5/4 B.C. to A.D. 33 Part 1
Galatians 4:4 – But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son…
The birth of Christ is without a doubt one of the most significant events of human history. Indeed, history itself is commonly divided into two eras – “before Christ” and “in the year of the Lord” (A.D., for the Latin anno Domini). The purpose of this chapter is to present a brief chronology of Christ’s birth and life and then explore the region of Galilee, which was the major geographical center of His earthly ministry. The dates that are used here are those that are set forth in Harold W. Hoehner’s Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.
Chronology of Events
The Birth of Christ
Christ was born in Bethlehem in the winter of 5/4 B. C. This date needs some explanation. The dating system of the present Christian era was invented by a monk in Italy, Dionysius Exiguus, at the request of the Pope. He placed Christ’s birth at 753 A.U.C. (from the founding of Rome), failing to take into account that Christ was born during the rule of Herod the Great, who died in 750 A.U.C. The error was recognized in the ninth century, but the dating system has continued to the present day. Thus, Christ was actually born “before Christ” according to the errant dating system that we still follow.
After the visit by the Magi, Joseph took his family to Egypt to escape Herod the Great’s bloodletting in the Bethlehem region. This is covered in Matthew 2: 1 – 12. Josephus reports that Herod died in March or April of 4 B.C. Joseph then no longer feared the terrible king and prepared to take his family back home.
When he discovered that the successor to the throne, Archelaus, shared his father’s terrible temper, Joseph was afraid to go back to Bethlehem. God warned him in a dream and told him to go instead to Galilee and he settled his family in Nazareth. This was where Jesus lived and grew until he began his public ministry. The gospels shed no light on his early life except for one incident in the Temple at the age of 12.
The Inauguration of Christ’s Ministry
It was probably about A.D. 28 or 29 when John the Baptist began his preaching. As the messianic forerunner, he announced Christ’s soon coming and tried to prepare the people to welcome him when the time came. Those who repented were baptized by John in the Jordan River.
In the summer of A.D. 29, Jesus also came to the river to be baptized and was introduced as the “Lamb of God”. He was baptized by John at Bethany beyond the Jordan, about 8 miles southeast of Jericho. Jesus was then tempted for 40 days in the Wilderness of Judah, and He and his first disciples journeyed 3 days to go to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It was there that Jesus performed His first miracle by giving his disciples a foretaste of kingdom blessings.
The Early Judean Ministry
After a visit to Capernaum, Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, where he attended the first Passover of his public ministry. This would have been April 7, A.D. 30. There he found the temple precincts mobbed by merchants and money changers. He overthrew their tables and drove them out (John 2: 13 – 22). This act had messianic significance, since Jesus was thereby claiming authority over his Father’s House. The Jews didn’t challenge the legitimacy of the temple cleansing, but they did question Jesus’ authority to carry it out.
After the Passover, Jesus continued his ministry in Judea until early A.D. 31. He spent time there with his disciples and they baptized many people. At this time, John had nearly fulfilled his purpose and his ministry was on the decline.
When John was arrested by Herod Antipas, Jesus withdrew to the north. John had been arrested for speaking out publicly against the incestuous marriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. According to Josephus, John was imprisoned and later put to death at the Transjordan site of Machaerus, which had originally been fortified as a desert retreat by Herod the Great. The arrest and imprisonment of John led Jesus to withdraw to the quieter districts of Galilee.
The Samaritan Ministry
On his way to Galilee, probably in January or February of A.D. 31, Jesus passed through Samaria and met the woman at “Jacob’s well”. The village of “Sychar” is identified with Askar, 1/2 mile north of the well. Tombs from the Roman period have been found at this site. Sitting by the well between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, Jesus offered the Samaritan women “living water” and instructed her concerning the nature of true worship. His ministry to the Samaritans was very significant, because they were regarded as outcasts by the Jews. This would be another sign that He was not just the Savior of the Jews, but of all mankind, including the “unclean” Samaritans. They themselves acknowledged that He was the Savior of the World.
A picture of the traditional site of Jacob’s Well is at the bottom of this text.
The Galilean Ministry
After ministering in Samaria, Jesus then journeyed north to Cana of Galilee, where he healed the nobleman’s son before he returned again to Nazareth, the place of his childhood. After he had preached at Nazareth, the people turned against him, so he left there for Capernaum and adopted it as his hometown.
From that time on, he began to proclaim the message that John the Baptist had preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Jesus freely journeyed with his disciples about Galilee for a time teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and authenticating his message by a ministry of healing.
A real turning point is recorded in Matthew 12, where Jesus is accused by the religious leaders of doing his miracles by Satan’s power rather than God’s. He refuted their accusations and charged them with blaspheming the Holy Spirit’s work in his life. Then he denied them any further signs of miracles “except the sign of the prophet Jonah” – which was His own resurrection.
After he knew that he had been rejected by both the religious leaders and the multitude, he started to speak to his disciples through parables about “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven”. This method of instruction was a means of revealing truth to the people who wanted to receive it, and conceal it from the ones who rejected Him.
He continued to minister to the multitudes, but gave great priority time to the training of the Twelve, who would carry on what He had taught them after His death.
The Training of the Twelve in Districts Around Galilee
It was the year before His death during the spring Passover season of A.D. 32. Jesus was ministering to his disciples at a deserted place in the vicinity of Bethsaida-Julias. Even in such a deserted place, the throng of people sought them out because they were so hungry for His teaching. It was here that the miracle occurred of the “feeding of the five thousand”, which was to give his disciples a lesson regarding the sufficiency they would have in their ministries as they depended upon Him.
This miracle was followed by Jesus’ discourse at Capernaum where He declared, “I am the bread of life” in John 6: 22-59.
At this period of his ministry, Jesus frequently withdrew from the district of Galilee for what seems like three reasons: First, he wanted to spend time with his disciples. Second, he wanted to avoid Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea who had put John the Baptist to death. Third, he wanted to expand the disciples’ concept of ministry to include the Gentiles.
The disciples experienced some really high points in the development of their faith during this period. It was near Caesarea Philippi that Peter made his great confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. This faith was also enhanced as Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John. This probably took place on the 9,100 ft. Mount Hermon.
The Later Judean and Perean Ministry
In the fall of A.D. 32, Jesus traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. The major discussion among those that attended was trying to find out who the Galilean rabbi was. Opinion was divided as to whether he was good or bad. Jesus took the opportunity to clarify the issue by speaking to the people in the temple.
Although the religious leaders got furious and tried to arrest Jesus, He got out without any one laying a hand upon Him. All the people knew that no man had ever spoken like He did before. After the feast was over and the ceremonial candelabra had been extinguished, Jesus spoke of Himself as the “light of the world”. Then he proved this claim by giving sight to the man that had been born blind in John 9.
In December of A.D. 32, Jesus was back in Jerusalem for the feast of Dedication. After He claimed oneness with the Father, He was charged with blasphemy and barely escaped being stoned to death. After a brief ministry in Perea, he returned to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead.
This event was the final straw for all the religious leaders. It caused so much publicity that they decided that the only thing they could do was to put him to death. From that day on, they tried to figure out how they could do this thing and be rid of Him.
Jesus withdrew to the borders of Samaria to the village of Ephraim for a time with His disciples. This was before returning to Galilee and later beginning His final journey to Jerusalem for the last time.
His final journey and what happened there will be covered in the next text.