The hopes and expectations of Israel rested upon the Christ child, and these expectations reached a fever pitch by the early first century CE. The angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit revealed to many how Jesus of Nazareth would be the expected Christ of God, the son of David, whose Kingdom would have no end (Luke 1-2). It would soon be time for Jesus to begin accomplishing the work for which He was sent (Luke 19:10, John 4:34, 9:4).
In 27 CE, soon after being baptized by John the Baptist and overcoming the temptations of the Devil, Jesus began His ministry on earth. We read about the events of that ministry in Matthew 3-26, Mark 1-14, Luke 3-22, and John 1-17. A study of Jesus’ life is always profitable, and it is impossible for us to even begin an in-depth study of Jesus’ teachings and deeds here. Nevertheless, we can perceive two significant themes that pervade His ministry.
The first is encapsulated in Matthew 5:17-18: Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses. Jesus was born and died as a first century Palestinian Jew. We understand that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies made regarding Him (Luke 24:44), and it is evident that this was no mere accidence or coincidence. Jesus consciously and actively fulfills these prophecies, as many examples indicate and the Gospel authors emphasize (Luke 4:17-19, Matthew 21:1-5, 13:35, John 2:17, etc.). By living under the Law of Moses without sin, He keeps the Law perfectly and thus fulfills it (John 9:4, Hebrews 4:15). Many of Jesus’ teachings involve the Law: how it is to be correctly interpreted, confounding the religious authorities who are attempting to entrap Him (Matthew 5, 22:15-46). Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets not just by accomplishing them, but also by evoking Moses and the Prophets: He taught with authority, as Moses did (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Matthew 7:28-29); raised the son of a widow and provided food miraculously, just as Elijah and Elisha did (Luke 7:11-16, Mark 6:31-44; cf. 1 Kings 17:8-24, 2 Kings 4:1-7, 18-37); and foretold the doom of Jerusalem, as Jeremiah did (Matthew 24:1-36; cf. Jeremiah 7). The story of Jesus is really the story of Israel: birth, departure, return (Exodus-Conquest), ministry (Judges, Kings), death (Exile), and resurrection (Restoration). By fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, evoking Moses and the prophets, and living out the story of Israel, Jesus is able to entirely fulfill the covenant between God and Israel.
After that covenant is fulfilled, a new covenant will come forth. Jesus, therefore, also spends much time preparing for that which was to come soon: the Kingdom of God (Luke 17:20-21). This is the message which Jesus preached constantly (cf. Matthew 4:17, 23). Many of Jesus’ famous teachings, including much of the “Sermon on the Mount” and many of His parables, focus on and feature the message of the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 5-7, 13). He prepares the way for the Kingdom by selecting twelve men, granting them authority, and intensively training them to be ready to go out and preach His message (Luke 6:17-19, Matthew 18:18, Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:28-30). The message of the Kingdom would turn the world upside down: the humble would be exalted, and the exalted would be humbled, and the greatest among us are those who serve (Matthew 20:25-28). Those participating in the Kingdom are to love even their enemies and do good, expecting nothing in return, among other things (Matthew 5-7). The Kingdom would not be physical, but spiritual (John 18:36-37)!
Jesus’ ministry lasted, as far as we can tell from the Gospel accounts, for around three years. A week before the Passover of 30 CE, according to Luke 19:28-40 and other passages, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph with great fanfare. The crowds proclaim that the King has entered Jerusalem, and expectations for the future reached their peak. They were ready for Jesus to seize power and to begin His Kingdom in Jerusalem, destroying the Romans and others in His path. Jesus indeed came to Jerusalem in order to fulfill the will of God through His life and, eventually, to receive His Kingdom. But these events did not take place as the Jews were expecting!
It is unfortunate how Jesus’ life is often under-emphasized. Jesus, it is often said, was “born to die.” While, as we shall see, Jesus’ death and resurrection are of great importance, Jesus’ life is also quite important. Jesus was not just born to die: Jesus came to teach us how to live. Paul and John emphasize how we are to imitate Christ and walk as He walked (1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6). Jesus Himself encouraged His disciples to be as their Teacher (Matthew 10:24-25, Luke 6:40). We learn how to love all men, sacrifice for God and for the benefit of others, to cling to what is good and avoid what is evil, and to proclaim the message of the Kingdom through the example of Jesus in His life. It should be our goal to be conformed to the image of Christ in our minds, attitudes, and conduct (Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20). Let us live, therefore, as Jesus lived!
Ethan R. Longhenry