In centuries of Christian art, the adult Jesus was ever portrayed as a young man.
Apart from Jesus’ purported divinity, isn’t it a little interesting that middle age men and elderly men idolize the Young Man Jesus?
Is this like a 50-year-old man idolizing the prowess of a young male athlete? Is it like a 60-year-old man idolizing the talent a young male musician? Is it like a 70-year-old man idolizing the handsomeness of a young male actor?
Three of the four biblical gospels speak of Jesus’ age, and each of the three says something different:
The Gospel of Luke chapter 2 states Jesus was born during a census enacted by Augustus Caesar. We know from other ancient sources that an Augustinian census occurred in 6 CE, although there was no Roman practice of requiring people to return to their ancestors’ hometown. So, according to Luke, Jesus was born in 6 CE.
In Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry after John the Baptist begins his. Luke chapter 3 says that John emerged in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s rule, which would have been 29 CE. Jesus would therefore have been 23 or 24 years old when he, Jesus, began his public ministry.
And yet Luke chapter 3 says Jesus was ‘about 30’ when he began his ministry, a discrepancy with his own dating of Jesus’ birth and John’s emergence.
With one Passover mentioned in the gospel, and Passover being a once-a-year event, Jesus’ ministry could have been anywhere from several months to a year long. So, for Luke there are two possibilities for Jesus’ age when Jesus dies.
If Jesus was 23 or 24 when he began his public ministry, then Jesus was between 23 and 25 years old when he died. If Jesus was 30 when his ministry began, he was 30 or 31 when he died.
The Gospel of Matthew chapter 2 says King Herod died when Jesus was between infancy and a toddler. We know from other ancient sources that King Herod died in 4 BCE. So, for Matthew, Jesus was born somewhere between 6 and 4 BCE.
Jesus died sometime during the reign of Pontius Pilate, who we know from other ancient sources ruled between 26 CE and 36 CE. So, for Matthew, Jesus was between 30 and 42 years old when he died, with his public ministry beginning several months to a year earlier, since only one Passover is mentioned in the gospel, and Passover is a once-a-year event.
The Gospel of John chapter 8 tells of a person encountering Jesus during Jesus’ public ministry and saying that Jesus is ‘not yet fifty’ (i.e., 45 years to 49 years old). In John, Jesus has a three-year ministry (three Passovers mentioned). So, for John, Jesus was between 48 and 52 years old when he died.
Would middle age men still idolize Jesus if Jesus were a fellow middle-aged man? Would elderly men feel a bit closer to an elderly Jesus?
Perhaps so, because if Jesus were older he would have had more life experience. It was Thomas Paine in ‘The Age of Reason’ who suggested Jesus should have lived a full life into old age and even into decrepitude. If Jesus had truly come to earth in order to suffer, said Paine, if the intent was to suffer, then Jesus should have lived long and endured more suffering.
If Jesus had died in his 90s, bent over like a hoop from a musculoskeletal disorder, hobbling along on a cane, blurred in vision, hair thinned to strings, teeth gone, struggling with dementia, and feeling the smart of pains and scars acquired from any number of diseases and surgeries endured along the way, Jesus truly would have suffered what middle aged men and elderly men have suffered. Jesus could still have been the Son of God, still a Savior, and be old at the same time.
Would an older Jesus be an apt recipient of idolization for the elder set of Christian men? We were ever given the Young Man Jesus. Could anyone tolerate an Old Man Jesus?
Featured image ‘Old Man’ by Joe Le Merou via Flickr