Jesus Christ (between 8 and 4 BC-AD 29?), central figure of Christianity, born in Bethlehem in Judea. Christians traditionally regard Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, and as having been divinely conceived by Mary, the wife of Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth. See Christ; Messiah.
The principal sources of information concerning Jesus’ life are the Gospels, written in the latter half of the 1st century. The scantiness of additional material and the theological nature of biblical records caused some 19th-century biblical scholars to doubt his historical existence. Today, scholars generally agree that Jesus was a historical figure authenticated both by Christian writers and by several Roman and Jewish historians.
Beginning of His Public Ministry
Two of the Gospels, Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, provide information about Jesus’ birth and childhood (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). No Gospel, however, mentions anything about Jesus from the time he was 12 years old until the time he began his public ministry, about 18 years later. See Matthew, Gospel According to; Luke, Gospel According to.
All three Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record Jesus’ public ministry as beginning after the imprisonment of John the Baptist, and as lasting about one year. Each mentions that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and then retired to the neighboring wilderness for 40 days, where the devil tried to tempt him. After this, he moved to Capernaum and began teaching. As his followers increased in number, Jesus selected disciples to work with him (see Apostle).
Growth of Jesus’ Following
Using Capernaum as a base, Jesus and his disciples traveled to neighboring towns. He promised pardon and eternal life in heaven to the most hardened sinners, provided their repentance was sincere. This emphasis incurred the enmity of the Pharisees, who feared that his teachings might lead to disregard for the authority of the Torah. Despite this opposition, Jesus’ popularity increased.
The most significant moment in Jesus’ public ministry was the realization that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). This revelation, and the subsequent prediction by Jesus of his death and resurrection, the conditions of discipleship, and his transfiguration are the primary authority for the claims and historical work of the Christian church.
The Last Days
On the Sunday before Passover, Jesus entered Jerusalem. There, he drove from the Temple the traders and moneychangers who, by long-established custom, had been allowed to transact business in the outer court (Mark 11:15-19), and he disputed with the priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees questions about his authority, tribute to Caesar, and the resurrection.
The priests and scribes, concerned that Jesus’ activities would turn the Romans against them and the Jewish people (John 11:48), conspired with Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, to arrest and kill Jesus (Luke 22:2). On Thursday, during Passover supper eaten with his disciples, he referred to his imminent betrayal and death as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. In blessing the unleavened bread and wine during the Passover services, he called the bread his body and the wine his blood (Matthew 26:27) (see Eucharist).
After the meal they went to the Mount of Olives, where, according to Matthew (26:30-32) and Mark (14:26-28), Jesus predicted his resurrection. Knowing then that his death was near, Jesus retired to the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44) and was arrested there.
Trial and Crucifixion
The synoptists report that Jesus was taken to a meeting of the supreme council of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, and was condemned to death for blasphemy (Mark 14:62). Only the Roman procurator, however, could impose capital punishment, and so, Jesus was taken before Pontius Pilate for sentencing. Pilate ultimately left the decision to the people, and when they insisted on Jesus’ death, Pilate ordered him executed (Matthew 27:24). Jesus was executed by crucifixion, and late in the day, his body was taken down and laid in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.
Early on the following Sunday, his disciples found the tomb empty (Mark 16:1). Later the same day, according to Luke, John, and Mark, Jesus appeared at various locations in and near Jerusalem. All the Gospels add that, for a brief time after his resurrection, Jesus instructed his disciples. Finally, according to Luke (24:50-51), Jesus ascended to heaven. Acts 1:2-12 reports that this ascension occurred 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection.
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