The Life of Jesus
 

The Gospels
Christian beliefs about the life and teachings of Jesus are especially founded on biblical texts, particularly the first four books of the New Testament, which are called the gospels (good news). On the whole, they seem to have been originally written about forty to sixty years after Jesus’ death. They are based on the oral transmission of the stories and discourses, which may have been influenced by the growing split between Christians and Jews. The documents, thought to be pseudonymous, are given the names of Jesus’ followers Matthew and John, and of the apostle Pauls companions Mark and Luke. (Living Religions, 306-7)
Three of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are so similar that they are called the synoptic gospels, referring to the fact that they can be seen together” as presenting rather similar views of Jesus’ career, though they are organized somewhat differently. Most historians think that Matthew and Luke are largely based on Mark and another source called Q.” This hypothesized source would probably be a compilation of oral and written traditions. According to historical-critical analysis, the author of Mark probably put together many fragments of oral tradition in order to develop a connected narrative about Jesus’ life and ministry, for the sake of propagating the faith.
         The other two synoptic gospels often parallel Mark quite closely but include additional material. The gospel according to Matthew (named after one of Jesus’ original disciples, a tax collector) is sometimes called a Jewish Christian gospel. It represents Jesus as a second Moses as well as the Messiah ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven, with frequent references to the Old Testament. Matthew’s stories emphasize that the Gentiles (non-Jews) accept Jesus, whereas the Jews reject him as savior.
Luke, to whom the third gospel is attributed, is traditionally thought to have been a physician who sometimes accompanied Paul the apostle. The gospel seems to have been written with a Gentile Christian audience in mind. Luke presents Jesus
’ mission in universal rather than exclusively Jewish terms and accentuates the importance of his ministry to the underprivileged and lower classes.
         The Gospel of John, traditionally attributed to “the disciple Jesus loved,” is of a very different nature from the other three. It concerns itself less with following the life of Jesus than with seeing Jesus as the eternal Son of God, the word of God made flesh. It is seen by many scholars as being later in origin than the synoptic gospels, perhaps having been written around the end of the first century CE. By this time, there was apparently a more critical conflict between Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, and the majority of Jews, who did not recognize him as the Messiah they were awaiting. The Gospel of John seems to concentrate on confirming Jesus’ Messiahship, and also to reflect Greek influences , such as a dualistic distinction between light and darkness. It is also more mystical and devotional in nature than the synoptic gospels. (Living Religions, 9th Edition, 304)
 

The Gospel of Matthew
The Jewish Roots of Christianity

 
 

Matthew 5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

He said:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NIV: Matthew 5:1-12; for commentary, CLICK HERE
  • What is the significance of the so-called Beatitudes?
  • What do you think they have to say about the relationship between faith and works? Is salvation promised to all ... or just to those who are blessed” for their conduct on earth?
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (NIV: Matthew 19:16-30)
 
 
24“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
(NIV: Luke 6)
 
 
44All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
(NIV: Acts 2; cf. Acts 4:32-35)
 
 
 

So what does it take to enter the
Kingdom of God/Heaven (according to Matthew)?

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (NIV: Matthew 25:31-46)
 
  • How is this perspective on the teachings of Jesus related to a Jewish understanding of “The Law” (i.e. the Torah and the Mishnah)?
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (NIV: Matthew 5:17-20)
  • How does Jesus’ statement regarding the Law help us to place him within the context of Judaism?
  • What is the status of traditional Jewish law? Does Jesus’ statement imply that Christians must maintain all of the laws that are presented in the Hebrew Bible (such as keeping kosher, circumcision, etc.)?
  • What does this passage suggest about the nature of the afterlife?

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’[c] 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone,[d] you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,[e] you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,[f] you are in danger of the fires of hell.[g]

23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice[h] at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’[j] 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye — even your good eye[k] — causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand — even your stronger hand[l] — causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’[o] 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile,[p] carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[q] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies![r] Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[s] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (NLT: Matthew 5:21-45)

  • How do these examples demonstrate what Jesus meant by “fulfilling” the law?
 

 
12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

13 So Jesus sent two of them into Jerusalem with these instructions: “As you go into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ 15 He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.” 16 So the two disciples went into the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover meal there.

17 In the evening Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 As they were at the table[c] eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”

19 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”

20 He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man[d] must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”

23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant[e] between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” (NLT: Mark 14:12-25)