About 2000 years ago a man named Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in the land of Israel. He was unique. He was fully God and yet fully human. God had allowed himself to be born as a man so that he could live and suffer among us, to serve as the perfect atonement for our sin, and to offer forgiveness and salvation to anyone who believes.
His birth, mission, death and resurrection were foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament of the Bible and revealed to us by the writers of the New Testament.
Jesus lived among his fellow Jews during a time when the boundaries of the Roman Empire included the land of Israel. He preached and performed miracles for three-and-a-half years until he was crucified by the Romans. He died on a wooden cross and was buried in a tomb.
But his life did not end in death. Jesus Christ was resurrected. And because he was perfect, he is able to open the doors to the Kingdom of God. And because he was sinless, he is able to forgive us our sins so that we too can be accepted into the Kingdom of God.
Jesus explains this in a passage of the Bible called John 3:16, when he said: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
The following is an overview of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
(see Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25)
The New Testament books of Matthew and Luke explain the virgin birth of Jesus. Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph but not yet married. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would have a son who would be named Jesus and who would be called the Son of God. Here is the NIV translation of Luke 1:27-35:
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. - Luke 1:27-35 (NIV).
(see Luke 2:1-7)
Shortly before Jesus was born, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus decided that a census be taken throughout the Roman Empire, including the land of Israel. People were required to return to their ancestral homes for registration. For Joseph and Mary, that meant leaving Nazareth, which is a town in the northern district of Galilee, and traveling to Bethlehem, which is in the southern region called Judah or Judea.
After they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary was ready to give birth to Jesus. So Joseph and Mary went to a manger because they could not find other lodging. It was a manger, where animals are kept, that served as the humble place of birth for Jesus.
Bethlehem is an important city for Messianic prophecy. King David, who ruled over Israel about 1,000 years before the time of Jesus, was born in Bethlehem. And the prophet Micah, who lived about 700 years before Jesus, announced that Bethlehem would be the birthplace for the Messiah:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." - Micah 5:2 (NIV translation).
Ephrathah is the ancient name for the town of Bethlehem in Judah.
(see Matthew 2:1-2)
When Jesus was born, a star appeared over Bethlehem. Scholars today speculate whether the star was a meteor, a supernatural phenomenon, an alignment of celestial bodies, or a literal star. Many scholars believe that Jesus was born sometime around 4 BC to 8 BC. It is interesting to note that ancient Chinese astronomy records indicate that there was a star-like object hovering somewhere over the Middle East for several days in the year 5 BC, about 2000 years ago.
(see Matthew 2:3-12)
The Star of Bethlehem attracted visitors from the East. These visitors believed that the star marked the birth of a new king. Perhaps the visitors were familiar with the Bible's prophecies and understood that a Messiah King would be born in Israel and that he would have an impact on the entire world.
But, Israel already had a ruler, King Herod the Great. He was not a true king but had been appointed by the Romans to govern the Jews in the land of Israel. Herod was described by Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived during the first century, as a murderous man who ordered the deaths of many of his own family members. When Herod found out that the visitors were hoping to find and worship the newborn king, Herod ordered the deaths of every infant in Bethlehem, in the hopes of killing the king that the visitors spoke of.
(see Matthew 2:13-15)
An angel warned Joseph of Herod's plans to murder the young children of Bethlehem. So Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to Egypt and they lived there until Herod died.
In ancient times the people of Israel sometimes sought refuge in Egypt, including Jacob and his sons, who left the land of Israel during a time of famine. The Gospel of Matthew shows that many events in Jewish history are similar to events in the life of Jesus, reinforcing his role as the Messiah.
(see Matthew 2:19-23)
After the death of King Herod, Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to the land of Israel. Joseph was afraid to return to Bethlehem because the town is near Jerusalem, where Herod Archelaus, the son of Herod, now reigned as king. So Joseph took his family to the northern district of Galilee, to a small town called Nazareth. This obscure town became the hometown of Jesus, where he grew up and became an adult.
(see Luke 2:41-52)
When Jesus was 12 years of age, he and his mother Mary and stepfather Joseph traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Feast of the Passover. When the feast had ended, Mary and Joseph became separated from Jesus and they searched for him. Jesus had gone to the Lord's Temple and conversed with the people there. The people were amazed by his depth of understanding and by his knowledge. When Mary found Jesus at the Temple, Jesus said to her: "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49).