What Was the Length of Jesus’ Ministry?
THE question as to the length of Jesus’ ministry receives various answers from Bible scholars. Some claim that it was just one year long, others say two years, and still others hold that it was three or three and a half years long. Bible prophecy and Bible history combine to show that it was indeed three and a half years from the time Jesus was baptized, and received God’s holy spirit under the symbol of a dove, this making him the Messiah, until the time of his death on the stake.—Luke 3:21, 22; 23:46.
Most conclusive as to the time of Jesus’ ministry is the prophecy found at Daniel 9:24-27. It pinpoints both the very year of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and the length of his ministry and is known as the prophecy of “seventy weeks.” These “weeks” are generally recognized as being “weeks of years.” An American Translation reads: “Seventy weeks of years are destined for your people.” (See also Encyclopædia Judaica, Vol. 5, col. 1281.) The prophecy further states that “from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader, there will be seven weeks, also sixty-two weeks.” In other words, the Messiah would come at the end of sixty-nine “weeks.”
LOCATING THE “WEEKS OF YEARS”
When did those “weeks of years” begin? In the year that Governor Nehemiah was authorized to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the exact year being 455 B.C.E. (Neh. 2:3-9) Sixty-nine weeks of years are 483 years, which reach from 455 B.C.E. to 29 C.E. That Jesus did come as Messiah in 29 C.E. is indicated by a comparison of Luke 3:1, 2, 23 with the dates of the rulership of Tiberius Caesar, who is mentioned there in Luke’s account.
Daniel’s prophecy further states that the “Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself.” Just when would he be cut off, that is, put to death? Da 9 Verse 27 tells us, for it states that “at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease.” What is meant by his causing these two things to cease? That the sacrifices and gift offerings required by the Mosaic law would no longer be of any value or have any merit with Jehovah God. No longer would they serve to cleanse in a typical way the sins of those who offered them. Why? Because “by means of his flesh,” that is, his human sacrifice, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, “abolished . . . the Law of commandments.” (Eph. 2:15) The law of Moses with its animal sacrifices and gift offerings, being merely “a shadow of the good things to come,” ceased to be effective after the coming of the reality, namely, the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.—Heb. 10:1-10; John 1:29.
Thus from Daniel’s prophecy we see that the Messiah came at the end of the sixty-nine weeks of years, in 29 C.E., and that in the midst of the seventieth week, or after three and a half years, he was sacrificed, thereby making the sacrifices of the law of Moses no longer necessary. So we have the length of Jesus’ ministry given to us by divine prophecy: from the time of Jesus’ becoming the Messiah until his death, three and a half years.
THE FOUR PASSOVERS
Harmonizing with this prophecy are the Gospel accounts of his life, in particular that by the apostle John. How so? In that it tells us that four Passovers came and went during Jesus’ ministry. The first mentioned by John took place shortly after Jesus performed his first miracle: “Now the passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”—John 2:13.
Then at John 6:4 we read: “Now the passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.” As usual, Jesus went up to Jerusalem because it was a requirement of the law of Moses. (Deut. 16:2) The last Passover, which is mentioned by all four Gospel writers, Jesus celebrated with his twelve apostles just before his death.—Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11; John 13:1.
“But this accounts for only three Passovers!” you may exclaim. “Where does the fourth come in?” The fourth quite certainly is the one referred to at John 5:1 although not called a passover: “After these things there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Helping to identify this festival as the Passover are Jesus’ words found at John 4:35: “Do you not say that there are yet four months before the harvest comes?” The barley harvest got under way at Passover time and it was the only festival during those four months important enough to require Jesus’ presence at Jerusalem. The other two annual festivals requiring him to be present at Jerusalem came later in the year after the Passover.
While Jesus on occasion preached the good news of the Kingdom in such faraway places, comparatively speaking, as Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21), and also in Perea across the Jordan (Matt. 19:1), he spent most of his time preaching and teaching in Galilee, his native province. It was in Galilee that he found the honest, humble, plain folk, such as farmers and fishermen, who heard him gladly. It seems to have taken special occasions for Jesus to go up to Jerusalem. True, the feasts of Dedication and Purim came during those four months, but they could be celebrated wherever Jews lived, since they were instituted after the Jews were scattered abroad.
And there is yet another reason for concluding that the festival mentioned at John 5:1 was a passover. What is that? From the accounts of the other Gospels—which feature Jesus’ Galilean ministry—it appears that it would have taken Jesus far more than a year to accomplish all that he did between the Passover mentioned at John 2:13 and the one referred to at John 6:4.
There is yet another line of evidence supporting three and a half years as the length of Jesus’ ministry. From John 19:31 we have reason to conclude that Jesus must have died on a Friday, for it tells that the following day was a “great” sabbath. The weekly sabbath falling on the same day as the first day of the week-long festival of unleavened bread, which first day also served as a sabbath, would logically make it a “great” sabbath. (Lev. 23:6, 7) And not in 31 or 32 but only in 33 C.E. did the Passover, the fourteenth day of Nisan, fall on a Friday. So it must have been on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., that Jesus died, making his ministry a period of three and a half years.
Thus we have several ways of coming to the conclusion that Jesus’ ministry was not only one year, or two years, but three and a half years long: the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27; the fact that four Passovers took place during his ministry; and the fact that Nisan 14, full moon, occurred on Friday in 33 C.E., not in 31 or 32 C.E.