It is impossible to read the Bible stories about Jesus without getting a sense of the intensity and passion of His teachings. He spoke with great authority on spiritual matters, often leaving his detractors tongue-tied and looking foolish. Many of His teachings are disturbing and shake us out of our comfort and complacency. He spoke of loving God above all other things, caring about all other people as much as we care about ourselves, the coming kingdom of God and eternal life.
Christians believe Jesus is the Savior, the Son of God, who came to Earth to redeem us from sin, establish His spiritual kingdom of God on Earth, and to offer the promise of eternal life. Although He is not now on Earth in bodily form, He is present with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is our guide and savior, the source of all our strength, who will lead us through this earthly life and into eternal life beyond. We can talk to Him in prayer. He speaks to us through the Bible and our consciences. He strengthens us with His love.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (NRSV, Luke 1:26-35)
|No one knows what day Jesus was born, or even exactly what year. But in the year 532 A.D., a monk named Denys le Petit calculated that Jesus was born in the Roman year 753, and that year was gradually adopted as year 1 A.D. by Christian countries. However, it is now believed that Denys miscalculated and Jesus was actually born between 6 and 4 B.C.|
By a decree of the Roman Emperor, everyone was required to travel to the home of their ancestors to register for a census. So Joseph and Mary traveled about 80 miles (130 km) from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a city about 5 miles (8 km) south of Jerusalem. There was no room for them at the inn, so they stayed in a stable or cave where animals were kept. Jesus was born there in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:1-7) in the most humble of circumstances.
|Jesus and His disciples traveled mostly around the region of Galilee preaching a message of obedience to God, repentance (turning away from sin) and kindness and respect for all people. There is a map showing the places Jesus traveled and a list of some events of His life and ministry on our web page, "Appendix: Events of Jesus' Life and Ministry."|
Jesus was born a Jew and was faithful to Judaism His whole life. Jesus was known as a rabbi (Matthew 26:25, Mark 9:5, John 1:49) and preached in the synagogues of Galilee (Matthew 4:23, 13:54, Mark 1:39, John 6:59). It was only after Jesus' death that His followers became known as "Christians" and Christianity spread outside of Judaism.
|In Biblical times, special people were anointed with oil as a sign that they had been set apart. Priests, kings and prophets were anointed (Exodus 29:29, 1 Kings 1:39, 19:16).|
The Jews had been waiting for centuries for the coming of a Messiah (the "Anointed One") that had been prophesied in Scripture (1 Samuel 2:10, Psalms 2:2-3, Daniel 9:25-26). Most Jews expected the Messiah to be a great political and military leader who would, once and for all, defeat Israel's enemies and restore her glory.
|"Messiah" comes from a Hebrew word and "Christ" comes from a Greek word. Both words mean "Anointed One." That is why we refer to Jesus as "the Messiah," or "the Christ," or simply "Jesus Christ."|
Jesus performed many miracles (Matthew 9:2-8, 9:20-22, 9:27-30, 14:15-21, 14:25-27, Mark 2:3-12, Luke 7:12-15, John 11:38-44), and His miracles convinced many people that He was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus, Himself, resisted publicly accepting the title of Messiah or Son of God, possibly because His kingdom would be a heavenly kingdom rather than the earthly kingdom that people were expecting (Matthew 16:13-20, John 10:22-24, 18:33-36). He preferred to refer to Himself using the enigmatic term "Son of Man" (Matthew 20:18, John 6:27, Luke 12:40). The Bible makes it clear, however, that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah or Christ and the divine Son of God (Matthew 1:1, Mark 1:1, Luke 1:34-35, 2:11, John 3:16, Acts 2:36, Romans 1:1-7).
Jesus was very popular as a preacher, and He was nearly always surrounded by crowds of people who came to hear Him and see Him perform miracles (Matthew 4:25, 13:2, Luke 14:25, John 6:2). But Jesus warned the people that following Him required much sacrifice and could lead to suffering and even death (Matthew 10:34-39, Luke 14:25-33).
|Christians commemorate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter.|
Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday before Passover. The city was crowded with pilgrims who had come to the holy city to celebrate Passover, and the people greeted Jesus like a king (Matthew 21:1-11, John 12:12-19).
In the outer court of the temple, money changers changed international currency into coins to pay the temple tax, and merchants sold sacrificial animals. Both charged exorbitant fees for their services. Jesus was angered by the commercialism and cheating in the holy temple and He drove them all out (Mark 11:15-17), saying,
"It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers." (NRSV, Matthew 21:13)
Jesus came to the temple every day to teach (Luke 19:47-48) and cured many people (Matthew 21:14). He celebrated the traditional Passover meal with his disciples (Mark 14:12-16) and instituted the Christian sacrament known as Communion, the Lord's Supper or Eucharist (Matthew 26:26-30).
The chief priests and scribes of the temple wanted to kill Jesus, but they feared that arresting him publicly would start a riot (Matthew 26:3-5).
Jesus was taken to the home of the high priest for a hastily-arranged trial by the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:57, Luke 22:54). The Sanhedrin found Him guilty of blasphemy and condemned Him to death (Matthew 26:63-66, Luke 22:66-71).
Under Roman rule, the Sanhedrin did not have the authority to put someone to death (John 18:31). So on Friday morning, the temple officials took Him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and falsely accused Him of sedition against the Roman Empire for claiming to be King of the Jews (Matthew 27:1-2, 11-13). Pilate initially did not want to get involved. However, the temple officials stirred up a crowd that demanded that Jesus be killed (Mark 15:6-14). Pilate feared a riot, so he consented and condemned Jesus to death (Mark 15:6-15).
|Christians commemorate Jesus' death on Good Friday, 2 days before Easter.|
|The Jews, as a people, have sometimes been blamed for Jesus' death based on prejudice and a mistaken interpretation of Matthew 27:25. However, the Bible accounts make it clear that it was really a small number of religious leaders who acted out of jealousy and fear to plot Jesus' death. Throughout His trials, Jesus did not defend Himself and He never resisted His captors. He said that those responsible for His death were unwittingly carrying out God's plan (Matthew 26:53-54, 27:11-14, Mark 10:33-34, John 12:24-28, 18:11, 19:10-11).|
The Sabbath started at sundown on Friday night, and no work could be done on the Sabbath. So, Jesus' body was taken down from the cross and hastily paced in a tomb. Some women who were His followers planned to return after the Sabbath to properly prepare the body for burial (Luke 23:50-56).
|Christians commemorate Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday. There is more information in our article, "Easter"|
After His death and resurrection, Jesus' mission on earth was finished, and He returned to heaven 40 days later (Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-11).
There are more details and Bible references in our articles, "Jesus' Teachings, as Told in the Gospels" and "What Does the Bible Say About Christian Values and Christian Living?"
Against that background, we can understand that Jesus, as God's Son, was the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sin of all mankind (Matthew 20:28, John 10:11, John 12:24). Through His death, we are freed from the deadly grip of sin (John 1:29, Romans 3:23-25, 1 Corinthians 15:3). Although we do not fully understand the how or why of Jesus' death and resurrection, they offers us a chance for salvation and eternal life (John 14:1-3, Romans 4:24-25, 8:11, 1 Corinthians 6:14, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, Colossians 2:12, 1 Peter 1:3), and that is the central belief and hope of Christianity.
"I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day He rose from the dead; [He descended into hell;] He ascended into heaven; and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic1 Church; the communion of saints2; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen."
The word translated as "hell" ("Hades" in the original Greek New Testament) originally just meant the world of the dead. So the phrase "He descended into hell" may just mean that Jesus was truly dead between His crucifixion and resurrection. There was a heresy in the early centuries of Christianity that Jesus just fainted on the cross and regained consciousness later. So, "He descended into hell" may have been put in the creed as a statement that Jesus really did die and then rise from the dead on the third day.
Another possibility is that the belief that Jesus descended to hell came from a particular interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-21 and 1 Peter 4:5-6 There are various opinions about what these passages mean, but no one is really sure.
The Roman Catholic Church and some other churches teach that Mary remained a virgin all her life and these brothers and sisters were actually Joseph’s children from a previous marriage or cousins or other extended family members. (The original Greek words in the Bible could have those meanings.)
The belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary can be traced back to the early centuries of Christianity. The fact that there was no relative to take Mary in after Jesus' death (John 19:25-27) is cited in favor of the belief that Jesus did not have siblings. However, there is nothing in the Bible saying the brothers and sisters were not Mary’s children, and the Bible generally speaks of Jesus’ brothers as if they were of the same family (Matthew 13:55-56, Mark 3:31-32, Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19).
The most common explanation is that the Jews of that time used the expression "day and night" as we use "day" to mean a day of the week, but not necessarily a full 24 hours. It was an idiom that has a different meaning than what it literally says. So, Jesus was dead during three days - part of Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday. [Other idioms in the Bible include "salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13), "apple of my eye" (Psalms 17:8), "escape by the skin of my teeth" (Job 19:20), etc.]
Another explanation is that Jesus was crucified earlier than Friday, possibly Wednesday or Thursday, and literally was dead for three days and three nights. Various way of reinterpreting the relevant Bible passages have been suggested.
The idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene was suggested in The Da Vinci Code, a 2003 murder mystery novel written by Dan Brown. The book is loosely based on some Bible stories, but it is a fictional story that is not based on reliable historical knowledge.
1The word "catholic" means universal or all-inclusive. In this context, it means the community of all Christians, not specifically the Roman Catholic Church.