Jesus of Nazareth
- For so greatly did God love the world that He gave His only born Son, that everyone who believes in Him should not be subject to death but have eternal Life.
Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity and prophet of Islam, was born in Bethlehem, Judea, according to the generally accepted chronology in the year of Rome 750, that is, 4 BC. This apparent discrepancy in date is due to an error that was made when the Christian calendar originated with Dionysius in 556 AD. He fixed upon the year of Rome 754 as that in which Christ was born. Later information proved beyond a doubt that this date should have been 750, which gives the birth of Christ four years before the beginning of the Christian era according to the calendar of Dionysius. The mother of Jesus was Mary, who was probably a descendant of David. Her husband, Joseph, was also a descendant of the same family. The birth of the holy child occurred in a manger at a public inn in Bethlehem, where Joseph had gone to be registered in his place of origin in accordance with the Roman census and Jewish law relating to taxation. The miraculous conditions connected with his birth to the Virgin Mary prove to the satisfaction of most followers of Christianity that Jesus was of divine origin. His parents remained at Bethlehem for some time. The infant Savior was circumcised on the eighth day, and at the end of the fortieth day he was presented in the Temple, and his mother, according to the Jewish law, made the customary offers for her purification. Soon after this he was visited by wise men, or Magi, from the East, who claimed to have been guided to the spot where he was by the miraculous appearance of a star. Inquiries of these men as to where the child who was to be king of the Jews was born, led Herod (at that time ruler of Judea under Rome) to cause all the male children in Bethlehem under three years of age to be put to death. Joseph, however, was warned by an angel, and he fled with Mary and Jesus into Egypt, where he remained an uncertain length of time, until after Herod's death, when the holy family returned and took up their residence at Nazareth. There, Jesus lived and grew to maturity, and because of that connection he is frequently called the Nazarene.
Of the boyhood and youth of Jesus almost nothing is known. The only authentic account given is that of his appearance in the Temple when twelve years of age (Luke 2: 46-50). All legends concerning his life previous to his public ministry are without foundation, but it is probable that he remained with the family at Nazareth and engaged in the same work as his father, who was a carpenter. The public ministry of Jesus was preceded by the preaching of John the Baptist, his cousin, who proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God and called men to repentance. Jesus was pointed out by John as the Son of God, and two of John's disciples from that time became his followers. He was baptized by John, when his divine nature was manifested by the miraculous appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and by a voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." After the initial meeting, his new followers declared Jesus, the Christ, or the expected Jewish Messiah. Following the baptism, Jesus retired into the wilderness of Judea, where he was subjected to various temptations. His first public appearance was at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, where he performed the miracle of turning water into wine. He then visited Capernaum, affirmed the apostles Andrew, Peter, James and John nearby and later appeared in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover to reveal his majesty and power by cleansing the Temple of those who were changing money and selling animals for sacrifice. He received an inquisitive teacher of Israel at night by the name of Nicodemus and pointed out the way to everlasting life. His works and teachings immediately aroused the opposition of the leaders of the Jews because the news was spreading over Judea that Jesus' disciples were baptizing even more new adherents than John the Baptist and, finding that this work in Judea was to be rejected, he departed into Galilee. During the remainder of the first year of his ministry he preached at Nazareth, where his own townspeople attempted to cast him over a precipice because of his teachings; then at Capernaum again. After the calling of his disciples he began his first circuit through Galilee. During this time occurred the Sermon on the Mount; also the Sermon in the Boat, which was followed by the miraculous draught of fishes. Near the close of this year he called Levi, or Matthew, who became one of his most devoted followers.
The second year's ministry began with the attendance upon the Passover at Jerusalem and the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. Following this were several other miracles, followed by discussions with the Pharisees and other leaders of the Jews, in which Jesus continued (Matthew 9: 12-13) to set forth his gospel, or good news, calling for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and showed clearly the difference between this new dispensation and the underlying principles of the Jewish law and the ceremonials largely practiced at that time. This increased the already growing opposition and was followed by the sending out of the twelve disciples to promulgate his teaching concerning entry into the kingdom of heaven. After the visit to Jerusalem, Jesus began his second general circuit through Galilee. This circuit was characterized by the performing of a number of miracles and the relating of some of the most important parables in the Gospels, among them those of the sower, of the tares, of the mustard seed, of the leaven and of the hid treasure. This was followed by the third general circuit, during which occurred the death of John the Baptist, the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on water.
The third and last year of Jesus' ministry was by far the most important with many discourses, parables, and miracles recorded, the year which saw the Transfiguration, curing of an epileptic boy, his appearance at the Feast of Tabernacles, sending out the seventy to prepare the way with all power over demons and disease, his calling the fallen Prince of this world to account, and the raising of Lazarus which so aroused the envy of the Jews that they resolved upon putting him to death, while just before the events of the last week leading up to the crucifixion, generally known as the Passion Week, he stopped everything to welcome the little children into his presence, for such is the kingdom of God. After which he warned about the dangers of the accumulation of wealth, and then gave a prediction of his own death and resurrection for the third time. As his passion drew near, Jesus prepared to eat the last Passover with his disciples. On the first day of the week, which is still remembered as Palm Sunday, he made his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem as the long awaited but unique Son of David. During the next two days he spent his time in and around the city, cursing a barren fig-tree, cleansing the Temple, predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the nation, sealing the judgment to come with separation of the sheep from the goats and delivering discourses in which he used a number of parables, in particular, those conveyed in private to his disciples to answer the ultimate questions concerning his mission. These things accomplished, he retired to Bethany. On Wednesday he gave a warning of the betrayal by one of his own, and on the following day in a specially prepared upper room in the holy city he ate the last Passover with his disciples assuring them that after his departure he would come again to usher in his kingdom and during the discourse proclaimed the wine and the bread a lasting remembrance of the new covenant established that evening, additionally, a new commandment was directed to his disciples: that you love one another as I have loved you, for greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. After the Passover meal, having been betrayed by Judas, he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, brought before the high priest Caiaphas, condemned by the Jewish Sanhedrin for claims of divinity (Mark 14: 62) and early on Friday morning sent before Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem, in order that the sentence of death might be legally confirmed, which led to the requisite punishment of flagellation and further humiliation. By Pilate he was released to the Jews, by whose compliance he was crucified on that day. Late in the afternoon, Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” and yielded up the spirit. The Sabbath approached demanding his body be taken down from the cross and prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The tomb was one belonging to this same Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, a man of considerable means, and there the body of Jesus was buried that same day in a garden close to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the site of the crucifixion.
On the morning of the first day of the week, or the third day after his death, Mary Magdalene and other women in charge of the spices hastened to the tomb in order to complete the work of embalming the body, but they found the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb and the place where Jesus had lain occupied by an angel, who told them that Jesus had risen. After his resurrection on that Sunday which would later be celebrated as Easter Sunday, Jesus remained on earth for forty days, during which time he appeared eleven times to his disciples and followers, the instance (John 20: 27-28) of a doubting Thomas tempered all unbelief. Jesus commissioned his disciples to continue his earthly ministry and at the last gathering on the Mount of Olives he ascended into heaven and was received by a cloud out of their sight. The disciples stood there awe-strucken with eyes skyward after the ascension, even as, heavenly messengers in attendance (Acts 1: 11) announce his return would be in like manner, evidently, at the end of the age. They returned to the upper room in Jerusalem as instructed and devoted themselves to worship and fellowship together in the common calling while planning for the future, with earnest prayer, blessing God continually. Their numbers increased to 120 believers as they awaited the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or Advocate, as promised by the risen Savior.
Various attempts have been made to explain away the resurrection of Christ. There is the supposition, (1) of fraud; that, according to the statement of the Jews, the disciples stole the body and then published the story that their Lord was risen; (2) that Jesus had not really died on the cross; that His apparent death was only a swoon, from which He afterward recovered; (3) that there had been no real resurrection, but that the disciples had been deceived by visionary appearances or hallucinations; (4) that the assertion of the resurrection was originally allegorical. In Acts, chapter 5, the words of one of the most learned Jews of the time, Gamaliel, are more to the point, “put forth [the apostles] a little space... for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it.” Thus, with regard to the significance of Christ's resurrection, to Christians it is the crowning event, evidence of the divine character of His mission and His atonement for the sins of the world.
The great commandment according to the gospel was love the Lord your God with all your heart and the second, similar to it, love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus reinforced his teaching by miracles and by parables. His miracles were evidently for the purpose of convincing the people of his divine origin and power. They were thirty-five in number and ranged in importance from the turning of water into wine to the raising of the dead to life. Most of them were connected with the healing of disease and a majority of those contained a demonstration of the petitioner's faith, and with few exceptions all of them were for the welfare of those upon whom or in whose favor they were wrought. The parables, forceful maxims of a metaphorical nature such as the Pearl of Great Price, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, were thirty-three in number and contain the best illustrations of moral and religious truth to be found anywhere in literature. So broad is their application that the truths which they teach are accepted by the non-Christian as well as by the Christian world.