Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth (Hebrew: Yeshua haNotzriGreek: Iēsous ho Nazо̄raios) was born c. 6–4 BC (3758–3755 in the Hebrew calendar) in the Roman province of Judea. His mother, Mary, was a young woman of whom the angel Gabriel visited to announce Jesus' virgin birth and the arrival of a new Messiah. His adoptive father, Joseph, was a tradesman (Greek: tektōn; G5045), perhaps a carpenter. Mary and Joseph were between the ages of fifteen to twenty-five when Jesus was born. This virgin birth happened during the Feast of Tabernacles (Hebrew: Sukkot; H5521), around the Hebrew date of 15 Tishri, approximately September 24 on the Gregorian calendar. This calculation derives from John's gospel: "The Word became flesh and lived [eskēnōsen; G4637, "tabernacled;" lit. "pitched his tent"] among us" (1:14).


The scriptures list four brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude (cf. Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3)—along with some unnamed sisters. Jesus' brothers doubted his messianic identity before the resurrection (cf. John 7:3-5). However, they all believed once they saw Jesus alongside the other apostles following the resurrection (cf. Acts 1:14). James went on to serve as the leader of the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 15:13-21; 21:17-18) and wrote a letter that mirrored Jesus' teaching (cf. James 1:1). Jude also wrote an epistle, calling himself the "brother of James" (cf. Jude 1:1). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul of Tarsus called James "the Lord's brother" (cf. Gal. 1:18-19).


In the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, his genealogy featured ancestry on both paternal and maternal sides linking to David, the renowned king of Israel (cf. Matt. 1; Luke 2). This bloodline proved that Jesus was the legitimate heir to Israel's ancient monarchy, which was a problem for the ruling client king, Herod (73 BC–AD 4)—who, although was Jewish—was appointed by the Romans and had no royal lineage of his own. Because of this perceived threat, Herod told his soldiers to murder every boy who was two years old or younger (cf. Matt. 2:16-18). Matthew contrasted the illegitimate rule of not only Herod with Jesus, but also Caesar Augustus (36 BC–AD 14). Whereas Augustus fortified the Roman Empire through a brutal military campaign known as the "Roman Peace" (Latin: Pax Romana), Jesus came to bring God's kingdom through peaceful means—ironically, as an infant. 


Jesus the Jew 


The ethnonym "Jew" refers equally to the religion of Judaism, the ethnic tribe of Judah, and the political boundaries of Judea. In short, this means that a Jewish person has both a religious and ethnic heritage starting in the eastern Mediterranean. Jesus himself was from Judah (cf. Matt. 1:2-3), the leader of Israel's twelve tribes, whom the scriptures assign the Messiah (cf. Matt. 2:6; Heb. 7:14; 8:8; Rev. 5:5). In the introduction of his account, Matthew summarized Jesus' ancestry, saying,

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations (Matt. 1:17).


The record of Jesus' heritage is impressive as it goes back to the beginning of the Jewish people, starting with God's covenant with Abraham. Matthew highlighted the number fourteen because this was the mathematical value of David's name in Hebrew: 4 + 6 + 4 (ד‎ ו‎ ד‎) = 14.

Luke was the only evangelist out of the four (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and John) to mention Jesus' childhood. However, this was merely one event, when Jesus was twelve years old and stayed at the temple for three days without the knowledge of his parents. During this time, Jesus sat down with the teachers of Israel, both asking them questions and offering sound responses (cf. Luke 2:41-51). In context, each Jewish boy was expected by their families to learn about the scriptures between ages five and twelve. When they were finished learning, the family celebrated their status as a "son of the commandment" (Hebrew: bar mitzvahH1274 & H4687) and their transition from childhood to adulthood. Part of this education was the memorization of a passage. Unlike the other Jewish boys, Jesus could interpret the text instead of merely recalling the words.

Before Jesus started his ministry, Satan tempted him three times in the desert over a span of forty days (cf. Luke 4:1-13). These temptations alluded to the same ones the ancient Israelites failed in. However, Jesus overcame these trials: 1) He was satisfied with God's sustenance for him, unlike the Israelites who complained about eating manna instead of meat, 2) Jesus declined the prospects of fame, fortune, and money in leading a revolt against the Roman Empire and becoming its Caesar (e.g., Simon bar Kochba). The Israelites were treacherous in their yearning for Egyptian wealth instead of being content with God's blessing (cf. Exod. 16:3), 3) In his third temptation, Satan asked Jesus to test God by throwing himself from the steepest pinnacle of the temple. However, the theme here is not suicide, but the sin of testing God (cf. Deut. 6:16). The faithless Israelites tested God's patience when they quarreled with Moses until he demanded God to provide water (cf. Exod. 17:1-3). They did not believe God would take care of them. Satan was right about God sending his angels, but he distorted the context of Ps. 91:11. When Jesus made the right decision to obey God, the angels did come to serve him. In summary, Luke intended to show Jesus as the true Israel who obeys God, as opposed to the Israelites who broke their covenant with him. 

Jesus, King of the Jews

In the same way that Jesus revealed his humanity in the context of Judaism, he also showed his divinity. When Moses asked for the divine name at the beginning of the Israelites' exodus, God told him, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exod. 3:14). This is the Tetragrammaton, a Greek word describing the four Hebrew consonants יהוה that spell out the phrase Yahweh (YHWH; H3068). This context is important to know when reading the seven "I am" statements of Jesus in John's gospel:


  1.  I am the bread of life (6:35-51).

  2.  I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5).

  3.  I am the gate for the sheep (10:7-9).

  4.  I am the good shepherd (10:11-14).

  5.  I am the resurrection and the life (11:25).

  6.  I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6).

  7.  I am the true vine (15:1).

Each statement refers to God's character. Jesus is the bread of life in the same way the Father gave manna—the bread of angels—to the Israelites (cf. Ps. 78:25). He offers light to the world just as God preserved the oil for the Temple's menorah after the desecration of  Antiochus IV (175–163 BC), a Greek king of Syria who tried to enforce Hellenization onto the Jewish people (cf. 1 Macc. 4:36-50). The festival of Chanukkah (H2597, "Dedication;" cf. John 10:22) celebrates the successful Maccabean revolt, which stopped Antiochus from building a graven image of himself and conducting pagan sacrifice. As the good shepherd, Jesus contrasted himself with Judea's religious leaders who sold out their people to the Romans to gain money and privilege, much like the Hellenistic Jews who allied themselves with Antiochus against their fellow Jews. Both the Hellenists and the Sanhedrin each were, "The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them." Jesus is not only the gate, the security for God's people, but also our salvation because he laid down his life for us so that we may live (cf. John 10:7-18). This was the reason the early Christians described their movement as "the Way" (e.g., Acts 9:2), from Jesus' claim to be "the way, the truth, and the life." This means his disciples must abide in his life-giving sustenance—the Word of God. 


Jesus' most important "I am" statement was, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). Compared to the main seven, this one was overtly blasphemous in the minds of the Judean religious leaders. While the other "I am" statements were more implicit, this claim to not only be older than Abraham (cf. John 8:53-57), but also the direct use of God's name was unheard of. Even Jews today refuse to spell out any form of it. Instead, they use alternative spellings such as "L–rd" or "G–d." Not even the Jewish leaders who anticipated the Messiah could not fathom this man using the divine name. Incidentally, the Hebrew variation of "Jesus"—Yeshua (H3442, "God saves")—features an abbreviated version of Yahweh. This is also true of various names, words, and places (e.g., Elijah, hallelujah, Messiah, Judah). In response, the religious leaders picked up stones to kill Jesus for his apparent blasphemy. Jesus intended for this obvious claim to divinity to set off the chain of events leading to his crucifixion. 

The focus of Jesus' earthly ministry was the inauguration of God's kingdom. This makes him a king, which is why Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, ironically had the title "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" nailed above Jesus' head on the cross (cf. Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19). However, the kingdom of heaven is not of this world, but from God's will. Just as the "church" (Greek: ekklēsia; G1577) is a group of people united in Christ, the kingdom features the subjects who recognize God's authority. Simon Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, informed his Jewish compatriots that Jesus had not only ascended to heaven, but also shares power with God (cf. Acts 2:14-36). David foresaw this when he wrote, "The LORD says to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool'" (Ps. 110:1; Acts 2:34-35).

Trilemma: Jesus is Either Liar, Lunatic, or Lord

In his book Mere Christianity, the Anglican writer C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) posited,


I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that he was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God (pp. 55-56).

Commentators refer to this as the "Lewis trilemma," a three-part christological problem in which the author intended for his readers to pick only one of the three options: 1) Was Jesus a liar? 2) Was he a lunatic? 3) Is Jesus the Lord? Many of his contemporaries identified him as "teacher" or "rabbi," to include even the Judean religious leaders (e.g., Matt. 12:38; John 3:2). That said, the New Testament was not written because Jesus was simply a good teacher. Hillel (c. 110 BC–c. AD 8) was also a "good teacher" in the first century, whom Jews still read and honor to this day. 


Finally, the "Lewis trilemma" leads us to Jesus' main question for everyone who follows him: "But who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15b). As Christians, we repeat what Simon Peter declared: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (v. 16). It is on this foundational bedrock that Jesus builds his church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. He gives us the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Truthfully, the "rock" is Peter's confession, as well as the apostles who still serve as the foundation of Christendom today (cf. Matt. 16:18-19Eph. 2:20). This is why it is vital to teach a paleo-orthodox doctrine, acknowledging our roots in apostolic succession (see "Paleo-Orthodoxy & Succession"). Jesus is neither a liar nor a lunatic; he is the Lord.


Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, in your tender love for us you sent your Son to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and come to share in his resurrection; through Jesus the Messiah our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


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