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When we try to recover what Jesus actually said and did, we really have the four New Testament gospels as potentially reliable sources. Literally I absolutely agree with this statement taking into consideration the solid evidence that anybody who briefly understands the Bible would do. On the other side, I will say that the statement is not totally true if we seriously analyse the Bible.
As to the first point, taking a close comprehensible look at the words that have been used, the key words ‘SAID’ and ‘DID’ are the words that hold the heaviest weight here. The word ‘said’ means actual action of speaking – what Jesus spoke and was heard by listeners coming from His mouth in form of teachings, preaching, praying, giving instruction. This is in accordance with what is written in the Bible on the account of Jesus Christ. The second word ‘did’ means general actions that Jesus involved himself in at the time that he was on earth (Knight 104).
The life of Jesus Christ and his deeds are illustrated to completion in the four gospel books not in any other. It is indeed very true that the four gospel books of the New Testament that is from Mathew to John are the books that talk about the actions of Jesus that the human beings who existed at that time were able to interact with. The book of Mathew chapter 5, ‘Jesus preached to the crowd that had come to listen.’ The book of Mark 9:17-29 talks about Jesus rebuking demons from the son of a certain man who had been possessed. These physical deeds by Jesus cannot be found in any other book in the Bible in both the New and the Old Testament.
Now about the other side of my stand, I can say that the actions and presence of Jesus Christ were felt on earth by mankind as evidenced by the other books of the Bible besides the New Testament gospels. Christians believe that Jesus existed and did things in the life of human beings. In the first deliberation Jesus exists in the lives of mankind in an immortal body of a son of a supreme being. In the book of Daniel chapter 3 verses 25, King Nebuchadnezzar after attempting to kill the three Hebrew sons who were not consumed by the hot furnace, says that he is seeing four people and one of them looks like the Son of God. Christians believe in Jesus Christ as the only Son of God and it is that very God who saved the three sons of God. This account confirms that Jesus indeed did something in the life of a man before his first advent. The book of Revelation chapter 1 talks of the visions that John had. These visions are clearly started that he was given by Jesus Christ. So here we encounter an action of revealing visions to the world through John.
So we can say that in a physical mortal body, Jesus only appears in the first four books of the New Testament. In other forms, Jesus can be found in other books too.
Jesus as a Preacher
Looking at Jesus according to the way the Bible paints him, I can say that he was such a good preacher. This can be evidenced by the great multitude of following that he received in the land of Judah. People admired him and desired to listen to him every time he spoke.
An account is illustrated in John chapter 3 where Nicodemus who was a very prominent government official in their time sneaks at night to come and seek for advice from Jesus. In the real world today, people tend to look for services from those who offer them best. I can allude to the world today and say that Nicodemus would not have gone to consult Jesus Christ if Christ did not preach the best of the message that he had.
The prowess of Jesus as a preacher can be clearly felt in the sermon on the mountain where the five beatitudes among many other things are taught by Jesus. I am quite sure that the people that listened to Jesus on that day must have enjoyed the preaching given the power of speech that he possessed. In this sermon, Jesus brings out his points in such a systematic manner. Every point seems to fall automatically in its place. The flow is indeed colourful.
Every good preacher will always have the God given ability to leave people he has talked to with questions. Even the disciples of Jesus who had walked with him for quite a long time were left wondering when Jesus calmed the storm in the sea. Sometimes they were mesmerised at the much that he knew and how well he spoke.
As a professional preacher, Jesus traversed the land of Judea and far. He was always on the move to go and preach the message that he said His father had sent him to bring. A true Christian preacher has a goal of winning souls to God and has a soft spot for those that the world considers to be grave sinners. Jesus takes his time to go and spend at the house of Zacchaeus, who was a tax collector (Luke 19). During those days, tax collectors were known to be untrustworthy. He was able to through this act of a good steward convict Zacchaeus to convert and even offer to give the poor half of his wealth (Luke 19:8-9).
Preachers in most cases are believed to be wise. As a preacher who matches that description, Jesus shows His wisdom buy the way he solves certain problems that were hard for people to solve. In John 8:4-11, when the prostitute was caught red handed in the act, she was brought to Jesus with the expectation that He was going to condemn her and sentence her to a punishment. Jesus solves this case so wisely by asking that anyone who has never done such a sin to start stoning her. None was able to go ahead with condemning her. At the end of the day, she got saved and for sure never returned to the hub of sin that she resided in before this incident. Another incident of wisdom is revealed on how he answers the questions that the scribes and teachers of law posed at him. He leaves them dumbfounded and failures of their own game.
I like the way Jesus uses symbolism to bring about his point. The way he talks about the birds of the air which are not worried about tomorrow and the beautiful lilies that God has clothed. He brings this in the context of human life for an easy and more immediate understanding (Mat. 6:25-33).
Indeed we can prove with much viable evidence that Jesus Christ had the quality of a very wise and touching preacher.
Challenges of Early Christians
Early Christianity arose during the first century following the teachings of Christ and the apostles reaching out to the gentiles to preach the message of Christianity. Early Christianity took its foundation at the time of the Greek and Roman empires. During this time, many religions were practiced. These religions can be given the label of paganism i.e. those who did not believe in Christianity. One challenge that Christians had to contend with at that time was the effect that paganism had on Christianity. Some rituals of non-Christians like Roman imperial cult found their way into Christianity. The Greek philosophy got assimilated with the Christian style.
Upon meeting this culture of paganism, early Christians faced a lot of hardships. One of the worst recorded hardships that came the way of these early Christians is persecution. They were persecuted by the Roman imperial authorities. This began under Emperor Nero in 64 AD. During Nero’s time, a fire broke out in Rome which was meant to consume the hated group of people called Christians for their abomination.
This pagan world believed that Christians were following a new and malefic superstition. They were subjected to severe punishments by the governments of the great empires. By the 2nd century, mobs were out to stone Christians. This was sometimes incited by rival sects. The Lyon persecution was preceded by mob violence which included assaults robbery and stoning (Sheffield 136).
In the 3rd century, state persecution started. An account of Maximinux Thrax carried out an empire-wide persecution. At this time only the clergy were sought at. During the time of Decius, the persecution of laity across the entire empire was carried out. Sources say that at this time a decree was issued that public sacrifice was needed. This was to be a testimonial allegiance to the emperor. Those who performed it were given a certificate for it.
Christians were given the opportunity of not to be given further punishments if they offered sacrifice to Roman gods. Those who refused were accused and punished through torture, arrest, imprisonment and execution.
Christians escaped to safe havens that were in the countryside. Some purchased libelli certificates. Councils were formed to discuss the fate of these lapsed Christians. Some Christians accepted and sought out martyrdom. Some Christians even went to the authorities demanding for execution.
The largest persecution came in the reign of Diocletian. This was due to refusal by the Christians to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. About 20000 Christians were killed. This persecution went on until king Constantine came to power in 313 AD. King Constantine legalised Christianity. Theodosius I reign showed that Christianity became the official religion of the empire (Rowland 67).
Christians faced the worst of trial times before it was finally accepted in the pagan world. Faith and Perseverance were the ingredients needed to combat this trial, however, painful (Pfleiderer 112).
Jesus is indeed a Jew
Indeed the realization that Jesus is a Jew is indispensable. Jesus is truly a historical person born in the land of Israel around the year 3BC during the time when Romans were the rulers. The first verse of Mathew chapter one reads: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David the son of Abraham (Mat 1:1). But who were these people Abraham and David who Jesus is linked to?
Drawing from history in the Bible, Abraham was the first Hebrew. God changed the name Abraham from Abram (Gen 17:5). In the book of Genesis chapter 14:13, he is referred to as Abram the Hebrew. So we can see that Jesus descended from Abraham who was a Hebrew. Until today, Jews are called Hebrews and they speak Hebrew language.
God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants of the Promised Land according to Genesis 17:8 and circumcision as a sign of this covenant as is found in Genesis 17:10. Acts 3:12-25 illustrates that Abraham was the father of Jews. He had a son called Isaac and a grandson called Jacob (Mat.1:2). Therefore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are known as the founding fathers of Jews.
According to Genesis 35:10-12, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. He had twelve sons. From these twelve sons came the twelve tribes of Israel. All the descendants of Jacob’s sons are known in the Bible as children of Israel. Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (Gen. 35:23). From the name of Judah the word “Jew” came. Although Judah was only one of the twelve sons of Jacob, by the year 700 BC, the any person of Abraham’s descent was referred to as Jew.
According to Genesis 49:10, Messiah must have descended from the tribe of Judah this very lineage was of King David too (1Sam 17:12). Therefore He descended from King David too. That is the reason why Jesus is referred to as the son of David in Mathew 21:9. Jesus is of the tribe of Judah (Heb 7:14). Joseph who was his earthly father and mother descended from King David (Mat. 1:6-16, Luke 1:27).
Mathew 2:2, Jesus was born the king of the Jews. He must have been a Jew to be the king of the Jews according to Deuteronomy 17:15. His aunt Elizabeth was a Jew who descended from the house of Aaron who was the brother to Moses. Zechariah, the uncle of Jesus, was also a Jewish priest as illustrated in Luke 1:5, 36.
According to Leviticus 12:2-3, it was a Jewish custom to circumcise their new born male after eight days. In Luke 2:21, Jesus was circumcised in accordance to this law. We can therefore confirm that Jesus was born a Jew beyond any possible doubt.
Christ lived as a Jew. He was born in Bethlehem (Mat. 2:1) and was brought up in Nazareth as in Luke 2:39-40. Both Nazareth and Bethlehem were Jewish towns at that time. Both of his parents were from Nazareth. They returned with him to Nazareth after they had done everything according to the requirements of the law of the Lord. His aunt and uncle were also strong observant of Torah. We can conclude that this entire family observed their faith seriously. As accounted in Luke 2:41, Jesus’ parents took the 140 mile pilgrimage to Jerusalem every Passover festival in fulfilment of Deuteronomy 16:16.
At the age of 12, Jesus remained in the temple for three days and had a discussion with the temple teachers (Luke 2:46). Although it is rather clear that he knew the Torah so well already, his attitude during the discussion showed his great interest in the Hebrew Scriptures. He also respected the temple and gave it the reverence that it deserved (Luke 2:49).
Basing our argument on the above evidence, we can with no doubt infer that Jesus was a Jew by birth and by practice.