For N.T. Character Study 1, Jesus (40 minutes), click on the play button below:

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PLEASE NOTE: When this talk was recorded, I followed most NT scholars in placing the death of Jesus in 30 AD. Yet the historical and numismatic evidence, along with Luke 3:1, make this unlikely. A crucifixion in 33 AD is a better fit.

Semitic words:

  • Yeshua -- Hebrew name for Joshua (Jesus), meaning "God saves," or "salvation. Yesous -- the Greek word for Jesus and Joshua.
  • Immanuel -- Hebrew for "with-us God"
  • Based on grave inscriptions and other literary sources, the most common names in 1st C. Palestine were, in order: Salome, Simon, Mary, Joseph, Judas, Lazarus, Joezer, John, Martha, and Jesus. (All names Anglicized.)

Outline of the class

  1. Birth, family, vocation, celibacy
  2. Appearance & character
  3. Ministry & message
  4. Trek & death (from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and what this means for us)


  • No other figure in the Bible has 90 continuous chapters devoted to him (Matthew 1-Acts 1). And no one else appears as frequently in scripture (over 1200 times).
  • Immanuel: Matthew 1:23; see Isaiah 7:1,14, 8:8.
  • The death of Herod the Great in 1 BC was recorded by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities 17.6.4.
  • The NT repeatedly refers to Jesus’ brothers, and even his sisters (e.g. Matthew 13:55-56).
  • The last time Joseph, Jesus’ father, is mentioned is during a family visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-48).
  • Jesus knew from scripture that a forerunner would come, as prophesied in Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3. This was John the Baptist.
  • Jesus was righteous. The Bible urges us to defend the cause of the widow (Deuteronomy 10:18); if Mary was widowed, Jesus had a special obligation, and especially if Joseph died when Jesus was still in his teens.
  • Though his mission was urgent, he did not rush to begin his ministry. Always he proceeded with a keen sense of divine timing (John 2:4, 7:6,8,30, 8:20, 12:23,27, 13:1, 17:1, 19:30).
  • Both Jesus and Paul advocated remaining single as an effective path of service to God, if one has the gift of celibacy (Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9).
  • Average height for a man of his time was under five and a half feet tall. In Mark 14:44, Judas guides the arrest party to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is nighttime (and there is a full moon), yet it doesn’t seem to be obvious to the high priest and his detachment of guards which one they are to arrest.
  • The 14th-century forgery The Publius Lentulus Letter described Jesus as having hair the color of a ripe hazelnut, parted in the middle, flowing down to his ears, and then becoming wavy and even curly. His skin was smooth and white—no wrinkles or blemishes—slightly ruddy. Perfect nose and mouth—though he was a man off few words. His beard, of course, was well manicured! "He was never known to laugh, but often to weep."
  • While we know little about what Jesus looked like, we know a lot about what he was like. The Bible freely records the sins and weaknesses of all its major characters—Abraham’s lies, Sarah’s meanness, Rebekah’s deceit, David’s adultery, the initial lack of faith on the part of Jesus’ own family members, and so on (Genesis 20:2, 16:6, 27:2-13; 2 Samuel 11, Mark 3:21; John 7:5). Yet at no point is sin attributed to Jesus (Matthew 5:17; 26:59-60; Luke 4:13). Even his enemies were unable to convict him of sin (John 8:46)—not to say they all accepted him. Some charged him with being a fraud (Matthew 12:2,24,38, 13:53-57), or being demon-possessed (Luke 11:15), or as making political threats against the Romans (Luke 23:2,13-15), yet none of these charges was substantiated.
  • Jesus was highly intelligent—not just as a scholar of the scriptures (Luke 2:41-47), but as a student of human nature (John 2:25). As you read the gospels, try to see how his mind works when he is in a tight spot (Matthew 21:23-27, 22:16-21).
  • His logical mind is truly brilliant—and yet he never bullies others with his intellect, but rather remains humble in every interaction. Many miss his intelligence.
  • As for his intensity, the gospels stun us by how much one man can pack into a day, how one can keep giving even though emotionally spent (Mark 3:20-21, 6:30-56). His drive was phenomenal, and the NT invites those who follow him to lead zealous and passionate lives (Luke 13:32-33, 24:19; Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 2:3-6).
  • After his baptism and temptation, Jesus embarked on a three-year teaching ministry. In John’s gospel we learn that he returned to Jerusalem for three Passovers [2:23, 6:4, 12:1,]. Thus if he began work in 29 AD [per the chronology of Luke 3:1-2,21, 4:14ff], he would have been executed in 33 AD.)
  • Jesus began in Galilee, working among the towns of present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. Once the disciples began to understand his identity as the Messiah, he proceeded to Jerusalem, where he came into direct conflict with the religious establishment and was duly dispatched by them (Luke 9:21-22,51-53, 22:52-23:2).
  • His ministry included several components: proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, teaching, healing, exorcizing, training the Twelve and, most important, giving his life for the sins of the world (Mark 10:45).
  • Jesus’ central message was the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15; Matthew 4:17; Luke 4:43). The day of the Lord was dawning even in the present, the future messianic age of righteousness breaking into our world. This means that forgiveness, freedom, and participation in the abundant life brought by the Messiah are available now—not only in the hereafter. Jesus also called his followers to a radical standard of holiness, higher than that of the old law (Matthew 5:21-48).
  • Jesus said that we are his disciples if we hold to his teaching, love one another as he loved us, and bear fruit that lasts (John 8:31-32, 13:34-35, 15:16). In another sense the man is the message. Jesus did not only point people to the way (Matthew 7:13-14); he is the way (John 14:6).
  • The theme of the trek to Judea (from Caesarea to Jerusalem) is especially brought out by Luke. Passages read are Luke 9:28-31, 51-57, 10:1, 12:49-50, 13:22, 31-35, 17:11, 18:31-34, 35, 19:1, 11, 28-29, 37, 41-44, 45, 47.
  • Luke 9:23-24 -- we too are called to make the trek from Caesarea to Calvary.
    • To surrender our will, comfort, pride, sins.
    • To persevere through difficult situations (work, family, health, relationships).
    • Perhaps even to die. Of course the comparison by our death and his must not be pressed to far. Other prophets died for their messages, but their deaths did not accomplish deliverance for the people of God. Other men and women of faith take courageous stands, suffering and dying… for their message – not dying for us.


  • We don't know what he looked like – yet we recognize his image in all who are born of God. He left us nothing in writing—and yet he is the Word of God, and through his Spirit the NT was inspired and given to us as a precious gift.
  • What should we do? If we are following Jesus, we must
    • Grow spiritually (Luke 2:52), and learn obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:7-10).
    • Emulate the Lord, who was tough physically and emotionally.
    • Strive for schedules that center around people.
    • Recharge by spending time with the Father (the mountain and the market).
    • Follow him to Jerusalem—to Calvary.
  • He told us he is coming back, yet we don’t know when—which means we must strive to live in a state of expectation and preparation. For, as the Lord asked, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8b)

Further study:

  • A Quick Overview of the Bible: How All of the Pieces Fit Together (Harvest House, 2012)
  • Your Bible Questions Answered (Harvest House, 2011)
  • Compelling Evidence: Finding Truth in an Age of Doubt (Harvest House 2010)
  • Jesus & Islam (IPI, 2009)
  • "Why God Sent a Son (and not a Daughter)" (Podcast, 2011)
  • On the death of Herod the Great, click here.
  • Bible trivia: The year zero. The Old Testament prophecies never specified the exact year of Jesus' birth, yet he was most likely born in Bethlehem around 7-5 BC or 3-2 BC. (Herod the Great, who tried to kill him, died in 4 BC or 1 BC.) This fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5, many centuries earlier. Our calendar, which was created in the Middle Ages and is based on several chronological errors, has Jesus being born after his true birthday! Keep in mind also that there is no "year zero." B.C. conventionally means "before Christ," but A.D. means "Anno Domini"—Latin for in the year of our Lord. Jesus began his public ministry when he was "about 30," probably in 29 AD, based on the chronology of Luke 2 and 3. He ministered in an area about 10,000 sq mi, similar in size to the very smallest state of the United States. (In other words, he ministered to a region far smaller than 1% of 1% of the planet—but what an impact!) As for his death, Jesus was likely crucified in Apr 33 AD.
  • "Jesus' Siblings" (podcast)

Some things we learn about God:

  • God connects with us in the incarnation: God becomes man.
  • We learn about God's character--and what it means to lead a godly life--when we see Jesus (Matthew 1:23; John 14:9; Colossians 2:9).
  • God wants us to live a life of love, following in the footsteps of his son (1 John 2:6). In following the Lord Jesus Christ, we become like God in living a life of love (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Next lesson: Malchus

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