Biography of Jesus
This summary compiles the life of Jesus as presented in the four Gospels. The life span of Jesus was 4 BC - AD 30. (To find out why Jesus was born in 4 B.C. (or perhaps earlier), go here.)
- Birth and early infancy
- A young girl named Mary lived in Nazareth. Nazareth was in northern Israel, about 65 miles north of Jerusalem.
- Scholars believe she was in her early teens when she was betrothed to a man named Joseph; the Gospels give no indication of his age. Betrothal in those days was an arrangement we don’t have today: think of it as between engagement and marriage. The couple did not live together or sleep together but it was a legal arrangement; if someone wanted to break the betrothal they had to get a divorce. So Mary was legally bound to marry Joseph but they were not sleeping together.
- An angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would become pregnant. Mary did not understand how this was possible since she was virgin; but the angel told her that the power of God would cause her to become pregnant.
- Once she became pregnant she told Joseph, who was rightly concerned, and he decided to break the betrothal and divorce Mary.
- Then he was told in a dream that Mary was pregnant through the power of God, and so he decided to go through with the marriage.
- At the same time the Roman government decided to take a census. Jews had to travel to their ancestral home in order to be counted. For Joseph, this meant Bethlehem.
- Joseph took his pregnant wife with him.
- Once there, he could not find a room in the inns (hotels), and so they stayed where the animals stayed. The Gospels do not say where the animals were; they could have been in a stable, barn, or cave.
- Once Jesus was born he was put in a manger (where the food for the animals was placed, like a small trough).
- Some shepherds showed up to welcome the new baby. They saw Jesus in the manger; this must have been the same day or perhaps the next day after Jesus was born.
- Jesus was circumcised. According to the Covenant between God and Abraham, all Jewish boys were to be circumcised at 8 days of age. Since Jesus was a Jew, he would have been circumcised. This probably happened in Bethlehem.
- Special note: This bullet point contains guesses about what happened next. From the above you know that Joseph brought a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem because of the census. According to the census, Jews had to go to their hometown, and so Joseph went to his hometown of Bethlehem. This must have meant that Joseph had family living in Bethlehem. When the Magi (below) found Jesus, he was living in a house. So at some point between Jesus being born in a manger with the animals and the Magi finding him, I think Joseph contacted his family and Joseph, Mary, and Jesus moved in with Joseph's family members.
- According to Leviticus 12:3-8, a child was to be presented at the Tabernacle (and then Temple after it was built) when he/she was 41 days of age. (For more, go here.) Therefore, Jesus was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem and then returned to Bethlehem. Note: Jerusalem was about 6 miles from Bethlehem.
- The next visitors the infant Jesus had were “Magi.” Scholars are not clear about what a Magi was; it is a Greek word with no clear translation. But they brought three expensive gifts, and so it is popularly believed that there were three of them, hence “3 Wise Men” or “3 Kings.”
- The Magi first went to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. Why? They were looking for the new king and so naturally they headed to Jerusalem, which was the capital.
- They told King Herod the Great they were looking for the new king. Herod did not know anything about this birth. He told them to find the new king and come back and tell him where to find the new king.
- They eventually found Jesus in Bethlehem. They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and so went home.
- King Herod realized that the Magi were not coming back, and he was furious.
- He wanted to kill the new “king,” though, and so had all the baby boys two years and under in that area killed.
- Why did Herod care about rumors of a new Jewish king? Because he wasn't a real Jew and he was a puppet king. He probably thought a real Jewish royal baby had been born in secret and so tried to kill him by killing all the baby boys in that region.
- Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled to Egypt.
- After Herod died, they moved back to Nazareth. Herod died in 4 BC. The Bible does not indicate when or the age of Jesus when the small family moved from Egypt to Nazareth.
- Jesus at 12 years of age
- Every year Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to Jerusalem (perhaps for Passover), but something different happened when Jesus was twelve. While returning to Nazareth, his parents realized that Jesus was not in their group. They went back to Jerusalem and found him talking with the teachers in the Temple. Jesus may have been attending an early form of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony that Jewish boys go through. ("Bar Mitzvah" means "son of the Covenant"; Jewish girls today can go through a Bat Mitzvah; "Bat Mitzvah" means "daughter of the Covenant.")
- Jesus between 12 and 30 years of age
- The Bible gives no indication of events in Jesus’ life from the ages of twelve until thirty. The common assumption is that he probably worked as a carpenter. Joseph, Mary's husband (considered Jesus' earthly father), was a carpenter, and in those days sons usually worked in their fathers' occupations.
- Jesus age 30 to 33 (including death, burial, resurrection, ascension)
- When Jesus was around thirty John the Baptist baptized him in the Jordan River.
- He then chose twelve men to be his 12 Apostles and undertook a three-year period of ministry, where he traveled, preached, taught, healed, performed miracles, and raised people from the dead. This was probably from AD 27-30.
- Jesus' ministry (the time from being baptized until being crucified) lasted around three years because the Gospel of John states that three Passovers occurred from the time Jesus was baptized until he was crucified. Since Passover occurred once a year, this means there was a period of three years (or so) from the time he was baptized until he was crucified.
- The last week of his life (when Jesus was 33 years old):
- The Sunday before he was crucified
- Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey or colt. Many people took palm branches and laid them on the path for the donkey or colt to ride on as he entered Jerusalem. This is known as the Triumphal Entry. [Today this is called "Palm Sunday."]
- Sunday-Thursday: Jesus was in and around Jerusalem.
- (Note: once Jesus woke up on Thursday morning, unless he took a nap, he will not go to sleep before he is crucified approximately 30 hours later.)
- Thursday was Passover and so Jesus gathered with his 12 Apostles to eat the Passover meal. This is also known as the Last Supper, since it was the last meal that Jesus ate before he died.
- During the meal Jesus took bread and wine and initiated the service of Communion, also called the Lord's Supper or Eucharist. [Christians do not celebrate Passover because Jesus replaced it with Communion.]
- During the meal Judas left and went to the Jewish authorities. He had prearranged to guide them to where Jesus secretly prayed at night. [To read about one theory why Judas betrayed Jesus, go here.]
- After the meal was over, Jesus and the 11 remaining Apostles went to the Garden of Gethsemane so Jesus could pray.
- Thursday night to Friday early morning
- After awhile, Judas came with Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, and they arrested Jesus.
- Jesus was first taken to the previous High Priest's house, Annas.
- Annas sent him to the High Priest at that time, Caiaphas (Annas was his father-in-law).
- Shortly after daybreak, they took Jesus to see Pilate (the Roman governor). Pilate did not want to have to deal with Jesus. He found out Jesus was from Nazareth and sent him to see Herod Antipas. Remember that Herod Antipas was Herod the Great’s son and he was the ruler of middle Israel. To find out why Pilate was in charge of Jerusalem instead of one of Herod the Great's sons, go here.
- Herod Antipas questioned Jesus and sent him back to Pilate.
- Pilate questioned Jesus and realized that he was not guilty of breaking the Roman rules for Jews (pay taxes and obey the Roman laws) and so wanted to release him. But the Jewish leaders encouraged the crowd to get angry.
- Judas realized he made a mistake and tried to get the Jewish leaders to release Jesus. They refused to do so and Judas committed suicide.
- Morning: Then Pilate thought of a plan. Pilate had a custom of releasing one prisoner per year (to help keep the Jews from rebelling) and so had the prisoner Barabbas brought up from prison. Barabbas was a murderer, not the kind of person you want walking your streets. Pilate brought Barabbas before the crowd because he thought that if he offered the crowd Jesus or Barabbas to release, the crowd would certainly yell out to release Jesus.
- Pilate asked the people which person they wanted him to release. To his surprise, the crowd yelled, "Barabbas."
- Pilate asked the crowds what they wanted him to do with Jesus, and they shouted, "Crucify him."
- Pilate did not want to do it, but he was forced to in order to avoid a revolt.
- So Pilate had Jesus beaten (which was the normal procedure to do before crucifixions) and then crucified outside the city gates, which was the normal practice.
- Jesus died that Friday afternoon. The Jews did not allow anyone to be on a cross on the Sabbath, which was from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Therefore if anyone was on the cross by Friday afternoon and still alive, the Romans broke their legs, which hastened death. Then they were taken down and buried before the sun set. But when the Romans came to Jesus, he had already died. He did this of his own will after saying "It is finished."
- He was taken to a burial cave and buried late Friday afternoon.
- He was in the tomb the rest of Friday
- Saturday: Jesus' body was in the tomb.
- Sunday morning: Jesus arose from the dead and appeared to several people
For the next month-and-a-half, Jesus met with various people. According to Christian belief, Jesus did not live in a house or travel around, he appeared to people here-and-there over that time period.
After about a month-and-a-half, Jesus took his 11 Apostles (Judas had committed suicide) to a hilltop, spoke to them, and then rose up and ascended to the sky and went out of their sight.
Timeline up to Jesus
|63 B.C.||Romans conquer Israel.|
|27 B.C.||Pax Romana began and lasted until 180.|
|4 B.C.||Jesus born.|
|All dates after this are A.D. ["c." means "about"]|
|c.30||Jesus crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven.|
|64||Fire in Rome and Christians persecuted by Emperor Nero; Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded.|
|70||Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans (it has not been rebuilt).|
|95||Persecution by Emperor Domitian; Apostle John exiled on island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation.|
|96||Emperor Domitian died; Apostle John probably moved to Ephesus.|
|c.100||Apostle John died; he was the last Apostle to die.|
|390's||NT canon "closed" at Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).|
|1200's||Chapters added to the New Testament.|
|1500's||Verses added to the New Testament.|
©2016, 2017 Mark Nickens