Christian Basics Handbook ©2017 | free PDF
God With Us
Jesus is the central figure of the entire Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the focus of the Bible is on what God made, what and how it went wrong, how it would be restored, and who would restore it. The Messiah (Hebrew) and the Christ (Greek) both mean “the anointed one”, which describes someone who is set apart for some spiritual purpose. This was done to priests and kings for example, and it was typically signified by putting a fragrant oil on the person’s head. The Old Testament predicts the coming of one who would redeem the world, and the New Testament identifies Jesus as that individual.
Is Jesus God, or just a higher created being?
Let’s consider all these passages of scripture and see what conclusion we can reach:
- Isaiah 9:6 calls the Son the Everlasting Father and the Mighty God
- Matthew 22:44 quotes Jesus citing Psalm 110:1 about the Messiah being called “Lord” though he was David’s descendant
- Matthew 28:19 quotes Jesus telling people to baptize in the name (not “names”) of the Father, Son, and Spirit, showing that they are one entity
- John 1:1–3 says that Jesus, the Word, was always God, and that he created all things
- John 14:9–10 quotes Jesus telling Philip that whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father, and that both of them are one
- John 17:5 quotes Jesus talking to the Father and saying that he shared glory with him before the world was created
- Philippians 2:5–11 says that Jesus shared the form of God
- Colossians 1:15–20 says that Jesus is the image of God, the Creator, and that the entirety of God lives in him
- Titus 2:13 calls Jesus our God and Savior
- Hebrews 1:2 (Son created everything), 3 (Son represents the completeness of God), 6 (“let all God’s angels worship him”), 8 (“your throne, O God, will last forever”), 10 (“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth”)
- 1 John 2:23 says that the Father and Son cannot be separated
While some passages in the New Testament address the humanity of Jesus, others address his divinity; Jesus alone is two types of beings in one. So when we see Jesus speaking of obeying the Father, he is being our role model as a human. When we see Jesus speaking of unity with the Father, he is showing that he is God. We have to be careful to include all that the scriptures say about him, rather than only some.
Was Jesus always the Son in eternity past?
The first chapter of Hebrews, along with Philippians 2:5–11, make it quite clear that Jesus took on human form at a point in time, rather than having always been in a Father–Son relationship. It should go without saying that a Father must preceed his son in time, so it’s impossible for Jesus to have been the Son in eternity past. Jesus certainly existed as a distinct entity or “person” of the Trinity, as also did the Father and Spirit, but he did not take on human nature until he was conceived in Mary.
Even if we think about this purely in terms of sound reasoning (logic), to be eternally lower in rank is a statement of inferior essence, not merely an inferior role being played by one who is equal in essence. It is a contradiction to claim that Jesus is the same essence as the Father but has always been lower in rank. Either Jesus was always a lesser god, or he was not always the Son; there are no other possible choices.
Consider also the fact that even human sons do not remain under the authority of their fathers for life; an adult son sill retains the relationship but the authority structure is gone.
Did Jesus really fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah?
The original Christians were such because they believed Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah, and surely people closest to the events, and to the scriptures Jesus quoted, would be better qualified to make that assessment than people living thousands of years later. Below is a brief list of prophecies that Jesus fulfilled:
- Genesis 3:15 predicts a “seed of the woman” who would crush the head of the serpent
- Psalm 22:16–18 predicts Jesus’ death by crucifixion
- Psalm 41:9 predicts Jesus being betrayed by a close friend
- Isaiah 7:14 predicts a virgin-born son called Immanual
- Isaiah 9:6 predicts a son/child to be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
- Isaiah 40:3 predicts the Messiah’s forerunner, who turned out to be John the Baptist
- Isaiah 53 predicts the Messiah being despised, suffering, giving his life as a sacrifice
- Micah 5:2 predicts an ancient one coming out of Bethlehem to rule over Israel
- Zechariah 9:9 predicts the Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt
- Zechariah 11:12 predicts the price of 30 pieces of silver for Jesus to be betrayed
- Zechariah 12:10 predicts Israel mourning over the one they pierced
As Jesus walked with two people on their way to Emmaus after his resurrection, he explained from the scriptures that the Messiah first had to die (Luke 24:27). He used the Greek translation known as LXX or The Septuagint, not the original Hebrew text. The Hebrew text used in most translations today is called the Masoretic text, which was done centuries after the time of Christ. That text deliberately obscured some Messianic passages, because early Christians had been proving Jesus to be the Christ from the LXX (ref. The Phantom Pharisee).
When was Jesus born, and when did he die?
The material for this section is taken from the author’s document, A Chronology of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
What year was Jesus born?
Clues from scripture
- During the reign of Herod the Great (not to be confused with Herod Antipas [Mat. 14:1], who was to be involved in Jesus’; trial and whose rule would partially coincide with that of Pontius Pilate) and his brother Philip (Mat. 2:1, Luke 1:5, 3:1)
- During the reign of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1)
- During the 15th year of the governorship of Tiberias Caesar (Luke 3:1)
- During the rule of Pontius Pilate (Luke 3:1)
- During the rule of Lysanias (Luke 3:1)
- During the census of the governorship of Quirinius over Syria (Luke 2:2)
Clues from secular history
- Historian Josephus (~37–100 a.d.) gives details putting Herod the Great’s death in 1 b.c., and since Herod lived at least two years after Jesus was born (Mat. 2:16), the latest year for his birth would be 3 b.c.
- The times of all the others are also verified and thus support the Biblical narrative. (Augustus: lived 63 b.c.–14 a.d.; Tiberius: lived 42 b.c.–37 a.d.; Pontius Pilate: ruled 26 a.d.–36 a.d.; Herod Antipas: lived ~20 a.d.–39 a.d.; Lysanias: precise years unknown, but referenced by various sources including Josephus as during that general time; Quirinius ordered the census during that general time)
Clues from astronomy
- Josephus puts Herod’s death shortly after a lunar eclipse. There was a full lunar eclipse on Jan. 10, 1 b.c., a partial one on March 13, 4 b.c., and another full eclipse on March 23, 5 b.c.
What time of year was Jesus born?
With reference to John the Baptist
- John was conceived shortly after his father Zacharias was told he would have a son, when an angel appeared to him during his service as High Priest in the Abija order, which always served in late spring.
- John’s mother Elizabeth was in her sixth month when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:36).
- John was likely born in March, and if so, Jesus was born in September.
- The apostle John used the term “the Word… tabernacled among us” (John 1:14), and the Feast of Tabernacles was in late Sept./early Oct.
With reference to the shepherds and secular rulers
- Shepherds only watched their flocks out in the fields by night (Luke 2:7–8) during birthing season, which was in the fall.
- The census would not have been ordered so as to require travel in the cold of winter.
What did Jesus do (or not do) while growing up?
Explicit scriptural statements
- Grew up in Nazareth (Mat. 2:23, Luke 2:39)
- Became strong and wise and advanced in maturity (Luke 2:40,52)
- Attended the Passover each year in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41)
- At age twelve he challenged the rabbis and impressed them with his intelligence and wisdom (Luke 2:46–47)
Implicit scriptural statements
- Lived under the laws of Moses
- Never broke any of the laws (ref. 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5)
- Likely worked with his father as a carpenter/builder (Mat. 13:55, Mark 6:3)
Conclusions regarding theories of activities outside of Judea
- Theories alleging that Jesus traveled to Europe or India only arose in the late medieval period and supply no evidence of his presence there.
- Theories alleging that Jesus studied with the Essenes only arose after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and likewise supply no evidence of his presence there.
- The people of his hometown took offense at his teaching on the grounds that he was unstudied and untraveled (Mat. 13:55, Mark 6:3).
How long was Jesus’ public ministry?
When did it begin?
- When he was about the age of 30 (Luke 3:23)
- After his baptism and temptation (Mark 1:10–14, John 1:32)
- About a week or so before a Passover (John 2:13; references to days are in vs. 1:29,35,43, 2:1,12)
When did it end?
- During a Passover (all four Gospel accounts)
- After one Passover (remotely possible, two, though it is unlikely that an entire year transpired between the feasts mentioned in these two references) apart from the one at the beginning (John 5:1,6:4)
When was Jesus crucified?
Determining the year
- Jesus was about 32 years old, given the length and starting age of his ministry. So if he was born in 3 b.c., then the year would be 30 a.d.
Determing the season
- The first month of the Hebrew calendar was called Nisan or Abib/Aviv, when the crescent moon was first sighted at the time the barley harvest was ripe in the spring, as specified in Exodus 12.
- Passover was always in this first month, so the season was spring.
Determining the day
- Exodus 12 specifies the 10th of Nisan as when a flawless year-old male lamb (or goat) was to be selected for each family. The animal was to be kept under observation for any defects until the 14th, when at twilight all the acceptable lambs were to be slaughtered and then eaten. This marked the start of a 7-day period beginning and ending with a “sacred assembly” (a.k.a. a Sabbath), and all yeast had to be purged from every house for the entire 7 days. The 14th became known as Preparation Day, and the 15th was the actual Passover, though the whole festival was also called the Passover. So regardless of the Gregorian calendar dates, the Preparation was the 14th and the Passover was the 15th.
- Jesus visited Bethany six days before the Passover (John 12:1), which as explained next would have been Nisan 9.
- His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem was the next day (John 12:12), marking the beginning of his being “kept under observation” during the same days as the lambs for the Passover. As stated in Exodus 12, this day was Nisan 10. Toward the end of that day (Mark 11:10ff), Jesus briefly visited the temple and then went to Bethany for the night.
- The next day, Nisan 11, Jesus drove the merchants from the temple.
- The next day, Nisan 12, the religious leaders began to strongly challenge Jesus, and Mark 14:1 states that the Passover feast was two days away; note that the feast began with the Preparation on the 14th.
- The Preparation Day, Nisan 14, began at sundown with the Last Supper (John 13:1).
- The next daylight, still part of the Preparation (John 19:14,31,42), was the time of Jesus’ trials; see the following point.
- A 24-hour day in Israel began at sundown and was divided into segments called “hours” or “watches” (as relates to guard duty). Each “hour” was really a three-hour span, but it was known by its beginning; that is, the “third hour” lasted from 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock, counting from either 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. Going by the position of the sun or moon in the sky made greater precision impractical. But more importantly, the expressions “the third hour” and “almost/about the sixth hour” refer to the same three-hour span, with the latter meaning it was close to the end of that span. [see David Lipscomb (1831–1917), A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 295–296].
- As just explained, Jesus was condemned at about 11 a.m. (John 19:14) and crucified at about noon (Mark 15:25).
- Jesus died after three hours of darkness from about noon until 3 p.m. (Mark 15:33), after which his body was taken down by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemas, who wrapped and buried it (John 19:38–42). This was at sundown on Nisan 14, just before the Passover itself began on the 15th.
- There were two Sabbaths that week, since Mark 16:1 has women buying burial spices after the Sabbath, while Luke 23:56 has them buying the spices before the Sabbath. The first on Nisan 15 was the “special Sabbath” or Passover, and the second on Nisan 17 was the normal weekly Sabbath.
- Since the Preparation that year was three days before the normal Sabbath, and since the normal Sabbath was always from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, then Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday. Further, since the Triumphal Entry was on Nisan 10 and the 15th was a Thursday, then the Triumphal Entry was on a Sabbath, meaning Saturday.
- Tacitus, a Roman historian antagonistic to Christianity, referred to the execution of “Christus” by Pilate in his Annals (book 15, chap. 44), written about 116 a.d.
- Josephus, a Jewish historian, referred to Jesus twice in his Antiquities of the Jews (books 18 and 20), written about 93–94 a.d.
- There is nearly universal acknowledgement of the facts of Jesus’ baptism by John and his crucifixion by Pilate.
When did Jesus rise from the dead?
Considering the Jewish feasts
- The Passover was when the Pharisees demanded that the tomb be sealed (Mat. 27:62–66), which may serve as the time from which “the third day” would be determined (Mat. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19). This would be the only way to reconcile that phrase with Jesus’ statement about being three days and three nights “in the belly of the earth” (Mat. 12:40).
- While it is true that “Sabbath” by itself could be simply another name for an ordinary week rather than just the Sabbath day itself, the plural was not, except as in the phrase “Sabbath of Sabbaths” meaning a special Sabbath (the Passover itself). Context may also indicate a week, such as “I fast twice every Sabbath”, which wouldn’t make sense if it meant a literal Sabbath day. So if we see “first/one of Sabbaths” in the Greek, we know it refers to the annual Feast of Firstfruits rather than an ordinary week or weekly Sabbath.
- Mark 16:1–2 states that the women took the spices to the tomb “after the Sabbath… extremely early on the First of Sabbaths, just as the sun was beginning to rise”. We know that Jesus had already arisen before dawn, and that this was on the first day of the week which had begun at sundown Saturday (Nisan 18). And since verse 9 says that Jesus arose “early [prOi, the last watch of the night, about 3–6 a.m.] on the first of Sabbaths” [that is, the Feast of Firstfruits, always the day after the weekly Sabbath after Passover, and the start of marking off 7 weeks till Pentecost], it was while it was still dark on Sunday. Then after this he appeared to Mary Magdalene at dawn. The same but slightly less detail as Mark’s account is given in Mat. 28:1, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1.
Considering the Roman guards
- These were Roman soldiers rather than Jewish temple guards, since the Jewish leaders had to ask Pilate for them.
- The Jewish leaders bribed the Roman guards so they would lie about the resurrection and claim the disciples stole Jesus’ body while they were asleep (Mat. 28:11–15). The bribe was necessary because otherwise the guards would be executed for dereliction of duty.
- The Roman soldiers had no concern about Jewish religious affairs, and thus had no motivation to help the fearful and clueless disciples (John 20:19) steal the body.
Considering the testimony of eyewitnesses
- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and their companions saw Jesus alive in the grave garden, though they were clearly resigned to the fact that he had died, rather than hallucinating (Luke 24:10, John 20:11–18).
- The two walking to Emmaus saw Jesus alive (Luke 24:13–36).
- The inner circle of disciples and many others saw Jesus appear alive and in the flesh, in the locked room where they were hiding (John 20:19).
- Within 30 years of the events, Paul wrote that over 500 people saw Jesus alive again after his crucifixion (1 Cor. 15:6).
What did Jesus do up to the time he ascended to heaven?
- Scolded the disciples for disbelief (Mark 16:14)
- Appeared to many people, as explained in the previous point
- Appeared to his apostles (Acts 1:2–3)
- Appeared to the disciples who were fishing (John 21:1–14)
- Brought the sacrifice of his blood to the altar in heaven (Heb. 9:12)
- Brought the righteous dead from Paradise to heaven (Eph. 4:8–10, with ref. to Luke 16:19–31 where Lazarus was in Paradise, contrasted with 2 Cor. 5:8 where Paul says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord)
- The testing of Peter’s love (John 21:15–19)
- The Great Commission (Mat. 28:16–20, Mark 16:15–16, Luke 24:45–48)
- The unspecified teachings about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3,7)
Manner of ascension
- The witnesses, his disciples (Luke 24:33, 24:50–52)
- The promise of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4–5,8)
- The rising into the sky and then hidden by clouds (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9–11)
- The promise to return the same way (Acts 1:11)
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
Considering the testimony of eyewitnesses both friendly and hostile, and the fact that the Bible cannot be dismissed as historical record just because it’s the Bible, as well as the undeniable impact on world history (including the calendar used by most of the civilized world), there is plenty of evidence to support the claim that Jesus did literally and physically rise from the dead. Historical facts in general are established by the same criteria, so we can at least say that there is enough evidence to suppor the claim, and not enough to deny it. A prior disbelief in miracles cannot serve as proof that none have happened.
Why does it matter that Jesus rose from the dead?
The resurrection of Jesus is proof that he came from God, and of course it was the ultimate fulfillment of all the prophecies about the Messiah as Redeemer. This historical event, supported by the testimony of reliable eyewitnesses, is never going to change; it is as established a fact as any other. Without this, our faith in the next life is futile and pointless (see 1 Corinthians 15, especially verses 14 and 19).
Unlike any other religion or philosphy, whose founders or gods did not love all mankind enough to die for them and then rise again, the Christian faith in this fact cannot be changed by whim or reinterpretation. Acceptance of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is a strong spiritual anchor that gives us a real hope for what lies beyond this life. And this hope never depends on us performing certain tasks or rituals, or on meditation or self-punishment. It is a gift, which can only be either accepted or rejected. We are offered adoption as God’s own children, not as mere slaves or “consciousness”.
So whether or not it matters that Jesus rose from the dead is a question each individual must answer. Does it matter that our Creator loves us and wants us to choose to return his love? Does it matter that we have hope for an end to the suffering of this life, or that our lives really do have meaning? Does it matter that inner peace can be received as a gift, rather than worked for with no guarantee that we’ll ever get it? Does it matter that there will be ultimate justice against all who did evil, and mercy for all who humbled themselves and repented? Does it matter that we’ll see our departed loved ones again, if they too had been adopted as God’s children?