RELIGION LIBRARY

Christianity

Origins

Beginnings

Jesus of NazarethChristianity originated in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who was born circa 4 B.C.E. in Roman-occupied Palestine, a Jewish province of the Roman Empire.

The first century of the Common Era was a time of political instability, insurgency, and suffering. Poverty, taxation, famine, and epidemics of disease had made life intolerable for many. In the year of Jesus' birth, the Roman authorities had punished an armed uprising by crucifying approximately 2,000 people.

The book of Isaiah in the BibleMany Jews of the time thought they were living in the "end times," a time of trial and tribulation that would end with God's intervention. They looked for God to destroy the enemies of the Jews and institute a kingdom of justice and righteousness, which would be the Kingdom of God. Most Jews hoped that God would expel the Romans, and that his envoy, the Messiah, would appear to rule the new world. They believed the Messiah would be a king or a military leader from the line of King David, and that his coming was foretold in scripture, e.g., Isaiah 9:1-7.

Isaiah 9:5
For a child is born to us,
A son is given to us;
Dominion will rest on his shoulders,
And he will be given the name
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.

Most of what we know about Jesus' life and teaching comes from the four Gospels of the New Testament. The New Testament's Book of Acts gives an account of the founding of a new community by Jesus' disciples, along with a new convert named Paul.

Four New Testament Gospels
Matthew
Mark
Luke
John

According to the Gospels, Jesus launched a public ministry sometime in his late twenties. He was one of many Jewish preachers of the time who viewed themselves as reformers and prophets. John the Baptist, another preacher, baptized him. John the Baptist baptizes Jesus (mosaic detail from St. Demetrios Orthodox church, Seattle)He called twelve men to be his disciples, and together they traveled around Palestine, preaching and teaching about the coming Kingdom of God. The Gospels report that after about three years Jesus was arrested while in Jerusalem at Passover. Convicted as a threat to public and religious order, Jesus was whipped and nailed to a cross. This form of execution, called crucifixion, was a common practice of the Roman authorities.

open tomb Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeryjl/520114756/The Gospels place Jesus' death on a Friday, so he was buried before the start of the Sabbath at sundown. On the following Sunday, several women who were followers of Jesus returned to anoint his body with oil, and found the tomb empty. Other followers described encounters with Jesus, and his disciples became convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

16th century Russian depiction of Jesus' ascension into heaven Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanaquino/3381054545/The account of Jesus' life and ministry concludes in the Book of Acts with his ascension. Acts 1:9 says that "he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." As the disciples stood gazing up into the sky, two men in white robes appeared beside them and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The disciples took this as a promise of Jesus' return.

Orthodox icon of the Pentecost miracleThey then gathered in Jerusalem on the festival of Shavuot (also called Pentecost), where a dramatic event took place. "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them" (Acts 2:2-3). The disciples began to speak in multiple languages, and Jewish pilgrims from distant locations could understand them, each in their own language. One of Jesus' disciples, Peter, stood up and preached the first Christian sermon. This day is commemorated by many Christians as the Birthday of the Church.

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