How do we know about Jesus?
Everything we know about the life of Jesus comes from the Bible. Jesus’ name is not mentioned in any other source written during his lifetime. No book written within the lifetimes of people who might have known him mentions him either.
When and where was Jesus born?
According to the Bible, Jesus was born during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus, about 4 BC. (There is some disagreement about exactly when.) The Bible says he was born in Israel, in the town of Bethlehem. And he grew up near Bethlehem, in Nazareth. When he was about 30, Jesus took to preaching in public like his cousin John the Baptist. That was in the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius,
What did Jesus preach?
Jesus had many new ideas to talk about. He told people that after the Last Judgment at the end of time they would either go to Heaven or go to Hell. He told people that faith in God, and in Jesus as the son of God, were the most important ways of getting into Heaven. And Jesus said that God no longer wanted animal sacrifices, because Jesus himself was going to be the biggest sacrifice ever. And if you believed in Jesus then his sacrifice would be for you too.
Jesus and Buddhism
In the time of Jesus, the rapid spread of Buddhism out of India east to China and west to Iran and Iraq must have been very inspiring. Buddhism had shown that with the rise of the great empires, people felt a need for a new kind of religion, a world religion, that would stand up for them as a counter-balance to the power of the emperors.
Now the Romans were building a new, powerful empire around the Mediterranean. They were taking over Israel. So Jesus established a second world religion to balance Roman power.
Jesus, Zoroastrianism, and Egypt
Because he was Jewish, Jesus built most of his new religion on Jewish ideas about the Messiah coming. But he also included some Zoroastrian ideas that were also popular around West Asia. The idea of Heaven and Hell, opposing God and the Devil, comes from Zoroastrianism, for example. Jesus adopted some old ideas that all Eastern Mediterranean people shared, like believing in only one god. But other old ideas, like not making pictures of people, or not eating pork, seem to have been less important to Jesus.
How did Jesus live?
Like some other people of his time, Jesus acted like a holy man. He wore simple clothes. He wouldn’t take money for anything he did for people. Jesus healed sick people, and he travelled around. He seems to have wanted his followers to live like a family. He thought they should share all their money and food, and not buy or sell things.
Jesus and the end of the world
Jesus seems to have believed – and his followers believed that the end of the world was about to come. In just a few years, it would all be over, and people would be reborn in the next world. Because he thought the world was about to end, Jesus wasn’t super concerned with how people should live in this life. He told them not to worry about that. Money and power didn’t matter. Instead, his followers should concentrate on preparing themselves for the next life.
Jesus makes enemies
After a few years of preaching, (again according to the Bible) Jesus got in trouble with the Jewish leaders in Israel. They didn’t believe he was the son of God. So they didn’t like him going around telling people that. And they were worried that all this preaching would get the Jews in trouble with the Romans.
The Jewish leaders went to the Roman governor of the province, Pontius Pilate. (His name does appear in an inscription found by archaeologists.) They told Pilate that Jesus was getting too powerful.
Pilate was also afraid that Jesus might be leading a rebellion against Rome. Or in any case, if the new religion got too powerful it might stand up against Roman power. So he ordered his soldiers to hang Jesus from a cross until he was dead. (This was a normal Roman punishment for criminals.)
Did you find out what you wanted to know about the life of Jesus? Let us know in the comments!
Learn by doing: read the book of Matthew in the Bible
More about the Apostles