The Life of Jesus

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea towards the end of the reign of Herod the Great, a little over two thousand years ago. Bethlehem is a town five miles (eight kilometres) south of Jerusalem. At the time of Jesus’ birth it would have been small; Jesus was born in a provincial town to parents who would hardly be known in it. The death of Herod the Great took place either in 4BC or in 1BC, which means that Jesus must have been born in 4 or 5 BC. This, in turn, means that Jesus was born more than two thousand years ago.

For about 30 years little was heard of Jesus but he then began a programme of teaching and healing in Judea and Galilee which lasted for about three and a half years. This period in Jesus’ life is known as his 'Ministry'. During his ministry Jesus mainly worked and taught in Judea, which was the area around Jerusalem, and Galilee, an area to the north of this.

There is a summary of this ministry in Acts 10, when Peter the Apostle spoke to the Roman centurion Cornelius.

 

Peter’s Witness in Acts 10

"You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear... "                   (Acts 10:37-40)

This tells us several things about Jesus.

  • Jesus worked in Judea and Galilee. Apparently Cornelius already knew about the activities of Jesus in Judea - he was a military officer in Judea and would have access to intelligence reports. However, Galilee was outside the Roman Empire, and Cornelius would know less about Jesus’ work there.

  • The work of Jesus involved teaching and healing in Galilee and Judea.

  • At the end of his ministry Jesus was put to death, but he was raised back to life on the third day after this.

  • The Apostles were eyewitnesses of the things that Jesus said and did.

 

The Apostles had been with Jesus through much of his ministry. They were chosen as people who would act as witnesses to his actions. The record of Jesus in the four Gospels of the New Testament is an eyewitness account.

 

The Birth of Jesus

Jesus was born in Judea in the closing years of the reign of Herod the Great. After the birth of Jesus he was visited by wise men from the east who, without meaning to cause harm, told Herod that someone who would one day be king of Israel had been born in Bethlehem. Afraid of a potential rival to his house, Herod took steps to remove the threat by killing all the little children in the town, but the family of Jesus had already escaped to Egypt. They returned to Judea on the death of Herod. Finding that Archelaus (who was every bit as dangerous as Herod the Great) had succeeded his father as ruler of Judea, the family continued to Nazareth in Galilee, the village where Mary the mother of Jesus had lived. Here they settled and Jesus grew up.

 

The family of Jesus consisted of his mother Mary, her husband Joseph and several other children. The extent of this family is laid out in the Gospels. This passage from Matthew contains the reaction of the people of Nazareth to reports of Jesus’ teaching and healing:

"Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?"                (Matthew 13:55,56)

This lists a family which includes four brothers of Jesus: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. There is also a mention of “all” Jesus’ sisters. Such a reference would suggest that Jesus had at least three sisters. This size of family would not be unusual in Galilee in the first century AD.

Jesus remained in Nazareth until he was about thirty years old. At this point he began his three and a half year period of teaching and healing which led in the end to his death and resurrection.

The Ministry of Jesus

The ministry of Jesus began when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. For a while he took his disciples into Judea for a campaign of baptisms, but when John was arrested by Herod, Jesus returned to Galilee. In Galilee he based his operations in Capernaum, a town on the Sea of Galilee, but made various tours of other towns and villages where he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and healed the sick. Finally he and his disciples went to Jerusalem at Passover time, and there he was arrested and executed. On the third day after this he was raised from the dead by God.

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