The Life of Jesus Christ
Around AD 30, in the Roman province of Judaea (modern-day Israel, Jordan, and Palestine), a religious movement begins, centered around the teaching of a man named Jesus who grew up in a small village called Nazareth. He travels around the province, telling everyone to change their way of thinking and acting in order to prepare for God’s kingdom which is arriving.
Although the religious authorities of the Hebrew faith have maintained the written Law that was given to them through the prophet Moses centuries before, Jesus corrects their understanding, telling them that they have become focused on externally observing only the text of the Law, without understanding or practicing the real, interior meaning—to love God with all of one’s own being, and to love each other person as he or she were one’s own life. Although Jesus does not call for rebellion against the religious authorities—in fact, He tells the people to listen to them—He challenges them to live in such a way that they show the love and mercy that God wants for all.
Many of the people begin to follow Jesus, becoming His apprentices (‘disciples’ in Latin). From among these crowds of followers, twelve stand out for their dedication, and they form the core of the movement surrounding Jesus. The religious leadership, rather than accepting the truth of what Jesus has been saying, become envious and embittered by the following He has gathered. Further, they fear they will lose what power they have.
Many scholars are sent to challenge Jesus on the Law—some deliberately trying to trap Him with absurd scenarios—but His answers demonstrate a masterful understanding of the Law, and an unexpected ability to cut through their deceptions while still rendering meaningful answers. He begins to challenge them as well with questions that pertain to His own identity. They are unable, or unwilling, to answer and—understanding that they are outmatched—they stop challenging Him.
What is also disconcerting to the religious leaders is that Jesus identifies Himself as the one who has been foretold to save God’s people—the Anointed One (‘Christ’ in Greek, ‘Messiah’ in Hebrew). He refers to His ministry as inaugurated by God the Father Himself, and not by any merely human initiative. He teaches His apprentices that the prophecies contained in the sacred writings of the Jewish people (the Hebrew Scriptures, now called the ‘Old Testament’ by Christians) speak of Him, that the ancient first-father of the Jewish people, Abraham, had rejoiced to one day see Jesus come. In a heated exchange, the religious leaders ask how Abraham could have done any such thing; Jesus replies that He has existed from even before Abraham, who lived some 1,500 years prior! He identifies Himself as the only way to God the Father, that without eating His body and drinking His blood no one could have life. At this last teaching, many of His apprentices leave Him.
All the time that Jesus has been teaching, He has also been healing—giving sight to blind people, curing others of chronic illness, helping deaf people to hear, casting out evil spirits (called ‘demons’ in Greek) that have taken over some people, and even raising others from the dead. The religious leaders, who have already decided that Jesus’ teaching is opposed to their own, claim that these miracles are actually from an evil source. When challenged on how this could be, they have no answer. Finally, Jesus raises a man named Lazarus, a personal friend of His, from the dead. What is unique this time is that Lazarus had been dead four days, and his body had already begun to decompose—the Jewish belief was that the soul was permanently separated from the body after three days, and so Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is even more astonishing. His popularity grows so much, that when He arrives at the capital city of the province, Jerusalem, the crowds of people greet Him as though He were their king. This is the last straw for the religious leaders: at this point they conspire to have Jesus murdered.
Motivated by greed, one of the apprentices in Jesus’ core group of twelve, named Judas, decides to go to the religious leaders and in return for payment, to tell them where they can find Jesus in order to take Him prisoner. Once they capture Jesus, they put Him on trial, calling forward many false accusers, and finally the High Priest confronts Him on the burning question, invoking his priestly authority in the Name of God: is Jesus the Anointed One, the Son of God, foretold by the prophecies in the sacred writings? Jesus must answer a question posed in the Name of God by the High Priest, so He frankly replies that He is—that they will witness Him at the right hand of God the Father. The High Priest accuses Jesus of blasphemy—a crime punishable by death.
In Roman Judaea, however, only the Roman Governor has the authority to enact capital punishment, so the religious leaders bring Jesus to the Governor, Pontius Pilate, and claim that Jesus is setting Himself up as a rival to the Roman-appointed king of Judaea: Herod. These charges of treason would warrant death were they true, but Pilate—after questioning Jesus—does not find that He has any aspirations to political takeover. Finally, with the crowds threatening to riot, and the religious leaders invoking Caesar as their king (an identification prohibited by their own religious Law), Pilate caves in to their pressure and orders the execution of Jesus.
They place Jesus on a cross: a wooden t-shaped frame designed to kill slowly and painfully—often over the course of several days. Jesus dies by around 3 o’ clock that afternoon, and as He dies, the sun is eclipsed and the earth quakes. He is buried, and His apprentices hide, mourning the death of their beloved teacher.
On the third day of Jesus’ death, a group of women go to His tomb in order to finish the process of wrapping His body with the traditional spices and linens. While they are walking and trying to figure out how they will gain access to the tomb—a large stone had been placed to seal the opening—they notice that a man, shining brightly and dressed in dazzling white, is at the tomb; the stone has been rolled away. He tells them that Jesus is not in the tomb, but has risen up again—they are to tell the rest of His apprentices.
Although all doubt at first, Jesus appears among them—miraculously walking through locked doors, appearing and disappearing in a moment—and for forty days He continues to teach them. On the fortieth day, He ascends into the heavens and promises to be with them until the end of time, and He sends them out to tell all the nations of the world about Him, initiating them into the Assembly, or Church, through the Mystery of Baptism. Ten days later, these envoys, or ‘Apostles’ (from Greek), of Jesus are gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost, which has brought together Jews from all over the Mediterranean and Middle East. While the Apostles are relating to the gathered Jews all that has happened to Jesus, the promised Messiah, God the Holy Spirit descends on them and they begin relating this message to each in his or her own native language. Thus, the message of Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen, spreads throughout the known world.
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