History testifies to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born and lived in what we now call the First Century A.D. Of course, it wasn’t called that then. A.D. stands for Anno Domini (a Latin term meaning “in the year of our Lord”), a way of counting time that came later as the world looked back on what that Life had meant – just as time before that Life came to be called B.C. (meaning “Before Christ”). All of time is rightly divided between what came before that Life, and what came after. For certainly there was never another life like it. Though some prefer to use the terms Before Common Era (B.C.E.) and Common Era (C.E.), it is still the same Life that divides the two eras.
What we know of Jesus of Nazareth comes primarily from the set of 27 documents we call the New Testament. Of those documents, the four that give the most details are titled “gospels” and named according to their respective authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The historical reliability of the accounts of Jesus’ life is of the utmost importance to anyone who would put faith in Him. If He did not live and die as described, if He was not raised from the dead as described, then faith in Him is pointless. The New Testament itself declares this so. Such a bold declaration is worth exploring.
The New Testament documents came from the same ancient nation that produced the Old Testament documents: Israel. To put it more bluntly, the New Testament documents were written by Jews about a Jew that the Jews of the Old Testament had anticipated for over two thousand years. That much-anticipated Jew was to be known by many names, most notably “Messiah” (the Hebrew term) or “Christ” (the Greek way of saying the same thing). Therefore, the New Testament is every bit as Jewish in its origin as the Old Testament. That Jews of our day, in general, do not accept this is simply a continuation of the split that was described in the New Testament and that had been a recurring theme in the Old Testament: some believed, and some didn’t. Nonetheless, a nation had witnessed the drama of God’s Christ being presented to the world – and indeed that was the very reason the nation had been created by God in the first place: to bear witness to God and His works.
By these indisputable facts you may know that what you read in the Bible about Jesus is a faithful account of His life. I say “the Bible” intentionally because the Old Testament’s many prophecies of Him mean that you can learn as much about Him from the Old Testament as you can from the New. The New Testament gives straightforward eyewitness accounts of what He said and did; as it looked ahead, the Old Testament gives color, background, perspective, motivation, intention, and context. The Old Testament spoke of Christ implicitly; the New Testament speaks of Him explicitly. Together they paint a portrait so rich and vivid that we will never be able to catalog all its beautiful details.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. The gospels give us just a few details about this and then basically launch their narrative with His public ministry which He began at the approximate age of thirty. This all stands to reason when you consider that the gospels’ writers were bearing witness to things they had seen and heard – since they were disciples of Jesus, that took place during the time that they would be closest to Him and notice the most details.
Jesus was an unparalleled moral teacher who accompanied His instruction with miracles from God. The common thread of all these miracles were that they were acts of kindness. For example, He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, fed hungry crowds, stilled a storm for shipmates. In other words, these were never acts of power divorced from practical value – as if He were a magician. Rather, they were the sort of thing a kind and generous human being would do…if he had access to the power of God.
The fundamental point of Jesus’ teaching was that we should trust in the goodness of our Creator God, love Him, and love one another. Other human beings, including founders of religious movements, have perhaps taught along such lofty lines. Never, however, has it been recorded that anyone in history ever lived out his or her principles to the ultimate degree that Jesus did. I say this because the reward given to Jesus for all the kindnesses I just described, and for all the miracles of kindness He had performed, was to be nailed to a rough wooden cross about three years into His ministry. Throughout this ordeal He never threatened or reviled His persecutors. In other words, He fully lived out the very love He had been preaching – and all in the face of the most extreme provocation.
The four gospel accounts, as well as other New Testament documents that followed them, are clear and unanimous that Jesus died from crucifixion, was buried, and was raised from the dead three days later. He then appeared to His disciples, preaching and teaching all the same things that they had heard in the preceding three years. In other words, His rejection and death had not deterred Him in the slightest degree from His purpose! On the contrary, He had foreseen all the opposition – indeed the Old Testament had predicted it all – and He had simply assimilated it into His plan to eternally love all of humanity.
After forty days of such appearances to His disciples, He then commissioned them to go throughout the world and bear witness to all that they had seen and heard. This mission would result in the same sort of rejection and death that met Him, but He commanded them nonetheless. (That they obeyed Him is attested to by the very fact that we have a New Testament – it is no slight to Jesus to pause for a moment and consider what it cost those disciples to accept and fulfill His commission: Why the Bible Can Be Trusted.) Having fully prepared and commissioned His disciples, Jesus then ascended into heaven to the throne of Almighty God.
The explanation for this Life is that God Almighty had come to the earth to live humanly as Jesus Christ. His purpose was to demonstrate to us how a human being ought to live: trusting God, loving God, and loving others – even in the face of unwarranted and despicable rejection. He then returned to heaven – a realm invisible, of course, to us – so that we might look in that direction at Him…and have faith in Him, love Him, and love others.
This Jesus of Nazareth who walked the earth now fills the heavens and the earth, and looks to you. He looks to you to see what you will do with His life (“Some believed, some didn’t“). Will the seed of His life be planted in you, and will your life bear fruit from this seed? If you embrace the former, He guarantees the latter.
For more on Jesus’ humanity, see Who Is Jesus Christ? – 31 Things to Know About Jesus Christ – Introduction
For more on Jesus’ deity, see There Is No Trinity; There Is Christ.