Jesus Christ (Introduction to Western Civilization 5.2)

Through all that they experienced, the Jews continued to hope for a messiah. They believed that the messiah would be sent by God to set things right. He would finally put an end to all of the suffering of the Jewish people and would bring about a time of justice for all people. The Jews believed he would bring salvation, rescue from sin and its consequences. In about 30 AD, a man named Jesus, from a small town in Judea, began to preach to the people that he was that messiah.

The Gospels are the four books of the New Testament in the Bible that tell the story of the life of Jesus. The Gospels claim that Jesus’s mother, Mary, was a virgin who was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she had been chosen to be the mother of the messiah. She gave birth nine months later in a cave in the village of Bethlehem. There, she and her new child were visited by shepherds who had been told of the birth of the messiah by angels. They were also visited by men called magi, who were priests from Persia. The magi had followed a star in the sky to the spot where Jesus was born.

When they arrived in Judea, the magi went to the king, a man named Herod, who ruled on behalf of the Romans. They asked him where they would find the messiah who had been born. Herod was a jealous and angry man. He lied to the magi and told them he too wanted to worship the new messiah. If they found out where the child had been born, he said, they should come and tell him. The magi eventually did find out where Jesus was born and visited Jesus and his mother. They gave them gifts and worshiped the child. They had a bad feeling about Herod, though, so they returned home without telling him where the child was. Because he did not know which child it was, Herod ordered his soldiers to kill every baby boy born recently in his kingdom. Mary and Jesus, along with Mary’s husband Joseph, fled into Egypt until the death of Herod a few years later. The birth of Jesus is celebrated every year on December 25 by Christians around the world.

The Gospels do not say much about what life was like for Jesus and his family when they returned to Judea. One interesting story about his childhood records an event that happened when Jesus was 12 years old. He visited the temple in Jerusalem along with his family to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover. On the way home to Nazareth from Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was missing. They went back to Jerusalem and searched all over for him. They finally found him in the temple, discussing the Bible with Jewish religious leaders there, asking and answering questions as if he were a wise man, even though he was a young boy!

Most of the story told in the Gospels tells of the events in Jesus’s life after he turned 30 years old. It was then that Jesus began to travel all around Judea, preaching the message that he was the messiah. He said that now was the time to repent of past sins and to begin to live a more just and merciful life. He said that God wanted people to love him and to love each other.

The Gospels also record that everywhere he went he healed the diseases of sick people. According to the Gospels, Jesus performed many miracles, including giving sight to blind men, making deaf people able to hear, allowing paralyzed people to walk again, and even raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.

All of this activity attracted the attention of people who did not like what Jesus was saying and doing. The Jewish priests thought that Jesus’s claim to be the Son of God was blasphemy. They said that he was making it sound like he was equal to God. The Roman authorities also had a problem with Jesus’s teachings. They knew that the Jews believed the messiah would free the Jewish people and let them have their own kingdom again. To the Romans, Jesus’s claims that he was the messiah sounded like treason. They believed he would try to stir up the Jews to rebel against Roman rule.

Jesus had many followers, but he chose 12 men, called apostles, to follow him wherever he went and help him spread his message. On the night when the Jews celebrated Passover, Jesus gathered with his 12 apostles in a home just outside of Jerusalem. There, they celebrated the Passover meal together. During the meal, Jesus picked up the loaf of bread used to celebrate the Passover, said a prayer to bless it, broke it into pieces, and declared to his apostles, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” He then gave the pieces to his apostles to eat. After the meal, Jesus lifted up the cup of wine at the table and told his apostles, “This is my blood, which will be shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.” He then gave the cup to all of his apostles to drink. Most Christians around the world remember this special meal every Sunday morning in their worship when they celebrate the Eucharist by eating and drinking blessed bread and wine.

After the meal, one of his apostles, a man named Judas, left the house where they had eaten. For 30 pieces of silver, he betrayed Jesus by telling them where he was. They went to the hillside where he and his apostles had gone after the meal and arrested Jesus. They took him first to the Jewish priests, who declared that he was guilty of the crime of blasphemy for claiming that he was equal to God. Jesus was then taken to the Roman authorities who found him guilty of the crime of treason for claiming that he was the messiah and the king of the Jews.

In afternoon the following day, a Friday, Jesus was crucified. Crucifixion is a Roman punishment which was used to put the very worst criminals to death. In crucifixion, a criminal’s hands and feet were nailed to pieces of wood placed in the shape of a lower-case t. We call this shape a cross. All of Jesus’s apostles except for one young boy, John, fled because they were afraid they too would be crucified along with him. While Jesus was crucified, John, Jesus’s mother, and a few women who were Jesus’s followers stood by the cross. After three hours on the cross, the Gospels say Jesus looked up into the sky and loudly shouted, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus then died.

His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a cave just outside of the city. Because Saturday was the Sabbath day on which Jews could not do any work, his body could not be prepared for burial until sunrise on Sunday morning. The Gospels say that four of the women who were followers of Jesus went to the tomb on Sunday morning, but found it empty. The bandages that Jesus’s body had been wrapped in were in the tomb but his body was gone. As they exited the tomb in confusion, Jesus himself appeared to the women and told them that he had resurrected, which means he had risen from the dead. Christians celebrate this event every year on the holiday of Easter.

According to the Gospels, Jesus spent the next 40 days visiting his followers and teaching them the meaning of his death and resurrection. At the end of the 40 days, his followers watched as Jesus ascended into heaven. A new religion, called Christianity, was born. This religion would spread from just a few followers in Judea to become the religion of the whole Roman Empire. Today, Christianity is still the largest religion in the world.


Review Questions

1. What event do Christians celebrate on Christmas?

2. What were the two crimes Jesus was convicted of?

3. How was he punished for these crimes?

4. What event do Christians celebrate on Easter?


Vocabulary Words

 Salvation – rescue from sin and its consequences

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