This chapter will attempt to review the life of Jesus in chronological order fitting all the events into sequence. In the last chapter we looked at an overview of the 7 major periods in His life. In this chapter we will begin by outlining the information dealing with the period of His youth. Hopefully you have used the reading guide to read ahead.
Luke's gospel is the only one that implies that it was written as a letter and so the introduction explains the reason for the letter. Luke's gospel is the most historical in nature and contains the most details (119 of the total 154 events are described in Luke).
John's prologue (In the beginning was the Word…) announced the theme of his gospel. This is different from Luke in that it isn't a letter, different from the others in that Matthew and Mark begin by telling the story from the very beginning of their books. John's first 18 verses summarizes the life and purpose of Christ and defines His nature and source from the very outset of the book – then in verse 19 he goes on to tell the story beginning with John's preaching.
2. The Genealogies
Before any action or personalities are introduced, the genealogy of Jesus is given in order to establish several things:
- His place within the Jewish community – You were a Jew because you belonged to the nation and your place in the nation was confirmed and maintained in the records of the families and their descendants (written records).
- His direct relationship to David – The prophets told that the Messiah would be a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah. Anyone claiming to be the Messiah would have to be within this lineage.
Matthew's genealogy describes Jesus' royal genealogy tracing it from Abraham to David to Joseph and thus His legal authority to claim the title of Messiah. Luke describes His natural descendance from Adam. They are different because the authors choose different people on the list of descendants to mention in order to make their case.
IE – If, from Adam to Joseph there were 300 descendants (an arbitrary number used for the sake of this example), each mentions different ones (Matthew: Abraham, #103, #107, #208, #286, etc. until he gets to #300: Joseph). Luke does it in reverse (#300: Joseph, #297, #295, #161, #142, until he gets to Adam: #1).
Genealogies are there to show that Jesus was a Jew and had a legitimate claim to the rule of Messiah according to Prophets who said the Messiah would come through David's lineage. After the destruction of Jerusalem all the genealogies and records were destroyed, and the only record actually kept is the one of Jesus.
3. Announcement of John's birth
A priest named Zacharias married to a woman named Elizabeth who is the cousin of Mary of Nazareth, he is chosen by lot (once in a lifetime privilege) to burn incense on the altar in the court of the priests just in front of the holy of Holies (where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once per year). While doing this an angel appears to tell him that his wife will have a son (she had been barren and now past child bearing). He doubted and was struck dumb until the child was born.
4. Birth of Jesus announced
Six months after John's birth is announced, Jesus' birth is announced, but this time to the woman who would bear the child, Mary of Nazareth. The angel tells her that unlike John who would be great in the sight of the Lord, a perpetual Nazarite (no meat or alcohol), a servant of God (why Nazarite), and filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary's son would be conceived by supernatural means and He would be the long awaited Messiah. Both would have missions: one would prepare the way for the other; one would announce and introduce and the other would fulfill all said about Him in prophecy.
5. Mary visits Elizabeth
In the last three months of Elizabeth's pregnancy and during the first three months of her own, Mary visits her elderly cousin and assists in her final months of pregnancy. When they meet, Mary pronounces a beautiful poem, called the "Magnificat" by many scholars. In the poem she praises God for His goodness to her (the honor of being the mother of the Messiah), His kindness to all who fear Him, His help to those who are oppressed (sending the Messiah), and her peace and joy at her condition. The entire poem is taken from various passages in the Old Testament showing Mary's knowledge of the Word.
6. John the Baptist's birth
John is born soon after Mary's departure and his name is given as John (a surprise because no one in Zacharias' family has this name). Zacharias agreed with the name (given by an angel) and receives back his speech. When he does he begins praising God (he too with references from the Old Testament).
7. The angel appears to Joseph
Matthew tells the story from Joseph's perspective, Luke from Mary's. They were betrothed meaning that the dowry was set, the commitment to marry was done, the house was chosen – all that was left was the wedding feast (usually 1 year after betrothal) and moving into the home. Before the wedding feast and consummation, Mary becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Some doubt this and deny it using several arguments:
- They say that this part was added later by unknown, uninspired writers.
- They claim that virgin birth was not held by the early church because epistles don't write about it.
- Impossible naturally (don't believe in miracles).
Of course the answer to this is that both Matthew and Luke mention quite specifically the fact that Mary conceived in a miraculous fashion – just like they both mention that Jesus resurrected in a miraculous fashion. One is not more difficult for God than the other.
Joseph is also told by an angel that Mary has conceived by the power of God, he will name the child Jesus (Greek form of Hebrew name Joshua which means "the Lord is salvation"), and his son will be the Messiah.
Like Mary, Joseph believed the angel and followed through in obedience. She accepted to be pregnant and had the baby. He accepted her pregnancy and prepared to be the father by providing her his name and a home to live in.
Matthew 1:25 says that he "kept" her a virgin until she had a son. This means that after she had Jesus he no longer kept her a virgin and this explains the sons and daughters spoken of in other passages (at least 4 brothers and 2 sisters - Mark 6:3).
8. Birth of Jesus
It is interesting to note that the world places so much importance on the birth of Jesus, but only one writer describes it. Jesus was conceived while Mary was betrothed to Joseph (legally married but not yet living together). He was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, according to prophecy (Micah 5:2). The actual giving of names in long distance prophecy is very rare, but Micah actually gives the name of the city where the Messiah will be born. The reason, historically, was that there was a census and you had to go to your native city to be counted. Joseph was of the house of David and probably owned a small plot of land there so he had to be there for the counting.
9. Angels announce His birth
Historians tell us that shepherds had their flocks out grazing between March and November, so the time of Jesus' birth is somewhere in this period. That shepherds are the first to know is unusual: they were poor and unimportant, they were not part of religious establishment but they were symbolic of the type of Messiah Jesus was and representative of the nation of Israel. The shepherds represent those who come and worship the new Messiah from His people.
10. Circumcision of Jesus
Being devout Jews, Mary and Joseph have Jesus circumcised. This was eight days after His birth. A month later, they returned (33 days) for a purification rite (could offer 2 turtledoves if too poor to offer a lamb, which is what they did). It was at this time that Simeon and Anna, two elderly prophet and prophetess who spoke concerning Jesus' future and confirmed that this child was truly the Messiah. This was done to confirm and encourage Joseph and Mary who were the only ones to hear this prophecy.
11. Visit of the Magi
Tradition shows the Magi showing up at the manger on the heels of the shepherds – this is incorrect. Matthew 2:16 says that Herod killed children two and under according to how old the child was based on the information given him by the Magi. Putting the verses together we get this possible order of events:
- They leave Nazareth to go to Bethlehem
- Jesus is born there
- They go to Jerusalem 8 days later for circumcision
- They return to Nazareth to pack up
- They go to Jerusalem for Purification (1 month)
- They settle in Bethlehem because since it is the city of David, city of the Messiah, this is where they believe they should raise Jesus
After a year or so the Magi arrive looking for the Messiah according to the star they had seen. Matthew 2:11 says that they came to a house in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary had settled. They didn't come to a manger as the pictures and traditions indicate. Jesus has been announced to the Jews (through the shepherds) and the Gentiles (through the Magi). Magi were astrologers and counselors to the king in Babylon.
12. Flight into Egypt
Jesus' life and movements were dictated by the prophets' words concerning Him. Hosea 11:1 speaks of the Nation of Israel and their experience in Egypt when he says "out of Egypt I will call my son." Matthew takes this passage and applies it to Jesus as He is embodying the Jewish nation's experience in His own lifetime as He also is forced to live in Egypt for a time. Joseph is warned that Herod will try to destroy the Messiah and told to flee to Egypt. They could have fled to any town, but in order for Scripture to be fulfilled they had to go to Egypt.
The gospel writers used the Old Testament scriptures to suit their purposes. Even if the prophet's words did not specifically state something in context, the gospel writers would use their words to express certain ideas regardless of context. This was the liberty of inspiration – God created the proper context and meaning using the same words to express different things.
Their move to Egypt was probably financed by the gold and precious ointments brought by the Magi. Mary and Joseph were poor and God provided for their needs.
13. Herod's murder of innocents
Soon after their escape Herod tried to eliminate a seeming threat to his throne (he didn't understand) by killing all males under 2. This was Jesus' maximum age according to the Magi's account. Herod died in 4 BC so this is why we say that Jesus was born between 7-4 BC. Probably a year old when He was taken to Egypt, stayed there about a year and when Herod died in 4 BC Joseph and Mary return then.
14. Return to Nazareth
Joseph and Mary had tried to settle in Bethlehem thinking this is where the Messiah should be raised so they try to return there after hiding out in Egypt. God informs him that Herod is dead and he can return to Israel. When he realizes that Herod's son is reigning in the area where he wants to return (Bethlehem), he is told to go back to his original home – Nazareth. Nazareth was in a region further from Herod's headquarters and not one where people expected the Messiah to come from. It was the city that the prophets said the Messiah would emerge from but not be born in – Matthew 2:23. This was a subtle difference that only revelation could provide.
15. Twelve year old Jesus in Jerusalem
Jews were required to go to the Temple for all the feasts, but by the 1st century this had dropped to one per year – the feast of the Passover. Jewish boys reached accountability at thirteen (a son of the commandment). Many boys went to the temple at even earlier ages as was the case with Jesus.
The Rabbis would often find large crowds to teach at these times. His parents lose sight of Jesus and find Him in one such group discussing the Law, asking and answering questions of them. His reply to his mother when they found Him, "Did you not know that I had to be in my Father's house" shows that He was already, at 12, aware of His divine nature and mission. These are His first recorded words.
After this event there is silence concerning Jesus' early life until the beginning of His ministry at 30. All we know is that he remained with His parents in Nazareth and served as a dutiful son until His public ministry began.
This part gives us little information about Jesus but a great deal about His parents.
1. They were true believers.
Their faith cost them something and yet they continued to believe. There is no faith without risk – if it's a sure thing then there is no faith.
2. They believed despite their lack of understanding.
They continued to believe even though the events were unfolding around them. We believe based on a complete story. They didn't know the end but trusted the Lord day by day. Some things in our life are like that, we need to trust and obey even though things aren't fully worked out yet.