The records concerning Jesus report many miracles an event that goes against the laws of nature and has suggested divine influence. For centuries most people in civilizations influenced by the Bible not only believed literally in the miracles but took them as proof that Jesus had supernatural something that is not normal, possibly with a spiritual influence power. Then, in an age of reason and distrust, men often doubted the miracles and exposed the reports as dishonest.
However, usually the Gospels report the healings as signs of the power of God and His coming kingdom. Jesus taught people in small groups or large gatherings; his lessons are reported in friendly conversations or in arguments with those who challenged him.
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- The life, times and teachings of Jesus Christ.
At times he made a particularly vivid comment in the midst of a dramatic incident. The starting point of Jesus' message, as already noted, was the announcement of the coming of the kingdom of God. Since this kingdom was neither a geographical area nor a system of government, a better translation may be "God's reign" God being in existence everywhere.
The rest of Jesus' teaching followed from this message about the reign of God. At times he taught in stories or parables that described the kingdom or the behavior of people who acknowledged God's reign. At times he pronounced moral commandments detailing the demands upon men of a loving and righteous God. At times Jesus taught his disciples to pray: To some people Jesus was a teacher, or rabbi. The healing ministry did not necessarily change that impression of him because other rabbis were known as healers.
But Jesus was a teacher of peculiar power, and he was sometimes thought to be a prophet a person who tells of things that have been made known to him or her by a divine power. On the day now known as Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem, while his disciples and the crowds hailed him as the Son of David, who came in the name of the Lord. The next day Jesus went to the Temple and drove out the money-changers and those who sold pigeons for sacrifices, accusing them of turning "a house of prayer" into a "den of robbers.
During the following days he entered into disagreements with the priests and teachers of religion. Their anger led them to plot to get rid of him, but they hesitated to do anything in the daytime, since many people were gathered for the feast of Passover a Jewish religious holiday. On Thursday night Jesus had a meal with his disciples.
After the meal Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed alone. His prayer shows that he expected a conflict, that he still hoped he might avoid suffering, but he expected to do God's will. There into the garden one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, led the priests and the temple soldiers, who seized Jesus.
That same night Jesus' captors took him to a trial before the temple court, the Sanhedrin. Much evidence indicates that this was an illegal trial, but the Sanhedrin declared that Jesus was a blasphemer a person who claims to be God or godlike deserving death. Since at that time only the Roman overlords supreme lords could carry out a death sentence, the priests took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate apparently was reluctant to convict Jesus, since it was doubtful Jesus had disobeyed any Roman laws. Jesus, however, represented a threat to both the Sanhedrin and the Romans.
Pilate thus ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. Roman soldiers beat him, put a crown of thorns on his head, and mocked him as a false king. Then they took him to the hill Golgotha "the Skull" , or Calvary, and killed him. Pilate ordered a sign placed above his head: On Sunday morning now celebrated as Easter , the Gospels report, Jesus rose from the dead and met his disciples. Others immediately rejected the claim of the resurrection, and the debate has continued through the centuries.
The New Testament states very clearly that the risen Christ did not appear to everybody. Among those who saw Jesus were Cephas Peter , the twelve disciples, "more than five hundred brethren at one time," James, and finally Paul. Other records tell of appearances to Mary Magdalene and other women and of a variety of meetings with the disciples. The four Gospels all say that the tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter morning. None of the records ever tells of an appearance of the risen Christ to anyone who had not been a follower of Jesus or like Paul had not been deeply disturbed by him.
The evidence is very clear that the followers of Jesus were absolutely convinced of his resurrection. The experience of the risen Jesus was so overwhelming that it turned their despair into courage. These books are therefore not just about Jesus' identity who Jesus is but also about his work what Jesus did. There are three key areas of Jesus' activity, his healing, his preaching and his suffering.
Whatever one thinks about the historicity of the events described in the Gospels, and there are many different views, one thing is not in doubt: Jesus had an overwhelming impact on those around him. The Gospels speak regularly of huge crowds following Jesus. Perhaps they gathered because of his reputation as a healer. Perhaps they gathered because of his ability as a teacher. Whatever the cause, it seems likely that the authorities' fear of the crowd was a major factor leading to Jesus' crucifixion.
In a world where there was no democracy, mobs represented a far greater threat to the Romans' rule than anything else. Yet in spite of Jesus' popularity during his lifetime, the early Christian movement after Jesus' death was only a small group with a tiny power base in Jerusalem, a handful of Jesus' closest followers who stayed loyal to Jesus' legacy because they were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, that he had died for everyone's sins, and that he was raised from the dead.
It was a movement that received its greatest boost when the most unlikely figure joined it, the apostle Paul. The Gospels are a form of ancient biography and are very short. They take about an hour and a half, two hours to read out loud. They're not what we understand modern biography to be: They've got between ten and twenty thousand words and ancient biography doesn't waste time on great background details about where the person went to school or all the psychological upbringing that we now look for in our kind of post-Freudian age.
They tend to go straight to the person's arrival on the public scene, often 20 or 30 years into their lives, and then look at the two or three big key things that they did or the big two or three key ideas. They'll also spend quite a lot of time concentrating on the actual death because the ancients believe that you couldn't sum up a person's life until you saw how they died.
In their death, very often, they would die as they lived and then they would conclude with the events after the death - very often on dreams or visions about the person and what happened to their ideas afterwards. The four gospels are four angles on one person and in the four gospels there are four angles on the one Jesus. It was a wonderful insight of the early Fathers, guided by the spirit of God, who recognised that these four pictures all reflect upon the same person.
It's like walking into a portrait gallery and seeing four portraits, say, of Winston Churchill: Of course we actually have to do all sorts of historical critical analysis and try to get back to what this tells us about the historical Jesus. It also shows us the way in which the early church tried to make that one Jesus relevant and to apply him to the needs of their own people of that day, whether they were Jews as in Matthew's case or Gentiles as in Luke's case and so on.
And so those four portraits give us a challenge and a stimulus today to actually try to work out how we can actually tell that story of the one Jesus in different ways that are relevant for the needs of people today. Christology is literally 'words about the Christ. Christology can involve the humanity of Jesus, but there is often a special focus on the fact that he is more than merely a mortal person, he is divine in some way and in some sense the different gospel writers come at this somewhat differently. The synoptics - Matthew, Mark and Luke - have more a similar point of view than what you find in the Gospel of John which stands apart and alone.
But none the less, they are all interested in this matter, they are certainly interested in what we would call Christology. Right from the very outset of this gospel he is presenting a particular theological interpretation of Jesus as the Messiah, as the divine son of God and he is going to pursue that agenda throughout his gospel and reveal those truths about him. In Mark, at the the climax of the first part of the ministry and Peter stands up and says, 'you are the Christ, the son of God'.
There's certainly a Christological agenda in all these books, even in the earliest gospel. There really isn't a non-Christological Jesus to be found under any of the rocks in the gospel; so thoroughly are our gospel writers concerned about that issue, that the portraits in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all Christological through and through.
It's difficult to know how much of what's written in the Gospels is an insight into how Jesus saw himself and how much is comment of other people as to how they saw Jesus. In John's gospel for example, there are many 'I am' sayings: These phrases, if they came from the lips of Jesus, don't tell us a great deal about his spiritual biography, but tell us more about his purpose and they kind of hang with you and you have to think them through.
What does it mean that Jesus is the shepherd, what does it mean that Jesus is the light, what does it mean that Jesus is the bread of life? And you have to kind of puzzle over them.
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I don't think Jesus was interested in giving a great deal of information about himself. I mean, Jesus said that whoever saw him, saw the Father. But I don't think he was very interested in padding that out; his mission was more to redeem people, to love people into goodness, to save people from the distress and errors of their ways and he doesn't make a big issue about himself.
There's that whole thing in the gospels of Matthew and Mark about how he's very wary of people nailing him as the Messiah. He does that sometimes because I think he wants to approach everybody on an equal basis, if he comes with his entourage and a lot of hype about himself, he'll not be able to relate to folk, they'll stand in awe of him rather than relate to him. I think Jesus thought of himself very much as a healer - he saw healing as a key to his work and presumably this arose because he just found out he was able to do it. A lot of Jews in this period would have prayed for people for healing and Jesus must have done this and found that actually he was rather good at it and he had a real reputation for healing and that might have led him to Old Testament scriptures like Isaiah 35, that talks about healing in end days - maybe he thought that that was a sign that the end of days was on its way.
Did Jesus think of himself as a teacher? Nobody spends that much time standing up and teaching crowds of people such words that have stuck with us for centuries. Even people like Gandhi were inspired by it so it's not just Christians that are inspired by that. But I think if we limit Jesus to purely teaching and healing than we don't get the full measure of him. I think he would also have seen himself as a prophet. There are real signs that he sees himself in continuity with Old Testament prophets and just as Old Testament prophets were persecuted and suffered, Jesus thought that was likely to be his end too.
He saw himself as following a line of prophets that had suffered for what they believed and sometimes even suffered from the hands of their own people as well as from others. The big question about Jesus is: Scholars are divided about this. I personally think that Jesus did think of himself as a Messiah, he did think that God had specifically anointed him to do his work and that he had a special task for him to do.
He also was convinced that he had to suffer as part of God's plan and this caused controversy with his disciples.
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It seems that Jesus wanted to push the idea that he was going to suffer and his disciples were really worried about this idea, probably expecting Jesus either to be some sort of priestly Messiah or some sort of warrior Messiah but certainly not a Messiah that would end up on a cross. They saw this as hugely problematic and a lot of Christians said for years afterwards that this was still a stumbling block to many people, a scandal - the idea that the Jewish Messiah could be crucified.
It also explores how his Jewish roots were gradually airbrushed out of theology, culminating in Nazi theologians who produced a Bible excised of all references to Judaism and who portrayed Jesus as an Aryan. It's only really modern scholarship, if you want to call it that, that's begun to say "Well hold on a minute.
He was not a Christian, He was not born a Christian, he didn't live a Christian - He didn't even know what the term 'Christian' meant. Jesus was a Jew. With the crucifixion we move from the historical Jesus to the Christ of faith. But how aware was Jesus of his destiny?
Jesus of Nazareth Biography
And at what point does Jesus the Messiah break away from his Jewish roots? All the lines converge back on the fact that there must've been an empty tomb They knew all about ghosts and visions and so on - that, that wasn't anything out of the ordinary. People had that sort of experience. This was different - this was bodily, but it was a transformed body. It wasn't a resuscitation - they believed Jesus had gone through death and out the other side, into a new physical body, which was now equally physical - only if anything more so rather than less so.
He wasn't a ghost, He was alive, and the only way I can make sense of that as a historian is by saying that it actually happened. When the Roman Emperor Constantine had a vision of Jesus just before his victorious battle for Rome it was arguably one of the most important moments in the history of the West. It was the start of the process whereby Christianity would go from a persecuted minority to the official religion of the largest Empire the world had seen.
But how did that change Jesus and His message? We wanna say "Come on guys - live in the real world. Things have moved on. Take all your ideals and translate them into the new world" - and that's what the Christians struggled to do. Christ, a historical Christ that you have referred to as a Jewish peasant, was not in the forefront of their minds. They were thinking of Christ as Saviour and Christ who died for our sins. This is what Christ was to them at that time. And in fact their concentration was in all of the phases of His Passion. This final journey in the footsteps of Jesus reaches what could be one of the oldest Christian communities in the world; in Kerala on the southwest coast of India, where in around 52AD the Apostle Thomas is said to have landed with the news of the Gospel.
But it's also the place where the Jesus who is so much a part of European culture meets new worlds and new cultures and where the belief that he has a message for all humanity is really tested. In our western, traditional understanding of Jesus, the person of Jesus is very much objectified. He's the Lord, the Saviour, the great, divine Tao whom we worship in liturgy for instance, whom we listen to as the great saviour and teacher Reflecting on the mystery of Christ in India Jesus Christ the sub-divine subject of our being more than an object of worship.
This becomes very clear when we compare the traditional, western, Christian understanding of Jesus Christ which emphasises then 'I - Tao' relationship and the Indian vedandic approach where an 'I -I' relationship. Apart from being an inspirational leader and teacher, the Gospels describe many miraculous feats performed by Jesus. They can sound unbelievable today, but what would they have meant to first-century Jews? The miracle of the raising of the widow's son takes place in the village of Nain in Galilee.
Jesus arrives in Nain on the occasion of a funeral when he is approached by a widow whose only son has died. When Jesus brings the man back to life the crowd are astonished, but what delights them more than this triumph over death is the meaning of the miracle. The miracle reminds them of the great Jewish prophet Elijah who, eight centuries earlier, had also raised the only son of a widow in a town in Galilee. Elijah was famous as a miracle worker and as a prophet who rebuked those Jews who under the influence of pagan idolatry had strayed from devotion to God.
Elijah never died - he was transported to heaven in a chariot of fire. The parallels between Jesus and Elijah were hugely significant. At the time the Jews were longing for an end to Roman oppression and the return of the kingdom of God - a new age in which peace, freedom, righteousness, faithfulness and the rule of God would prevail.
The first stage in that road to salvation was the arrival of a prophet who - like Elijah - would rail against sin. Maybe Jesus was that prophet - maybe even a reincarnation of Elijah? Clearly though, the Gospel writers believed Jesus was more than a prophet. The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first? But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.
In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. The resonances between Jesus and Elijah would have been striking to first century Jews and to Christians familiar with the Old Testament. But as Christianity spread into the Roman Empire, the miracle of the raising of the widow's son acquired other meanings.
The most important is that it prefigured Jesus' own resurrection. In fact the miracle in Nain is one of three times when Jesus raises the dead. He also raises Jairus' daughter Matthew 9: But there was a key difference between these miracles and the resurrection of Jesus. The widow's son, Jairus' daughter and Lazarus were resuscitated or revived: Jesus on the other hand would live forever.
His resurrection entailed a complete transformation in his body and spirit, a complete victory over death.
Life of Jesus in the New Testament
When Jesus arrives in a deserted and remote area to preach to a crowd of , he is told that the people are hungry. They discuss whether to go back to the villages to get food, but it's getting late, so instead Jesus asks the disciples to order the crowd to sit in groups of fifties and hundreds, and to gather what food is available. All they manage to collect is five loaves and two fishes. But Jesus works a miracle and there is enough to feed the multitude, so much so there are twelve basketfuls of leftovers.
The ancient meaning of this miracle would have been clear to the disciples and the crowd. Jesus had acted like Moses , the father of the Jewish faith. In every respect, the miracle echoed Moses and his miracle in the Sinai wilderness when he fed the multitude of Hebrews. Moses had left Ramesses on the fertile lands of the Nile Delta, crossed a sea - the Red Sea - and headed east towards a deserted area - the Sinai wilderness.
Jesus had left Bethesda on the fertile lands of the Jordan Delta, crossed a sea - the Sea of Galilee - and headed east towards a deserted and remote area - the Golan Heights on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus orders the crowd to sit in fifties and hundreds he is echoing Moses the general who often ordered the Hebrews to sit in squares of fifty and one hundred. In the Sinai, Moses fed a multitude with quails and manna, the bread of heaven; in the Golan Heights Jesus fed a multitude with fish and bread.
In both miracles there were basketfuls of leftovers. To first-century Jews the miracle of the loaves and fishes signalled that Jesus was like Moses. The reason is that in Jewish minds, Moses was a role model for the Messiah. The Jews were praying for a saviour to come and free them from foreign oppression. They believed he would be someone like Moses who had freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
Maybe Jesus was the leader they were waiting for? The crowd certainly thought so - after the miracle, the crowd try to crown Jesus king of the Jews there and then.
Life and times of Jesus Christ
After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus tells the disciples to head back to the fishing village of Bethsaida whilst he retires to the mountain to pray on his own. Later that night, the disciples are crossing the sea of Galilee and making little progress against the strong wind when they suddenly see Jesus walking on the water. At first they think it's a ghost, but Jesus reassures them, telling them - 'Take heart, it is I!
Do not be afraid! The miracle of the walking on water is best understood in the context of the previous miracle. The feeding of the would have reminded the disciples of Moses and the Exodus. The miracle of the walking on water would have reminded them of the climax to the Exodus - Joshua and the conquest of the land of Canaan. After wandering for 40 years in the wilderness Moses led the Israelites to the eastern shores of the river Jordan to prepare for the conquest. But Moses died on Mt Nebo before he could begin the invasion. His mission was accomplished by his right man Joshua.
Jesus' miracle of the walking on water would have reminded the disciples of Joshua. Like Joshua, Jesus was crossing waters. That scene was inverted and echoed on the Sea of Galilee; ahead of Jesus was a different kind of ark - the wooden boat, carrying the twelve disciples. But the biggest similarity between the two was in their names: Jesus is the Latin for the Hebrew name Joshua. In the Jewish mindset of the time, Joshua was another role model for the Messiah - the flipside of Moses.
Whereas Moses had freed the Israelites from oppression, it was Joshua who had finished the job by conquering the Promised Land for them. At the time of Jesus, the Jews were looking for a Messiah would not only free them from foreign oppression as Moses had done , but someone who would also reclaim Judea and Galilee and restore it to the rule of God.
In both the miracles of the loaves and fishes and the walking on water, Jesus seemed to fit the bill perfectly.