A photo capturing a serene church interior, bathed in warm, golden light, with a single Bible open on a pew, symbolizing the sacredness and knowledge associated with Jesus.

What Do We Know About Jesus?

For over 2,000 years, Jesus of Nazareth has captivated the minds and hearts of billions of people around the world. If you’re looking for a quick answer about what we know about this immensely influential historical figure, here it is: Jesus was a Jewish preacher and religious leader who lived in ancient Judea during the 1st century AD.

He founded Christianity through his life, teachings, death, and believed resurrection. He is considered by Christians to be the Son of God and the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore what history and scholarship can tell us about Jesus. We will cover his life story, his moral and religious teachings, the miracles attributed to him, his execution by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, and the origins and growth of the Christian movement based on the belief that he rose from the dead and was the long-awaited Messiah.

The Sources on the Historical Jesus

The New Testament

The New Testament contains four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – written in the 1st century CE, which describe the life and teachings of Jesus. These are the primary sources on the historical Jesus.

The gospels give details about Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection, and contain many of his teachings and sayings. Though they sometimes differ on specifics, most scholars believe they present a generally reliable picture of Jesus as an itinerant Jewish preacher who attracted followers, clashed with authorities and was crucified by the Romans around 30 CE.

Non-Christian Sources

There are a few references to Jesus in non-Christian sources from antiquity. These include the Jewish historian Josephus (37 – c. 100 CE), who makes a brief reference to Jesus and his crucifixion. The Roman historian Tacitus (c. 56 – c. 120 CE) also mentions Christ and his execution under Pontius Pilate.

These references help corroborate basic aspects of Jesus’ life like his crucifixion under Pilate. However, they provide little detail about his life or teachings.

Archaeological Evidence

Archaeology offers tantalizing clues about the world of Jesus. Excavations in Jerusalem have uncovered stone vessels and chalkstone cups like those mentioned in the gospels. Galilean sites like Capernaum and Bethsaida have uncovered fishing equipment, houses, and pottery shedding light on the villages where Jesus stayed and preached.

An ossuary referring to Caiaphas the high priest was found in Jerusalem. These remains help place Jesus firmly within the historical context described by the gospels even if they cannot definitively prove each event described.

Jesus’s Life and Ministry

Year and Place of Birth

Jesus was born around 4-6 BC in Bethlehem, Judea during the reign of King Herod the Great. The gospels of Matthew and Luke provide details about Jesus’s birth, including the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and finding no room at the inn.

Most scholars agree Jesus was born a few years Before Christ, based on historical records and references.

Upbringing and Early Life

According to the Gospels, Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee. The Bible says little about his early life, although some apocryphal gospels do provide additional stories. We know his mother was Mary and his earthly father was Joseph, a local carpenter.

They raised Jesus, who would have worked alongside Joseph before beginning his ministry around age 30 when he was baptized by John the Baptist.

Ministry in Galilee

Jesus spent most of his three-year ministry teaching in Galilee, where he performed many miracles such as feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21), walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), and calming a storm (Mark 4:35-41).

Jesus traveled between cities and villages preaching about the Kingdom of God.

Teachings and Parables

Jesus was an incredible teacher who used parables to convey profound spiritual truths. Some famous parables include the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep and the Sower. He taught amazing lessons like “love your neighbor” and controversial ideas like “the first shall be last.”

His famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) remains extremely influential. Jesus also debated religious scholars and authorities regularly.

Miracles and Healings

The gospels record over 30 miracles performed by Jesus, demonstrating his divine authority over nature, demons and disease. He turned water into wine, walked on water, fed multitudes, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, exorcised demons from the possessed, and even raised the dead!

These miracles revealed his divine identity as the Son of God.

Conflicts with Religious Authorities

As Jesus gained influence, religious leaders increasingly opposed him, angered by his claims of authority and disregard for tradition. Pharisees criticized him for healing on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17), while Sadducees rejected his teachings on resurrection (Mark 12:18-27).

Jesus denounced their hypocrisy and legalism and claimed divine authority as Messiah and Son of God. These conflicts set the stage for his trial and crucifixion in Jerusalem.

Jesus in Jerusalem

Triumphal Entry

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospels. He rode into the city on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. The large crowd welcomed Him by spreading their cloaks and palm branches on the road, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

This occasion showed that Jesus was widely recognized as the long-awaited Messiah.

Temple Disturbance

After Jesus entered Jerusalem, He went to inspect the temple and was appalled by the commerce and money-changing happening inside. He overturned the merchants’ tables and drove them out, declaring “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).

This shocking event challenged the religious leaders and symbolized God’s judgment on the corruption of worship.

Last Supper and Betrayal

On the Passover night before His death, Jesus had a final meal with His disciples in an upper room. This has become known as the Last Supper. He instituted the Lord’s Supper, or Communion – with bread symbolizing His body and wine symbolizing His blood.

He foretold His betrayal by one of the disciples present. After the supper, Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin to hand over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Arrest and Trial

After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Judas arrived with soldiers and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Jesus was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for an informal trial. False witnesses were brought forward, yet Jesus remained silent.

Ultimately He was condemned for blasphemy when He declared being the Son of God. Jesus was mocked, beaten and brought before Pilate the next morning for a Roman trial.

Crucifixion and Burial

Pilate could find no fault in Jesus but still sentenced Him to crucifixion under pressure from the Jewish leaders and crowd. Jesus suffered tremendous physical agony being nailed to a cross on Calvary hill.

Yet He forgave those who crucified Him, accepted a criminal’s repentance, and cared for His mother Mary even in death. Joseph of Arimathea offered his tomb for Jesus’ burial on that somber Friday afternoon.

Resurrection and Ascension

The Empty Tomb

According to the Gospels, after Jesus was crucified, his body was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. When some of Jesus’ female followers went to the tomb early on the third day following his crucifixion, they found the large stone rolled away and the tomb empty.

This astonishing discovery launched the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Appearances of the Risen Jesus

The Gospels record multiple appearances of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus alive, initially mistaking him for the gardener. Later, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and to most of the disciples as they met fearfully behind closed doors.

The risen Jesus ate with them and allowed them to touch his body, dispelling doubts that he was a ghost. His appearances convinced them that he had indeed overcome death.

The Ascension

According to Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11, 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus led his disciples to the Mount of Olives, where he blessed them and then ascended into heaven right before their eyes.

This event marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and his exaltation to the right hand of God the Father. The ascension demonstrated Jesus’ power and divine glory as the Son of God.

Origins of the Resurrection Belief

How did the first Christians come to believe Jesus had risen from the dead? Some theories say the disciples experienced hallucinations or invented the story to keep Jesus’ memory alive. But most scholars believe the early Christians genuinely experienced something remarkable that convinced them Jesus was alive again.

Their radical transformation from fearful followers to courageous martyrs suggests they truly believed they had seen the risen Lord.

The Early Christian Movement

Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

The Christian movement began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2. This marked the beginning of the church and the disciples, led by the Spirit, began preaching the gospel message about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit empowered and emboldened the believers to share the good news of salvation despite opposition.

The Apostles and Early Mission

The twelve apostles, especially Peter, took a leading role in the early Christian mission to spread the message of Jesus Christ. They preached, healed, and performed miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The book of Acts records their activities like missionary journeys and church planting across Judea, Samaria and beyond. Key figures like Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, James and others assisted in this great effort.

Persecution and Martyrdom

The early Christians faced intense persecution from Jewish authorities and later the Roman government. Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7) and James was killed by Herod (Acts 12). Roman emperors like Nero and Domitian unleashed cruel persecution.

Many believers were imprisoned, tortured and killed rather than deny their faith in Jesus. Their courageous martyrdom only strengthened the resolve of Christians.

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

The apostle Paul, originally Saul of Tarsus, became the greatest missionary after his dramatic conversion (Acts 9). He undertook three extensive missionary journeys across the Roman empire, starting churches and appointing leaders. His letters to these churches provide deep theological teachings.

Through his tireless work, the gospel spread far and wide, especially among Gentiles.

Early Christian Writings and Practices

The earliest Christians eagerly received the apostles’ teachings and Jesus’ words and deeds recorded in the Gospels. They met in homes for worship, prayer, lord’s supper, and study of scripture. Their common life was marked by sharing possessions, care for needy, and love.

Writings like the Didache provided church order and moral instruction. Persistent rumors and myths about Christians led to distorted views.


While many details of Jesus’s life and the origins of Christianity continue to be debated by scholars, the basic outline of his story and influence is clear. For Christians, Jesus is the divine Savior and God incarnate; for non-Christians, he stands out at minimum as an exceptional moral teacher who left a profound impact on world civilization.

Regardless of one’s personal beliefs, no one can deny the immense historical significance of this Galilean preacher who lived and died under Roman rule, yet is worshiped today as the central figure of the world’s largest religion.

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