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Jesus' Early Life

"And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him" Luke 2:40.

Highlights of  Jesus' Early Life


Birth of John the Baptist foretold 
Luke 1:5

 Jesus' birth foretold to Joseph and Mary 
Matt.1:18 - Luke 1:26

Birth of John the Baptist 
Luke 1:57

Ancestors of Jesus
Matt 1:1 - Luke 3:23

Birth of Jesus
Luke 2:21

Announcement to the Shepherds
Luke 2:8-17

Arrival of the Wise men
Matt 2:1

Circumcision and naming
Luke 2:21

Presentation in the temple
Luke 2:22

Flight into Egypt
Matt. 2:19

Jesus in the temple 
as a boy

Luke 2:41













A Historical Perspective
lthough there were other historians such as Tacitus and Pliny the Younger writing around the time of Jesus' birth, it is the Jewish scholar, Flavious Josephus who is credited with making the earliest historical record of Jesus' existence. Around 93 AD, Josephus also known as Joseph ben Mattathias, authored twenty books titled Antiquities of the Jews. The literature chronicles the history of Jews from creation to the time of Josephus' writing. Although not intending to write about the life of Jesus Christ, Josephus mentions events directly and indirectly related to Jesus in some of his books. There are references to his brother James and incidents such as his trial before Pilate, his crucifixion and resurrection.
The following is an excerpt from one of Josephus' writings about Jesus Christ.

(18.3.3) Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. 
( English (ed. William Whiston, A.M.)   

Notwithstanding its paramount spiritual value as the word of God, many historical records have been highly corroborative with account of people and events in the bible.  Additional historical readings about Jesus Christ can be found on web sites such as Jesus Institute.

A very familiar example of biblical and historical agreement is the significance placed on the date of Jesus' birth.  Based on historical records and the bible, His birth is placed at a little over 2000 years ago. This finding is of such import that it has influenced modern civilization's demarcation of time. The period before Jesus' birth is designated as B.C.- Before Christ and the period after his birth is A.D.- Anno Domini (Latin for "in the year of our Lord").

Prophecy of Jesus' Birth

The advent of Jesus' birth is the single most spiritually transforming event in human existence. As was prophesied, Jesus Christ was born to be the Savior of mankind. The Old testament contains over 300 prophetic pronouncements of Jesus' birth. Prophets and religious personalities foretold the birth thousands of years before the actual event. These men, all worshipers of Jehovah, the one God, had no concept of the timeframe for fulfilling this prophecy. Yet, they continued to proclaim and record what God had revealed to them because of their steadfast faith in His power (The Prophecy). As we read Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, we learn that astrologers or wise men living in East Africa, Asia and India too, had knowledge of Jesus' impending birth. Based on their studies of the stars, they discerned that an extremely remarkable event was imminent. And they soon realized with great joy that the astrological phenomenon indeed signaled the birth of the promised Messiah. Evidence of this is recorded in Matthew 2: 10-11
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  

The Social Environment

Bethlehem, a city in the region then known as Palestine, was the birthplace of Our Lord.  This is recorded in Matthew 2:1 
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  

Jesus' birth was not an ordinary one. Matthew 2:18 states: 

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
. His earthly parents were of humble origin; Joseph, was a carpenter and Mary was a typical young Jewish girl.  Undoubtedly her divine conception must have sparked gossip and made Mary the subject of ridicule in the village where she lived. But the bible tells us that Mary though puzzled at first, reacted with great joy to be the chosen vessel to bring the Son of God, Jesus Christ into the world. 
And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. Luke 1:46-48

At the time of Jesus' birth, the world was dominated by the Roman empire under Julius Caesar. But locally, in Palestine, the populace submitted to the political power of Herod's governance.  Yet it was no secret that the Jews clearly resisted Roman rule and they made this known to their leaders. The expectation of a promised "Messiah" or savior was the message of hope passed down through generations of Jews.
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
" Matt 1:23.
It is safe to say, based on recordings in the gospels,  that the Jews believed that the Messiah would not only bring them spiritual prominence but that He would also establish an earthly kingdom to deliver them from Roman oppression. But as recorded by John, just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus dispelled these presumptions when He told them why He came and described His kingdom to them. John 18:36
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."  And in Mark 1:38 He further explained His purpose by stating But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth." There was no doubt that Jesus' clear declaration only kindled more hostility from the Jews.  Another interesting point to note is that during Jesus' time on earth, the prevailing religious view among the Jews was that there were only two groups of people in the world. Individuals  who worshiped Jehovah were Jews and those who did not, were Gentiles. Thus, being a Jew in the early centuries was neither linked to an ethnicity nor nationality. It was strictly a religious identity.  This way of thinking again underscores why the Jews rejected Jesus when they realized that His message was not about religious sovereignty but about individual relationship with God, whose divine kingdom is supreme.

The impact of Jesus' birth was extremely threatening to Roman political rule. To them, even a religious figure such as the promised “Messiah” projected a potential threat to their political power. Although the Romans did not embrace the concept of Jesus being a king in the political sense, it was clear that they were deeply concerned about the place of preeminence He held among the Jews.  They saw a credible threat to maintaining the Roman empire's dominance over the Jews. So profound was this perception, that Herod, the Roman ruler, upon hearing about the Jesus' birth, launched a ruthless massacre of all boys under two years old, in a futile effort to eliminate the Messiah. Matthew recounts this in the following passage: 

Matthew 2:16
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

Eyewitness Accounts of Jesus' Birth

Mathew and Luke, two of the four writers of the gospels, each provide us detailed accounts of Jesus' birth.  The other  two writers, Mark and John concentrated on accounts of Jesus' adult life.  But there is no doubt that these four men exhibited a devout commitment to recording their biographies with diligence and divine purpose.  Luke testifies to this in the beginning of his record: Luke 1:1-4

 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us,  just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us,  it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus,  that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

It is evident that Matthew and Luke knew Jesus intimately. Matthew's knowledge of Jesus was firsthand since he was a disciple. But it is obvious that Luke gained his knowledge and understanding of Jesus by obtaining information from those who shared Jesus' life. Bible scholars state that these accounts were actually written some thirty years after Jesus left the earth  but that does not diminish their authenticity. There is no doubt that the details came from those who walked, talked, ate,  and prayed with Jesus. Therefore, although the writings of Matthew and Luke reflect some  differences in perspective, there is great correlation between them. The context of the records do not contradict each other. What they have given to us is a more holistic view of the events and circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth. 

Matthew's Account
In order to better understand Matthew's account, we must take a brief look into his personal life. Prior to becoming a disciple of Jesus, Matthew' worked as a Jewish tax collector in the town of Capernaum, where he also lived.  It is fair to imagine that being a collector of taxes for the Roman government may have earned him a stigma of being a traitor to his people. Yet,  Matthew is revealed to be a devout Jew.  Therefore, his focus on Jewish tradition and prophecies is not surprising.  Matthew's account contains almost all of the references to the prophecies of Jesus' birth.  Perhaps, the commitment to present Jesus' Jewish bloodline was Matthew's attempt to foster greater acceptance of Jesus by the Jews.  He knew that it would be noteworthy for the Jews to trace and have evidence of a direct connection between Abraham the patriarch and Jesus the Messiah.  The detailed genealogy is described as "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham"...       Matthew 1:2-17  .   Matthew's list of Jesus' relatives shows an eclectic mixture of Jews and Gentiles, kings and commoners, the wealthy and poor. And it is worth mentioning that despite his knowledge  of male dominance in that society, Matthew intentionally includes names of five of Jesus' female relatives; Mary, His mother,  Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Uriah's wife. Another notable in Matthew's account is that he does not give us any details about Mary's reaction or response to her pregnancy. 

Highlights of Matthew's Account:

  1. Joseph realizes that Mary is pregnant, but he is in a dilemma about what he should do since he knows that he is not responsible for her condition.

  2. He then receives a visit from an angel to tell him about the divine nature of Mary's pregnancy Matthew 1:18-25  Joseph no doubt is confused, yet he obeys the angel's instructions and marries Mary, but refrains from  consummating their union until after Jesus is born. 

  3. Jesus  is born in Bethlehem. 

  4. Herod executes a deranged plan to kill Jesus by slaughtering all males under two years old.

  5. The astrologers who discerned the divine birth are joyous when they arrive at the place where Joseph, Mary and Jesus were staying. 

  6. King Herod had cunningly asked them to tell him where Jesus could be found. But the astrologers' obey the angel's directive to return to their homes by another way instead of returning to Herod with information about Jesus Matthew 2:1-12

  7. The angel visits Joseph again. This time he is warned in a dream about Herod's wrath and instructed to take his family to Egypt for their protection from this ruler. Matthew 2:13-16

Luke's Account:
Luke was a Greek physician from the coastal town of Antioch. It is notable that he was not a Hebrew but a Gentile. His biography of Jesus is more detailed and expansive than Matthew's. Luke gives us a panoramic view of the events and personalities that are involved with the birth of Jesus. Matthew's account is more restricted to Joseph, Mary and Jesus, while Luke's give us in-depth insights into the roles of Elizabeth, Zechariah, John, Anna and Simeon. This author is careful about the sequence and order of his account. This is reflected in how he begins the first chapter: "Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1: 1-4
Interestingly, like Matthew, Luke also presents a genealogy of Jesus. But with one major difference; Luke's lists only  Jesus' male ancestors, going back to Adam. This is in  contrast with Matthews which begins with Abraham. Luke 3:23-38  Here again we have a sense that in compiling Jesus' genealogy, Luke was more motivated by ancestry of Mankind rather than the theology of the Jewish people. 

Highlights of  Luke's Account are:

  1. The angel visits  Zacharias to tell him that his wife Elizabeth, a barren, elderly woman would bear a child whose name was to be John.  Luke 1:5-25  Zacharias finds this inconceivable and we read that he is literally left speechless until the day of John's birth. The angel told him "But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did  not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time."  Luke 1:20. Zacharias returns home to his wife after completing his priestly duties. Elizabeth is now five months pregnant.

  2. The angel visits Mary and announces to her is that she was chosen to be the mother of our Lord. Mary also learns that her cousin, Elizabeth is pregnant too. Luke 1: 26-38 

  3. Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and the two women greet each other joyously. Elizabeth tells Mary about her baby's reaction in the womb when Mary arrived at her home. Mary expresses in beautiful poetic verses how God has shown her great favor by choosing her to be the mother of Jesus. Luke1:39-56 

  4. John the Baptist is born. 

  5. After John is named, Zacharias' speech returns. 

  6. Zacharias prophecies about John, his son, the forerunner of Jesus Luke1:57-80   

In the second chapter,  Luke focuses on Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
Highlights are:

  1. The birth of Jesus. Luke 2:1-7  We get an insight into the social status of Jesus' parents. Like thousands of common folk they had to obey the Roman mandate to be registered in their hometown, which was Bethlehem. We know that they were  not wealthy because although Mary was very pregnant, they were unable to find accommodation in an inn. Perhaps the inns that they could afford were all filled up. Therefore, when the time came for her delivery, she gave birth to Jesus in the only available place; a lowly stable. 

  2. Announcement of Jesus' birth, was made by the angels to the shepherds. It is ironical that lowly shepherds are the first to be notified about the birth of the King of Kings. Luke first takes us to the fields where they are routinely tending their sheep at night, until the sudden appearance of the angels. He paints a beautiful scene with the shepherds gazing in awe at the magnificent sight of angels singing and praising God in the heavens.

  3. The shepherds went to visit Jesus. Luke tells us that they went hastily to see and worship the Christ child. After leaving there, Luke tells us that they were rejoicing and proclaiming the good news of Jesus' birth. Luke 2: 8-20  

Jesus' Childhood

Matthew's information on Jesus' childhood is limited. He tells us that shortly after Jesus' birth, the family flees to Egypt.  This was because an angel had warned Joseph about Herod's impending massacre of young Jewish children. We see that sometime later in Egypt, Joseph is again visited by an angel.  This time he is told that it is again safe for them to return to the land of Israel because Herod was dead.  However, Joseph decides to go instead to the region of Galilee because he heard that Herod's successor was his son. Therefore, Jesus grew up in Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that He would be a Nazarene. Matthew 2:13-23  

Again, Luke gives a more extensive description of Jesus' early years. We get some insight into aspects of the Jewish traditions and events that occurred while Jesus was still an infant.

  1. Jesus is circumcised when he was eight days old. Luke tells of the tradition of sacrificing " A pair of turtledoves, or two young  pigeons" for a first born male.

  2. Jesus is brought by his parents to the temple for presentation to the Lord.

  3. Luke tells of Mary's days of purification according to the law of Moses.

  4. We also have the blessings and prophecies that  Simeon the High priest gives about Jesus. His lengthy pronouncement of the prophecies about Jesus describes those that were fulfilled, and those that were still to come. 

  5. Similarly, Anna the prophetess, who lived in the temple is filled with praise and thanksgiving upon the birth of Jesus. She thanked  God for letting her see the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Luke 2:21-39 

The period between Jesus' early and late childhood are described in one verse: "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him" Luke 2:40We however, see that at twelve years old, Jesus is shown as a knowledgeable student of the scriptures. When He is taken by his parents to the feast of the Passover,  Luke describes how Jesus stayed behind in the temple to converse about the scriptures with the doctors. This is astonishing to everyone; especially his  parents. And when Jesus responds to their concerns about his stay in the temple they are reminded that Jesus is no ordinary twelve year old. And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"  Luke 2:49. But Luke also makes the point that Jesus submits to His parents' authority by going back to Nazareth with them, and was "subject unto them". The last verse of this chapter states And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Luke 2:52 

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