The name and title of the Son of God from the time of his anointing while on earth.
The name Jesus (Gr., I·e·sousʹ) corresponds to the Hebrew name Jeshua (or, in fuller form, Jehoshua), meaning “Jehovah Is Salvation.” The name itself was not unusual, many men being so named in that period. For this reason persons often added further identification, saying, “Jesus the Nazarene.” (Mr 10:47; Ac 2:22) Christ is from the Greek Khri·stosʹ, the equivalent of the Hebrew Ma·shiʹach (Messiah), and means “Anointed One.” Whereas the expression “anointed one” was properly applied to others before Jesus, such as Moses, Aaron, and David (Heb 11:24-26; Le 4:3; 8:12; 2Sa 22:51), the position, office, or service to which these were anointed only prefigured the superior position, office, and service of Jesus Christ. Jesus is therefore preeminently and uniquely “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Prehuman Existence. The person who became known as Jesus Christ did not begin life here on earth. He himself spoke of his prehuman heavenly life. (Joh 3:13; 6:38, 62; 8:23, 42, 58) John 1:1, 2 gives the heavenly name of the one who became Jesus, saying: “In the beginning the Word [Gr., Loʹgos] was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god [“was divine,” AT; Mo; or “of divine being,” Böhmer; Stage (both German)]. This one was in the beginning with God.” Since Jehovah is eternal and had no beginning (Ps 90:2; Re 15:3), the Word’s being with God from “the beginning” must here refer to the beginning of Jehovah’s creative works. This is confirmed by other texts identifying Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation,” “the beginning of the creation by God.” (Col 1:15; Re 1:1; 3:14) Thus the Scriptures identify the Word (Jesus in his prehuman existence) as God’s first creation, his firstborn Son.
That Jehovah was truly the Father or Life-Giver to this firstborn Son and, hence, that this Son was actually a creature of God is evident from Jesus’ own statements. He pointed to God as the Source of his life, saying, “I live because of the Father.” According to the context, this meant that his life resulted from or was caused by his Father, even as the gaining of life by dying men would result from their faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.
If the estimates of modern-day scientists as to the age of the physical universe are anywhere near correct, Jesus’ existence as a spirit creature began thousands of millions of years prior to the creation of the first human. (Compare Mic 5:2.) This firstborn spirit Son was used by his Father in the creation of all other things. (Joh 1:3; Col 1:16, 17) This would include the millions of other spirit sons of Jehovah God’s heavenly family (Da 7:9, 10; Re 5:11), as well as the physical universe and the creatures originally produced within it. Logically, it was to this firstborn Son that Jehovah said: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” (Ge 1:26) All these other created things were not only created “through him” but also “for him,” as God’s Firstborn and the “heir of all things.”
Not a co-Creator. The Son’s share in the creative works, however, did not make him a co-Creator with his Father. The power for creation came from God through his holy spirit, or active force. (Ge 1:2; Ps 33:6) And since Jehovah is the Source of all life, all animate creation, visible and invisible, owes its life to him. (Ps 36:9) Rather than a co-Creator, then, the Son was the agent or instrumentality through whom Jehovah, the Creator, worked. Jesus himself credited God with the creation, as do all the Scriptures.
Wisdom personified. What is recorded concerning the Word in the Scriptures fits remarkably the description given at Proverbs 8:22-31. There wisdom is personified, represented as though able to speak and act. (Pr 8:1) Many professed Christian writers of the early centuries of the Common Era understood this section to refer symbolically to God’s Son in his prehuman state. In view of the texts already considered, there can be no denying that that Son was “produced” by Jehovah “as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago,” nor that the Son was “beside [Jehovah] as a master worker” during earth’s creation, as described in these verses of Proverbs. It is true that in Hebrew, which assigns gender to its nouns (as do many other languages), the word for “wisdom” is always in the feminine gender. This would continue to be the case even though wisdom is personified and so would not rule out wisdom’s being used figuratively to represent God’s firstborn Son. The Greek word for “love” in the expression “God is love” (1Jo 4:8) is also in the feminine gender but that does not make God feminine. Solomon, the principal writer of Proverbs (Pr 1:1), applied the title qo·heʹleth (congregator) to himself (Ec 1:1) and this word is also in the feminine gender.
Wisdom is manifest only by being expressed in some way. God’s own wisdom was expressed in creation (Pr 3:19, 20) but through his Son. (Compare 1Co 8:6.) So, too, God’s wise purpose involving mankind is made manifest through, and summed up in, his Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, the apostle could say that Christ represents “the power of God and the wisdom of God” and that Christ Jesus “has become to us wisdom from God, also righteousness and sanctification and release by ransom.”
How he is the “only-begotten Son.” Jesus’ being called the “only-begotten Son” (Joh 1:14; 3:16, 18; 1Jo 4:9) does not mean that the other spirit creatures produced were not God’s sons, for they are called sons as well. (Ge 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:4-7) However, by virtue of his being the sole direct creation of his Father, the firstborn Son was unique, different from all others of God’s sons, all of whom were created or begotten by Jehovah through that firstborn Son. So “the Word” was Jehovah’s “only-begotten Son” in a particular sense, even as Isaac was Abraham’s “only-begotten son” in a particular sense (his father already having another son but not by his wife Sarah).
Why called “the Word.” The name (or, perhaps, title) “the Word” (Joh 1:1) apparently identifies the function that God’s firstborn Son performed after other intelligent creatures were formed. A similar expression is found at Exodus 4:16, where Jehovah says to Moses concerning his brother Aaron: “And he must speak for you to the people; and it must occur that he will serve as a mouth to you, and you will serve as God to him.” As spokesman for God’s chief representative on earth, Aaron served as “a mouth” for Moses. Likewise with the Word, or Logos, who became Jesus Christ. Jehovah evidently used his Son to convey information and instructions to others of his family of spirit sons, even as he used that Son to deliver his message to humans on earth. Showing that he was God’s Word, or Spokesman, Jesus said to his Jewish listeners: “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me. If anyone desires to do His will, he will know concerning the teaching whether it is from God or I speak of my own originality.”
Doubtless on many occasions during his prehuman existence as the Word, Jesus acted as Jehovah’s Spokesman to persons on earth. While certain texts refer to Jehovah as though directly speaking to humans, other texts make clear that he did so through an angelic representative. (Compare Ex 3:2-4 with Ac 7:30, 35; also Ge 16:7-11, 13; 22:1, 11, 12, 15-18.) Reasonably, in the majority of such cases God spoke through the Word. He likely did so in Eden, for on two of the three occasions where mention is made of God’s speaking there, the record specifically shows someone was with Him, undoubtedly his Son. (Ge 1:26-30; 2:16, 17; 3:8-19, 22) The angel who guided Israel through the wilderness and whose voice the Israelites were strictly to obey because ‘Jehovah’s name was within him,’ may therefore have been God’s Son, the Word.
This does not mean that the Word is the only angelic representative through whom Jehovah has spoken. The inspired statements at Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19, and Hebrews 2:2, 3 make clear that the Law covenant was transmitted to Moses by angelic sons of God other than his Firstborn.
Why do some Bible translations refer to Jesus as “God,” while others say he was “a god”?
Some translations render John 1:1 as saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Literally the Greek text reads: “In beginning was the word, and the word was toward the god, and god was the word.” The translator must supply capitals as needed in the language into which he translates the text. It is clearly proper to capitalize “God” in translating the phrase “the god,” since this must identify the Almighty God with whom the Word was. But the capitalizing of the word “god” in the second case does not have the same justification.
The New World Translation renders this text: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” True, there is no indefinite article (corresponding to “a” or “an”) in the original Greek text. But this does not mean one should not be used in translation, for Koine, or common Greek, had no indefinite article. Hence, throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures, translators are obliged to use the indefinite article or not according to their understanding of the meaning of the text. All English translations of those Scriptures do contain the indefinite article hundreds of times; yet most do not use it at John 1:1. Nevertheless, its use in the rendering of this text has sound basis.
First, it should be noted that the text itself shows that the Word was “with God,” hence could not be God, that is, be the Almighty God. (Note also vs 2, which would be unnecessary if vs 1 actually showed the Word to be God.) Additionally, the word for “god” (Gr., the·osʹ) in its second occurrence in the verse is significantly without the definite article “the” (Gr., ho). Regarding this fact, Ernst Haenchen, in a commentary on the Gospel of John (chapters 1-6), stated: “[the·osʹ] and [ho the·osʹ] (‘god, divine’ and ‘the God’) were not the same thing in this period. . . . In fact, for the . . . Evangelist, only the Father was ‘God’ ([ho the·osʹ]; cf. 17:3); ‘the Son’ was subordinate to him (cf. 14:28). But that is only hinted at in this passage because here the emphasis is on the proximity of the one to the other . . . . It was quite possible in Jewish and Christian monotheism to speak of divine beings that existed alongside and under God but were not identical with him. Phil 2:6-10 proves that. In that passage Paul depicts just such a divine being, who later became man in Jesus Christ . . . Thus, in both Philippians and John 1:1 it is not a matter of a dialectical relationship between two-in-one, but of a personal union of two entities.”
After giving as a translation of John 1:1c “and divine (of the category divinity) was the Word,” Haenchen goes on to state: “In this instance, the verb ‘was’ ([en]) simply expresses predication. And the predicate noun must accordingly be more carefully observed: [the·osʹ] is not the same thing as [ho the·osʹ] (‘divine’ is not the same thing as ‘God’).” (pp. 110, 111) Elaborating on this point, Philip B. Harner brought out that the grammatical construction in John 1:1 involves an anarthrous predicate, that is, a predicate noun without the definite article “the,” preceding the verb, which construction is primarily qualitative in meaning and indicates that “the logos has the nature of theos.” He further stated: “In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun [the·osʹ] cannot be regarded as definite.” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 85, 87) Other translators, also recognizing that the Greek term has qualitative force and describes the nature of the Word, therefore render the phrase: “the Word was divine.”
The Hebrew Scriptures are consistently clear in showing that there is but one Almighty God, the Creator of all things and the Most High, whose name is Jehovah. (Ge 17:1; Isa 45:18; Ps 83:18) For that reason Moses could say to the nation of Israel: “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah. And you must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.” (De 6:4, 5) The Christian Greek Scriptures do not contradict this teaching that had been accepted and believed by God’s servants for thousands of years, but instead they support it. (Mr 12:29; Ro 3:29, 30; 1Co 8:6; Eph 4:4-6; 1Ti 2:5) Jesus Christ himself said, “The Father is greater than I am” and referred to the Father as his God, “the only true God.” (Joh 14:28; 17:3; 20:17; Mr 15:34; Re 1:1; 3:12) On numerous occasions Jesus expressed his inferiority and subordination to his Father. (Mt 4:9, 10; 20:23; Lu 22:41, 42; Joh 5:19; 8:42; 13:16) Even after Jesus’ ascension into heaven his apostles continued to present the same picture.
These facts give solid support to a translation such as “the Word was a god” at John 1:1. The Word’s preeminent position among God’s creatures as the Firstborn, the one through whom God created all things, and as God’s Spokesman, gives real basis for his being called “a god” or mighty one. The Messianic prophecy at Isaiah 9:6 foretold that he would be called “Mighty God,” though not the Almighty God, and that he would be the “Eternal Father” of all those privileged to live as his subjects. The zeal of his own Father, “Jehovah of armies,” would accomplish this. (Isa 9:7) Certainly if God’s Adversary, Satan the Devil, is called a “god” (2Co 4:4) because of his dominance over men and demons (1Jo 5:19; Lu 11:14-18), then with far greater reason and propriety is God’s firstborn Son called “a god,” “the only-begotten god” as the most reliable manuscripts of John 1:18 call him.
When charged by opposers with ‘making himself a god,’ Jesus’ reply was: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said: “You are gods”’? If he called ‘gods’ those against whom the word of God came, and yet the Scripture cannot be nullified, do you say to me whom the Father sanctified and dispatched into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, I am God’s Son?” (Joh 10:31-37) Jesus there quoted from Psalm 82, in which human judges, whom God condemned for not executing justice, were called “gods.” (Ps 82:1, 2, 6, 7) Thus, Jesus showed the unreasonableness of charging him with blasphemy for stating that he was, not God, but God’s Son.
This charge of blasphemy arose as a result of Jesus’ having said: “I and the Father are one.” (Joh 10:30) That this did not mean that Jesus claimed to be the Father or to be God is evident from his reply, already partly considered. The oneness to which Jesus referred must be understood in harmony with the context of his statement. He was speaking of his works and his care of the “sheep” who would follow him. His works, as well as his words, demonstrated that there was unity, not disunity and disharmony, between him and his Father, a point his reply went on to emphasize. (Joh 10:25, 26, 37, 38; compare Joh 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40; 8:16-18.) As regards his “sheep,” he and his Father were likewise at unity in their protecting such sheeplike ones and leading them to everlasting life. (Joh 10:27-29; compare Eze 34:23, 24.) Jesus’ prayer on behalf of the unity of all his disciples, including future ones, shows that the oneness, or union, between Jesus and his Father was not as to identity of person but as to purpose and action. In this way Jesus’ disciples could “all be one,” just as he and his Father are one.
In harmony with this, Jesus, responding to a question by Thomas, said: “If you men had known me, you would have known my Father also; from this moment on you know him and have seen him,” and, in answer to a question from Philip, Jesus added: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (Joh 14:5-9) Again, Jesus’ following explanation shows that this was so because he faithfully represented his Father, spoke the Father’s words, and did the Father’s works. (Joh 14:10, 11; compare Joh 12:28, 44-49.) It was on this same occasion, the night of his death, that Jesus said to these very disciples: “The Father is greater than I am.”
The disciples ‘seeing’ the Father in Jesus can also be understood in the light of other Scriptural examples. Jacob, for instance, said to Esau: “I have seen your face as though seeing God’s face in that you received me with pleasure.” He said this because Esau’s reaction had been in harmony with Jacob’s prayer to God. (Ge 33:9-11; 32:9-12) After God’s interrogation of Job out of a windstorm had clarified that man’s understanding, Job said: “In hearsay I have heard about you, but now my own eye does see you.” (Job 38:1; 42:5; see also Jg 13:21, 22.) The ‘eyes of his heart’ had been enlightened. (Compare Eph 1:18.) That Jesus’ statement about seeing the Father was meant to be understood figuratively and not literally is evident from his own statement at John 6:45 as well as from the fact that John, long after Jesus’ death, wrote: “No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is in the bosom position with the Father is the one that has explained him.”
What did Thomas mean when he said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God”?
On the occasion of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas and the other apostles, which had removed Thomas’ doubts of Jesus’ resurrection, the now-convinced Thomas exclaimed to Jesus: “My Lord and my God! [literally, “The Lord of me and the God (ho The·osʹ) of me!”].” (Joh 20:24-29) Some scholars have viewed this expression as an exclamation of astonishment spoken to Jesus but actually directed to God, his Father. However, others claim the original Greek requires that the words be viewed as being directed to Jesus. Even if this is so, the expression “My Lord and my God” would still have to harmonize with the rest of the inspired Scriptures. Since the record shows that Jesus had previously sent his disciples the message, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God,” there is no reason for believing that Thomas thought Jesus was the Almighty God. (Joh 20:17) John himself, after recounting Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Jesus, says of this and similar accounts: “But these have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that, because of believing, you may have life by means of his name.”
So, Thomas may have addressed Jesus as “my God” in the sense of Jesus’ being “a god” though not the Almighty God, not “the only true God,” to whom Thomas had often heard Jesus pray. (Joh 17:1-3) Or he may have addressed Jesus as “my God” in a way similar to expressions made by his forefathers, recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, with which Thomas was familiar. On various occasions when individuals were visited or addressed by an angelic messenger of Jehovah, the individuals, or at times the Bible writer setting out the account, responded to or spoke of that angelic messenger as though he were Jehovah God. (Compare Ge 16:7-11, 13; 18:1-5, 22-33; 32:24-30; Jg 6:11-15; 13:20-22.) This was because the angelic messenger was acting for Jehovah as his representative, speaking in his name, perhaps using the first person singular pronoun, and even saying, “I am the true God.” (Ge 31:11-13; Jg 2:1-5) Thomas may therefore have spoken to Jesus as “my God” in this sense, acknowledging or confessing Jesus as the representative and spokesman of the true God. Whatever the case, it is certain that Thomas’ words do not contradict the clear statement he himself had heard Jesus make, namely, “The Father is greater than I am.”
His Birth on Earth. Prior to Jesus’ birth on earth, angels had appeared on this planet in human form, apparently materializing suitable bodies for the occasion, then dematerializing them after completing such assignments. (Ge 19:1-3; Jg 6:20-22; 13:15-20) They thus remained spirit creatures, merely employing a physical body temporarily. This, however, was not the case with the coming of God’s Son to earth to become the man Jesus. John 1:14 says that “the Word became flesh and resided among us.” For that reason he could call himself “the Son of man.” (Joh 1:51; 3:14, 15) Some draw attention to the expression “resided [literally, “tented”] among us” and claim this shows Jesus was, not a true human, but an incarnation. However, the apostle Peter uses a similar expression about himself, and Peter was obviously not an incarnation.
The inspired Record says: “But the birth of Jesus Christ was in this way. During the time his mother Mary was promised in marriage to Joseph, she was found to be pregnant by holy spirit before they were united.” (Mt 1:18) Prior to this, Jehovah’s angelic messenger had informed the virgin girl Mary that she would ‘conceive in her womb’ as the result of God’s holy spirit coming upon her and His power overshadowing her. (Lu 1:30, 31, 34, 35) Since actual conception took place, it appears that Jehovah God caused an ovum, or egg cell, in Mary’s womb to become fertile, accomplishing this by the transferal of the life of his firstborn Son from the spirit realm to earth. (Ga 4:4) Only in this way could the child eventually born have retained identity as the same person who had resided in heaven as the Word, and only in this way could he have been an actual son of Mary and hence a genuine descendant of her forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and King David and legitimate heir of the divine promises made to them. (Ge 22:15-18; 26:24; 28:10-14; 49:10; 2Sa 7:8, 11-16; Lu 3:23-34; see GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST.) It is likely, therefore, that the child born resembled its Jewish mother in certain physical characteristics.
Mary was a descendant of the sinner Adam, hence herself imperfect and sinful. The question therefore is raised as to how Jesus, Mary’s “firstborn” (Lu 2:7), could be perfect and free from sin in his physical organism. While modern geneticists have learned much about laws of heredity and about dominant and recessive characteristics, they have had no experience in learning the results of uniting perfection with imperfection, as was the case with Jesus’ conception. From the results revealed in the Bible, it would appear that the perfect male life-force (causing the conception) canceled out any imperfection existent in Mary’s ovum, thereby producing a genetic pattern (and embryonic development) that was perfect from its start. Whatever the case, the operation of God’s holy spirit at the time guaranteed the success of God’s purpose. As the angel Gabriel explained to Mary, “power of the Most High” overshadowed her so that what was born was holy, God’s Son. God’s holy spirit formed, as it were, a protective wall so that no imperfection or hurtful force could damage, or blemish, the developing embryo, from conception on.
Since it was God’s holy spirit that made the birth possible, Jesus owed his human life to his heavenly Father, not to any man, such as his adoptive father Joseph. (Mt 2:13-15; Lu 3:23) As Hebrews 10:5 states, Jehovah God ‘prepared a body for him,’ and Jesus, from conception onward, was truly “undefiled, separated from the sinners.”
The Messianic prophecy at Isaiah 52:14, which speaks of “the disfigurement as respects his appearance,” therefore must apply to Jesus the Messiah only in a figurative way. (Compare vs 7 of the same chapter.) Though he was perfect in physical form, the message of truth and righteousness that Jesus Christ boldly proclaimed made him repulsive in the eyes of hypocritical opposers, who claimed to see in him an agent of Beelzebub, a man possessed of a demon, a blasphemous fraud. (Mt 12:24; 27:39-43; Joh 8:48; 15:17-25) In a similar way the message proclaimed by Jesus’ disciples later caused them to be “a sweet odor” of life to receptive persons, but an odor of death to those rejecting their message.
Time of Birth, Length of Ministry. Jesus evidently was born in the month of Ethanim (September-October) of the year 2 B.C.E., was baptized about the same time of the year in 29 C.E., and died about 3:00 p.m. on Friday, the 14th day of the spring month of Nisan (March-April), 33 C.E. The basis for these dates is as follows:
Jesus was born approximately six months after the birth of his relative John (the Baptizer), during the rule of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (31 B.C.E.–14 C.E.) and the Syrian governorship of Quirinius (see REGISTRATION for the probable dates of Quirinius’ administration), and toward the close of the reign of Herod the Great over Judea.
His birth in relation to Herod’s death. While the date of Herod’s death is a debated one, there is considerable evidence pointing to 1 B.C.E. (See HEROD No. 1 [Date of His Death]; CHRONOLOGY [Lunar eclipses].) A number of events intervened between the time of Jesus’ birth and Herod’s death. These included Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day (Lu 2:21); his being brought to the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after birth (Lu 2:22, 23; Le 12:1-4, 8); the journey of the astrologers “from eastern parts” to Bethlehem (where Jesus was no longer in a manger but in a house
Relationship to John’s ministry. Further basis for the dates given at the start of this section is found at Luke 3:1-3, which shows that John the Baptizer began his preaching and baptizing in “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” That 15th year ran from the latter half of 28 C.E. to August or September of 29 C.E. (See TIBERIUS.) At some point in John’s ministry, Jesus went to him and was baptized. When Jesus thereafter commenced his own ministry he was “about thirty years old.” (Lu 3:21-23) At the age of 30, the age at which David became king, Jesus would no longer be subject to human parents.
According to Numbers 4:1-3, 22, 23, 29, 30, those going into sanctuary service under the Law covenant were “from thirty years old upward.” It is reasonable that John the Baptizer, who was a Levite and son of a priest, began his ministry at the same age, not at the temple, of course, but in the special assignment Jehovah had outlined for him. (Lu 1:1-17, 67, 76-79) The specific mention (twice) of the age difference between John and Jesus and the correlation between the appearances and messages of Jehovah’s angel in announcing the births of the two sons (Lu 1) give ample basis for believing that their ministries followed a similar timetable, that is, the start of John’s ministry (as the forerunner of Jesus) being followed about six months later by the commencement of Jesus’ ministry.
On this basis, John’s birth occurred 30 years before he began his ministry in Tiberius’ 15th year, hence somewhere between the latter half of 3 B.C.E. and August or September of 2 B.C.E., with Jesus’ birth following about six months later.
Evidence for three-and-a-half-year ministry. Through the remaining chronological evidence an even more definite conclusion can be reached. This evidence deals with the length of Jesus’ ministry and time of death. The prophecy at Daniel 9:24-27 (discussed fully in the article SEVENTY WEEKS) points to the appearance of the Messiah at the start of the 70th “week” of years (Da 9:25) and his sacrificial death in the middle or “at the half” of the final week, thereby ending the validity of the sacrifices and gift offerings under the Law covenant. (Da 9:26, 27; compare Heb 9:9-14; 10:1-10.) This would mean a ministry of three and a half years’ duration (half of a “week” of seven years) for Jesus Christ.
For Jesus’ ministry to have lasted three and a half years, ending with his death at Passover time, would require that that period include four Passovers in all. Evidence for these four Passovers is found at John 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; and 13:1. John 5:1 does not specifically mention the Passover, referring only to “a [“the,” according to certain ancient manuscripts] festival of the Jews.” There is, however, good reason to believe this refers to the Passover rather than to any other of the annual festivals.
Earlier, at John 4:35, Jesus is mentioned as saying that there were “yet four months before the harvest.” The harvest season, particularly the barley harvest, got under way about Passover time (Nisan 14). Hence Jesus’ statement was made four months before that or about the month of Chislev (November-December). The postexilic Festival of Dedication came during Chislev but it was not one of the great festivals requiring attendance at Jerusalem. (Ex 23:14-17; Le 23:4-44) Celebration was held throughout the land in the many synagogues, according to Jewish tradition. (See FESTIVAL OF DEDICATION.) Later, at John 10:22, Jesus is specifically mentioned as attending one such Festival of Dedication in Jerusalem; however, it appears that he had already been in that area since the earlier Festival of Booths, hence had not gone there especially for that purpose. Different from this, John 5:1 clearly implies that it was the particular “festival of the Jews” that caused Jesus to go from Galilee (Joh 4:54) to Jerusalem.
The only other festival between Chislev and Passover time was that of Purim, held in Adar (February-March), about one month before Passover. But the postexilic Feast of Purim was likewise celebrated throughout the land in homes and synagogues. (See PURIM.) So, the Passover seems to be the most likely “festival of the Jews” referred to at John 5:1, Jesus’ attendance at Jerusalem then being in conformity to God’s law to Israel. It is true that John thereafter records only a few events before the next mention of the Passover (Joh 6:4), but a consideration of the chart of the Main Events of Jesus’ Earthly Life will show that John’s coverage of Jesus’ early ministry was very abbreviated, many events already discussed by the other three evangelists being passed over. In fact, the great amount of activity of Jesus as recorded by these other evangelists (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) lends weight to the conclusion that an annual Passover did indeed intervene between those recorded at John 2:13 and 6:4.
Time of his death. The death of Jesus Christ took place in the spring, on the Passover Day, Nisan (or Abib) 14, according to the Jewish calendar. (Mt 26:2; Joh 13:1-3; Ex 12:1-6; 13:4) That year the Passover occurred on the sixth day of the week (counted by the Jews as from sundown on Thursday to sundown on Friday). This is evident from John 19:31, which shows that the following day was “a great” sabbath. The day after Passover was always a sabbath, no matter on what day of the week it came. (Le 23:5-7) But when this special Sabbath coincided with the regular Sabbath (the seventh day of the week), it became “a great one.” So Jesus’ death took place on Friday, Nisan 14, by about 3:00 p.m.
Summary of evidence. Summing up, then, since Jesus’ death took place in the spring month of Nisan, his ministry, which began three and a half years earlier according to Daniel 9:24-27, must have begun in the fall, about the month of Ethanim (September-October). John’s ministry (initiated in Tiberius’ 15th year), then, must have begun in the spring of the year 29 C.E. John’s birth therefore would be placed in the spring of the year 2 B.C.E., Jesus’ birth would come about six months later in the fall of 2 B.C.E., his ministry would start about 30 years later in the fall of 29 C.E., and his death would come in the year 33 C.E. (on Nisan 14 in the spring, as stated).
No basis for winter date of birth. The popular date of December 25 as the day of Jesus’ birth therefore has no basis in Scripture. As many reference works show, it stems from a pagan holiday. Regarding the origin for the celebration of the day December 25, the Jesuit scholar Urbanus Holzmeister wrote:
“Today it is commonly admitted that the occasion for the celebration of the day December 25 was the festival that the pagans were celebrating on this day. Petavius [French Jesuit scholar, 1583-1652] already has rightly observed that on December 25 was celebrated ‘the birthday of the unconquered sun.’
“Witnesses for this festival are: (a) The Calendar of Furius Dionysius Filocalus, composed in the year 354 [C.E.], in which it is noted: ‘December 25, the B(irthday) of the unconquered (Sun).’ (b) The calendar of astrologer Antiochus (composed about 200 [C.E.]): ‘Month of December . . . 25 . . . The birthday of the Sun; daylight increases.’ (c) Caesar Julian [Julian the Apostate, emperor 361-363 C.E.] recommended the games that were celebrated at the end of the year in honor of the sun, which was called ‘the unconquered sun.’”
Perhaps the most obvious evidence of the incorrectness of the December 25 date is the Scriptural fact that shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks on the night of Jesus’ birth. (Lu 2:8, 12) Already by the autumn month of Bul (October-November) the rainy season was starting (De 11:14), and flocks were brought into protected shelters at night. The next month, Chislev (the ninth month of the Jewish calendar, November-December), was a month of cold and rain (Jer 36:22; Ezr 10:9, 13), and Tebeth (December-January) saw the lowest temperatures of the year, with occasional snows in the highlands area. The presence of shepherds in the fields at night therefore harmonizes with the evidence pointing to the early autumn month of Ethanim as the time of Jesus’ birth.
Also weighing against a December date is that it would be most unlikely for the Roman emperor to choose such a wintry, rainy month as the time for his Jewish subjects (often rebellious) to travel “each one to his own city” to be registered.
Early Life. The record of Jesus’ early life is very brief. Born in Bethlehem of Judea, King David’s native city, he was taken to Nazareth in Galilee after the family returned from Egypt
Of the first years of Jesus’ life nothing is known except that “the young child continued growing and getting strong, being filled with wisdom, and God’s favor continued upon him.” (Lu 2:40) In course of time the family grew as four sons and some daughters were born to Joseph and Mary. (Mt 13:54-56) So, Mary’s “firstborn” son (Lu 2:7) did not grow up as an only child. This doubtless explains why his parents could begin a return journey from Jerusalem without realizing for a while that Jesus, their oldest child, was missing from the group. This occasion, with Jesus’ visit (as a 12-year-old) to the temple, where he engaged in a discussion with the Jewish teachers that left them amazed, is the only incident of his early life recounted in some detail. (PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 538) Jesus’ reply to his worried parents when they located him there shows that Jesus knew the miraculous nature of his birth and realized his Messianic future. (Lu 2:41-52) Reasonably, his mother and his adoptive father had passed on to him the information obtained through the angelic visitations as well as through the prophecies of Simeon and Anna, spoken when the first trip was made to Jerusalem 40 days after Jesus’ birth.
There is nothing to indicate that Jesus had or exercised any miraculous powers during his childhood years, as the fanciful stories recorded in certain apocryphal works, such as the so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas, pretend. The changing of water to wine at Cana, performed during his ministry, was “the beginning of his signs.” (Joh 2:1-11) Likewise, while among the family in Nazareth, Jesus evidently did not make a showy display of his wisdom and superiority as a perfect human, as is perhaps indicated by the fact that his half brothers did not exercise faith in him during his ministry as a human, as well as by the disbelief most of the population of Nazareth showed toward him.
Yet Jesus was evidently well known by the people of Nazareth (Mt 13:54-56; Lu 4:22); his splendid qualities and personality must certainly have been noted, at least by those appreciative of righteousness and goodness. (Compare Mt 3:13, 14.) He regularly attended the synagogue services each Sabbath. He was educated, as is shown by his ability to find and read sections from the Sacred Writings, but he did not attend the rabbinic schools of “higher learning.”
The brevity of the record concerning these early years is because Jesus had not yet been anointed by Jehovah as “the Christ” (Mt 16:16) and had not commenced carrying out the divine assignment awaiting him. His childhood and the growing-up process, like his birth, were necessary, though incidental, means to an end. As Jesus later stated to Roman Governor Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”
His Baptism. The outpouring of holy spirit at the time of Jesus’ baptism marked the time of his becoming in actual fact the Messiah, or Christ, God’s Anointed One (the use of this title by angels when announcing his birth evidently being in a prophetic sense; Lu 2:9-11, note also vss 25, 26). For six months John had been ‘preparing the way’ for “the saving means of God.” (Lu 3:1-6) Jesus, now “about thirty years old,” was baptized over John’s initial objections, voiced because John till then had been baptizing only repentant sinners. (Mt 3:1, 6, 13-17; Lu 3:21-23) Jesus, however, was sinless; hence his baptism testified instead to his presenting himself to do his Father’s will. (Compare Heb 10:5-9.) After Jesus had ‘come up from the water,’ and while he was praying, “he saw the heavens being parted,” God’s spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily shape like a dove, and Jehovah’s voice was heard from heaven, saying: “You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.”
God’s spirit poured out upon Jesus doubtless illuminated his mind on many points. His own expressions thereafter, and particularly the intimate prayer to his Father on Passover night, 33 C.E., show that Jesus recalled his prehuman existence and the things he had heard from his Father and the things he had seen his Father do, as well as the glory that he himself had enjoyed in the heavens. (Joh 6:46; 7:28, 29; 8:26, 28, 38; 14:2; 17:5) It may well have been that the memory of these things was restored to him at the time of his baptism and anointing.
Jesus’ anointing with holy spirit appointed and commissioned him to carry out his ministry of preaching and teaching (Lu 4:16-21) and also to serve as God’s Prophet. (Ac 3:22-26) But, over and above this, it appointed and commissioned him as Jehovah’s promised King, the heir to David’s throne (Lu 1:32, 33, 69; Heb 1:8, 9) and to an everlasting Kingdom. For that reason he could later tell Pharisees: “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Lu 17:20, 21) Similarly, Jesus was anointed to act as God’s High Priest, not as a descendant of Aaron, but after the likeness of King-Priest Melchizedek.
Jesus had been God’s Son from the time of his birth, even as the perfect Adam had been the “son of God.” (Lu 3:38; 1:35) The angel Gabriel had identified Jesus as God’s Son before his birth. So, when, after Jesus’ baptism, his Father’s voice was heard saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you” (Mr 1:11), it seems reasonable that this declaration accompanying the anointing flow of God’s spirit was more than just an acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity. The evidence is that Jesus was then begotten or brought forth by God as his spiritual Son, “born again,” as it were, with the right to receive life once more as a spirit Son of God in the heavens.
His Vital Place in God’s Purpose. Jehovah God saw fit to make his firstborn Son the central, or key, figure in the outworking of all His purposes (Joh 1:14-18; Col 1:18-20; 2:8, 9), the focal point on which the light of all prophecies would concentrate and from which their light would radiate (1Pe 1:10-12; Re 19:10; Joh 1:3-9), the solution to all the problems that Satan’s rebellion had raised (Heb 2:5-9, 14, 15; 1Jo 3:8), and the foundation upon which God would build all future arrangements for the eternal good of His universal family in heaven and earth. (Eph 1:8-10; 2:20; 1Pe 2:4-8) Because of the vital role he thus plays in God’s purpose, Jesus could say, rightly and without exaggeration: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The “sacred secret.” God’s purpose as revealed in Jesus Christ remained a “sacred secret [or, mystery] . . . kept in silence for long-lasting times.” (Ro 16:25-27) For over 4,000 years, since the rebellion in Eden, men of faith had awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise of a “seed” to bruise the head of the serpentlike Adversary and thereby to bring relief to mankind. (Ge 3:15) For nearly 2,000 years they had hoped in Jehovah’s covenant with Abraham for a “seed” who would “take possession of the gate of his enemies” and by means of whom all nations of the earth would bless themselves.
Finally, when “the full limit of the time arrived, God sent forth his Son” and through him revealed the meaning of the “sacred secret,” gave the definitive answer to the issue raised by God’s Adversary (see JEHOVAH [The supreme issue a moral one]), and provided the means for redeeming obedient mankind from sin and death through the ransom sacrifice of his Son. (Ga 4:4; 1Ti 3:16; Joh 14:30; 16:33; Mt 20:28) Thereby Jehovah God cleared away any uncertainty or ambiguity regarding his purposes in the minds of his servants. For that reason the apostle says that “no matter how many the promises of God are, they have become Yes by means of [Jesus Christ].”
The “sacred secret” did not simply involve an identification of God’s Son as such. Rather it involved the role he was assigned in the framework of God’s foreordained purpose, and the revelation and execution of that purpose through Jesus Christ. This purpose, so long a secret, was “for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times, namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.”
The “sacred secret” bound up in Christ Jesus has as one of its aspects his heading a new heavenly government; its membership is to be formed of persons (Jews and non-Jews) taken from among earth’s population, and its domain is to embrace both heaven and earth. Thus, in the vision at Daniel 7:13, 14, one “like a son of man” (a title later applied frequently to Christ
“Chief Agent of life.” As an expression of his Father’s undeserved kindness, Christ Jesus laid down his perfect human life in sacrifice. This made possible the union of Christ’s chosen followers with him in his heavenly reign and also made possible the arrangement for earthly subjects of his Kingdom rule. (Mt 6:10; Joh 3:16; Eph 1:7; Heb 2:5; see RANSOM.) He thereby became “the Chief Agent [“Prince,” KJ; JB] of life” for all mankind. (Ac 3:15) The Greek term here used means, basically, “chief leader,” a related word being applied to Moses (Ac 7:27, 35) as “ruler” in Israel.
Hence, as the “chief leader” or “pioneer of Life” (Mo), Jesus Christ introduced a new and essential element for gaining eternal life in the sense of being an intermediary or go-between, but he is such in an administrative sense as well. He is God’s High Priest who can effect full cleansing from sin and liberation from sin’s death-dealing effects (Heb 3:1, 2; 4:14; 7:23-25; 8:1-3); he is the appointed Judge into whose hands all judgment is committed, so that he judiciously administers his ransom benefits to individuals among mankind according to their worthiness to live under his kingship (Joh 5:22-27; Ac 10:42, 43); through him the resurrection of the dead also comes. (Joh 5:28, 29; 6:39, 40) Because Jehovah God so ordained to use his Son, “there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.”
Since this aspect of Jesus’ authority is also embraced in his “name,” his disciples, as representatives of the Chief Agent of life, by that name could heal persons of their infirmities resulting from inherited sin and they could even raise the dead.
The full significance of his “name.” It can be seen that, while Jesus’ death on a torture stake plays a vital part in human salvation, acceptance of this is by no means all that is involved in ‘putting faith in the name of Jesus.’ (Ac 10:43) Following his resurrection, Jesus informed his disciples, “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth,” thereby showing that he heads a government of universal domain. (Mt 28:18) The apostle Paul made clear that Jesus’ Father has “left nothing that is not subject to him [Jesus],” with the evident exception of “the one who subjected all things to him,” that is, Jehovah, the Sovereign God. (1Co 15:27; Heb 1:1-14; 2:8) Jesus Christ’s “name,” therefore, is more excellent than that of God’s angels, in that his name embraces or stands for the vast executive authority that Jehovah has placed in him. (Heb 1:3, 4) Only those who willingly recognize that “name” and bow to it, subjecting themselves to the authority it represents, will gain life eternal. (Ac 4:12; Eph 1:19-23; Php 2:9-11) They must, sincerely and without hypocrisy, line up with the standards Jesus exemplified and, in faith, obey the commands he gave.
What is the “name” of Jesus on account of which Christians are hated by all nations?
Illustrating this other aspect of Jesus’ “name” is his prophetic warning that his followers would be “objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” (Mt 24:9; also Mt 10:22; Joh 15:20, 21; Ac 9:15, 16) Clearly, this would be, not because his name represented that of a Ransomer or Redeemer, but because it represented God’s appointed Ruler, the King of kings, to whom all nations should bow in submission or else experience destruction.
So, too, it is certain that when demons gave in to Jesus’ command to get out of persons they possessed, they did so, not on the basis of Jesus’ being a sacrificial Lamb of God, but on account of the authority for which his name stood as the anointed representative of the Kingdom, the one with authority to call for, not merely one legion, but a dozen legions of angels, capable of expelling any demons who might stubbornly resist the order to leave. (Mr 5:1-13; 9:25-29; Mt 12:28, 29; 26:53; compare Da 10:5, 6, 12, 13.) Jesus’ faithful apostles were authorized to use his name to expel demons, both before and after his death. (Lu 9:1; 10:17; Ac 16:16-18) But when the sons of Jewish priest Sceva tried to use Jesus’ name in this way, the wicked spirit challenged their right to appeal to the authority the name represented and caused the possessed man to attack and maul them.
When Jesus’ followers referred to his “name” they frequently employed the expression “the Lord Jesus” or “our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ac 8:16; 15:26; 19:5, 13, 17; 1Co 1:2, 10; Eph 5:20; Col 3:17) They recognized him as their Lord not only because he was their divinely appointed Repurchaser and Owner by virtue of his ransom sacrifice (1Co 6:20; 7:22, 23; 1Pe 1:18, 19; Jude 4) but also because of his kingly position and authority. It was in the full regal as well as priestly authority represented by Jesus’ name that his followers preached (Ac 5:29-32, 40-42), baptized disciples (Mt 28:18-20; Ac 2:38; compare 1Co 1:13-15), disfellowshipped immoral persons (1Co 5:4, 5), and exhorted and instructed the Christian congregations they shepherded (1Co 1:10; 2Th 3:6). It follows, then, that those approved for life by Jesus could never put faith in, or render allegiance to, some other “name” as representing God’s authority to rule but must show unbreakable loyalty to the “name” of this divinely commissioned King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
‘Bearing Witness to the Truth.’ To Pilate’s question, “Well, then, are you a king?”, Jesus replied: “You yourself are saying that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone that is on the side of the truth listens to my voice.” (Joh 18:37; see LEGAL CASE [Jesus’ Trial].) As the Scriptures show, the truth to which he bore witness was not just truth in general. It was the all-important truth of what God’s purposes were and are, truth based on the fundamental fact of God’s sovereign will and His ability to fulfill that will. By his ministry Jesus revealed that truth, contained in “the sacred secret,” as being God’s Kingdom with Jesus Christ, the “son of David,” serving as King-Priest on the throne. This was also the essence of the message proclaimed by angels prior to and at the time of his birth in Bethlehem of Judea, the city of David.
The accomplishment of his ministry in bearing witness to the truth required more of Jesus than merely talking, preaching, and teaching. Besides shedding his heavenly glory to be born as a human, he had to fulfill all the things prophesied about him, including the shadows, or patterns, contained in the Law covenant. (Col 2:16, 17; Heb 10:1) To uphold the truth of his Father’s prophetic word and promises, Jesus had to live in such a way as to make that truth become reality, fulfilling it by what he said and did, how he lived, and how he died. Thus, he had to be the truth, in effect, the embodiment of the truth, as he himself said he was.
For this reason the apostle John could write that Jesus was “full of undeserved kindness and truth” and that, though “the Law was given through Moses, the undeserved kindness and the truth came to be through Jesus Christ.” (Joh 1:14, 17) By means of his human birth, his presenting himself to God by baptism in water, his three and a half years of public service in behalf of God’s Kingdom, his death in faithfulness to God, his resurrection to heaven
This truth was the truth that would ‘set men free’ if they showed themselves to be “on the side of the truth” by accepting Jesus’ role in God’s purpose. (Joh 8:32-36; 18:37) To ignore God’s purpose concerning his Son, to build hopes on any other foundation, to form conclusions regarding one’s life course on any other basis would be to believe a lie, to be deceived, to follow the leading of the father of lies, God’s Adversary. (Mt 7:24-27; Joh 8:42-47) It would mean ‘to die in one’s sins.’ (Joh 8:23, 24) For this reason Jesus did not hold back from declaring his place in God’s purpose.
True, he instructed his disciples, even with sternness, not to broadcast his Messiahship to the public (Mt 16:20; Mr 8:29, 30) and rarely referred to himself directly as the Christ except when in privacy with them. (Mr 9:33, 38, 41; Lu 9:20, 21; Joh 17:3) But he boldly and regularly drew attention to the evidence in the prophecies and in his works that proved he was the Christ. (Mt 22:41-46; Joh 5:31-39, 45-47; 7:25-31) On the occasion of talking to a Samaritan woman at a well, Jesus, “tired out from the journey,” identified himself to her, perhaps to excite curiosity among the townsfolk and draw them out from the town to him, which was the result. (Joh 4:6, 25-30) The mere claim of Messiahship would mean nothing if not accompanied by the evidence, and in the end, faith was required on the part of those seeing and hearing if they were to accept the conclusion to which that evidence unerringly pointed.
Tested and Perfected. Jehovah God demonstrated supreme confidence in his Son in charging him with the mission of going to earth and serving as the promised Messiah. God’s purpose that there be a “seed” (Ge 3:15), the Messiah, who would serve as the sacrificial Lamb of God, was foreknown to Him “before the founding of the world” (1Pe 1:19, 20), an expression considered under the heading FOREKNOWLEDGE, FOREORDINATION (Foreordination of the Messiah). The Bible record, however, does not state at what point Jehovah designated or informed the specific individual chosen to fill this role, whether at the time of the rebellion in Eden or at some later time. The requirements, particularly that of the ransom sacrifice, ruled out the use of any imperfect human, but not of a perfect spirit son. Out of all his millions of spirit sons, Jehovah selected one to take on the assignment: his Firstborn, the Word.
God’s Son willingly accepted the assignment. This is evident from Philippians 2:5-8; he “emptied himself” of his heavenly glory and spirit nature and “took a slave’s form” in submitting to the transferal of his life to the earthly, material, human plane. The assignment before him represented a tremendous responsibility; so very much was involved. By remaining faithful he would prove false Satan’s claim, recorded in the case of Job, that under privation, suffering, and test, God’s servants would deny Him. (Job 1:6-12; 2:2-6) As the firstborn Son, Jesus, of all God’s creatures, could give the most conclusive answer to that charge and the finest evidence in favor of his Father’s side in the larger issue of the rightfulness of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty. Thereby he would prove to be “the Amen . . . , the faithful and true witness.” (Re 3:14) If he failed, he would reproach his Father’s name as none other could.
In selecting his only-begotten Son, Jehovah, of course, was not ‘laying his hands hastily upon him,’ with the risk of being ‘a sharer in possible sins,’ for Jesus was no novice likely to get “puffed up with pride and fall into the judgment passed upon the Devil.” (Compare 1Ti 5:22; 3:6.) Jehovah ‘fully knew’ his Son from his intimate association with him during countless ages past (Mt 11:27; compare Ge 22:12; Ne 9:7, 8) and could therefore assign him to fulfill the unerring prophecies of His Word. (Isa 46:10, 11) Thus God was not arbitrarily or automatically guaranteeing “certain success” for his Son simply by placing him in the role of the prophesied Messiah (Isa 55:11), in the manner that the theory of predestinarianism claims.
While the Son had never undergone a test like that now before him, he had demonstrated his faithfulness and devotion in other ways. He had already had great responsibility as God’s Spokesman, the Word. Yet he never misused his position and authority, as did God’s earthly spokesman Moses on one occasion. (Nu 20:9-13; De 32:48-51; Jude 9) Being the One through whom all things were made, the Son was a god, “the only-begotten god” (Joh 1:18), hence held a position of glory and preeminence in relation to all others of God’s spirit sons. Yet he did not become haughty. (Contrast Eze 28:14-17.) So, it could not be said that the Son had not already proved his loyalty, humility, and devotion in many respects.
To illustrate, consider the test placed upon God’s first human son, Adam. That test did not involve enduring persecution or suffering, but only maintaining obedient respect for God’s will in regard to the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. (Ge 2:16, 17; see TREES.) Satan’s rebellion and temptation were not part of the test as originally given by God but came as an added feature, from a source foreign to God. Nor did the test, when given, call for any human temptation, as resulted to Adam from Eve’s deflection. (Ge 3:6, 12) This being so, Adam’s test could have been effected without any outside temptation or influence toward wrongdoing, the whole matter resting with Adam’s heart
It may also be noted that the spirit son who became Satan by defecting from God’s service did not do so because anyone had persecuted him or tempted him to do wrong. Certainly not God, for ‘He does not try anyone with evil things.’ Yet that spirit son failed to maintain loyalty, allowed himself to be “drawn out and enticed by his own desire,” and sinned, becoming a rebel. (Jas 1:13-15) He failed the test of love.
The issue raised by God’s Adversary, however, required that the Son, as the promised Messiah and future King of God’s Kingdom, now undergo a test of integrity under new circumstances. This test and the sufferings it entailed were also necessary for his being “made perfect” for his position as God’s High Priest over mankind. (Heb 5:9, 10) To meet the requirements for full installation as the Chief Agent of salvation, God’s Son was “obliged to become like his ‘brothers’ [those who became his anointed followers] in all respects, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest.” He must endure hardships and sufferings, so that he might be “able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test,” able to sympathize with their weaknesses as one who had “been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin.” Though perfect and sinless, he would still be “able to deal moderately with the ignorant and erring ones.” Only through such a High Priest could imperfect humans “approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, [to] obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”
Still a free moral agent. Jesus himself said that all the prophecies concerning the Messiah were certain of realization, “must be fulfilled.” (Lu 24:44-47; Mt 16:21; compare Mt 5:17.) Yet this certainly did not relieve God’s Son of the weight of responsibility, nor did it eliminate his freedom of choice
Jesus therefore had much to meditate on, and to fortify himself for, during the 40 days he spent fasting (as Moses had) in the wilderness following his baptism and anointing. (Ex 34:28; Lu 4:1, 2) He there had a direct encounter with the serpentlike Adversary of his Father. Using tactics similar to those in Eden, Satan the Devil tried to induce Jesus to display selfishness, to exalt himself, and to deny his Father’s sovereign position. Unlike Adam, Jesus (“the last Adam”) kept integrity and, by consistently citing his Father’s declared will, caused Satan to withdraw, “until another convenient time.”
His Works and Personal Qualities. Because both “the undeserved kindness and the truth” were to come to be through Jesus Christ, he had to get out among the people, let them hear him, see his works and qualities. Thus they might recognize him as the Messiah and put faith in his sacrifice when he died for them as “the Lamb of God.” (Joh 1:17, 29) He personally visited Palestine’s many regions, covering hundreds of miles on foot. He talked to people on lakeshores and hillsides as well as in cities and villages, synagogues and temple, marketplaces, streets and houses (Mt 5:1, 2; 26:55; Mr 6:53-56; Lu 4:16; 5:1-3; 13:22, 26; 19:5, 6), addressing large crowds and individuals, men and women, old and young, rich and poor.
The accompanying chart presents a suggested manner in which the four accounts of Jesus’ earthly life can be coordinated chronologically. It also gives an understanding of the various “campaigns” or tours he carried out during his ministry of three and a half years.
Jesus set an example for his disciples by being hardworking, rising early, serving on into the night. (Lu 21:37, 38; Mr 11:20; 1:32-34; Joh 3:2; 5:17) More than once he spent the night in prayer, as he did the night before giving the Sermon on the Mount. (Mt 14:23-25; Lu 6:12–7:10) Another time, after serving during the night, he rose while it was still dark and headed for a lonely place to pray. (Mr 1:32, 35) His privacy often interrupted by the crowds, he, nevertheless, “received them kindly and began to speak to them about the kingdom of God.” (Lu 9:10, 11; Mr 6:31-34; 7:24-30) He experienced tiredness, thirst, and hunger, at times forgoing food for the sake of the work to be done.
Balanced view of material things. He was not, however, an ascetic, practicing self-denial to an extreme degree without regard for the circumstances at hand. (Lu 7:33, 34) He accepted many invitations to meals and even banquets, visiting the homes of persons of some wealth. (Lu 5:29; 7:36; 14:1; 19:1-6) He contributed to the enjoyment at a wedding by changing water into fine wine. (Joh 2:1-10) And he appreciated good things done for him. When Judas expressed indignation at Lazarus’ sister Mary’s use of a pound of perfumed oil (worth over $220, or about a year’s wages of a laborer) to anoint Jesus’ feet and professed concern for the poor who could have benefited from the sale of the oil, Jesus said: “Let her alone, that she may keep this observance in view of the day of my burial. For you have the poor always with you, but me you will not have always.” (Joh 12:2-8; Mr 14:6-9) The inner garment he wore when arrested, “woven from the top throughout its length,” was evidently a quality garment. (Joh 19:23, 24) Nevertheless, Jesus always gave spiritual things first place and was never overly concerned about material things, even as he counseled others.
Courageous Liberator. Great courage, manliness, and strength are evident throughout his ministry. (Mt 3:11; Lu 4:28-30; 9:51; Joh 2:13-17; 10:31-39; 18:3-11) Like Joshua, King David, and others, Jesus was a fighter for God’s cause and on behalf of lovers of righteousness. As the promised “seed,” he had to face the enmity of the ‘seed of the serpent,’ doing battle with them. (Ge 3:15; 22:17) He waged offensive warfare against the demons and their influence on men’s minds and hearts. (Mr 5:1-13; Lu 4:32-36; 11:19-26; compare 2Co 4:3, 4; Eph 6:10-12.) Hypocritical religious leaders showed they were actually in opposition to God’s sovereignty and will. (Mt 23:13, 27, 28; Lu 11:53, 54; Joh 19:12-16) Jesus thoroughly defeated them in a series of verbal encounters. He wielded “the sword of the spirit,” God’s Word, with strength, perfect control, and strategy
In all of this, Jesus was never foolhardy, sought no trouble, and avoided unnecessary danger. (Mt 12:14, 15; Mr 3:6, 7; Joh 7:1, 10; 11:53, 54; compare Mt 10:16, 17, 28-31.) His courage was based on faith. (Mr 4:37-40) He did not lose control of himself but remained calm when vilified and mistreated, “committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”
By his courageous fight for the truth and by bringing light to the people concerning God’s purpose, Jesus, as one greater than Moses, fulfilled the prophetic role of Liberator. He proclaimed freedom to the captives. (Isa 42:1, 6, 7; Jer 30:8-10; Isa 61:1) Though many held back for selfish reasons and out of fear of the element in power (Joh 7:11-13; 9:22; 12:42, 43), others gained courage to break free of their chains of ignorance and slavish subservience to false leaders and false hopes. (Joh 9:24-39; compare Ga 5:1.) As faithful Judean kings had waged campaigns to eliminate false worship from the realm (2Ch 15:8; 17:1, 4-6; 2Ki 18:1, 3-6), so, too, the ministry of Jesus, God’s Messianic King, had a devastating effect on false religion in his day.
For further information regarding the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, see MAPS, Vol. 2, pp. 540, 541.
Depth of feeling and warmth. But Jesus was also a man of great feeling, a requirement for serving as God’s High Priest. His perfection did not make him hypercritical or arrogant and overbearing (as were the Pharisees) toward the imperfect, sin-laden persons among whom he lived and worked. (Mt 9:10-13; 21:31, 32; Lu 7:36-48; 15:1-32; 18:9-14) Even children could feel at ease with him, and when using a child as an example, he did not merely stand the child before his disciples but also “put his arms around it.” (Mr 9:36; 10:13-16) He proved himself a real friend and affectionate companion to his followers, ‘loving them to the end.’ (Joh 13:1; 15:11-15) He did not use his authority to be demanding and to add to the people’s burdens but, rather, said: “Come to me, all you who are toiling . . . I will refresh you.” His disciples found him “mild-tempered and lowly in heart,” his yoke kindly and his load light.
Priestly duties included care for the physical and spiritual health of the people. (Le 13-15) Pity and compassion moved Jesus to help the people suffering from illness, blindness, and other afflictions. (Mt 9:36; 14:14; 20:34; Lu 7:11-15; compare Isa 61:1.) The death of his friend Lazarus and the resulting grief to Lazarus’ sisters caused Jesus to ‘groan and give way to tears.’ (Joh 11:32-36) Thus, in an anticipatory way, Jesus the Messiah ‘carried the sicknesses and bore the pains’ of others, doing so at the cost of power from himself. (Isa 53:4; Lu 8:43-48) He did so not only in fulfillment of prophecy but because ‘he wanted to.’ (Mt 8:2-4, 16, 17) More important, he brought them spiritual health and forgiveness of sins, being authorized to do so because, as the Christ, he was foreordained to provide the ransom sacrifice, in fact was already undergoing the baptism into death that would terminate on the torture stake.
“Wonderful Counselor.” The priest was responsible for the education of the people in God’s law and will. (Mal 2:7) Also, as the royal Messiah, the foretold “twig out of the stump of Jesse [David’s father],” Jesus had to manifest ‘the spirit of Jehovah in wisdom, counsel, mightiness, knowledge, along with the fear of Jehovah.’ He would demonstrate the “enjoyment” resulting from such fear of Jehovah. (Isa 11:1-3) The unparalleled wisdom found in the teachings of Jesus, who was “more than Solomon” (Mt 12:42), is one of the most powerful evidences that he was indeed the Son of God and that the Gospel accounts could not be the mere product of imperfect men’s minds or imagination.
Jesus proved himself to be the promised “Wonderful Counselor” (Isa 9:6) by his knowledge of God’s Word and will, by his understanding of human nature, by his ability to get to the heart of questions and issues, and by showing the solution to problems of daily living. The well-known Sermon on the Mount is a prime example of this. (Mt 5-7) In it his counsel showed the way to true happiness, how to settle quarrels, how to avoid immorality, how to deal with those showing enmity, the way to practice righteousness free from hypocrisy, the right attitude toward the material things of life, confidence in God’s generosity, the golden rule for right relationships with others, the means for detecting religious frauds, and how to build for a secure future. The crowds were “astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mt 7:28, 29) After his resurrection he continued to be the key figure in Jehovah’s channel of communication to mankind.
Master Teacher. His manner of teaching was remarkably effective. (Joh 7:45, 46) He presented matters of great weight and depth with simplicity, brevity, and clarity. He illustrated his points with things well known to his listeners (Mt 13:34, 35)
Though considerate of the limited understanding of his audience and even of his disciples (Mr 4:33) and though using discernment in how much information to give them (Joh 16:4, 12), he never ‘watered down’ God’s message in an effort to gain popularity or curry favor. His speech was straightforward, even blunt at times. (Mt 5:37; Lu 11:37-52; Joh 7:19; 8:46, 47) The theme of his message was: “Repent, . . . for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Mt 4:17) As did Jehovah’s prophets of earlier times, he plainly told the people of “their revolt, and the house of Jacob [of] their sins” (Isa 58:1; Mt 21:28-32; Joh 8:24), pointing them to the ‘narrow gate and the cramped road’ that would lead them back to God’s favor and life.
“Leader and Commander.” Jesus demonstrated his qualifications as “a leader and commander” as well as “a witness to the national groups.” (Isa 55:3, 4; Mt 23:10; Joh 14:10, 14; compare 1Ti 6:13, 14.) When the time came for it, several months after beginning his ministry, he went to certain people already known to him and gave them the invitation: “Be my follower.” Men abandoned fishing businesses and tax office employment to respond without hesitation. (Mt 4:18-22; Lu 5:27, 28; compare Ps 110:3.) Women contributed time, effort, and material possessions to supply the needs of Jesus and his followers.
This small group formed the nucleus of what would become a new “nation,” spiritual Israel. (1Pe 2:7-10) Jesus spent an entire night praying for his Father’s guidance before selecting 12 apostles, who, if faithful, would become pillars in that new nation, like the 12 sons of Jacob in fleshly Israel. (Lu 6:12-16; Eph 2:20; Re 21:14) As Moses had 70 men associated with him as representatives of the nation, Jesus later assigned 70 more disciples to the ministry. (Nu 11:16, 17; Lu 10:1) Thereafter Jesus concentrated special attention on these disciples in his teaching and instruction, even the Sermon on the Mount being delivered principally for them, as its contents reveal.
He fully accepted the responsibilities of his headship, took the lead in every respect (Mt 23:10; Mr 10:32), assigned his disciples responsibilities and tasks in addition to their preaching work (Lu 9:52; 19:29-35; Joh 4:1-8; 12:4-6; 13:29; Mr 3:9; 14:12-16), encouraged and reproved (Joh 16:27; Lu 10:17-24; Mt 16:22, 23). He was a commander, and the chief of his commands was that they ‘love one another even as he had loved them.’ (Joh 15:10-14) He was able to control crowds numbering into the thousands. (Mr 6:39-46) The steady, helpful training he gave his disciples, men for the most part of humble position and education, was extremely effective. (Mt 10:1–11:1; Mr 6:7-13; Lu 8:1) Later, men of high station and learning were to wonder at the apostles’ forceful, confident speech; and as “fishers of men,” they enjoyed amazing results
Able Provider and Righteous Judge. That his rule would bring prosperity surpassing that of Solomon’s was evident from his ability to direct the fishing operations of his disciples with overwhelming success. (Lu 5:4-9; compare Joh 21:4-11.) The feeding of thousands of persons by this man born in Bethlehem (meaning “House of Bread”), as well as his converting water into fine wine, was a small foretaste of the future banquet that God’s Messianic Kingdom would provide “for all the peoples.” (Isa 25:6; compare Lu 14:15.) His rule not only would end poverty and hunger but would even result in the ‘swallowing up of death.’
There was every reason, as well, to trust in the justice and righteous judgment his government would bring, in harmony with the Messianic prophecies. (Isa 11:3-5; 32:1, 2; 42:1) He showed the utmost respect for law, particularly that of his God and Father, but also for that of “the superior authorities” allowed to operate on earth in the form of secular governments. (Ro 13:1; Mt 5:17-19; 22:17-21; Joh 18:36) He rejected the effort to inject him into the current political scene by ‘making him king’ through popular acclaim. (Joh 6:15; compare Lu 19:11, 12; Ac 1:6-9.) He did not overstep the bounds of his authority. (Lu 12:13, 14) No one could ‘convict him of sin’; this was not merely because he had been born perfect but because he exercised constant care to observe God’s Word. (Joh 8:46, 55) Righteousness and faithfulness girded him like a belt. (Isa 11:5) His love of righteousness was coupled with a hatred of wickedness, hypocrisy, and fraud, as well as indignation toward those who were greedy and callous toward the sufferings of others. (Mt 7:21-27; 23:1-8, 25-28; Mr 3:1-5; 12:38-40; compare vss 41-44.) Meek and lowly ones could take heart, because his rule would wipe out injustice and oppression.
He showed keen discernment of principles, of the real meaning and purpose of God’s laws, emphasizing “the weightier matters” thereof, “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Mt 12:1-8; 23:23, 24) He was impartial, displaying no favoritism, even though he felt particular affection for one of his disciples. (Mt 18:1-4; Mr 10:35-44; Joh 13:23; compare 1Pe 1:17.) Though one of his last acts while dying on the torture stake was to show concern for his human mother, his fleshly family ties never took priority over his spiritual relationships. (Mt 12:46-50; Lu 11:27, 28; Joh 19:26, 27) As foretold, his handling of problems was never superficial, based on “any mere appearance to his eyes, nor [was his reproof] simply according to the thing heard by his ears.” (Isa 11:3; compare Joh 7:24.) He was able to see into men’s hearts, discern their thinking, reasoning, and motives. (Mt 9:4; Mr 2:6-8; Joh 2:23-25) And he kept his ear tuned to God’s Word and sought, not his own will, but that of his Father; this assured that, as God’s appointed Judge, his decisions would always be right and righteous.
Outstanding Prophet. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of a prophet like, but greater than, Moses. (De 18:15, 18, 19; Mt 21:11; Lu 24:19; Ac 3:19-23; compare Joh 7:40.) He foretold his own sufferings and manner of death, the scattering of his disciples, the siege of Jerusalem, and the utter destruction of that city and its temple. (Mt 20:17-19; 24:1–25:46; 26:31-34; Lu 19:41-44; 21:20-24; Joh 13:18-27, 38) In connection with these latter events, he included prophecies to be fulfilled at the time of his presence, when his Kingdom would be in active operation. And, like the earlier prophets, he performed signs and miracles as evidence from God that he was divinely sent. His credentials surpassed those of Moses
Superb example of love. The quality that predominates through all these aspects of Jesus’ personality is love
In proof of his love for God and for imperfect mankind, he then let himself be “brought just like a sheep to the slaughtering,” submitting to trials, being slapped, hit with fists, spit on, scourged with a whip, and finally, nailed to a stake between criminals. (Isa 53:7; Mt 26:67, 68; 27:26-38; Mr 14:65; 15:15-20; Joh 19:1) By his sacrificial death he exemplified and expressed God’s love toward men (Ro 5:8-10; Eph 2:4, 5) and enabled men to have absolute belief in his own unbreakable love for his faithful disciples.
Since the portrait of God’s Son obtainable through the written record, admittedly brief (Joh 21:25), is grand, the reality must have been far grander. His heartwarming example of humility and kindness, coupled with strength for righteousness and justice, gives assurance that his Kingdom government will be all that men of faith through the centuries have longed for, in fact, that it will surpass their highest expectations. (Ro 8:18-22) In all respects he exemplified the perfect standard for his disciples, one far different from that of worldly rulers. (Mt 20:25-28; 1Co 11:1; 1Pe 2:21) He, their Lord, washed their feet. Thus, he set the pattern of thoughtfulness, consideration, and humility that would characterize his congregation of anointed followers, not only on earth but also in heaven. (Joh 13:3-15) Though heaven-high on their thrones and sharing ‘all authority in heaven and earth’ with Jesus during Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, they must humbly care for and lovingly serve the needs of his subjects on earth.
Declared Righteous and Worthy. By his entire life course of integrity to God, including his sacrifice, Jesus Christ accomplished the “one act of justification” that proved him qualified to serve as God’s anointed King-Priest in heaven. (Ro 5:17, 18) By his resurrection from the dead to life as a heavenly Son of God, he was “declared righteous in spirit.” (1Ti 3:16) Heavenly creatures proclaimed him “worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing,” as one who was both lionlike in behalf of justice and judgment and also lamblike in giving himself as a sacrifice for the saving of others. (Re 5:5-13) He had accomplished his primary purpose of sanctifying his Father’s name. (Mt 6:9; 22:36-38) This he did, not just by using that name, but by revealing the Person it represents, displaying his Father’s splendid qualities
The Lord Jesus Christ is thus “the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith.” By his fulfillment of prophecy and his revelation of God’s future purposes, as well as by what he said and did and was, he provided the solid foundation on which true faith must rest.
[Chart on page 63-66]
MAIN EVENTS OF JESUS’ EARTHLY LIFE
Leading Up to Jesus’ Ministry
Time Place Event
3 B.C.E. Jerusalem, Birth of John the Baptizer foretold
temple to Zechariah
c. 2 B.C.E. Nazareth; Birth of Jesus foretold to Mary, who
Judea visits Elizabeth
2 B.C.E. Judean Birth of John the Baptizer; later,
hill his desert life
2 B.C.E., Bethlehem Birth of Jesus (the Word, through
c. Oct. 1 whom all other things had come into
existence) as descendant of Abraham
and of David
Near Angel announces good news; shepherds
Bethlehem visit babe
Bethlehem; Jesus circumcised (8th day),
Jerusalem presented in temple (after 40th day)
1 B.C.E. Jerusalem; Astrologers; flight to Egypt; babes
or 1 C.E. Bethlehem; killed; Jesus’ return
12 C.E. Jerusalem Twelve-year-old Jesus at the
Passover; goes home
The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry
Time Place Event
29, fall Jordan River Baptism and anointing of Jesus, born
as a human in David’s line but
declared to be the Son of God
Upper Jordan First disciples of Jesus
Cana of Jesus’ first miracle; he visits
30, Passover Jerusalem Passover celebration; drives traders
Jerusalem Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus
Judea; Aenon Jesus’ disciples baptize; John to
Sychar, in En route to Galilee, Jesus
Samaria teaches the Samaritans
Jesus’ Great Ministry in Galilee
Time Place Event
Galilee First announces, “The kingdom of the
heavens has drawn near”
Nazareth; Heals boy; reads commission;
Cana; rejected; moves to Capernaum
Judea Preaches in Judean synagogues
31, Passover Jerusalem Attends feast; heals man; rebukes
Nain Raises widow’s son
Galilee Cities reproached; revelation to
babes; yoke kindly
Galilee Feet anointed by sinful woman;
illustration of debtors
Galilee Second preaching tour of Galilee,
with the 12
Galilee Scribes and Pharisees seek a sign
Capernaum (?) Heals two blind men and a mute
32, near Capernaum (?); Apostles return from preaching tour;
Passover NE side Sea 5,000 fed
NE side Sea Attempt to crown Jesus; he walks on
of Galilee; sea; cures
Capernaum Identifies “bread of life”; many
disciples fall away
Capernaum Tax money miraculously provided
Galilee; Leaves Galilee for Festival of
Samaria Booths; everything set aside for
Jesus’ Later Ministry in Judea
Time Place Event
32, Festival Jerusalem Jesus’ public teaching at Festival
of Booths of Booths
Jerusalem Teaching after Festival; cures blind
Probably The 70 sent to preach; their return,
Judea; Tells of neighborly Samaritan; at
Bethany home of Martha, Mary
Probably Again teaches model prayer;
Judea persistence in asking
Probably Refutes false charge; shows
Judea generation condemnable
Probably At Pharisee’s table, Jesus denounces
Probably Discourse on God’s care; faithful
Probably Heals crippled woman on Sabbath;
Judea three illustrations
32, Festival Jerusalem Jesus at Festival of Dedication;
of Dedication Fine Shepherd
Jesus’ Later Ministry East of the Jordan
Time Place Event
Beyond Many put faith in Jesus
Perea Teaches in cities, villages, moving
(beyond toward Jerusalem
Perea Kingdom entrance; Herod’s threat;
Probably Humility; illustration of grand
Perea evening meal
Probably Counting the cost of discipleship
Probably Illustrations: lost sheep, lost
Perea coin, prodigal son
Probably Illustrations: unrighteous steward,
Perea rich man and Lazarus
Probably Forgiveness and faith;
Perea good-for-nothing slaves
Bethany Lazarus raised from the dead by
Jerusalem; Caiaphas’ counsel against Jesus;
Ephraim Jesus withdraws
Samaria; Heals and teaches en route through
Galilee Samaria, Galilee
Samaria or Illustrations: importunate widow,
Galilee Pharisee and tax collector
Jericho Passing through Jericho, he heals
two blind men; visits Zacchaeus;
illustration of the ten minas
Jesus’ Final Ministry at Jerusalem
Time Place Event
Nisan 8, 33 Bethany Arrives at Bethany six days before
Nisan 9 Bethany Feast at Simon the leper’s house;
Mary anoints Jesus; Jews come to
see Jesus and Lazarus
Nisan 10 Bethany- Barren fig tree cursed; second temple
Jerusalem Discussion with Greeks; unbelief of
Mount of Prediction of Jerusalem’s fall,
Olives Jesus’ presence, end of system
Mount of Illustrations: ten virgins, talents,
Olives sheep and goats
Nisan 13 Near and in Arrangements for the Passover
Jerusalem Jesus washes the feet of his
Jerusalem Helper; mutual love; tribulation;
Gethsemane Agony in the garden; Jesus’ betrayal
(c. 3:00 p.m.,
Friday) Golgotha, Jesus’ death on a torture stake,
Jerusalem and accompanying events
Nisan 15 Jerusalem Priests and Pharisees get guard for
Nisan 16 Jerusalem Jesus’ resurrection and events of
and vicinity that day
Jerusalem; Subsequent appearances of Jesus
Iyyar 25 Mount of Jesus’ ascension, 40th day after his
Olives, near resurrection