It is thought that Jesus Christ was born around 4 – 6 BC in Bethlehem, about six miles from Jerusalem. His parents, Joseph and Mary, took him to Egypt to avoid a massacre of infant boys ordered by King Herod. The family returned to their home in Nazareth in what is now northern Israel after King Herod’s death.
Jesus lived in Nazareth until he was about 30 when he began travelling around the area teaching people about God and urging them to change the way they lived. He also healed people of a huge range of illnesses. At the start of this period, he recruited 12 men – known as disciples - to follow him. Dozens of other men and women also followed him. Two disciples, Matthew and John, later wrote about what happened. Their eyewitness accounts are in the Bible.
Jesus’ teachings were radical and counter-cultural. Thousands of people heard him speak. He inspired and challenged the people who heard him but antagonised most of the Jewish religious leaders. They conspired with one of Jesus’ closest followers to have him arrested for blasphemy. Jesus was put on trial and executed by crucifixion in around 30AD. Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead. He appeared to more than 500 people in the weeks after his resurrection. He then ascended to heaven, going up into the sky in front of his followers.
Most of the information about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ comes from Bible books known as the gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These accounts are not exhaustive. They are not chronological. They do not have identical accounts of many events and they record them in a different order. This makes piecing together an exact timeline impossible. There are non-Christian sources too, including the historians Flavius Josephus and Tacitus, who was a Roman senator. Academics have used ancient Greek and Roman documents and also studied astronomical calendars to try to work out the chronology of Jesus’ life.
‘But you Bethlehem… out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel…’
4 - 6BC approx. Jesus’ birth
Ancient Hebrew writings, dating from hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, foretold the arrival of a Messiah who would lead his people to freedom. The Bible book, Micah, says ‘But you Bethlehem… out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel…’
Jesus’ conception was unique. Christianity teaches that his mother, Mary, is a virgin and falls pregnant at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Mary and her husband, Joseph, travel to his family’s home town of Bethlehem to register in a census ordered by the Romans, who occupied the region at the time. Jesus is born while they are in Bethlehem. Shepherds visit the baby and bow down in praise. When he is eight days old, Jesus is circumcised as is traditional for Jewish boys. When he is just over a month old, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem to present him at the temple where they offer sacrifices to God (another tradition).
4 BC approx. Wise men visit and Jesus escapes to Egypt
Wise men arrive in Jerusalem from eastern lands. They are looking for an infant who has been born ‘King of Jews’. King Herod – disturbed at the idea of a rival – asks the wise men to tip him off when they find the boy. The wise men find Jesus and worship him but return home by another route without telling Herod. Furious, Herod orders the massacre of all boys aged two or under in Bethlehem. But, warned in a dream, Joseph, Mary and Jesus flee to safety in Egypt. They stay until Herod dies. Historians believe this was in 4 BC.
8 AD approx. Jesus’ childhood – left behind in Jerusalem
Joseph, Mary and Jesus return from Egypt to their home at Nazareth in Galilee. Aged 12, Jesus goes to Jerusalem with his parents for the Jewish festival of Passover. Mary and Joseph head home mistakenly leaving Jesus behind. They return to look for him. After three days they find him in the temple, talking to the religious teachers. The Bible book, Luke, says ‘Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers’. When Mary challenges him about his absence, Jesus replies, ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ – the first indication he knows of his divinity. This is the only Bible story about Jesus’ childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
28 AD approx. Jesus is baptised and tempted by the devil
Radical teacher John the Baptist – a relative of Jesus – is attracting crowds out into the desert. He’s urging them to give up their bad behaviour and attitudes. He says he is preparing the way for a greater teacher. Jesus leaves Nazareth and goes out into the desert. John says this is the teacher he’d been talking about. The Bible book, John, quotes John saying, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… this is one I meant…’ He baptises Jesus in the River Jordan at Bethany. The Bible book, Matthew, says that as Jesus prayed, ‘...heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased”’. Immediately Jesus goes into the Judean desert for 40 days without food. The devil tempts him three times but Jesus resists. The devil departs. Jesus returns to Galilee and makes Capernaum his home base.
‘...heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased”’.
28 AD approx. Jesus recruits disciples and performs first miracle
Jesus recruits his first followers: Andrew and his brother Simon (who Jesus calls Peter). Then he recruits two more brothers, James and John. All four are fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Next he recruits Philip and Nathanael. At a wedding in Cana Jesus turns water into wine – his first miracle.
28AD – 30AD approx. Jesus begins teaching and miraculoushealings
Jesus clears the temple in Jerusalem of rogue merchants and money-changers. He begins to teach and heal sick people who come to him. He meets a senior Jewish leader, Nicodemus, in secret and tells him he must be ‘born again’ if he wants to have a close relationship with God.
Jesus teaches in synagogues across Galilee. He is rejected in Nazareth where people threaten to throw him off a cliff. He continues to teach and miraculously heal sick people, including Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Matthew, a tax collector despised for collaborating with the occupying Romans, becomes a follower. Jesus chooses 12 men to be his closest followers (disciples).
Huge crowds are now following Jesus. Overlooking the Sea of Galilee,Jesus sets out a Christian manifesto, teaching on a range of life’s issues including loving enemies, retaliation, anger, lust, divorce, worry, giving to the needy and criticising others. More healings follow. Samaritans and a Roman centurion believe in his teachings. Jesus raises a widow’s son and a young girl from the dead. He uses simple stories, known as parables, to teach deep spiritual truths.
Religious leaders are antagonised by his teaching and apparent breach of laws about the Jewish Sabbath. They begin to challenge him. Jesus miraculously calms a storm. He sends out the 12 disciples to heal the sick. Jesus begins to predict his death and resurrection. Religious leaders question his authority. Jesus condemns their hypocrisy. They begin to plot to kill him.
Spring 30 AD approx. Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection
Jesus and his followers head to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. Crowds welcome him as the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus infuriates the religious authorities by overthrowing tables in the temple and condemning the leaders’ hypocrisy. A disciple, Judas, agrees to betray Jesus. After celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus is arrested. He goes before Jewish and Roman authorities charged with blasphemy. The Jewish authorities demand the death penalty. Jesus is crucified on (Good) Friday. His body is laid in a tomb. When his followers go to retrieve it on (Easter) Sunday, the body has gone. They are told Jesus has risen from the dead. Jesus appears to his disciples and more than 500 other followers over the next six weeks. Then, on the top of the Mount of Olives, Jesus rises up to heaven in front of his followers and disappears from view.