Jesus attracts a following

Aged about thirty, Jesus made a visit to his cousin John.  Crowds flocked to John near the river Jordan where he was leading a religious revival.  John dressed up like a wild Old Testament prophet, and thundered out sermons about the need for changed lifestyles in order to please God.  He spoke of the Christ (or Messiah), the long-awaited leader whom God would send to the Jews.

John baptised Jesus.  (John is sometimes known as John the Baptist.)  It was a profound moment for Jesus, when he realised the vast extent of God’s love for him – he described it as being like the love of a father and a son.  He retreated immediately into the desert where he spent forty days marked by prayer and spiritual searching – a time that shaped his life.

Jesus went on to develop his own ministry as a preacher.  On one notable occasion he spoke in the synagogue of his home town, Nazareth.  His message about God bringing an end to oppression and poverty was warmly welcomed.  The Jews, harshly ruled from afar by the Roman emperor Tiberius, longed for the liberation of which Jesus spoke.  However, the second part of his sermon explained that God’s plan had always been to express his love not just to the Jews, but to the entire world.  All nationalities were going to benefit from God’s intention to bring healing and forgiveness.  This outraged the congregation.  Jesus was attacked and came close to losing his life in the skirmish.

Jesus made a home in Capernaum, by Lake Galilee, but travelled widely.  He gathered around him a close-knit group of a dozen men who became his disciples (often known as ‘the apostles’).  They included Peter (a fisherman who went on to lead the first church) and Judas (whose actions were later to lead to Jesus’ death).  Their arrival in a village usually heralded excitement because Jesus had a reputation for being able to restore sick people to health.  His followers, both men and women, grew in number.

A remarkable and traumatic ministry followed.  Crowds massed around Jesus.  They numbered thousands at the height of his popularity.  Broken people regained hope, suffering people found healing, brutalised people glimpsed justice, and for three glorious years there was wonder in the air.

His controversial teaching, which criticised hard-hearted religious leaders as well as repressive political leaders, was very popular.  There was much talk that Jesus might be the Messiah, but he was evasive whenever someone asked directly about this.  Some wanted to proclaim him king and violently take back control of the country, but he dismissed this as well.  However, that did not stop Jesus making powerful enemies.

All this is recorded in four biographies (‘gospels’) which were written between thirty and seventy years after Jesus’ death.  They are still available to read in the Bible.  They are named after four people associated with Jesus’ life – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – although their actual authors are unknown.  Dozens of accounts of Jesus’ life were composed, but most were dismissed as over-sensational by Christians a century later, when these four emerged as trustworthy.  There are also brief references to Jesus in other writings of the time.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this?  A new teaching — and with authority!  He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Where to find it:

Mark 1:27-28

About these words:

The reaction to Jesus in his home town, from the earliest account of his life that survives, written about thirty years after his death.

And they said…

Josephus, Jewish historian, 37-100, writing about Jesus:

It was at that time that a man appeared (if ‘man’ is the right word) who had all the attributes of a man but seemed to be something greater.  His actions were superhuman, for he worked such wonderful and amazing miracles that I for one cannot regard him as a man; yet in view of his likeness to ourselves, I cannot regard him as an angel either … It is also stated that after his execution and entombment he disappeared entirely. Some people actually assert that he had risen; others retort that his friends stole him away.  I for one cannot decide where the truth lies.

Madonna Ciccone, singer and actress:

When I was growing up I was religious in a passionate way.  Jesus Christ was like a movie star, my favourite idol of all.