Jesus—His Life and Message: Introduction

November 4, 2014

by Peter Amsterdam

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.1

God, in His love, sent His Son into the world at a specific time and place to live as a human being, to die on a cross, and to be raised from the dead to redeem fallen humankind, so that humanity would have the opportunity to enter into His kingdom and into a special relationship with Him. The four Gospels tell this story—the story of a unique human being, a Galilean Jew, a person who in many ways was very much like everyone else who has ever been born. At the same time, He was very different from anyone who has ever lived.

The Gospels tell us what made Jesus different. They teach us that He came into the world to lay down His life for humankind, and how through His death and resurrection humanity could enter into a new relationship with God. He didn’t come to teach people how to be good; He came to give them the power to be good through the supreme sacrifice He made for us all. There is no other story as important as this one, because how people respond to this unique individual—Jesus—determines their destiny for eternity.2 It’s through this story that we understand the great gift that is offered to us: the gift of becoming a child of our Father in heaven, the means to become a part of His family, and the wonder of living with Him forever.

The Gospels lay the foundation of Christian belief. It’s within their pages that we learn that Jesus was more than a good or righteous man, more than a teacher of morals and ethics, and more than a miracle worker. It’s within the Gospels that we find that Jesus, this unique individual, is the Savior promised by God. It is from the Gospels that we learn of the fulfillment of the promise God made, that through the ancient Hebrew patriarch Abraham all the world would be blessed.3

Jesus lived over two millennia ago, and the Gospels were written a few decades after His death and resurrection by believers of that day. Their goal in writing Jesus’ story was to preserve it so that it could be shared over and over. They wrote so that others would believe,4 and they were successful. There has been an unbroken line of Christians from their day until ours. Two millennia later, we read the same Gospel as did the first readers, and it has the power to transform our lives just as it did theirs.

The Gospels were not the first writings about Jesus. The apostle Paul’s letters are believed to have been written between 49–67 AD, which means some of them were most likely in circulation before the Gospels were written. Some of the other Epistles written in the early 60s AD could have predated the Gospels as well. The Epistles don’t tell a great deal about the life of Jesus, most likely because the authors were writing to believers who already knew something of His life. As was the general custom of the day, the stories and teachings of Jesus would have been circulated orally. The original witnesses, those who knew Him, would have told others the story of His life, describing His miracles, retelling His parables, and sharing other details of His life.

The time between Jesus’ death and resurrection (c. 33 AD) and the first of Paul’s Epistles was probably about fifteen years. The first Gospels were written about thirty years after Christ’s death. Although the writers of the Epistles didn’t go into the details of Jesus’ life, from what they did write, it’s clear that what they communicated in their writings corresponded with what the Gospel writers later recorded.

The Epistles tell us that Jesus was a descendant of David,5 a Jew raised under the Mosaic law,6 gentle and meek,7 sinless,8 tempted,9 and righteous.10 We also learn that He experienced hostility,11 was betrayed,12 suffered without resisting,13 was crucified,14 rose from the dead,15 and ascended into heaven.16

The Gospels focus on the time of Jesus’ ministry. Two of the Gospels give an account of His birth, and one speaks briefly of an event from His childhood when He was about twelve years old. Beyond that, we know almost no specific details about His life until He was baptized by John the Baptist. His pre-ministry life wasn’t the focus or purpose of the Gospel writers. Instead, they speak about what Jesus said and did during the public era of His life, the message He proclaimed, and the manner in which He proclaimed it. They tell us of His actions, miracles He performed, stories He told, the manner of His death, and His rising from the dead. They teach us that He was God’s only begotten Son, the only person who was both God and man, and that His purpose for taking on human form was to make it possible for us to live with God forever. In short, the Gospels’ main purpose is to share the good news that salvation is available through Jesus Christ.

The Gospels also teach believers about the relationship we enter into when we become children of God. They lay the foundation for living as the new creations we’ve become through salvation and receiving the Spirit of God within us. The Gospels impart information which can affect our lives for eternity, help us develop a worldview built on the foundation of truth, and act as spiritual, moral, and ethical guideposts on the journey of our lives.

The purpose of this series, JesusHis Life and Message, is twofold. The primary one is to give the reader some new insight into the Gospels, to enrich your understanding of what they contain. Most of us have read the Gospels over the years and have understood their overall message, and have sought to guide our lives by their teachings. However, deepening our understanding of what the Gospels teach can further strengthen our faith and help us to better apply their principles in our daily living.

The Gospels were written two thousand years ago in the common Greek of the day, known as Koine Greek—no longer spoken today. It was the main language spoken throughout the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus and beyond. The world of first-century Palestine was very different from the world we live in today, which can make it a challenge to understand the relevance of some of what Jesus said and did in the course of His ministry. Painting a picture of the setting and atmosphere of the times, looking at the background, politics, relationship between the governing power of Rome and the Jewish people, and discussing the religious factions of the time provide a backdrop for the context in which the Gospels were written that helps us better comprehend their meaning.

A fuller understanding of what the Gospels teach can bring us into a richer relationship with the Lord, which is another purpose of this series. If we can understand more than the words written on the page; if we can grasp the deeper concepts of what Jesus said and did, of His parables, His sermons, His miracles; if we can see them through the eyes of the first eyewitnesses in the milieu of first-century Palestine; then we can see more of the depth and beauty of His message. This can result in a fuller understanding of Jesus’ life, a more profound appreciation for the “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,”17 and ultimately a deeper faith.

The Gospels provide foundational principles which act as guidelines for leading a meaningful life and making choices and decisions based on eternal truths given by our Savior. Knowledge of the Gospels and what they teach is vital for living a God-centered life, which leads to joy in this life as well as the next. I hope each person who reads this series will gain some new insights and greater depth in their relationship with the Lord.

I’ve had a deep burden to write about the Gospels for the past five years, and I intended to begin this series years ago. Instead, the Lord led me to first focus on The Heart of It All series, in order to more fully explore basic Christian doctrines. While I wasn’t thrilled with the idea at the time, I’m glad I worked through that series first, as it forms a firm foundation for delving into the life and teachings of Jesus. That being said, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to begin this new series about Jesus’ life and teachings. I’ve always loved the Gospels, but having more thoroughly studied them these past years has given me a greater appreciation for their depth, beauty, and the life-changing power they possess. Spending more time with them has enriched my life in numerous ways. They have helped strengthen my understanding, my faith, and my connection with the Lord. My prayer is that studying the Gospels with this series will in some way do the same for you.

Researching and writing a potentially long series such as this requires commitment, and so does reading it. Over the past few years I’ve done a lot of study of the Bible's theology and history, both the Old and New Testaments, and parts of what I’ve worked through were rather boring, either because I already knew the information or I was simply uninterested in it. I was, however, trying to learn in a comprehensive manner—and as part of such learning, it’s often necessary to take in some information which is less interesting. The reason it is worthwhile is that it helps lay the foundation for understanding later concepts that build upon it and which are interesting and spiritually enriching.

Some parts of this series are primarily background, and while I am hoping that this background is interesting and helpful, as well as brief enough to be manageable, I realize it may not be the easiest read. It may be challenging to stick with it, especially if certain parts aren’t particularly interesting or spiritually feeding for you. I understand that it can be hard to progress through material that is not your preferred cup of tea. But I believe it will be worth your time and effort if you work your way through those sections.

The first few articles in this series will cover some general information about the Gospels, as well as some historical information. I encourage you to read through this material, even if it feels a little academic or tedious for your liking. I especially encourage you to persevere and continue into the more interesting and inspirational articles which will follow, and not decide to skip the series overall based on these introductory background articles. Being familiar with the introductory material will be helpful later as we look at Jesus’ teachings and the events of His life in detail.

I will start with an explanation of the Gospels—who wrote them and why, when they were written, and the kind of documents they are. I will include some description of the situation in Israel prior to and during Jesus’ lifetime, as well as looking at the rulers of the land, and the religious groups within Israel, in order to help describe the world He was born into. Then we will move into the story of His birth and His life.

In covering His ministry through to His passion, death, and resurrection, I plan to focus on what He taught, what it meant to His disciples, and what it means to us today. I plan to cover the major teachings in depth, as well as the connection between His miracles, actions, and message. There may be aspects of the Gospels, such as the Sermon on the Mount, that will require multiple articles to fully explore. Since I’ve already written about Jesus’ parables in The Stories Jesus Told series, I won’t extensively cover those again, but I will try to cover the other teachings of Jesus in some depth.

In this series, I will generally use the English Standard Version (ESV) when quoting Scripture, but will also use other Bible translations if they more clearly express a certain point. A general bibliography will be included at the end of each chapter; therefore the citations in footnotes will be abbreviated.

I am very thankful for the team of tremendous people who are helping make this series possible. I am grateful for my wonderful editor as well as the team of reviewers who read every word, ask questions, make suggestions, and point out the flaws in my drafts. As difficult as it can be to receive the multitude of suggestions, I thank the Lord for them, as without doubt they make the text better. Then there is our ever-faithful proofreader, the graphic designer, the webmaster who posts the material on Directors’ Corner, and of course the translators and those who do the same things in other languages. I am eternally grateful for the time, effort, prayer, and plain old hard work these dear ones do to make it possible for you to receive these posts. My thanks to each of you.

My goal is to write about the Gospels in a manner that is interesting, gives a broad range of information, is applicable to daily life, and is helpful to both new and veteran Christians. It is my hope and prayer that this series will be an aid that brings greater understanding to your reading and study of the Gospels; that enriches your understanding of Jesus’ life and message, and the bedrock principles Jesus taught and on which we build our lives as God’s children.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Galatians 4:4–5.

2 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:16–18).
     Everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God (Luke 12:8–9).

3 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2–3).

4 John 20:31.

5 … concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3).

6 When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (Galatians 4:4).

7 … by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1).

8 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).
    One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
    He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22).

9 Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).

10 Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18).

11 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:3).
     For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me” (Romans 15:3).

12 The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread (1 Corinthians 11:23).

13 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21–23).

14 We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

15 … that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4).

16 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9–11).

17 Romans 11:33.