In all of your lessons in World Chronology, you have studied some of the most significant people, places and events in human history. You might ask the question? “Why did all of this happen the way that it did?” As Catholics, we realize that the affairs of men have meaning, direction, and purpose. They are not random activities that happen by chance! And the movements of history are not simply the result of the influence of men. There is also the spiritual world (good and evil) that influences history. Above all, we know that God is in control of history. And all that you have learned, from ancient Sumeria all the way to the establishment of the Roman Empire under the emperor Octavian Augustus, is accomplished or allowed by God in order to prepare for the main event: the birth of the Son of God. We now continue the development of your historical narrative as we study the life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is his life which brings a “New Creation” into existence and points the entire world and all of history in a new direction.
The Birth of Jesus Christ
The circumstances of the birth of Jesus and his life are obviously different than that of other men of history because he is God. He certainly is born with a great advantage! And since his story is relayed to us by the Scriptures themselves, we must have total trust in the truthfulness of what we are taught. We certainly will not be able to give a detailed record of the life of Christ in this one lesson. We will learn the basic outline of his life, including the main persons and events, so that we may place Jesus Christ in our knowledge of world chronology. Let us look, then, at the life of Christ.
Preparations for the Birth of Jesus Christ
No king enters a city–or even a room–by surprise. Before he arrives, heralds run to announce the king’s coming and to alert the people to make themselves ready. Jesus Christ could not have entered the world without heralds of his own. For thousands of years, even from the time of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the Holy Spirit had announced His coming through holy men known as prophets. The time they spoke of had come, which Scripture calls “the fullness of time”.
The stars in the sky fulfilled their purpose in revealing to men the coming of their Savior. Wise men in the east, called magi, noticed the signs of the times in their study of the heavens and prepared themselves for the arrival of the long-awaited King of the Jews.
Then, St. Gabriel, the Archangel who “stands in the presence of God” appeared to announce not only the arrival of the King, but an earthly messenger as well who would go before Him among men.
St. Gabriel Appears to Zecharias
St. Luke tells us that in Israel, a righteous priest named Zecharias and his holy wife Elizabeth were both born into the priestly families of Israel. One day, when Zecharias was doing his duties as a priest in the Temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Zecharias was terrified by the sight of the angel, but Gabriel calmed his fears with the wonderful news that his wife Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child for many years, would bear a son whose birth would give them great joy. This child was to be named “John”. What Gabriel says of John helps us understand how God was preparing Israel for Jesus:
“For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.” (Luke 1:15ff)
Following the birth of John, Zecharias offered a prayer that would become a song to be sung for all time. We call this prayer the Benedictus since that is the prayer’s first word in Latin. This prayer provides us with a wonderful summary of history just before the birth of Christ:
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people. He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
There are three things which we should give attention to in Zecharias’ canticle that are relevant to our history course:
1. Salvation has come to Israel. Zecharias’ words confirm that God was fulfilling the promises made to King David that a son from his line would sit on the throne–the heavenly throne in the Kingdom of God. This message was preached by the prophets of Israel as well. King David in heaven must have been overjoyed that day to hear the words of Zecharias on earth! His ?son? would again sit on his throne.
2. Through the birth of Jesus, God is fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham to allow his children to worship him freely and without fear in the world. Until this time, Abraham?s children, though many, were limited to his physical descendants in Israel. Now God would add to Abraham?s family the spiritual children of the Church ? men from the whole world.
3. Jesus is the “dawn from on high”–the light that will forever enlighten the nations of the earth. Men up until now have lived in darkness and the fear of death, but through Christ and his Resurrection, all men would be able to see the light and live without that fear. His message, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would renew the face of the earth and conquer pagan religion. John the Baptist went on to live an extraordinary life and Jesus said that he was the greatest man ever born. Scripture teaches us that John lived alone, in the desert until the time came for him to begin his work in Israel. John was a courageous man, full of zeal for the glory of God and the happiness of men. The prophet Isaiah, speaking 700 years earlier, described John as a “voice crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3-5) and his preaching drew all of the men of Judea out to hear him. He warned the Jews of the evil of their ways, the judgment of God and the torments of hell. Any who heard John the Baptist were clearly warned that One was coming after Him to call men to perfection. John said, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”. John’s responsibility was to prepare Israel to receive the promised Savior.
St. Gabriel Appears to Mary
Zecharias struggled to believe the message brought to him by the angel Gabriel–that his old, barren wife would bear a son. How much harder would it be to believe the message delivered to Mary–that she, a young virgin would bear not any son, but the Son of God! This famous “announcement” is called the Annunciation and is one of history’s most important events. It is good for us to read the words spoken by the angel Gabriel as he brought Mary this incredible news:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name “Jesus”. He shall be great, and shall be called “the Son of the most High”; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.”
God, however, does not use his creatures like robots and He didn’t randomly pick Mary out of all of the women in the world. The opportunity to become the Mother of God was offered to Mary and she was free to say, “No, thank you.” as many of us often turn away from God’s will. It is her response to the angel’s message that allowed the Savior to enter the world and proved her the most blessed of women. She answered the angel with faith: “Let it be done unto me according to Thy will.”
Mary is also told that Elizabeth her cousin is pregnant and will bear a great son as well. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth and as they celebrate God’s goodness to them and to Israel, Mary sings a famous prayer of praise and thanksgiving that we call the Magnificat and sing every day at Evening Prayer:
“My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This prayer is packed with information important to those of us working to understand world history. Mary, inspired by the Holy Spirit, explains the importance of the birth of Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus is born with great advantages since he was the Son of God, but from an earthly point of view, we must recognize that he was also born as a human being into a lowly situation. Joseph, Mary’s husband, was no wealthy man. Though he belonged to the family of King David, so did hundreds of other Jewish men. Mary’s words “he has looked upon [my] lowliness” remind us that God chose a humble young woman, “full of grace”, to bring Christ into the world. Jesus was born in a cave and laid in a feeding box for farm animals because there was no room for them in the comfortable inn in Bethlehem. A family with friends and connections would have surely had a place prepared for them. We know that God could have provided a splendid palace or an earthly princess to bring forth his only Son but he chose an obedient Virgin and a humble carpenter to become what we now honor as the Holy Family. It is a lesson that God often works the greatest miracles through the most simple people.
And so, Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem on a silent, holy night. The world does not take notice. His birth is celebrated out in the fields by a few shepherds and, of course, the angels.
The Birth of Jesus Christ in World Chronology
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.” (St. Luke, 2:1-6)
The Time of the Birth of Jesus Christ
The BC/AD system we use for dating historical events came into use 800 years after the life of Christ. The monk who first created the system thought he knew when Jesus was born, and set that year as 1 AD…”the first year of our Lord”.
However, historians now believe that this original date cannot be correct. Most historians believe that Jesus’ birth took place 4-6 years before 1 AD. Therefore, we say that Jesus was born at some time between 6 BC and 4 BC.
So, while all of our dates are based on the birth of Jesus, the monk who created this system seems to have been wrong about the date of Jesus’ birth! To keep things simple, historians have left the year numbers alone, but have changed the date of Jesus’ birth. This may seem confusing, but it is worth your study in the future.
St. Luke gives us a general idea of when Jesus was born by telling us that the birth took place during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the famous Roman emperor studied in our last lesson. He then provides us with further details by linking the birth of Christ to a census that occurred while a certain Quirinius was the governor of Syria. A census is a study of the people in certain place that allows the government to collect taxes.
The Place of the Birth of Jesus Christ
Joseph and Mary lived in the village of Nazareth, near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. When Augustus commanded the census to be taken, it meant that all of the Jews had to travel to the city of their ancestors to be counted and taxed. Joseph belonged to the family of David, so he had to bring his family to Bethlehem, the city of David.
Bethlehem was located south of Jerusalem, just east of the Dead Sea. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been approximately 80 miles, past Jerusalem. This journey would have been one very familiar to Mary and Joseph, because they traveled to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Jewish religious festivals there. Nevertheless, they were required to make this trip in the middle of the winter for the census, and arrived on or around the traditional date of Christmas: December 25th.
The Life of Jesus Christ
Jesus’ life falls into three main divisions: (1) His early life or childhood, (2) his public ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem, and (3) his death and resurrection.
Early Life: Jesus’ Education
St. Luke tells us that after Joseph and Mary had fulfilled all the requirements of the law they returned to Nazareth of Galilee. These requirements included circumcision, by which Jesus was marked as a son of Abraham and the presentation of the baby in the temple, where his parents offered him to the Lord. At Jesus’ presentation, a wise old man named Simeon took the child in his arms and prayed with the words we now sing at Night Prayer:
“Now, Lord, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Simeon also spoke haunting words to Mary, telling her:
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Thus, while just a baby, great things were spoken of the life Jesus would live and the danger that he and his family faced in days to come.
As Jesus grew up, He received an education like that of all good Jewish boys. His parents taught Him the Word of God, following the instructions given by Moses in the law. The education of most Jewish boys was not formal as we think of education today, but was built right into their everyday lives. Moses said:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”
Thus, we can imagine Jesus, working with his father, who was a carpenter, discussing God’s words throughout the day and using the wisdom of Scripture to guide them in their daily work. The Holy Family kept all of the feasts and rituals of Israel, and went to Jerusalem every year for the great feasts. Jesus would have learned all about the temple and the priesthood, the sacrifices and laws and worship of God, just as other Jewish boys did.
When he was 12 years old, Jesus had a famous discussion with the old men of Israel who discussed wisdom and religion in the temple. Scripture tells us that Jesus, though only 12 years old, questioned them and spoke in a way that amazed them. At this time, Jesus was beginning to discern his special vocation, doing what he said was “His Father’s business”. Obviously, this was not the business of his father the carpenter, and in this He clearly revealed his call to religious life and leadership in Israel. Nevertheless, He returned home with his parents to Nazareth and lived an obedient life at home where ?He grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.?. While Jesus was blessed with many incredible privileges, you can probably find many ways in which the childhood of Jesus is just like yours. No, he was not a sinful boy, acting badly when his parents weren’t looking. He did not lie or steal or fight with other children. Still, he was a human boy, living with a mother and father who loved Him and wanted Him to serve God forever–just like you.
Jesus’ Baptism and the Beginning of the Public Ministry
When Jesus was 30 years old, the time came for him to fulfill his calling and begin His ministry. This was made clear when John the Baptist, whom God had sent to announce the coming of Savior arrived in Judea, preaching that the time had come and that “the kingdom of God was at hand”.
John called the people to “wake up” and get ready because God was about to do amazing things in Israel and they would miss them if they were blinded and distracted by sins. The people, eager to see the Lord work among them, went out in crowds to John, confessing their sins, being baptized and doing penance to prove to God that their hearts were ready. While this was going on, Jesus himself came to John and bowed before him to be baptized.
The Holy Spirit revealed to John that the man before him was the Son of God and John announced it to all the people present. He shouted, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John wondered why Jesus would want to be baptized by him, since it was Jesus who should be the one baptizing John. Jesus explained that His life is not being lived for His own sake, but as an offering for all of His people and that He must bear their sins as His own. As John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened and God the Father spoke, saying, “This is My beloved Son.”. The Holy Spirit came down from heaven and filled Jesus, strengthening Him for His ministry that would begin immediately.
Jesus then retired to a deserted place to live as a hermit so that He could strengthen himself against the temptations of the devil. He stayed in the desert, eating and drinking nothing–for 40 days–alone in prayer and meditation. When Jesus grew weak, the devil came to tempt Him, but Jesus resisted his temptations and received more grace from God. The angels were sent from heaven to strengthen Him and He was prepared for the beginning of His teaching ministry.
From that time of self-discipline, Jesus goes forth and begins teaching the people, and God granted Him the gifts of miraculous works and exorcisms. Jesus was able to heal the sick, raise people from the dead, control and change the nature of created things, and free people from the influence of demons. As we might expect, He quickly gained a large group of followers. Many of them, however, were not following Him for the right reasons, but were just enjoying “the show”.
The Choosing of the Twelve
St. Luke tells us that one night Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray, spending the night in communion with God.” Then at dawn, he called his disciples up onto the mountain and selected the Apostles–the twelve chosen disciples He would live with and train to take over His ministry after He died. We should memorize their names:
- Simon Peter
- Andrew, Peter’s brother
- James, son of Zebedee
- John, son of Zebedee
- Matthew, the tax collector
- James, the son of Alphaeus
- Simon the Zealot, or the Cananean
- Thaddeus, or Judas, the son of James
- Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.
These apostles were given the incredible privilege of living with Jesus and learning from Him as a young apprentice learns the work of a carpenter. This “apprenticeship” in Christian living would would last three years. Of the apostles, the ones that are closest to Jesus and receive special attention and instruction are Peter, along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus demanded that his apostles live in voluntary poverty, and He did not allow them to have any personal possessions. They were to live in the service of God and accept whatever provisions God granted them from the generosity of the people they served. In doing this, they would deny other men the right to say they taught for money and they would learn to share in the experience of the poor, which would keep their hearts humble and generous. Furthermore, Jesus taught His disciples that He would reward them for the way they treated the poor and needy in the world. He told this beautiful parable:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
This was a hard life to live, and there were few who were willing to follow Jesus when he explained what would be required of them. In fact, one of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, turned against Jesus and helped his enemies to arrest Him. Judas died in mortal sin, killing himself in despair.
Jesus’ most famous words are found in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the place where Christianity is most clearly studied. While the great men of history stored up for themselves treasures on earth, Jesus taught men that happiness was not to be found in these things. In the Beatitudes, Jesus taught that human happiness was not to be sought on earth, but in the kingdom of heaven. He explained that those who were poor, obedient, persecuted, merciful, penitent and humble would one day be found to be the most happy, for God had eternal rewards prepared for them. Jesus asked his audience, “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his own soul?” .
This teaching turned the world upside down! Suddenly, it was the poor and weak who were rich and powerful, while the famous and glamorous were now understood to be unknown and destitute. Jesus explained to men that everyone was to live a life on earth that would earn for them a happy eternity–and not worry so much about trying to find happiness and pleasure during their short lives. When men have their focus right, obeying God’s will becomes easy and our lives are filled with heavenly joy. Unfortunately, those who were rich and powerful (and sinful) began to hate Jesus and prepared to kill Him and his disciples. With His eyes fixed on heaven, Jesus prepared for the dangers He knew were coming–those dangers that the prophets and old Simeon already saw and spoke of.
The Death of Jesus Christ
The Last Supper and the Betrayal of Judas
Jesus’ public ministry comes to a close as the Feast of the Passover arrived in 33 AD. He traveled to Jerusalem for the great feast and all in Jerusalem were expecting Him there. As was said earlier in this lesson, a king does not enter a city by surprise. Though Jesus planned no great ceremony for Himself, it could not be avoided. When he arrived, He was welcomed by multitudes with shouts of praise and adoration. The people waved palm branches fanatically, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
This was no simple greeting. The people were celebrating what was spoken of by the prophet Zechariah several hundred years before:
“Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
The people hailed Jesus as an arriving king who was sent by God to conquer and rule the world. They imagined that Jesus was coming to lead a rebellion against the Romans and bring the Jews the freedom they longed for–freedom to do their own will. Jesus, however, was not coming to save them from the service of foreign armies, but from slavery to the devil. After all, it was their sins that allowed the Romans to rule in their lands. The leaders in Israel were offended by the celebrations and the Romans were aware that a rebellion might be brewing. Jesus explained to his followers that they were not thinking correctly about His arrival, for the time of the restoration of God’s kingdom was not yet to come. Many had no interest in listening to a man who could not deliver them from the Romans and their frustrated expectations led them to turn against Jesus. In fact, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot, agreed to help the Jewish leaders arrest Jesus at night–selling his Lord for money. Meanwhile, Jesus prepared a place for his Apostles to celebrate the feast of the Passover. St. John writes that Christ knelt down and washed the feet of His disciples as they arrived for supper that night. In the midst of all of the threats He received and dangers He faced, Jesus kept the feast and blessed God in peace with His friends. At this supper, Jesus spoke of the terrible things that were about to take place and warned His disciples that their faith was going to be shaken by what they would see. He told them that Peter, who had been their leader, would even deny knowing Him–a saying that must have terrified the other disciples who knew that Peter loved Jesus more than any of them. Peter swore that he would never deny His Lord, even if it cost him his life, but Jesus replied that this would happen before the sun rose the next morning.
Of course, all happens just as Jesus says. After supper, the disciples give thanks to God and sing a hymn of praise. Then Jesus leads them into the Garden of Gethsemane and, showing signs that the terrors of his sufferings are beginning to torment him, asks for his disciples to pray with Him. Jesus moves away into a private spot and prays some of the most mysterious words ever spoken. He asks His Father to spare Him from the sufferings that He knows are coming. He is filled with terror and prayed so passionately that sweat was pouring from his head, dripping like drops of blood. After some time, He broke from His prayers and visited His disciples. Rather than praying, He found them sleeping. He left them to sleep, bearing with their lack of love and returned to His own prayers until finally, the Jewish guards–led by Judas–had arrived. Judas, pretending to be a friend, approached and kissed Jesus, which allowed the guards to know which man it was that they were to seize.
The deed was done. Judas, shortly thereafter became tormented by his guilt and returned the money to the Jewish leaders. However, he felt that there was no way for him to atone for what he had done and the devil drove him to despair. Finally, Judas added to the sin of betrayal the sin of murder–killing himself. In a few hours, Judas went from sitting at supper with the Son of God to dying in mortal sin. Those few hours will haunt Judas forever and ever as he is tormented in hell as the worst of all sinners in the history of the world.
The Passion and Death
Jesus was brought before the Jewish court in the middle of the night and, through false accusations made by wicked men, was condemned as a false teacher–a crime that was punished by death. The whole trial was unjust and everyone there knew it. Rather than try to defend himself, Jesus kept perfectly silent, as a testimony against their sinfulness. They asked him to defend himself, and He finally replied,
“I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”
Filled with hatred and anger, they condemned him, but they were unable to punish him themselves. Jerusalem was in the region of Judea, which was under Roman control. The Jewish leaders were not allowed to put a prisoner to death because of Roman laws. Therefore, the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, seeking to have Him put to death. Being dishonest, they told Pilate that Jesus taught the people that He was their true king and that He wanted to lead the Jews to war against Rome, and taught them to refuse to pay taxes. Pilate questioned Jesus, but was persuaded that there was no case against Him. Pilate told them that the matter had nothing to do with rebellion against Rome, but was an issue for the Jews to handle themselves. They then brought Jesus before Herod, the ruler of Galilee, who was in Jerusalem. Herod’s soldiers mocked and beat Jesus, and Herod sent him back to Pilate for further questioning. Pilate questioned Jesus again, but again found him guilty of no crime. Nevertheless, Pilate ordered his guards to whip Jesus before letting Him go.
Pilate’s wife had a terrifying dream concerning Jesus and she warned her husband to have nothing to do with this attempt by the Jews to kill Him, but Pilate finally gave in and chose to use the opportunity to win favor with the people, rather than judge justly. Pilate refused to protect Jesus, but gave the Jews what they wanted: he approved the killing of Jesus by crucifixion with two other criminals scheduled to die.
Jesus was terribly beaten and then forced to carry His cross to the place of execution. As he walked through the streets, He warned the Jewish people of the judgment that would come upon them for what they had done. Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing, brutally nailed the hands and feet of Jesus to two roughly cut logs and then raised Him up on them into the air, naked in the presence of the people. There, he hung in agony, as the people mocked Him. Mary, his mother, stood at the foot of the cross, feeling the heart-piercing sword Simeon told her would come to her. She watched as her holy Son suffered as though He were an evil criminal receiving a punishment for His evil deeds.
Finally, Jesus prayed for the people who betrayed and murdered Him. He asked God to forgive them, because they could not possibly have understood what they were doing. At last, Jesus knowing that He had fulfilled God’s will for His life cried out in victory: “It is finished!” He looked up to heaven and prayed, “Father, into your hands I place my spirit.”.
At last, Jesus died. He was taken down from the cross the following day and set into his mother’s arms, where she mourned him with the most bitter sorrow. The image of Mary holding her Son at the cross after His death has been imitated by many of history’s most famous artists, most famously in the Pieta, carved by Michelangelo in 1499 (see right).
The Resurrection and Ascension
The death and burial of Jesus was unlike any other. His disciples, while they mourned for Him, knew that He had spoken of rising again. On one occasion, before His final visit to Jerusalem, Jesus told His twelve apostles:
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.” (Matt. 12:33)
Others in Israel knew that Jesus had spoke of rising from the dead, but they didn’t believe it was possible. However, the Jewish leaders thought that the disciples might try to pretend that Jesus rose from the dead by stealing His body from the tomb and saying that He had risen and gone to heaven. Therefore the Jewish leaders asked that Roman soldiers be sent to guard the tomb until time had passed and all the excitement surrounding Jesus’ death might end. A guard was granted and the soldiers guarded the tomb.
However, three days later, Jesus fulfilled His promise and rose from the dead. It would be impossible to describe the event any better than St. Matthew did, so let us read the apostle’s own words:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and Mary (the mother of James) came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
It is important to note that in the Roman Empire, when a soldier was given guard duty it was at the risk of his life. If a captive escaped, the soldiers charged with keeping him were put to death. After the resurrection, these soldiers charged with guarding the tomb ran into the city to tell the Jews what had happened. They saw the angel with their own eyes. In addition to that, hundreds of other men and women had risen from the dead at the moment when Jesus rose. There was no way to not know the truth of what had happened, but the Jewish leaders, being blinded by their sins, had no interest in the truth of what had taken place. The Roman guards, concerned only with saving their lives, made a deal with them. The soldiers accepted a bribe and promised that if anyone asked, “What happened to the body of Jesus?” they would say, “His disciples came and stole it.” The Jewish leaders promised to stand up for the soldiers and protect them from punishment. St. Matthew tells us that this story was spread by the Jews and believed by those Jews who did not believe in Jesus.
Jesus, nevertheless, appeared to His eleven disciples, who confessed their sins of unbelief and betrayal and renewed their devotion to Jesus. The Lord spent forty days with his disciples, during which time He explained to them more perfectly the meaning of all of the Scriptures. At the end of forty days, before returning to heaven, Jesus gave to His apostles their mission, which is called “the Great Commission”:
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Studying the life of Jesus Christ is extremely difficult because it is the most incredible event in the history of the world. Every step Jesus takes, every word He speaks is worthy of hours of meditation and discussion. St. John knew this and, at the end of his Gospel, wrote:
“There are many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
We, therefore, must content ourselves with the brief treatment we have made here, but more importantly, we must commit ourselves to studying the Gospels with all our might! Nowhere in the world can more important and interesting reading be found than in the Gospels and everyone who loves the Lord will spend their free time studying His life and teachings. In our next lesson, we will begin our study of “the New Creation”, the world after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The devil was thoroughly crushed and cast down to the ground, the Kingdom of God was established on earth and Our Lord sat upon His throne, waiting for the day when all of His enemies are finally subdued under His feet. Glory to God in the Highest and peace to His people on earth!
Directions: Students are required to read the birth and death accounts from the life of Jesus Christ. Parents or praeceptors should check to make sure the students can answer the study questions below, which will be included on the lesson examination. The readings may be taken from any Catholic Bible and students should make an effort to give Sacred Scripture a due measure of reverence as it is the Word of God.
- The Birth and Childhood of Jesus (Luke Ch. 1:1-2:52)
- The Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Luke 22:1-24:53)
Directions: Read each date and event and recite it several times. By daily repetition, thoroughly memorize these events. Memorize them using your complete chart so that you can “see” the chart in your mind.
- 4000 BC – 750 BC Ancient World
- 4000 BC Creation of the World
- 3500 BC Ancient Sumeria Begins
- 3000 BC Ancient Egypt Begins
- 2950 BC – 2000 BC Life of Noah
- 2000 BC – 1780 BC Life of Abraham
- 1450 BC – 1410 BC Hebrew Exodus
- 1200 BC Trojan War
- 1000 BC – 960 BC Life of King David
- circa 960 BC The Temple of Solomon
- 753 BC City of Rome Founded
- 750 BC Homer Writes the Iliad & Odyssey
- 750 BC – 500 AD Classical World
- 722 BC Assyrian Captivity
- 586 BC Babylonian Captivity
- 600 BC – 535 BC The Prophet Daniel in Babylon
- 530-450 BC Esdras the Scribe
- 509-31 BC The Roman Republic
- 480-323 BC Classical Greece
- 336-323 BC Conquests of Alexander the Great
- 323 – 146 BC The Hellenistic World
- 264 – 146 BC The Punic Wars
- 100 – 44 BC The Life of Julius Caesar
- 27 BC – 476 AD The Roman Empire
- 4 BC – 33 AD The Life of Jesus Christ
- 500 AD – 1500 AD Medieval World
- 1500 AD – Present Modern World