Over the past several years my friendship with Jesus has grown tremendously by studying His life. The 89 chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John offer far more than surface-level details about our Lord. The more I've sought clarity about Him through the four Gospels, the more I've realized that I've had some wrong assumptions about Him. Because I care about Him, I care about people knowing the truth about Him. So this post is the first of several where I'll talk about some common misconceptions about Jesus' life. I wanted to share some of them with you hoping that it might spark desire to know Him in truth. Here are five to get you started:
It is true that Jesus lived in Nazareth for a good portion of his 32 years on the earth. However, during the two years of His public ministry, Jesus actually lived in Capernaum, a fishing town along the sea of Galilee in northern Israel. (Matthew 4:13; Matthew 9:1)
An unspecified number of Magi from the east (Matthew 2:1) did indeed visit Jesus, but it was not on the night of His birth. Matthew says that Mary and Joseph were residing in a house when the Magi visited (Matthew 2:11) and yet made no mention of a manger, thus giving the impression that the family had settled down in Bethlehem after the census had been taken. Additionally, Jesus was no longer a tiny newborn when they arrived. We know this because immediately following the visit of the Magi, Joseph receives a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The family fled by night and remained there until Herod was dead (Matthew 2:14-15). If the flight to Egypt occurred on the same night of His birth, Mary and Joseph would not have been able to present Jesus in the Temple according to the Law (as narrated by Luke in Luke 2:22-24).
Jesus did come to reconcile men to God and to make peace by the blood of His cross for those who repent, but it's important to remember that the Gospels narrate the story of Jesus in context to the continuing story of Israel that began in the Old Testament. Thus, Christ's primary mission was first to reckon with the nation of Israel. Jesus continually indicted the Jews for their unbelief and hardness of heart and often spoke words of judgment upon them because of their lack of repentance (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:6; Luke 10:13-15). Even though most of the nation would reject Jesus as the one true God and the long-awaited Messiah, a believing remnant would remain after His judgment fell upon the nation. Some false teachers today are leading many into wrongly believing that Jesus' mission was one of only peace, love, and acceptance and did not include words of judgment or a call for men to turn from wickedness. Jesus Himself said that He came to bring a dividing sword and set people against Him (Luke 12:49,51; Matthew 10:34). His ministry was one of salvation and condemnation (John 9:39). When He returns, He will reward the righteous and destroy His enemies in vengeance and in recompense (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 6:16-17).
Many of Jesus' teachings come together in the early chapters of Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 5-7). However, scholars recognize that Matthew's Gospel is arranged thematically instead of chronologically, grouping sections of Jesus' teachings together from various moments of his ministry. Luke narrates much of Jesus' words in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:17-49, which is probably the chronological occasion of "the beatitudes". Other portions of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount are found elsewhere in the Gospels - the well-known "Lord's prayer" has its place chronologically in Luke 11:2-4. Jesus would surely have taught much of the same material at different times. However, because of the thematic arrangement of Matthew's gospel, it seems unlikely that Jesus would have spoken all the words of Matthew 5, 6, and 7 on the same occasion.
For more, watch this short video where I give an introduction to the structure of Matthew's Gospel.
Luke 3:23 says that Jesus began his ministry when He was about thirty years old. Though many say that the duration of His public ministry was 3.5 years, that number is biblically unsubstantiated. John's Gospel is chronologically arranged and records Jesus' actions around three separate Passover feasts (John 2, John 6, and John 12). John 2 opens His public ministry by the cleansing of the Temple at the Passover, John 6 speaks of the feeding of the 5000 when the Passover was "at hand", and John 12-13 was the feast where He was crucified. Passover occurred every year in the modern month of April, so unless John completely missed recording events during an entire year of Jesus' ministry, an approximately two-year duration seems more likely.
As Christians, our relationship with Jesus is based on real knowledge of who He is. I'm narrating through Jesus' life in a series of weekly videos on the Gospels, so I'd encourage you to join me as I walk through what the Gospels say about Him.