Jesus Christ Research Paper

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Jesus, who began his ministry in small towns around Galilee, was a Jew. After the Romans crucified him as rebel, his followers deemed him the Son of God, believing he would soon return to end wickedness in the world and judge the living and the dead. Most Jews rejected this idea, but missionaries made converts among pagans, founding a church that eventually divided into the rival Christian churches of today.

Although Jesus (of Nazareth) is one of the most important historical figures who ever lived, very little historical information is actually known about him. The principal sources for his life and ministry are the four canonical gospels of the Christian Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While these documents contain actual sayings of Jesus, they are products of a developed tradition and themselves use established sources. Alongside information of undoubted historical value, then, there are later stories and sayings inserted for their theological value.

Jesus was born into a milieu of vigorous political activism and religious speculation. Within the context of first-century Judaism, these were interlinked as a result of widespread apocalyptic speculation. In the years when Judaea had been ruled by Hellenistic kings, many of its people began to concentrate their hopes for political change upon a direct intervention by God. The apocalyptic literature, most famously, for example, the Book Of Daniel, that they developed expressed the view that God would act by sending a leader to free the people (“Messiah”) and restore the cult based in the Temple at Jerusalem to its proper function. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the long rule of the region by the Roman client-king Herod the Great had come to an end. His immediate successors were proving inadequate and so the Romans were undertaking a more direct role in administration and policing.

Jesus came from Nazareth, a village in the hills of Galilee, under the direct authority of one of Herod’s sons, Herod Antipas. Galilee itself was geographically and intellectually peripheral to the Temple cult operating in Jerusalem. Instead, the central religious institution in Galilean life was the synagogue. The religious community of the synagogue met weekly to be led in formal devotions by a teacher (rabbi). The focus of the synagogue was upon the reading and interpretation of Scripture, and it was in this context that religious reform groups like the Pharisees, who placed particular emphasis upon personal religious devotion, flourished.

Jesus’ public ministry, when it began, was mostly amongst the small villages and towns of Galilee. Although there were several cities nearby (Scythopolis [Bet She’an], Tiberias, and Sepphoris [Zippori]—itself only a few kilometers from Nazareth), the gospel accounts make it clear that he preferred to concentrate his activities within the small fishing communities of the Galilee region, and Capernaum in particular. He seems to have followed on from the earlier ministry of his cousin, John the Baptist. John, an ascetic and itinerant preacher, had demanded a revival of personal piety, to be expressed through a ritual cleansing in water (baptism). At the beginning of his own ministry, Jesus had been baptized by John and, while he did not himself baptize, many of his followers baptized in his name.

Jesus’ principal message was an assertion of the need for a personal piety as a response to the love of God. He stressed the need for personal compassion, and many of the miracles associated with him are miracles of healing, which emphasize Jesus’ own compassion. In focusing upon personal integrity as a measure of piety, Jesus came into conflict with another religious reform movement, the Pharisees, who also laid heavy emphasis upon religious authenticity, although through devoted obedience to Jewish religious law. Jesus’ most colorful language was reserved for Pharisees, whom he depicted as liars and hypocrites who were slavishly devoted to the letter of the law.

Jesus’ principal notoriety was not so much for his words, however, as for his deeds. He swiftly gained a reputation as a miracle worker through miraculous healings, exorcisms, and even the restoration of life.

When Jesus sought to remove his ministry to Jerusalem, he immediately came into conflict with Temple authorities, whom he accused of profiteering. They in turn sought help from the Roman administrators. Depicting Jesus as a revolutionary and a messianic troublemaker, they secured his conviction and execution by the Romans as a rebel. It is certainly clear that his visit was accompanied by considerable speculation that he would proclaim himself as the Messiah and lead a revolt. While he encouraged this speculation by his entry into Jerusalem in deliberate fulfillment of a messianic prophecy, he stopped short of ever actually claiming to be the Messiah.

Within weeks of his death, a significant number of his followers began to claim that he had risen from the dead. That belief in Jesus’ resurrection empowered communities of his followers to survive and grow, forming the kernel of the Christian church. This community expected his imminent return from heaven to complete his messianic task. When that did not occur, Jesus’ words and deeds, along with stories about him, were written down as gospels and other documents. Jesus himself wrote nothing except, once when asked to judge a woman caught in adultery, he scribbled some words in the dust (John 8:1–6).


  1. Sanders, E. P. (1993). The historical figure of Jesus. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Allen Lane.
  2. Vermes, G. (1983). Jesus and the world of Judaism. London: SCM Press.

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