The account of the Gospels is the eyewitness testimony concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is written as history and as legal evidence, not as allegory. There are those who dismiss some parts of it as allegory simply because they have decided that miracles are impossible. But consistency would demand that they dismiss the whole Bible then, since there is little point in arguing about the content if it is mixed with fables or entirely composed of them. Such an approach has no grounds by which to distinguish true from false.
Neither are the Gospels (really, the whole Bible) to be dismissed due to alleged bias on the part of the writers. This charge could easily be brought against every historian of all time. Yet it is in comparing them that we get closer to the truth, and such a comparison has always upheld the Gospel writings as quality historical accounts according to the standards of the era. And who else would have written about Jesus anyway? The Romans could not have cared less. If a biography is to be written, it should be done by those who knew the person, and Jesus’ enemies never produced evidence that these accounts were in error. So it should go without saying that we would not know much about Jesus outside of the New Testament; no one else had any motive to write in such detail about him.
This is a roughly chronological commentary on all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The chronology will be based upon events rather than time of writing, though it is helpful in other ways to know this as well. The proposed ranges of dates have varied over the years, but the current general consensus seems to be that Mark was written in the late 40s A.D. to mid 50s, Luke was written around 62, Matthew was written around the mid 60s, and John was written around the 90s.
Concerning the chronology of events, we should note that the so-called synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) likely shared many sources (eyewitnesses) in collecting their information. But it is only John who begins with a statement about Jesus before his incarnation, plainly stating that Jesus is God. Mark is thought to have been written for a primarily Roman audience, Matthew for a Hebrew audience, and Luke for a general Gentile audience (and Luke is widely considered to be a first-rate historian). John wrote more of a biography and focused on the miracles Jesus performed, and is noted for his lengthy quotation of Jesus’ prayer and monologue at the Last Supper. Even so, there are times when John gives more precise chronological information than the other Gospels.
The most important thing to consider when attempting such a chronology is that we can only go by expressed statements of timing, not by where a given event appears in the text. We should also consider the fact that Jesus did a lot of traveling around the area, such that saying he went from this place to that place doesn’t necessarily mean it was the only, first, or last time he went. And a statement such as “after this” by itself does not tell us how long after.
As noted in John 2:13, Jesus first drove the merchants out of the temple compound near the Passover. Another festival is mentioned but not named in John 5:1, but it’s possible that it is the same as the Passover in John 6:4, since all that transpires between the two references is the healing at the Bethzatha pool and Jesus lecturing the Pharisees about it. A third Passover is mentioned in John 11:55–12:1. These references need to be considered in determining the duration of Jesus’ public service, which some believe could have been as short as one year and as long as three, though it would seem that the great number of things Jesus did (John 21:25) would indicate more than one year. Then by aligning events in John with the other Gospel writers, we can have some idea of when they occurred during that time. Please also see the detailed chart at The Synoptic Gospel Parallels with John’s Gospel. (Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of other content at that site.)
The teachings of Jesus are examined separately, as the timing of the teachings is not critical beyond their immediate contexts. However, care will be taken to note timing as it relates to whether a teaching was given more than once.
Genealogy of Jesus
- Legal Mt. 1:1–17
- Biological Lk. 3:23–38
Conception to Adulthood
- John the Immerser Lk. 1:5–25, 57–66
- Jesus Mt. 1:18–2:12, Lk. 1:26–38, 2:1–40
Preparation for Service
- Immersed by John Mt. 3:13–17, Mk. 1:9–11, Lk. 3:21–22, Jn. 1:32–34 [implied]
- Tested by the Adversary Mt. 4:1–11, Mk. 1:12–13, Lk. 4:1–13
Gathering Disciples as Service Begins
- First Passover Jn. 2:13
- John in prison Mt. 4:12, Mk. 1:14, Lk. 7:18–21, Jn. 3:24
- Disciples called Mt. 4:18–22, Mk. 1:16–20, 2:13–14, Lk. 5:1–11, 27–28
Teachings Begin and The Twelve are Chosen
- The Sermon on the Mount Mt. ch. 5–7
- Naming the Twelve Mt. 10:1–42, Mk. 3:13–19, Lk. 6:12–16
Actions and Object Lessons
- Another festival (second Passover?) Jn. 5:1 (6:4)
- A question of Godhood during the Feast of Dedication Jn. 10:22–38
- Roman officer with great faith Mt. 8:5–13, Lk. 7:1–10
- Raising the dead Mk. 5:35–43, Lk. 7:11–17, Jn. 11:1–44
- John the Immerser needs reassurance Mt.11:1–10, Lk. 7:18–28
- A rant against three cities Mt. 11:20–24, Lk. 10:13–16
- Seeds, sowers, and harvests Mt. 13:1–43, Mk. 4:1–20, Lk. 8:4–15
- Disciples sent out in pairs Mk. 6:7–13, Lk. 9:1–6 (see also 10:1–12)
- John the Immerser killed Mt. 14:1–12, Mk. 6:14–29, Lk. 9:7–9
- Feeding five thousand Mt. 14:15–21, Mk. 6:35–44, Lk. 9:12–17, Jn. 6:1–14
- A woman wins an argument with Jesus Mt. 15:21–28, Mk. 7:24–30
- Feeding four thousand Mt. 15:32–39, Mk. 8:1–9
- Peter’s confession and objection Mt. 16:13–23, Mk. 8:27–30, Lk. 9:18–21
- The transfiguration Mt. 17:1–8, Mk. 9:1–8, Lk. 9:28–36
- The greatest Mt. 18:1–5, 20:20–28, Mk. 9:34–37, 10:35–45, Lk. 22:24–27
- Divorce Mt. 19:1–12, Mk. 10:1–12
- Mary the disciple Lk. 10:38–42
- Festival of Tents (Feast of Tabernacles) but Jesus goes secretly Jn. 7:1–11
- Festival of Dedication/Lights (Hanukkah) in winter Jn. 10:22
- The destruction of the temple in the 1st century Mt. 24:1–2, Mk. 13:1–2, Lk. 21:5–6
- The unknown duration Mt. 24:32–25:30, Mk. 13:28–37, Lk. 21:29–36
- Birth pangs Mt. 24:3–8, Mk. 13:3–8, Lk. 21:7–19
- Persecution Mt. 10:16–28, 24:9–14, Mk. 13:9–13, Lk. 12:11–12, 21:12–19
- The days of Noah Mt. 24:36–41, Lk. 17:26–37
- False Anointeds Mt. 24:23–28, Mk. 13:21–23, Lk. 17:23–25
- Abomination Mt. 24:15–20, Mk. 13:14–18, Lk. 21:20–22
- The Great Oppression/Tribulation Mt. 24:21–22, Mk. 13:19–23, Lk. 17:30–37, 21:20–24
- Anointed returns Mt. 24:29–31, Mk. 13:24–27, Lk. 21:25–28
- Sheep and goats Mt. 7:21–23, 25:31–46, Lk. 13:24–30
The Final Week
- Third Passover Jn. 11:55–12:1
- The triumphal entry Mt. 21:1–11, Mk. 11:1–10, Lk. 19:28–44, Jn. 12:12–19
- Jesus is anointed for burial Mt. 26:6–13, Mk. 14:3–9, Lk. 7:36–50 (a separate incident), Jn. 12:1–8
- Preparing the upper room Mt. 26:17–19, Mk. 14:12–16, Lk. 22:7–13
- The last supper Mt. 26:20–35, Mk. 14:17–31, Lk. 22:14–38, Jn. 13:1–17:26
- Jesus’ discourse and prayer Jn. 13:31–17:26
- Gethsemane Mt. 26:36–56, Mk. 14:32–52, Lk. 22:39–53, Jn. 18:1–11
- Arrest and illegal trials Mt. 26:57–27:10, Mk. 14:53–72, Lk. 22:54–71, Jn. 18:12–27
- Trials by Pilate and Herod Mt. 27:11–25, Mk. 15:1–15, Lk. 23:1–23a, Jn. 18:28–19:15
- Jesus’ execution Mt. 27:26–56, Mk. 15:16–41, Lk. 23:23b–49, Jn. 19:16–37
- Jesus’ burial Mt. 27:57–66, Mk. 15:42–47, Lk. 23:50–56, Jn. 19:38–42
Post-resurrection to Ascension
- Jesus’ first appearances Mt. 28:1–15, Mk. 16:1–11, Lk. 24:1–12, Jn. 20:1–18
- Jesus appears to the other disciples Mt. 28:16–17, Mk. 16:12–14, Lk. 24:13–44, Jn. 20:19–21:14
- Final instructions Mt. 28:18–20, Mk. 16:15–18, Lk. 24:45–49, Jn. 21:15–25, Ac. 1:1–8
- Ascension Mk. 16:19–20, Lk. 24:50–53, Ac. 1:9–11
Genealogy of Jesus
The genealogies found in Matthew 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–38 are claimed by some to be contradictory, but they are simply from two different perspectives. Matthew traces forward from Abraham to Mary’s husband Joseph, while Luke traces backward from Mary1 to Adam and finally to God. Matthew shows that Jesus is from the royal/legal line of David to establish his qualification as the Anointed and Descendant, while Luke shows the genetic/blood line to establish his qualification as the God-Man, the Divine in human flesh. Thus the two genealogies work together to establish the right of Jesus to claim fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
Conception to Adulthood
The earliest details are provided in the first chapter of Luke. Like Abraham and Sarah, the parents of John the Immerser were elderly and childless. So we see a connection between “the child of promise” (Isaac) and John the forerunner of Jesus, who was to come “in the spirit and power of Elijah”. One marvels that his father Zacharias would be skeptical of the Messenger Gabriel’s promise of a very special child, especially since he knew very well the circumstances regarding Abraham and Sarah. So there is no surprise at Zacharias’ punishment for disbelief. He was described as righteous all his life, yet he could not believe a direct message from God until he was struck with being deaf and mute.
It was not until six months later that this same Gabriel was sent to Mary. But though she questioned him, she did not doubt him; she simply did not understand how this would work, rather than disbelieving. As for her virginity, this is indisputable from the context. The Greek word is not limited to mean virginity, but Mary’s question leaves no room for doubt that this was true in her case. So regardless of how anyone might render the word, it is clear that Mary would conceive without the involvement of a man. It is this lack of a human father, not whether Mary was a virgin, that is of the utmost importance regarding Jesus, as shown in the discussion of his genealogy.
But who exactly was Jesus’ father? Luke says the Messenger told Mary that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you” and also “the power of the Highest will envelope you”. Since not only “the Father” was involved but also the Holy Spirit, all we can say for sure is that it was not Jesus himself. What we should deduce from this is that distinctions among the members of the Trinity are not as precise and definable as we might prefer. Instead, the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are likely more of a convenience for human understanding than anything else, such that deriving theological teachings from them is probably unwise.
While we are not told the reason for John’s name, we are told this for Jesus. Matthew 1:20–25 tells us that Jesus means “one who saves his people from their faults”, but that he would also be called Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”. Notice that it says “they” would give him this name; it does not say this was his formal, legal name. As for Joseph, he too was visited by a Messenger, who confirmed not only the name Jesus but also that Mary had indeed been faithful. Referencing the genealogy again, note that the Messenger greets Joseph as “descendant of David”.
Luke goes on to elaborate on the time from conception to birth, including lengthy quotes of the joyful expressions of Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Mary. All three, along with the reactions of others, paint a very clear picture of extraordinary circumstances, not the least of which is the strong confirmation of Jesus as much more than a prophet or human deliverer. John is described as the forerunner and prophet, while Jesus is the royal king, all before either of them had done anything.
Luke also tells us of the circumstances which led to Mary and Joseph being in Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth. It was during “those days” when Augustus made everyone travel to their hometown to be registered. Whether or not this can be corroborated by secular history with certainty, we do know that census-taking was very common at the time, and that governors and other rulers often ruled more than once, or took the name of a prior ruler. Even so, the absence of such data hardly disproves the Bible, as it is a historical record in its own right, and there is no secular data to conflict with it.
Another fact given by Luke is that there was no room available for Mary and Joseph, which is understandable given the requirement for people to return to their hometowns. But they were not reduced to staying in a stable. It was common for houses of the time to take in some of their animals at night, so the presence of a feeding trough does not require the location to be a stable. Some also take the strips of cloth with which Jesus was wrapped as burial cloths, but the Greek word referred to typical baby clothing as well. So while conditions were certainly not ideal for giving birth, they were not as crude as tradition has had it. Luke also mentions shepherds, who only watched their flocks all night during breeding seasons. These were typically in the fall but might also occur in the spring, which helps to determine the time of year when Jesus was born.
We can also consider the fact that Zacharias, in the Abia priestly division, would only have served during Pentecost, which is seven weeks after First Fruits. So the time of year of the announcement about John was probably late spring. But the conception was an unknown time following this, though not likely a long time. So a reasonable estimate would be around the end of June. Nine months later (end of March) would mark the time of John’s birth. And since Elizabeth was in her sixth month at the time Mary conceived, John was six months older than Jesus. Then we calculate six months after John’s birth to find Jesus’ birth, which would be the end of September. Thus Jesus was likely born in the fall, possibly in the spring, and certainly not in the winter or summer.
It is possible, then, that the sign of Jesus’ birth was given during the Feast of Trumpets, and the birth itself was during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 1:14 says that the Word “tabernacled” [pitched a tent] among us.) As for the year, there are many theories but the majority of scholars believe it to have been between 4 and 1 B.C. And the sacrifice Mary and Joseph brought after Jesus was circumcised was that specified for the poor, yet they would not always be poor; the visitors from the east would bring very valuable gifts fit for a king.
Luke also provides for us the accounts of Simon and Anna, the latter of whom had been serving in the temple most of her life. While both had been given prophetic messages about the Anointed, we should note that Anna had a position in the temple performing divine service. So here Luke considers it important to mention a woman, and a leading spiritual woman at that.
For most of the remaining information about this period of time, we turn back to Matthew. This is the infamous matter of Herod and his paranoia about a possible rival or threat to his power. The official advisors (trad. Magi), whose business it was to know the movements of the stars, had seen a specific sign in them that led them to Jerusalem. Though speculation on the nature of that sign or star is beyond the scope of this commentary, we might at least wonder how these people knew about it and what it meant. One theory is that Daniel, who had much influence and power in Babylon, had taught people the ways of God and informed them of this prophecy.
But of course the focus here is on Herod, who tried to use the official advisors in order to track Jesus down and kill him before he could grow up. This is why he flew into a rage and killed all children two years and younger when he found out the advisors had been warned not to report back to him. This also tells us that the advisors did not arrive immediately after Jesus was born, but as much as two years later. Further, we do not know how many advisors there were, and the list of gifts they brought to Jesus is a sample, not a precise accounting. Also, we are told that they worshiped Jesus, which is yet another indication of his deity.
As for Joseph being warned to run away from there with his family, some may cite the quite ordinary circumstances of Herod’s actions as proof that God had nothing to do with this. But they should consider the fact that the Anointed was predicted very far in advance, and Herod of all people certainly did not want Jesus to fulfill the prophecy. Not all prophecy is something directly caused by God; in fact, most of it could be classified under this “ordinary circumstances” category. So as a general principle of prophecy, it seems that its purpose is to only be fully understood after it has been fulfilled and we can look back at the prediction. This makes fulfilled prophecy all the more impressive, since anybody could predict an event that they caused.
Now we return to Luke to fill in what little detail is recorded about the years Jesus grew up. Toward the end of chapter two we are told that the family was in the habit of attending the Passover each year, and that at the age of twelve Jesus unofficially began his career of befuddling the religious leaders. And though today we might tend to classify as rebellion his decision to leave his parents wondering where he was for three days, there was certainly no such rebellious intent on his part. As for speculation that Jesus had gone to India to learn from gurus, there is not one shred of evidence to support the claim. The people of his hometown knew that he had not been formally trained and rejected him for that reason. And as he said himself, he was sent to “the lost sheep of Israel”, not the world at large, and he had no need of gurus.
Preparation for Service
The account of the public service of Jesus, as with his birth, begins with his relative John. Luke gives the most detail about timing, citing no less than five names of rulers and the year of one of them, plus the names of two priests. Details like these show the writer’s invitation to scrutiny; that is, there is no intent to deceive, as some accuse the writers of the New Testament. Not much is said about John’s growing up, beyond the requirements of not drinking wine, not cutting his hair, and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the start. At the time he began immersing people, he is described as living alone in the desert, wearing the crudest clothing and living on a diet of wild honey and insects.
His message was simple: essentially, people were to confess their sins and turn from them, so they would be prepared for the coming of the Anointed. The act of immersion (“baptism” is a transliteration of a word meaning to submerge or dip) was common at that time for a variety of reasons, not all of them religious or spiritual. It was a symbolic act, not a magical act, and a public declaration. And in the case of the Pharisees who came just for show, John knew this and sent them away to first do what the ritual symbolized: have a change of heart/mind. If anyone needed to change it was the Pharisees, yet John did not hesitate to offend them. Saying the words and playing the part were not to be tolerated out of a misguided sense of acceptance and love, or a fear of turning away potential converts.
We see in John’s words (Mat. 3:10–12) a contrast between the immersion he performed with water, and the immersion to be performed by Jesus with fire. Of course the water was literal, but it is just as clear that the fire was figurative, though referring to the literal Holy Spirit. His point was that the latter would replace the former, but it would not happen suddenly or immediately. As shown in the book of Acts, there was a period of transition, a shift from an all-Hebrew community of believers to that of Gentiles as well. Customs and habits take time to change.
When Jesus finally came to be immersed himself, John’s objection in light of the fact that his immersion was different surely contributed to his being puzzled by the request. And the answer Jesus gave was basically, “Just do it, even though it makes no sense right now”. So in this we see that Jesus was hardly establishing a rite or ordinance for all who would follow him, since it was already common practice for many people. And it was at this point that the voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit confirmed Jesus as the Anointed (John 1:33–34), which also shows all three members of the Trinity at once and as distinct entities. This is one of the clearest portrayals of God as a trinity rather than one God playing three roles.
Then it was Jesus’ turn to live in the desert for a while, but without the food and with the Adversary himself putting him through a test. John says nothing about this and Mark says very little, so the details of this testing are found in the accounts of Matthew (4:1–11) and Luke (4:1–13). The first test was an attempt to get Jesus to prove himself, though of course the Adversary already knew who Jesus was. But with Jesus in a state of weakness due to extreme hunger, he thought he had a chance by means of something we all fall prey to: a dare to prove how spiritual or godly we are (“If you were really a Christian, you would…”).
Another test (Mat. and Luke have this and the next one in opposite order) was an appeal to instant power, by offering Jesus the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshiping him. The Adversary apparently thought that he could get Jesus to take a shortcut to what would eventually be his anyway. But Jesus did not challenge his right to offer this, and it would have been a ridiculous test unless the Adversary really did have dominion over all the great cities and powers of the world. Other passages (2 Cor. 4:4, Eph. 6:12) support this as well.
The other test mentioned was for Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple, again to prove who he was, using scripture as always. But though Jesus did always respond with scripture, the lesson for us is that we must use it all, and not fall for partial or out-of-context arguments (see Prov. 18:17). This tactic is used continually as a trap for Christians, either by partial quotations or just poor reasoning. Logic and discernment are not the enemies of spiritual growth and truth, though the Adversary keeps using this ploy against us with great success.
Gathering Disciples as Service Begins
The gospel of John gives additional detail of what Jesus did after his testing. In fact, everything after John 1:14 probably took place after Jesus was immersed, since in vs. 32 John the Immerser speaks of that event in the past tense. The “next day” of vs. 35 is in reference to when John made that statement, not when the immersion took place. And given the following statement about “the third day”, it also must have been after Jesus was tested, since the other Gospels indicate that Jesus went “immediately” into the desert for 40 days before his testing. Notice also the use of translation by the apostle John, which indicates that he was explaining Hebrew terms to Greek readers.
On “the third day” Jesus was invited to the wedding in Cana, where his mother got him to perform a miracle before he had intended to do such things. As a side note about the wine itself, it seems obvious that the wine was alcoholic, since the master of ceremonies mentions drunkenness. This also relates to the requirement for his relative John not to drink wine. And after this, not only his disciples but also his mother and siblings were with him, just before the Passover (John 2:12). This tells us that this particular Passover was not the one when Jesus was to die, thus helping to establish the length of time of his public service.
It was during these few days that Jesus began to have disciples following him. But note that at this time they came to him first, rather than Jesus coming to them. The only one he actually called at this time was Philip (John 1:43); everyone else came by word of mouth. But there were two instances of Jesus acquiring disciples, and these help determine when John the Immerser was arrested for criticizing Herod, who had illegally taken his brother Philip’s wife (Mat. 14:1–5, Mark 6:17–18, Luke 3:18–20):
- Mat. 4:12–17 — John the Immerser arrested, then Jesus goes to Galilee, then from Nazareth to Capernaum, then the seaside where he calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John
- Mark 1:14–15 — John the Immerser arrested before Jesus calls those four by sea of Galilee
- Luke 7:18–21 — Implies that John may have already been arrested, and it was in Luke 5:9–11 that the four were called (the sea there is called Gennesaret, which is the same sea as Galilee)
- John 3:22–24 — John the Immerser had not yet been arrested after Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, and there is no mention of the calling by the sea
Note also that neither of the two instances of Jesus acquiring disciples was the same as the third, formal calling of the Twelve in Mat. 10:1–4, Mark 3:13–19, and Luke 6:12–16. And the ease with which the four left their fishing business is best explained by the fact that this was not their first encounter with Jesus. So we can be fairly confident that whatever happened before John the Immerser was arrested also happened before the four disciples were called away from their fishing business. With that chronological marker established, we can proceed to examine everything else that took place during the time between Jesus’ testing and his calling the other disciples besides Philip to follow him.
Luke chapter 4 tells us that Jesus began to travel around to the synagogues to announce the Gospel of the kingdom of God (Mark uses the term “kingdom of the heavens”). Of course, this was not the Gospel of Jesus’ resurrection, since that had not yet taken place. This passage agrees with Mat. 4:12–17 that Jesus started out in Galilee, and then went to his hometown of Nazareth. This is where he read from the writings of Isaiah about things being fulfilled at the time, and where the people he grew up with took offense at him. As a result he moved away from there and settled instead in Capernaum, where unlike Nazareth, the people had enough faith to be healed of their illnesses and demonic oppressions.
John adds much more detail for this period of time. Picking up at the point where Jesus was in Capernaum with his mother and siblings (no mention of his father Joseph anymore, so we can assume he had died), John 2:13 begins the account of Jesus expelling the merchants from the temple. Though the other Gospels have such an incident occurring near the end of Jesus’ public service, there is no reason it couldn’t have happened twice. There is also no mention of the Pharisees vowing to kill Jesus afterwards, as is the case in the other Gospels, which would be explained by the fact that Jesus had not yet said and done much to provoke them. And only John mentions the use of a whip in the incident.
John also tells us in chapter 3 of the meeting with Nicodemus. This is the source of the phrase “born from above”, which Nicodemus took to mean the need to be born a second time, hence the phrase “born again”. Though some controversy has raged over what Jesus meant by being born of both water and Spirit, the context seems clear enough that he was simply contrasting natural, physical birth with supernatural, spiritual birth; there is no hint of the common rite of water immersion there. His reference to the Spirit being as unpredictable as the blowing of the wind is taken by some to mean salvation is purely by the Spirit’s choice (so-called “Unconditional Election”), but again the context shows that Jesus simply used the wind to explain the invisibility of the spiritual realm. Jesus’ famous words in John 3:14–18 also establish the fact that salvation is by freely-exercised personal faith, and that condemnation is for disbelief rather than not being chosen by the Spirit.
After the encounter with Nicodemus, we read that John was still immersing people, and that the disciples of both him and Jesus began to quarrel over who was immersing the most (as the apostle John points out, Jesus never immersed anyone himself but had his disciples do it). This incident shows that even before there were “churches” as tradition has had it, people were “counting nickels and noses” in some kind of contest to prove who was following the greatest leader. And when Jesus found out about this, he left the area. Let the reader speculate on what this may imply.
Having left there, Jesus passed through Samaria on his way to Galilee, which would make the following incident likely to have taken place before the four disciples were called. The apostle John (referred to from here on out simply as John, since not much else transpires with John the Immerser until his death) gives us an account of a Samaritan woman that would make no sense to include, had he been fabricating any of this. For a Jew to speak so extensively about a woman, and without condemnation especially of a promiscuous Samaritan, is yet another indication that the writers of the Gospels were giving unbiased and faithful reports.
But perhaps even more surprising is what Jesus told her: that the time had come for people to worship God “in spirit and truth” rather than in a holy place. This, told to a Samaritan woman of all people, was nothing less than the blueprint for the coming Congregation. This was a radical departure from the temple and priesthood, the Law and the rituals, that all faithful Jews honored, as well as from all organized religions of all time. As he would say later on (Mat. 18:20), “where two or three have gathered on my account, there I am with them”. He would also later say that he came to fulfill the purpose of the Law and the Prophets (Mat. 5:17–19) and to serve as a priest of a new order (Heb. 5:6), and “when there is a change of priesthood, there must be a change of law” (Heb. 7:12). Yet he himself still had to fulfill them and practice the law perfectly, so his being a practicing Jew does not mean that his followers of all time would also have to practice Judaism.
We should not overlook the fact that this woman, despised even among her own people, was not ignored or told to be silent. Spreading the news about the Anointed was a message not considered defiled by the person who proclaimed it. She gave a fearless testimony among people who looked down on her, and they listened and investigated her report. At the very least, this should teach us that we must not judge by appearances, nor shun the truth depending on who speaks it. Surely God is more concerned with the message than the messenger.
As Jesus was traveling around during this time, his encounters with the Pharisees became more frequent. In one incident (Luke 5:36–39) he gave the illustration of the wineskins. The immediate context was in response to the Pharisees’ demand to know why Jesus’ disciples did not fast, but it also illustrates a general principle: that Jesus came to do much more than die for sins. As he told the Samaritan woman, something radically new was coming, and here he indicates that it could not be mixed or meshed with the old ways.
Teachings Begin and The Twelve are Chosen
The calling of Simon/Peter, Andrew, James, and John was after the incident where Jesus told Peter and Andrew to put out their nets and they caught a very large amount of fish (Luke 5:4–11). The notable thing about these selections is that Jesus did not go to the synagogues, temple, or priesthood for them, but to the working world of ordinary people (and as later events would prove, not exactly the brightest people). So between this and the account of the Samaritan woman, we see that Jesus was in the habit of choosing those who, even today, would be overlooked by many Christian leaders.
After various accounts of miraculous healings, Matthew chapters 5 through 7 tells us that Jesus gave a long talk known as The Sermon on the Mount. But note that it was given to his disciples, rather than to the large crowd. And though they would form the basis for the coming Congregation, we must remember that Jesus is still speaking to Hebrews under the Law, before any concept of a new Congregation. Certainly the principles apply universally, but we must be careful not to become legalistic. Key points would include the following:
- The Beatitudes (“happy/blessed are…”) should not be taken as a technical list of specific rewards for specific virtues or qualities, but as the general concept that whatever is suffered in this life for good reasons will be resolved and rewarded in the next.
- Some negative points omitted by Matthew are found in Luke 6:24–26. While blessings are promised to the righteous, curses are promised to the unrighteous. As with statements such as “the first will be last” (Mat. 20:16), Jesus teaches that the tables will be turned in the next life.
- The purpose of salt and light is to spread out everywhere, not be kept in a container or neutralized. But tradition has made Christianity more of a container than a dispenser, encouraging people to bring the lost to them instead of going out to the lost. Society was to be influenced, enlightened, and savored by Christians mingling among people and bringing the Gospel with them on a daily and individual basis. The Gospel of this particular time, however, was not the future resurrection of the Anointed but the coming of the kingdom of God. This is the primary application of what Jesus says in this Sermon.
- Jesus’ famous statement in Matt. 5:17–19 about the Law and the Prophets refers to the Torah. Yet the end result of dismantling or fulfillment is the same; a fulfilled contract is no longer in force. This may be what Jesus meant when he would say on the cross that everything is accomplished, since his stated purpose here is to fulfill it all. We are told in Gal. 3:15–18 that the Law was like a “last will and testament”, and such a document is no longer in effect once its conditions are met. This does not mean that it was destroyed but that its purpose had been accomplished and it was no longer needed.
- Matt. 5:20–22 is where Jesus emphasizes the purpose of the commandment to not murder, which is to not even hate anyone enough to murder them. Some take his statements as a strict law against name-calling, but it seems that the intent here is to simply clean up the heart and the actions will follow, a core principle of the Law.
- The thrust of Matt. 5:23–26 is that someone has a case against you, not that they simply are upset with you. We cannot control other people’s feelings, nor are we liable for any and every charge they may make. It is only when we know we have done wrong and the other person has a valid complaint against us that we must resolve the issue before daring to approach God.
- The statement in Matt. 5:27–30 about lust and adultery, as well as cutting off a body part that causes us to sin, is related to the one about hate and murder in that the heart is the key. Clearly Jesus is not saying anyone should literally remove such parts, since they are not the problem; one would have to cut out their heart (mind) instead. But note especially the fact that Jesus blames sin on the sinner, not the temptation. Temptation is certainly a sin all its own, and the one who tempts will be held to account (Matt. 18:7). But the sinner is also guilty and cannot pass blame; if we sin, it is our own fault, and we must accept responsibility.
- Matt. 5:31–32 is Jesus’ famous statement about divorce. But as with the one bringing a gift to God who has a valid charge against them, so also there must be a valid reason for divorce. Jesus is not saying that all divorce is wrong except for adultery, but that there must be some legitimate fault on the part of the one being divorced. It was all too easy for men to send their wives away for any or no reason, leaving them destitute and shamed. Jesus will elaborate on this further when the question is put to him by the Pharisees (Mat. ch. 19, Mark ch. 10).
- As for swearing oaths (Matt. 5:33–37), this is another topic on which Jesus would elaborate at a later time (Matt. 23:16–22). But in this case there seems to be no reason to limit or qualify his prohibition (see also James 5:12). Yet at the same time, an oath imposed on us by others (such as to tell the truth in a court of law) is something even Jesus would eventually do during the trial before his crucifixion. Paul also took an unnamed vow (Acts 18:18), but we do not know what this involved. At the very least, we can say that oaths/vows should be avoided if at all possible, since what matters is our intent and honesty.
- The well-known teaching about “turning the other cheek” in Matt. 5:38–42 is not a command to become a doormat or punching bag. The Greek words refer to taking an adversarial stance, as in trying to settle the score. Under Roman law, such reactions would only invite further trouble and justice would never be seen anyway; today we might equate it with resisting arrest. Yet again, even Paul stood up for his legal rights (Acts 16:35–37). So essentially Jesus is teaching that people should be good citizens, even when the state is evil. However, Jesus is clearly not teaching us to be passive victims of any violence anyone might use against us.
- The section about loving enemies in Matt. 5:43–48 means exactly that: loving them, not affirming and enabling them. This is the other side of the earlier statement about not hating others. To take this in isolation and ignore other commands that tell us to be separate from the world is to turn love into treason or unfaithfulness. After all, not even God affirms and accepts his enemies but rebukes them and will punish any who refuse to repent, even though he loves them enough to give them a chance to change their minds (see Rev. 3:19).
- In chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus warns against showing off in order to appear pious and holy. This includes prayer, which even today is often a chance for someone to display their eloquence and oratorical skill. And the model Jesus gave (“ the Lord’s Prayer”), right after warning against endless repetition, is ironically repeated word-for-word in churches around the world. The idea is rather to pray as one would speak to a respected parent. As for God forgiving us, he forgives those who turn away from sin, and he will treat us the way we treated others. (See also Mat. 18:21, 31, Mark 11:24–26, and Luke 6:36–38.)
- Mat. 6:19–34 is about materialism and focusing on the eternal rather than the temporal. Jesus certainly is not advocating that we never plan ahead, or live in houses, or work for our food. Rather, the point is not to make such things the focus of our life. Our priority is to be the eternal kingdom of God, such that the world and its worries and distractions will no longer rule our lives.
- But the controversy returns in chapter 7, beginning with the passage about judging (Mat. 7:1–5). As with other issues in this Sermon, one must not leap to absurd extremes as so many do with this matter. We certainly are to make many judgments, to discern and weigh and test. So we are not to turn “do not judge” into a free pass for sin and evil. By the context Jesus gives here, the intent is that we judge fairly and rationally; he did not say to ignore the splinter in the other person’s eye but first to make sure we are not using a double standard.
- As for not “throwing pearls to pigs” (Mat. 7:6), note that both these animals were known to “bite the hand that feeds them”, so the implication seems to be that we must not keep offering the Gospel to those who are hostile it. We should note that Jesus never spoke kindly to the Pharisees, and that John the Immerser refused those who came without a change of heart/mind.
- Mat. 7:7–12 is yet another commonly-misused scripture. Many people think that it means God will not and cannot refuse any request we make, but that isn’t what Jesus said at all. In context, he said that since we flawed human beings know how to give, then surely our Father in heaven knows how as well. What it all boils down to, as Jesus said, is that we treat others as we hope they will treat us, with God as our model for how to be kind and merciful.
- Was Jesus saying in Mat. 7:13–14 that only a few people would ever be saved? There is no direct word for “salvation” there, but “the road to life” could be taken to mean the same thing. Yet the countless multitudes of souls in heaven as reported in the Revelation should at least make us use caution in defining “few”.
- The last topics in the Sermon (Mat. 7:15–27) are all closely related: false prophets, fake believers, and those who fail to put words into action. As our more modern saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words”. But some take this to mean that words are irrelevant; they claim that doctrine is to be discarded in favor of deeds. Yet this can only be learned through doctrine, after all, so both are needed. Jesus did not say that we need no teachings, but that his teachings must be put into practice. But who are the ones Jesus will say he did not know, since they were doing all the right things? The key here is “what my Father wants”, which is all he’s been saying in this Sermon. More detail is given in the related passage of Mat. 25:41–46, where Jesus explains that the good deeds of the rejected were done selectively; that is, the lowly and truly needy were ignored.
In summary, the Sermon’s core message is that our motives are at least as important as our actions, and that our actions should be modeled after God’s actions.
Jesus then selected from among the disciples an inner circle who would be known as the Twelve (beginning Mat. 4:18, Mark 1:16, Luke 5:8). The word typically rendered “apostles” refers to people sent out or commissioned for a purpose. The most important factor is the one doing the sending, not the ones sent. So the reason the Twelve were significant is not that they were commissioned, but by whom they were commissioned. This is critical to our understanding of why only some apostles could write scripture and teach with authority on Jesus’ behalf. Everyone else is taught by other people, not directly by Jesus personally as were the Twelve. The lone exception was Paul of course, who was not part of the Twelve but was trained personally by Jesus (Gal. 1:11–12). [Some argue that it was supposed to be Paul rather than Matthias to replace Judas (see Acts 1:26). But the qualifications for replacing Judas included having been with Jesus during his entire earthly ministry (Acts 1:20–22) and being a witness of Jesus’ resurrection, which Paul was not.]
Actions and Object Lessons
The charge that would eventually get Jesus arrested and condemned by the religious leaders was his claim to be God. In John 10:22–38 Jesus is about to be stoned for this claim, but he disarms them by using their own scripture-twisting on them: he quotes a scripture that legally gets him off the hook. Yet that quotation (“Have I not said you are ’gods’?”) is often taken out of context to argue that Jesus said everyone was a god. But clearly the Pharisees were using the claim to be God as a crime worthy of death, so Jesus simply reminded them that such a claim by itself could not be enough for a conviction. This was actually a similar tactic to those used by the Adversary when he tempted Jesus in the desert. And one way to prevent such tactics being used on us is to know the context in every case. This one clearly does not show Jesus teaching that everyone is a god, but only that Jesus was quite capable of using the weapons and tactics of his enemies against them.
One familiar incident mentioned in Mat. 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10 (John 4:46–54 is very similar but probably a separate incident) is of the Roman officer whose servant was dying, yet he of all people had enough faith to know that Jesus could heal without having to go and touch the sick person. This emphasizes the importance of both faith and the object of faith. Yet it seems that only Jesus could heal at a distance, as there are no recorded cases where any of his disciples did so.
But of course the most impressive of Jesus’ miracles was raising the dead. There were at least three incidences: Luke 7:11–17 (a widow’s only son), Mark 5:35–43 (Talitha), and John 11:1–44 (Lazarus). Yet the question arises as to whether these people died again. Some would cite Heb. 9:27 to say that since people only die once then they could not die again. But the scriptures also state that Jesus would be the “firstfruits” among those who rise. It seems indisputable as well that Jesus was the first to have an immortal body after rising (1 Cor. 15:42–55). So without any evidence that these other dead were given immortal bodies, we must assume that they died again of natural causes. But this does not necessarily contradict Heb. 9:27, since not everyone will even die once (Enoch, Elijah, and the living mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:50–52). In context, the Hebrews statement is being used as an illustration for explaining why Jesus would only have to die once and not repeatedly.
It is after the raising of the widow’s son where Luke tells us of the question sent to Jesus by John the Immerser (Mat. 11:1–10 and Luke 7:18–28). We can only speculate as to the motivation for this question, but note that Jesus seemed to do many healings just for the purpose of showing John’s disciples what had been going on. Then he proceeded to confirm to the crowd that John was indeed the prophesied forerunner. So it may well be that John was having doubts, but it may also be that Jesus said and did all of this mostly for the benefit of John’s disciples.
Jesus gave two object lessons (trad. parables) using seeds and soil. One was where a farmer scattered seeds, which landed in various places. Though there is disagreement over the meaning of the story in spite of Jesus explaining it to his disciples, the clear focus is not on the seeds or the sower but on the soil. The disagreement comes over whether Jesus is saying that salvation can be lost, but remember the context: there was as yet no Congregation since Jesus had not yet died and arisen. Jesus defines the seed as “the message of the kingdom”, which was the message he was bringing to the Hebrews; it was the kingdom they would ultimately reject. So he refers to those who were already accepting him as Anointed. It can certainly be applied to the post-resurrection Congregation as well. But since that was not the primary purpose of the illustration, we should not argue over whether it applies to salvation by faith in the risen Jesus.
The other lesson was about wheat and fake wheat (trad. wheat and tares). This one is a long-range illustration, since Jesus ended it with a reference to the harvest at the end of the age (Mat. 13:39). Though the same “kingdom” terminology is used, the eventual inclusion of the Gentiles in that kingdom is clearly taught in both Testaments. There is one kingdom of God, but it includes “provinces” such as the righteous before the Flood, from the Flood to Abraham, from Abraham to Jesus, from Jesus to the post-grace time of the final phase of Daniel’s prophecy, and during the Millennium.
The purpose of any analogy or object lesson is not to make every detail meaningful but to teach a central lesson. In both cases, the point is that there will be a separation between true and false, faithful and unfaithful, saved and lost. This depends not on the message but on the recipient; each of us decides whether we are good or poor soil, genuine or fake wheat. Giving undue attention to minor details in order to support a theological position misses the point entirely.
This principle of looking for the intended point can be applied as well when we derive lessons from what Jesus did or had his disciples do. When he sent out many of them into the various towns, giving explicit instructions about what they must do and what they must not take with them, we err if we try to apply this to all Christian living. Jesus was not teaching that every Christian would need to give up all possessions, demand free food and lodging for preaching the Gospel, and literally shake the dust from their feet if a town rejected them. As he said himself in Mat. 15:24, he was sent to “the lost sheep of Israel”. This hardly means that he would not also be the savior of the Gentiles (1 Tim 4:10), but that most of what he did was primarily for the Hebrews and not the world at large. So to apply the sending out of the seventy(two) to Christianity would be to ignore this important aspect of context.
John the Immerser may have technically been a wild man living in the desert, but he also stood up to confront public officials on matters of morality. This is something Jesus never did and never taught anyone to do, yet there is no rebuke for this action; rather, Jesus only cautioned him, when he was imprisoned over this, to not lose faith due to the consequences of standing up to the authorities. So Jesus neither endorsed nor condemned John’s involvement with political issues.
Yet when John was beheaded due to the petty hatred of Herod’s wife, Jesus held him up as being greater than anyone yet born– yet nothing to be compared with even “the least in the kingdom of heaven”. But we must not jump to the conclusion that John was somehow belittled; rather, Jesus was emphasizing the great privilege and honor of being included in the kingdom of heaven.
One of the more famous miracles of Jesus was the feeding of the five (and also later four) thousand with just a few small fish and loaves of bread. It is pointless to argue over whether the Gospel writers should have counted the women and children; it is irrelevant to the central point of the incident. The point was to show that Jesus had miraculous power, and also that he had compassion for the crowds.
But there certainly is a point in noting how Jesus treated women and children. He never dismissed or belittled either group. One case in point was the foreign woman who touched the hem of his clothing to be healed. Though he objected to giving his attention to Gentiles at that time, she gave an argument in favor of an exception— and won. Just as Jesus commended the Roman officer for his great faith, so also he commended this foreign woman for her clever argument, as well as for her faith.
We have seen how he treated another foreign woman at the well in Samaria, and we will see more of how he treated women in the account of his eventual death and resurrection. But another notable woman is of course Mary, sister of Martha. Mary was doing what any student of a rabbi would do, and for a lone woman to do this was quite scandalous. It’s possible that Martha was really more upset with this than with needing help in the kitchen. Even so, Jesus only rebuked Martha gently. But the fact remains that Mary was treated as any male disciple, and disciples were expected to become teachers. Some ignore the obvious lesson Jesus is giving here in order to preserve cultural norms and roles.
As for children, Jesus held them up as the epitome of pure faith in God. He also used them as an object lesson in humility for his power-tripping disciples. This is critical for our understanding of how things are to be in the kingdom of heaven: the exact opposite of earthly kingdoms. Though of course God remains King, the subjects are not to seek levels of hierarchy. By Jesus’ own example he would give at the Last Supper, the mark of the spiritual leader is to be as humble as a child, as serving as a waiter or domestic, as lowly as a slave. Great ones in this kingdom are not found in positions of power, regardless of how benevolently that power may be wielded. Jesus taught by word and deed that it is the giving up of power and privilege, not the cleaning and polishing of them, that characterizes the true leader in the kingdom of heaven. So it follows that whoever seeks rank and privilege, regardless of any benevolent and altruistic intentions, is least in the kingdom of heaven.
Given this teaching about the nature of the kingdom of heaven, one marvels at the ingenuity required to turn the confession of Peter into a position of authority, power, and control over millions of Christians. Some may argue that such authority is necessary to protect people, but this is a mere excuse to nullify what Jesus clearly taught about his kingdom. And history has shown that such power is no protection at all, but frequently worse than any outside dangers. It also ignores the Holy Spirit in each believer.
Specifically, Jesus did not say that Peter himself was the foundation of the coming Congregation, but his profession of faith. And this same Peter was quickly called Adversary (Satan) for objecting to Jesus’ statement about his impending death, yet those who make him the “rock” of a hierarchical “church” curiously ignore this rebuke. It is inconsistent at best to make Peter the foundation of the kingdom of heaven on earth, but not the kingdom of hell on earth.
It was during the Feast of Tents (trad. tabernacles or booths) that this same Peter blurted out that he would make booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah at the Transfiguration. But we are not told why the disciples were forbidden to report this incident until after Jesus would arise from the dead, just as we are not told why Jesus forbade the demons he exorcised to say who he was. And this is when Jesus identified John the Immerser as Elijah. However, this is not literally a reincarnation of Elijah; in Luke 1:17 the Messenger tells Zacharias that he came “in the spirit and power of Elijah”.
Another important teaching deserving attention before we examine those concerning prophecy is about divorce. This question put to Jesus by the Pharisees was very specific regarding the “any cause” debate among the rabbis. Some interpreted the scriptures to allow a man to divorce his wife even if she did nothing to deserve it, while others believed the man had to prove that she had been unfaithful. So what they wanted Jesus to do was to take sides in their debate. And his answer was, essentially, that God did not recognize any invalid divorces, which is why such people would then be guilty of adultery: they were still joined before God.
This context is vital to our interpretation of what Jesus said. Many have taken it as a blanket law without limit or exception, forcing those who are already divorced in spirit to remain “unequally yoked”. As Paul would later explain in 1 Cor. 7:15, what God wants is for people to live in peace. In contrast, the legalistic “plain reading” approach has caused incalculable strife, harm, and anguish over the centuries, especially to women and children.
When asked about things to come, Jesus never gave a specific number of years as in the prophecy of Daniel.2 While he had earlier used the temple figuratively to refer to his own death and resurrection, his response to the disciples’ admiration of the literal temple was that it would be utterly ruined. And it is this statement which prompted them to inquire about the timing of that event, and signs preceding the end.
Jesus gave a list of signs to look for, beginning with the danger of deception. But we cannot say for sure how much of what he said applied to the time from then until the destruction of the physical temple, as opposed to the duration of the “church age”, or during the coming wrath of God. In hindsight we know that his followers began to suffer persecution within a short time after his ascension, and that many would stand before ruling authorities to give an account of the gospel (e.g. Paul before Festus and Agrippa). And there have certainly been plenty of false Anointeds, as well as wars all over and the dividing of families due to the Gospel.
But the one thing that cannot be mistaken for any time in history so far is what Daniel called “the abomination that causes desolation”, which according to him marks the midpoint of a seven-year treaty made and then broken by “the prince that shall come”. The consensus of scholars seems to be that the 3-1/2 years following this event is known as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) and “the Great Oppression/Tribulation” (Mat. 24:21).
There is a common claim today that those who believe that Jesus will come for us before this terrible time will be fooled by the Antichrist if they are wrong. Yet Jesus tells us that there will be no mistaking one for the other, because “the official arrival of the Human will be as the lightning that flashes across the whole sky” (Mat. 24:28). As Jesus would later reveal to the apostle John, this arrival will involve Jesus bringing us from heaven and him setting foot on the earth, splitting the mountain in two, and this happens after all the wrath of God is finished. No fake will do these things.
But why would he tell this warning to his disciples, if they will not be on earth to be deceived? Remember the context; Jesus is speaking to Hebrews who had no concept of the coming age of grace. Even after Jesus ascended, there is good reason to believe they all expected this time of trouble to begin shortly, since the prophecy about him being “cut off” had been fulfilled. So Jesus was referring to future Hebrew believers, who will only come to faith after they see the Abomination.
Jesus gives many details about this, but of course not to the extent he would later reveal to John. Yet we can match up some of it, but we must be careful to note whether he seems to be giving detail and then going back to add more, rather than a strict sequence (much the way Creation Week was recorded twice, first as a sequence and then going back to add detail). We should also remember that the context is still not about the yet-unknown Congregation (“church”), so we would not expect Jesus to discuss the Rapture. Instead, he would tell his disciples about signs that preceed the wrath of God— which may overlap those of the Rapture.
In the most extensive quotation of Jesus on this topic, Matthew 24, Jesus talks about deception, then the Abomination and then Great Oppression, and then he jumps back to what he had said earlier about being on guard against deception. This resembles a typical rhetorical device known as a chiasm,3 though Jesus is not arguing a case here. But we cannot presume that he is saying there is another time of false Anointeds after the Great Oppression ends, especially since we know that the real Anointed will return at that time and Jesus told how to identify him.
But Jesus ends this topic with a curious statement: “Where the eagles gather, there is the corpse”. In this passage, Jesus does not say it in response to the disciples’ question about where some people will be taken. So this context would connect the statement to the topic of false Anointeds, who will attract many followers the way a dead body attracts scavengers. The other parallel passages also have the warning about false Anointeds before the Abom./Great Opp., but not after, so it seems clear that this deception is only during the time when it’s most likely to work on people.
Matthew and Luke add more detail of the time preceding the Great Oppression, describing it as “like the days of Noah”. And though there may be other implications to this, all Jesus is recorded as having said about it is that people will be unaware of impending doom. And when it hits, Jesus repeats the phrase about eagles gathering, but adds that some are taken and some left. However, the context is not about false Anointeds. As stated in the footnote for Luke 17:33–37,
The familiar “taken/left” pairing is rendered here as “accepted/abandoned”, which seems more consistent with the prior examples of Noah and Lot, where the righteous are taken away and the unrighteous are left to die. But while the disciples’ question “where?” does not specify which group they are asking about, Jesus’ response seems to indicate the righteous, the ones taken.
And again, though Jesus was speaking to Hebrews who had no concept of a coming “church”, the disappearance of Christians is a sign for them to look for. It is associated with people being taken by surprise, where the righteous (Noah and family) are taken away and the unrighteous are left behind. One might challenge the notion that there is any element of surprise today, since the Rapture is a well-known teaching even among unbelievers. Yet with all the false predictions by date-setters (“crying wolf”), people are beginning to ignore them and dismiss prophecy as a load of nonsense— very likely the situation with Noah and those who paid no attention to his warnings of doom.
Another statement Jesus associated with the days of Noah is that “No one knows the day or hour”. There is much debate over what he meant: was it that no one would ever know, or they just couldn’t know at that time before the “church age”? Did it refer to the common phrase the Judeans used for the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets, since it depended on the first sighting of the new moon? Or did it only refer to non-Christians, since Paul would later say that “this day will not take you by surprise” (1 Thes. 5:1–11)? Yet even here, Jesus gave the illustration of the tree sprouting to indicate that summer was near. And he added the key phrase, “When you see all these things”, which seems to refer to only the days of Noah. We should also note that this “Day” of his coming seems to refer to the whole Great Oppression, such that all the signs which precede this day refer to the beginning of that time rather than its middle or end.
Then Jesus told of extreme cosmic events after the Great Oppression which will make it clear that it is indeed the end:
- sun and moon go dark
- stars fall from sky
- powers of heavens (skies and/or space) shaken
- extreme turbulence on earth, with oceans roaring and splashing
- the appearance of the sign of the Human in the sky
- he descends in the clouds in great power and majesty
- trumpet blast to send out Messengers to collect “the chosen” from all over “the heavens”
On the surface, the first four signs appear to match up with the 6th Seal of Revelation (Rev. 6:12–14), which is clearly not the end of the Great Oppression:
- the moon is red instead of black
- the stars fall to earth
- the sky itself “rolls up like a scroll”
- every mountain is shifted from its place.
There is at least one Old Testament reference to such things as well (Joel 2:31), and it too places them “before that great and terrible day of the Master”. So we see that very similar signs both precede and follow the 70th week of the prophecy of Daniel.
Another controversy surrounds the statement, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”: exactly which generation is Jesus referring to? Mat. 24:32–35, Mark 13:28–31, and Luke 21:29–33 record this statement as being said immediately after the signs indicating that the time is near, not that it is over. So it appears that Jesus is saying, “The generation that sees these signs preceding the judgments will live to seem them all”. That is, the duration of the “birth pangs” or “beginning of sorrows” will not extend past the length of the generation that sees them begin.
Yet “generation” is a controversy of its own: is it the lifespan of people born at a particular time, or is it the people of Israel, whom Jesus elsewhere called “an adulterous generation”? The immediate context would seem to favor the former, and since it relates to the end times, it would be reasonable to consider it the average lifespan of people then, not people in the first century, and certainly not a time cited in poetry such as the Psalms. Ignorance of context and a desire for more precision than Jesus gives have led to many tragic failures by date-setters.
Jesus gives one more event to take place at his return: the separation of the “sheep and goats” He was not recorded as having said much at all about the time following the Great Oppression beyond this, but it is clear from the context (“when he comes in his majesty”) that this happens just before the Millennium begins. The Christians had been taken to heaven and received their immortal bodies, so they are not the ones being judged. Rather, the judged group is identified as consisting of “the nations”, used in the Bible to refer almost exclusively to non-Hebrews. This leaves the Hebrews as “the least of these”. So after all the wrath is over and Jesus returns, he will immediately conduct a judgment of the mortals who survived the Great Oppression, based upon how they treated the people of Israel. Those judged righteous will repopulate the earth over the next thousand years, while the unrighteous are sent directly to “the eternal fire prepared for the False Accuser and his Messengers”.
Notice that the objections of both the sheep and goats are identical, as is Jesus’ response: whatever treatment they gave or failed to give the people of Israel, they did the same to him. Yet in spite of having exhibited what most people would consider the epitome of Christian behavior— giving aid to the hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned— the goats are rejected for their prejudice and selectiveness in how they performed these acts of charity. Their hatred for the people of Israel during the Great Oppression would turn out to be their undoing.
This passage also makes an important statement about whether this “eternal fire” actually means that souls will be continually tormented forever. Jesus assigns the same duration (aionion, an unknown length of time) to both “life” and “punishment”. That is, whatever length of time applies to life must also apply to its opposite. So since everyone agrees that life is endless, then we have no choice but to say that punishment is also endless. And though it is indeed the fire that is so described, it is also the punishment. The other references Jesus made to Gehenna cannot override (and do not contradict) the very clear meaning he gave in this passage.
Regarding the origin of the word Gehenna (see also this article), the word was originally used to describe the valley where followers of Molech sacrificed their children in fire. It became the refuse pit for Jerusalem and was kept burning in order to control the stench. Some also speculate that before the Flood it was the land of the Nephilim. So while Gehenna in Jesus’ day certainly was the local refuse dump, it had long been symbolic of the fate of the unrighteous in a place of eternal fire.
The Final Week
The final week of Jesus’ life as a mortal was filled with symbolism and prophetic significance. As stipulated in Ex. 12:1–19, the most flawless male lamb was to be selected on the 10th day of the first month, and observed until the 14th day. In addition, Zech. 9:9 says that their King would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. His entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, and his being hailed by the people as their rescuer, exactly coincided with the time the people were selecting their best lambs for the Passover, and he would spend the next four days under public scrutiny in Jerusalem.
All four Gospels give the account of the woman who anointed Jesus for burial as he reclined for a meal, although the one in Luke is of a separate incident (his account is at the home of a Pharisee, while the others are at the home of Simon the Leper). John tells us that this was none other than Mary, sister of Martha. Though his own disciples tried to scold her, Jesus defended her, and even honored her by declaring that her act would be told alongside the Gospel. Here again we see that Jesus did not treat women as social inferiors but as equals in every way.
The next main event was the preparation of the upper room, which was on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Again referencing Ex. 12:1–19, we see that this was the 14th day of the first month. But the days began at sundown, and the lambs would not be sacrificed till the following daylight hours, in mid-afternoon. The Feast itself began and ended with a Sabbath, and this particular evening was the start of Preparation Day for the first one (Mat. 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31). So though it was not the actual main Passover meal, it was a very important part of the whole Feast. And no mention is made of them having selected and sacrificed a lamb earlier in the day, had it been the actual Passover. The disciples fully expected to eat the Passover the following evening and had to have all leven (yeast) removed from the room the day before.4
As what tradition has come to call the Last Supper began that evening, Jesus was facing the full weight of what he had come to earth to accomplish. But what tradition has called “communion” or “eucharist” was, like “the Lord’s Prayer”, never meant to be a slavishly-followed rite or ordinance. Jesus stated that it was simply a remembrance; he even left the frequency of its practice up to his disciples and gave no explicit instructions on how to conduct it. Blessing the bread and drink was a very common practice whereby the blessings of God and the fellowship of brothers and sisters was celebrated. Of course, Jesus gave new symbolic meaning to the bread and wine, but it was still a remembrance and not a ritual.
He also made a very significant statement about the wine: it represented the signing, in his own blood, of a new “Will and Testament”— which is where we get the terms Old and New Testament. It is a formal contract, and in this case, a unilateral one since there was only one signer. This brings new meaning to his earlier object lesson about the wine and wineskins; the old and new were not to be mixed, and the connection here with his shed blood is undeniable.
But his washing of the disciples’ feet was no less significant. This was the duty of the household servant, the lowliest domestic. But though he had told the disciples about what makes a leader in the coming kingdom, he now acted it out in a powerful object lesson: if the Master Himself could stoop to this level and take the most humble role in society, then anyone who would claim to follow him must do the same. This is why he told Peter that failing to allow this would mean he would not be a fit disciple. Obviously Peter was being the one served there, but to have his own Master serve him was a lesson that would cut through all social norms. Tragically, it seems that the majority of disciples of all following generations would turn this lesson upside down by erecting hierarchies of rank and power among brothers and sisters, causing division. Regardless of how piously and sincerely a Christian leader may rule, it is still rule rather than the kind of service Jesus modeled.
The Gospel of John records much more of what Jesus said at that meal. One particularly meaningful passage is his promise to return using the analogy of a typical Jewish wedding. Once the couple were betrothed, the groom would go to his father’s house to prepare a place for them to live. No one would know when this place would be finished, since final approval had to come from the groom’s father. Meanwhile, the bride was to prepare herself and her wedding garments, always being ready to leave on very short notice. The groom would typically leave for her home at midnight, accompanied by his friends who held torches as they shouted and blew trumpets so the bride would know the time had come. He would wait for her outside of her home, and then they would all return to the newly-constructed living quarters for seven days of intimate union. Then a great feast would begin.
Though it is not expressly stated, the analogy to Jesus’ future return would be well-understood by the disciples that night. And the seven days surely represent the seven years of the prophecy of Daniel yet to be fulfilled, a time whose beginning would only be known by the Father. That time will also begin, as Paul would later explain, with a shout, a trumpet blast, the arrival of the Groom in the air, our coming out of our earthly home to meet him, and our happy procession to the place he has prepared for us, where we will be with him for seven years before returning to earth.
The long speech and prayer recorded by John also shows that Jesus clearly equated himself with the Father. But when he spoke of the Father giving him people, did he mean the people had no choice in the matter, as some allege? This does not logically follow; there is no necessary cause/effect correlation between the two. And Jesus did clearly state that he would “draw all people” to himself.
Another statement, about protecting people in this life rather than taking them out of it, is used by some to refute the concept of the Rapture. Yet the immediate context of that statement is specifically about the disciples he had chosen to train, since he states that he had lost none of them but his betrayer. Only after this does he extend his prayer to all who would become believers from their testimony, the vast majority of which would not be alive at the time of the Rapture anyway. But again, it does not logically follow that no exceptions would ever be made for these statements about being protected in this life rather than taken out of it. And clearly, as persecution proved, not everyone would be protected, at least physically.
When it comes to chronology, nothing has been more controversial than that of the day and time of Jesus’ trials and crucifixion. But there are some important clues in the text which help to clear up much of the confusion. Attention to detail is often the key to unlocking mysteries, so these will be sought out and examined closely.5
By the time Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, it was already late at night and possibly the very early hours after midnight. The Last Supper was not a quick snack and Jesus spoke at length, and then he spent hours in prayer in the garden. This is also why the mob that came to arrest him carried torches; it was dark. No trial was to be held at night, so for this and other reasons the trials by the ruling priests were illegal. Ironically, the most notorious rule-followers were quite willing to break them when it suited their purposes. They did this also with the money Judas would throw at their feet; their concern was that “blood money” could not be put back into the treasury.
The illegal trials were held by Annas and Caiaphas (John 18:13,24), who brought forth false witness after false witness to try and find something they could pin on Jesus, but this failed due to conflicting testimonies. It was not until Jesus affirmed their demand (under oath) for an answer to the question of whether he was the Anointed, which they deemed blasphemy, (another proof that Jesus did indeed claim to be God), that they had what they wanted. So finally they brought him to a meeting of the Sanhedrin, and by this time it was dawn (Mat. 27:1, Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66), which was the “zero” hour of daylight.6 The well-known denials of Peter also ended at dawn as the rooster crowed, which was just before Jesus was taken to Pilate.
But they would need a secular charge in order to get the Romans to execute him, so off they went to Pilate, the governor, who determined that there was no legitimate grounds for such a charge. Then he was sent to Herod, who questioned him at length in the hope of seeing him perform some miracle. Then it was back to Pilate, who told the accusers that neither he nor Herod found any reason for charges to be filed. We should note that at this point John states it was “still the Preparation for the Passover, about noon”. So the Passover itself had not yet begun, and the time was “about the sixth hour”. By our reckoning, then, it was perhaps around 11 a.m.
In desperation to have Jesus executed, his accusers came up with a devious strategy: they would threaten Pilate with losing his status as “a Friend of Caesar”, a designation which granted certain privileges with Rome. Pilate was then faced with either acting according to law, or acting according to self-preservation, and clearly he chose the latter. Though he absolved himself of the guilt of this act (and the people tragically accepted that guilt “on us and our children”), his choice was solely his own.
Finally Pilate gave the order and Jesus was taken away, and by this time it was noon (Mat. 27:45). There are many articles that detail the horrible torture, not only of the crucifixion but the scourging, which left the victim’s skin and muscles shredded to ribbons. But this suffering is not what saved us; it was his death and resurrection alone. Many righteous people have suffered greatly, so if this could pay for sins, Jesus would not have had to come. Many have also been martyred, but if sinful human blood could pay for sins, Jesus would not have had to come.
The darkness mentioned in Mat. 27:45 lasted until 3 p.m., and near the beginning of that span is when the two thieves crucified with Jesus had their conversation (Luke 23:32–44). Then, as the darkness lifted, the curtain in the temple was ripped in half from top to bottom— and that curtain was about four inches (10 cm) thick. Though the significance of this is not stated explicitly, the most likely reason for it is to show that, because of what Jesus was doing, there was no longer any need for a temple and priesthood on earth (see Heb. 7). Then Jesus shouted “It is finished/paid in full!” at the same time of day as the ruling priest, who was to say those same words as the lambs were sacrificed.
Regarding the wish of the Pharisees to have the victims killed quickly since the Passover would start at sundown (yet another instance of legalistic hypocrisy), it is helpful to know the reason for breaking the legs. It is believed that the victims breathing muscles were numb after having their arms stretched out for hours, so for each exhale they would have to push themselves up with their legs, an extremely painful action since their feet were nailed to a small platform on the upright portion of the cross. By breaking the victims’ legs they would bring quick death through suffocation. But Jesus had stopped his own heart, as evidenced by the report in John 19:34–37: blood and water came out separately when the soldier pierced his heart to make absolutely sure he was dead. This separation indicates that the piercing is not what killed him, as it takes some time for this to occur.
The law concerning the Passover in Ex. 12:10, 34–35 was that no lamb be left by morning; it had to be consumed that night. So in yet another instance where ritual pointed to reality, Jesus’ body was taken down and buried, placed as it were “in the belly of the earth” as the other lambs were in the bellies of the people. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemas prepared the body “according to custom” (John 19:38). This was not the hasty laying of a single sheet over the body, but layers of wrapping and aromatic spices the way people wrapped mummies. The head was covered in a separate piece of cloth, which would be pointed out later when Peter and John examined the empty tomb (John 20:6–7). The only thing done due to the shortness of time was to place the body in a borrowed tomb.
Matthew tells us that it was during the daylight hours of the Passover (the following day by modern reckoning) that the Pharisees had the tomb sealed (Mat. 27:62–66). Meanwhile, the women observed the burial, and we must carefully examine the details concerning whether it was before or after the Passover Sabbath that they bought and prepared spices of their own (Luke 23:56 and Mark 16:1). But Luke does not say exactly when the spices were purchased and prepared, neither activity of which could be done on either the Passover Sabbath or the weekly Sabbath. It is clear in Luke that the women observed the burial on the Preparation Day, but highly doubtful that they would have had time to purchase and prepare the spices in the very short time from then to the start of the Passover Sabbath. So since Mark’s account has the women buying and preparing spices after the Sabbath, it appears that this happened on a day between the Passover Sabbath (Wednesday evening to Thursday evening) and the weekly Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday evening).
Final Week Timeline
The following is a list of events according to Jewish days (sundown to sundown) in the first month of their year. This 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.
- Nisan 9: Jesus visits Bethany (John 12:1)
- Nisan 10
- Morning: The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1–10, John 12:12–19)
- Evening: Jesus visits the temple, then returns to Bethany (Mark 11:11)
- Nisan 11: Jesus drives the merchants from the temple (Mat. 21:12, Mark 11:12–18, Luke 19:45)
- Nisan 12: Two days till Passover, which begins with Preparation Day when Jesus would be handed over to be killed (Mat. 26:1, Mark 14:1)
- Nisan 13: nothing specific for this day
- Nisan 14 (Preparation Day)
- Sundown: the Last Supper (Mt. 26:17–35, Mark 14:12–31, Luke 22:7–38, John 13:1ff)
- Night: Gethsemane (Mat. 26:36–56, Mark, 14:32–52, Luke 22:39–53, John 18:1–12)
- Night: to Annas and then Caiaphas (Mat. 26:57–68, Mark 14:53–65, Luke 22:54,63–65, John 18:13,24)
- Sunrise: to the Sanhedrin (Mat. 27:1, Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66–71)
- Morning: to Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again (Mat. 27:2,11–14, Mark 15:1–5, Luke 23:1–23, John 18:28–19:4)
- Late Morning: Jesus presented to the crowd (Mat. 27:15–25, Mark 15:6–14, Luke 23:24, John 19:5–15)
- Noon: Jesus crucified (Mat. 27:26–44, Mark 15:15–32, Luke 23:25–43, John 19:16–29)
- Noon till three: darkness (Mat. 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44–45)
- Three p.m.: Jesus dies, temple curtain ripped (Mat. 27:50–51, Mark 15:37–38, Luke 23:45–46, John 19:30) while lambs are being killed
- Between three and six p.m.: Jesus buried (Mat. 27:57–61, Mark 15:42–47, Luke 23:50–54, John 19:31–42)
- Nisan 15 (Passover, a “special Sabbath”, night/day one): tomb is sealed (Mat. 27:62–66)
- Nisan 16 (night/day two): women buy spices for burial (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56)
- Nisan 17 (weekly Sabbath, night/day three)
- Nisan 18 (First Fruits, third day from tomb being sealed)
- Between three and six a.m.: Jesus arises (Mark 16:9)
- Dawn: women go to tomb (Mat. 28:1–8, Mark 16:2–8, Luke 24:1–8, John 20:1)
- Afternoon: the two walking to Emmaus (Mark 16:12–13, Luke 24:13–35)
- Near sunset: Jesus appears in the locked upper room (Mat. 28:9, Mark 16:14, Luke 24:36–49, John 20:19)
Post-resurrection to Ascension
Referencing the timeline in the previous section, we need to calculate the total span of time from when Jesus was buried to when he arose. Remember that when the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, the only one he gave was “the sign of Jonah” (Mat. 12:38–40, 16:1–4, Luke 11:29–32). But exactly how many days was he to be in the grave? Mat. 12:40 has “three days and three nights”, Mat. 27:62-64 has “after three days”, and Luke 24:19-21 has “the third day”. It should be obvious that “three days and three nights” is very specific and leaves no room for doubt: it clearly indicates three periods of 24 hours (one wonders how this could be stated more precisely). The other statements are less precise: both “after three days” and “the third day” depend on the starting point as a reference. In addition, when the two walking to Emmaus say “it is the third day since all these things happened”, we are left to wonder what “all these things” include. The last thing having to do with Jesus was the sealing of the tomb on the Passover (Mat. 27:62), which would not conflict with the amount of time Jesus was in the grave.
Though most translations obscure the detail about what day it was when Jesus had arisen, the Greek of Mat. 28:1 has a curious phrase: “After the Sabbaths, when it was nearing dawn on the First of Sabbaths”. The First of Sabbaths was an expression for the first of the seven weeks leading up to Pentecost (a.k.a. the Feast of Weeks). That particular day, always the first day of the week after Passover, was when the offering of “firstfruits” was made (Lev. 23:9–21). And it was very, very early on that morning when the women went to the tomb, just as light was barely beginning to appear. But Jesus was already out before then, so his resurrection had to have taken place sometime during the dark on that day, which we must remember began at sundown on what we consider the day before. Mark 16:9 says that Jesus arose early [prOi, the last watch of the night, about 3–6 a.m.].
The first people to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection were the women who had come to the tomb bringing the spices they had prepared. It’s interesting to note that though the earlier arrival of the Messenger terrified the guards to the point that they passed out, the women did not faint at all. Then Jesus gave them the very first commission to spread the Gospel of his resurrection. But being women, the men did not believe them, and Jesus eventually rebuked them for this.
Jesus also appeared to the two walking to Emmaus. But another detail is given, whose point is often missed: Jesus was able to use the scriptures (only what we call the Old Testament at the time) to show how the Anointed had to suffer all those things, die, and then rise again. This is not so easy for us today, since our translations use the Masoretic text for the Hebrew, and this text, done several hundred years after the resurrection, obscured all such references in a deliberate attempt by the scribes and rabbis to thwart the claims of early Christians that Jesus was indeed the promised Anointed. This, plus the fact that at Jesus’ birth we are told that some were indeed expecting the Anointed at that time (Luke 2:26, 38), combine to refute the claims of some that nobody then was expecting a Savior.
Between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus appeared not only to the women and the Eleven, but to over 500 people (1 Cor. 15:6) over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). He also gave what is known as the Great Commission (Mat. 28:17–20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46–48, Acts 1:8). Technically, this was only given directly to the Eleven, but everyone agrees that this was meant for all believers. Yet if it was meant for all of us, then it isn’t just certain credentialed people who are to preach and teach. And as already discussed regarding “baptism”, this is the immersion of the Holy Spirit, not water, and it happens at the moment of faith (Acts 1:4–5, 2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5, Eph. 1:13–14).
Jesus’ ascension is recorded in Mark 16:19–20, Luke 24:50–53, and Acts 1:9–11. This was witnessed by at least the Eleven but possibly more, as Luke and Acts are not specific, and Mark does not necessarily rule out the presence of others. But all accounts have Jesus rising up into the air and then being hidden in a cloud, after which a Messenger appears to tell the disciples that Jesus would return the same way he left. Again regarding the use of this as proof that there will be no Rapture, we should note that the Rapture is not his formal second coming. However, Paul states in 1 Thes.4:13–18 that we will meet Jesus in the clouds.
- 1Luke only actually uses the word “son” when he says “Jesus, the son, so it was thought, of Joseph”. The rest of them only have “of”. Consider also the fact that Luke is more focused on Mary in the early chapters.
- 2Specifically, Dan. 9:24–27, which extends to the end of history. Just as Jesus said it would be, the temple was destroyed in 70 a.d. by Titus, a Roman who eventually became Emperor. This fulfilled Dan. 9:26 but was not the final ’seven’. Since all of the preceding ’sevens’ were groups of years, so also must be the last, and 70 years is ten times too long. Also, the existing temple was not destroyed right away when Jesus was “cut off”.
- 3A chiasm is where a main point is sandwiched between two other points, with any number of steps between them on either side of the main point. The pattern is a-b-c-X-c-b-a. Recognizing this pattern tells us that the pivot point is the main thrust of the argument.
- 4See Last Supper: Was it the Passover Meal? for a detailed analysis proving that Jesus and the disciples could not have been eating the properly-sacrificed Passover lamb. (Disclaimer: this is not an endorsement of other material at that website.)
- 5For a more detailed study, see From Triumphal Entry to Resurrection.
- 6A 24-hour day began at sundown and was divided into segments in either of two ways: “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 more precision very 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.