengthiest part of Jesus' public ministry lasting at least two years. The basic setting for this period was Galilee though intermittent trips were made to such places as Judea, Caesarea Philippi. and Phoenicia. During the early part of this ministry Jesus preached His sermon on the mount and chose His twelve apostles, who stayed with Him and were trained during the rest of His ministry. Matthew and Mark are primarily concerned with this part of His ministry.
(3) Late. The setting for this part of His ministry was primarily Perea and Judea. Luke (9:51 - 19:28) and John (7:2 - 11:57) provide the most information about Jesus' Perean ministry and His final journey to Jerusalem.
IV. His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension
All four Gospels devote a disproportionately large part of their records to Jesus' last days in Jerusalem. One-third of the Gospel of John (13-19) is devoted to one 24-hour period. Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on the Sunday before the Passover, 30 A.D., delivered His Mount Olivet discourse on Tuesday (Mt. 24), instituted the Lord's Supper during the Passover meal on Thursday night, was arrested, tried, convicted, crucified, and buried on Friday, and was raised from the dead on the following Sunday, the third day after His death, as He had predicted (Mk. 16:9; Mt. 16:21). Thereafter He taught His apostles over a 40-day period which ended with His ascension to heaven from Mount Olivet (Acts 1:1-12).
V. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)
(1) (T or F) Others have enjoyed Jesus' success while making His claims.
(2) (T or F) Jesus' ministry lasted approximately three years.
(3) What were the three parts of Jesus' ministry and where did He spend them?
(4) What is the only reasonable explanation for Jesus' place in history?