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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

57 - The Life and Times of Jesus - Introduction

Updated: 6 days ago

1) This is the beginning of the study of all four Gospels will take each of them in turn and expect this to take probably more than two years complete based on time and availability to prepare notes and be here sharing.

2) I want to note at the outset that this study is not just for Christian believers. Whether you are sympathetic toward Jesus and Christianity, just checking it out or even hostile to Christianity I believe you will benefit from this exploration of the topic. I believe that ignorance of the facts about the life of Jesus leaves one greatly impoverished in their education on history, culture and theology.

3) Before we spend this kind of time on a single topic, and a single set of documents it seems prudent up front to ask why we would spend so much time on studying the life and times of Jesus. Well, there are a few reasons and here they are:

a. Historical Impact of Jesus - History for 2000 years really can’t be understood without knowledge of Jesus.

i. Likely the most important historical figure in history. No one in history has had or, in my opinion, will ever have a bigger impact on mankind and in society than Jesus.

ii. Some people believe:

1. That Jesus was an entirely invented figure.

2. That Jesus was a real man and just a man who developed a cult following no different than Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard or David Koresh except in extent of success.

3. Some believe he was a good moral teacher but not necessarily more so than other good moral teachers.

4. Some take a very negative view of Jesus and his teaching while others take a liberation view saying that Jesus is central message was the liberation of oppressed peoples.

5. Muslims consider him to be the Messiah but not the son of God.

6. And Christians consider him to be God in the flesh the son of the living God the Messiah. In part because Jesus himself seemed to claim this in some very interesting ways.

iii. Regardless of which of these positions you take everyone believes something about Jesus and the life of Jesus has had an impact on you and your life where you live.

iv. You might discover that the teachings of the Church and the teachings of Jesus aren’t always the same and that Jesus is a different figure than you have been led to believe by some churches or church people.

b. Cultural impact of the church:

i. Whether you are sympathetic to the Church and it’s mission or not, the impact of the church and now the impact of it’s decline in places has been vast and you really can’t understand either history or contemporary events without understanding this phenomenon. Many of our values both past and present come directly from the teachings of Jesus and the development of western culture really can’t be understood without understanding Jesus and the truth claims of Christianity.

ii. For this reason, just as with any historical movement that has had a wide and broad impact there is value in studying how it is that this thing called Christianity and the Church grew to be so large by studying the founder, who he was and what he taught.

4) It also seems reasonable before we spend this much time and effort to ask where we would get our information and is the information reliable?

a. Some say the Bible has been copied too many times and can’t be trusted:

i. I’ve answered this at length in episodes two and three on how we got the Bible what its origins are as well as evidence supporting its accurate transmission so if you want an in-depth study of those things, you can go back and check out those early episodes of the footlight broadcast where I spent about two hours discussing those things. For that reason, given limited time and to keep this episode from being too lenghtly, if that’s an important question for you please check out those episodes. Suffice it to say for now the evidence for the credibility of the Gospels is so substantial that it’s not in dispute whether or not these writings are in fact accurately transmitted to us.

b. Some say these are the Gospels chosen by the church to promote a narrative and that other Gospels (for example the Gospel of Barnabas) were left out because they didn’t agree with the facts of these four gospels. This simply isn’t true either. Again, I’ll refer to you episodes two and three for a deeper expository on this, but the long and short of it is that the other gospels were found to be fraudulent or unreliable for other reasons and had been found to be so from their earliest known circulation and for this reason they were rejected by the church from the beginning.

c. The Authors were biased and can’t be trusted:

i. While it’s certainly true that the authors were biased toward Jesus, this fact on its own doesn’t make them dishonest. Most biographers of historical figures write biographies from the position of admiration. Some write from a position of antagonism. Even those who work very hard to be evenhanded typically have a bias toward or against their subject. None of this is important unless the biographer is dishonest.

ii. We have four authors of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

1. Matthew who was also known as Levi was a tax collector and a companion of Jesus.

2. Mark, also known as John Mark, was a disciple of Peter in the Gospel of Mark is considered to be the Gospel according to Peter. Peter was also a companion of Jesus.

3. Luke was not a companion of Jesus; he was a physician who traveled with Paul and was known to be with and have associated with the other apostles. Luke is not a first-hand account but is considered to contain reliably gathered information from first-hand sources.

4. John was a companion of Jesus. Some critics have disputed John’s authorship of this gospel, but those disputes have been very recent in the early church accepted this as being authored by John from the earliest dates. Polycarp, who we know was a disciple of John, accepted this and taught it as being from John.

5. All four of the Gospels are unnamed internally. In other words, the author never says, this is the gospel according to Matthew etc. those words are typically put above the text by publishers and printers of Bibles. The reason we know who wrote them is because this was the consistent teaching of the church from the very beginning. As these documents began to circulate the early church attributed their authorship to these men and those claims went undisputed until the 20th century.

6. What we have are three eyewitness accounts: Matthew, Mark and John. We also have one researched account from Luke.

7. In any court examining evidence, there is no higher standard than an eyewitness account. When you have several eyewitnesses making a claim to the same set of facts you end up with an airtight case, unless those eyewitnesses are dishonest or colluding together in a scheme of dishonesty.

8. When you have collusion toward dishonesty is always for reason of advantage to the witness or advantage to the defendant. However, in the climate of the Roman occupation and dominance of the Sanhedrin over Jewish culture, these writers were putting themselves at substantial risk by advocating for Jesus’ divinity and kingship. In other words, there was nothing in it but trouble for the authors. This has been suggested, and I would also suggest, that this is the primary reason that these Gospels don’t contain the authors’ names.

iii. The Christian Scriptures are the only references to Jesus in historical documents.

1. Not true, we have references to Jesus in documents from Roman Historians who were indifferent, a Jewish Historian who was more likely than not hostile to Christianity and the Jewish Talmud which is certainly a hostile source.

2. All of these bear witness to the existence of Jesus and all three to his execution by crucifixion. The Talmud calls him a sorcerer bearing witness to some supernatural phenomena associated with Jesus.

5) For the Christian believer the reasons to study the Gospels are much expanded and are indeed a profitable use of your time and energy.

a. The term “Christian” is one that means “a follower of Jesus” or a disciple.

b. Acts 11:26 tells us “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch”.

c. Disciple is a word that means student or learner. Jesus said 31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” John 8:31

d. A great many people call themselves Christians and think they are because they were born into a Christian family, attend church or were born into America or another country that is a dominantly Christian country. Yet many of these people, and maybe you are one of them, have never endeavored to seriously study the life of Jesus and what he taught in a way that would allow them to “abide” in his word.

e. Abiding in the word has a dual meaning. It means knowing and understanding the words of Jesus, and it also means to abide in Jesus who is the Word made flesh.

f. Paul tells us that we are to “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” 1 Cor 1:11

g. For the Christian believer my hope and prayer is that as we study the Gospels together that you will develop a deeper an more intimate view of who Jesus was, how he lived and, most importantly, what he taught.

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