#332 Jesus



In "Jesus: A Biography from a Believer," Paul Johnson delves into the life and enduring impact of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure of Christianity, whose teachings and life story have profoundly influenced human history. Johnson presents Jesus as a man whose revolutionary message of love, humility, and compassion was set against the backdrop of a harsh, violent, and materialistic Roman world. Jesus's approach to teaching, using parables and direct engagement with individuals, emphasized the importance of personal transformation and universal love. Despite the abundance of texts about Jesus, Johnson acknowledges the challenge of discerning the true nature of his sayings and actions. He also contrasts Jesus's teachings with the ruling powers of his time, such as Herod the Great, emphasizing Jesus's focus on the disenfranchised and his call for spiritual reformation over material wealth. Ultimately, Jesus's life, crucifixion, and alleged resurrection remain a subject of both religious belief and historical fascination, with his message of inner change and moral conduct resonating through the ages.

Summary Notes

Influence of Jesus

  • Jesus is considered the most influential human being in history.
  • He is the most written about and discussed figure.
  • The earliest surviving document about Jesus dates from the century AD.
  • Four Greek biographies were published within 50 years of his death and have survived.
  • Over 100,000 printed biographies of Jesus exist in English.
  • Christianity was established in multiple countries by AD 50.
  • The first Christian place of worship dates to about AD 50.
  • Christianity's impact is significant in cultural and moral respects.

"Jesus was, in terms of his influence, the most important human being in history."

This quote emphasizes the unparalleled influence of Jesus on human history, reflecting the speaker's view of Jesus's significance.

"The religion which commemorates Jesus's teachings, death and resurrection, was well established in half a dozen countries by AD 50."

The quote indicates the rapid spread and establishment of Christianity within a short time after Jesus's death.

Jesus as Man and God

  • The speaker believes Jesus was both man and God.
  • It is considered futile to inquire about Jesus's divine nature or pre-existence.
  • The focus is on writing about Jesus the man due to the abundance of sources.
  • The speaker aims for clarity and brevity in discussing Jesus's life.

"It is futile for us to inquire about the nature of Jesus and God and his pre-existence from the beginning, since that is unknowable, let alone the future which is still hidden from us."

This quote acknowledges the limitations of human understanding regarding the divine aspects of Jesus and suggests focusing on his human life.

Background of Jesus's Time

  • Jesus was born into a harsh, cruel, violent, and unstable world.
  • The era was materialistic and increasingly wealthy.
  • Rome was transitioning from a republic to an empire.
  • The Roman Empire had a vast population and was built on slavery.
  • Julius Caesar expanded the empire significantly.

"Rome was in the process of transforming itself from a republic into an empire."

The quote provides historical context for the time of Jesus's birth, highlighting the political changes occurring in Rome.

Herod the Great and Jesus's Birth

  • Herod the Great ruled the area where Jesus was born.
  • Herod was wealthy, a great builder, but also cruel and murderous.
  • Jesus is often called Jesus of Nazareth.
  • He was likely born around 4 BC in Nazareth.
  • Nazareth was a town of workshops and craftsmen.

"He had numerous wives and concubines and sired many children. He was suspicious and cruel, and he slaughtered over 40 of his wives, children and close relatives."

This quote describes the brutality of Herod the Great, contrasting with the teachings of Jesus that would follow.

Jesus's Childhood

  • Jesus grew up in a pious household with Joseph and Mary.
  • Jewish feasts and practices were observed.
  • An incident at age 12 in the temple in Jerusalem showcased Jesus's wisdom.
  • Jesus's first recorded words were a question about being in his father's house.

"Every year at the feast of Passover, they went up to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice in the temple."

The quote illustrates the religious dedication of Jesus's family and their adherence to Jewish customs.

Jesus's Missing Years and Early Adulthood

  • Little is known about Jesus's life from age 12 to 30.
  • Jesus was likely self-taught and knowledgeable in various fields.
  • His knowledge may have come from practical experience.
  • The death of Joseph may have led Jesus to seek experience outside Nazareth.

"It is a somber and unwelcome fact that for more than half of Jesus's life, we know absolutely nothing about what he did or where he went or how he lived."

This quote highlights the lack of historical records about a significant portion of Jesus's life, known as the "missing years."

Jesus's Teachings and Ministry

  • Jesus began his ministry around the age of 30.
  • His teachings are the most documented part of his life.
  • Judaism at the time was ready for reformation, similar to Christianity in the early 16th century.
  • Jesus's alternative teachings focused on reforming Judaism.

The transcript does not provide a verbatim quote for this section.

John the Baptist's Role and Teachings

  • John the Baptist was teaching the need for reformation and the importance of being baptized.
  • His teachings attracted large crowds and the attention of authorities.
  • John played a significant role in Jesus' mission, essentially helping to launch it.
  • John baptized Jesus, which was both an actual and symbolic beginning of Jesus' mission.
  • Speaking out against the powerful led to John's arrest and eventual beheading.

"John the Baptist was also teaching the need for reformation." "The baptism of Jesus was also the culmination of John's own mission."

These quotes highlight John the Baptist's influence on the spiritual climate of the time, advocating for change and setting the stage for Jesus' ministry. His baptism of Jesus symbolizes a new beginning and the seriousness of his message.

Jesus' Characteristics and Early Actions

  • Jesus was observant, detail-oriented, and known for intense eye contact.
  • He was confident, decisive, charismatic, and had innate authority.
  • Jesus chose the twelve apostles to be his closest followers and protectors.
  • The apostles were critical to spreading Jesus' teachings and ensuring his safety.
  • Jesus' teachings often conflicted with established beliefs, leading to violent reactions.

"Jesus was observant, detail-oriented. Several people commented on the intense eye contact that he would do." "One of the first important acts that Jesus did was choose the twelve apostles."

These quotes underscore Jesus' personal traits and strategic actions early in his ministry. His choice of the apostles reflects his understanding of the importance of a strong support system for his mission.

Jesus' Mission and Recruitment of Apostles

  • Jesus required full commitment from the apostles, emphasizing the importance of dedication to the mission.
  • He warned of the potential for dissension within families due to the commitment required.
  • The apostles were given specific functions and powers to assist in Jesus' mission.
  • Jesus used nicknames for some apostles, highlighting their characteristics and roles.

"This mission is only for the fully committed." "Jesus was adamant that the men he called must put their mission first."

These quotes convey the absolute commitment Jesus demanded from his apostles, indicating the seriousness and potential sacrifices involved in following him.

Jesus' Teaching Methods and Philosophy

  • Jesus preferred to persuade through reason rather than rely on miracles to convince people.
  • He emphasized the rationality of following his teachings and the importance of faith.
  • Jesus often kept his healings private to avoid being seen as a miracle worker.
  • His teaching was continuous and responsive, utilizing every opportunity to impart his message.

"Jesus makes it clear that it is preferable that men show faith by listening to the truth and by accepting it and following it, rather than by waiting for signs and miracles to convince them." "He wanted to avoid at all costs being known as a miracle worker."

These quotes reveal Jesus' focus on faith and reason over spectacle, and his desire to be recognized for his teachings rather than for performing miracles.

Jesus' Teachings and the Beatitudes

  • Jesus' teachings were centered on self-transformation and living by the beatitudes.
  • The beatitudes emphasize humility, justice, compassion, inner purity, and peace.
  • His teachings were challenging, new, and contrasted with conventional ideas of success and happiness.

"Jesus taught that life was to be devoted to self transformation." "This was tough teaching, hard to follow and entirely new."

These quotes summarize the core of Jesus' teachings and the revolutionary nature of the beatitudes, which presented a radical shift from traditional views of righteousness and fulfillment.

Ancient Near East Wisdom Literature and Jesus' Teachings

  • Jesus followed the wisdom literature of the ancient Near East with more difficult maxims.
  • He introduced principles such as loving one's enemies and turning the other cheek.
  • Jesus emphasized the importance of inner sentiments and how they can lead to significant sins.
  • He taught that anger without cause and verbal abuse were wrong.
  • His teachings were new and provoked a range of reactions from astonishment to anger and fear.

"Many of Jesus's sayings have become maxims familiar to us from childhood, but they were startlingly new in his day."

This quote explains that while Jesus' sayings are well-known today, they were revolutionary and surprising when first introduced.

The Great Commandment and Universal Love

  • Jesus summarized his teachings with the concept of kindness.
  • He combined the ideas of loving God and loving others into what he called the greatest commandment.
  • Jesus defined "neighbor" as everyone, extending the concept of compassion universally.
  • His message of universal love was radical in the intellectual, social, and racial climate of his time.
  • Jesus was described as a universalist and philanthropy incarnate, emphasizing love for all mankind.

"He turned compassion, which all of us feel from time to time for a particular person, into a huge, overarching gospel of love."

This quote highlights Jesus' revolutionary idea of extending individual acts of compassion into a universal principle of love for all humanity.

Jesus as a Communicator and Storyteller

  • Jesus was charismatic, poetic, and persuasive in his communication.
  • His teachings were rich in metaphor, simile, and vivid comparisons with nature.
  • He used parables as a storytelling method to illustrate moral lessons.
  • The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are examples of memorable stories that spread widely.
  • Jesus' methods of teaching through maxims and storytelling are still effective today.

"Jesus, like all great storytellers, understand that the lessons won't be applied if they aren't remembered."

This quote emphasizes the importance of memorable teachings, suggesting that stories and maxims are effective because they are more likely to be retained and acted upon.

Wealth, Poverty, and the Use of Power

  • Jesus addressed the relationship between wealth, virtue, and the potential for corruption.
  • He encouraged the wealthy to use their resources to help the poor.
  • Jesus highlighted that the impact of wealth depends on how it is used.
  • The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates how wealth can promote virtue.
  • The notion that greater net worth enables greater service to others is discussed.

"Jesus' general point about wealth is that it all depends on what you do with it."

This quote summarizes Jesus' stance on wealth, emphasizing the moral responsibility of using wealth for the benefit of others rather than for personal corruption.

The Individual Focus and Imitation of Jesus' Methods

  • Jesus addressed crowds but spoke to each individual within them.
  • He valued individuality and personal connection.
  • His teaching style relied on emotion and intuition rather than logic.
  • Jesus trained his apostles to imitate his methods and spread his gospel.
  • The distinction between apostles and disciples is noted, with apostles being a select group and disciples being a broader following.

"Although Jesus constantly addressed crowds, he spoke directly to each individual who composed them."

This quote captures Jesus' approach to teaching, which was personal and individual-focused despite often speaking to large groups.

Jesus' Interest in Children and Observational Skills

  • Jesus was fascinated by the development of children and used them in his teachings.
  • He was observant and incorporated his observations into his messages.
  • The quote reiterates Jesus' attention to detail and his ability to use everyday observations in his teachings.

"He was fascinated by every aspect of the way in which a baby comes into the world and then grows and becomes a delightful child."

This quote reflects Jesus' interest in the growth and development of children, which he often used as part of his teachings.

The Study of Children and Their Impulses

  • Observations of parental love and children's behavior provide valuable insights.
  • Children's impulses for play and their emotional responses are significant.
  • The study of children is believed to be highly informative and worthwhile.

"The impulses of children at play interested him, and so did their sorrows. Children were not to be ignored."

This quote highlights the importance of acknowledging and understanding the natural behaviors and emotions of children, suggesting that their actions and reactions have much to teach us.

Jesus' New Ten Commandments

  • Jesus advocated for personal change as a means to transform the world.
  • The revolution he taught was internal, targeting negative human traits.
  • Imitation of Jesus' behavior is seen as a path to a better world and personal fulfillment.
  • Jesus provided a set of commandments focusing on personal development and universal values.

"The revolution was entirely inward, a revolution against selfishness and greed, cruelty and prejudice, anger and lust."

The quote encapsulates the essence of Jesus' teachings, which emphasize an internal transformation as a means to overcome negative traits and foster a loving and inclusive community.

Paul Johnson's Overview of the Commandments

  • Each commandment is a principle for living a life modeled after Jesus.
  • The commandments cover a range of virtues, including personality development, universality, equality, love, mercy, balance, open-mindedness, truth, power, and courage.
  • The commandments are meant to be applied universally, without expectation of reward or recognition.

"Each of us must develop a true personality. Each of us is unique. You must develop your own character."

This quote stresses the importance of individuality and personal growth as foundational to living a life in accordance with Jesus' teachings.

The Death of Jesus

  • Jesus' execution is attributed to a collaboration between Pontius Pilate and religious leaders.
  • The trials of Jesus highlight flaws in human nature and justice.
  • Jesus' crucifixion is described in detail, emphasizing its cruelty.

"Lying and perjury, prejudice and false witness, an eagerness to take innocent life, but a determination to avoid any responsibility by passing the decision to others."

This quote reflects on the injustice and cowardice displayed during the trials of Jesus, providing a critique of human nature and the judicial process of the time.

The Crucifixion and Resurrection

  • The crucifixion is a brutal form of execution, and Jesus' experience is described vividly.
  • The resurrection is a central belief for Christians, marking a divergence in the narrative for believers and non-believers.
  • The life of Jesus offers lessons that are relevant regardless of religious belief.

"The crucifixion and the resurrection being the cornerstone of the christian faith."

This quote underscores the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection as the foundation of Christian belief and the transformative power of his teachings.

The Relevance of Jesus' Biography in the Modern World

  • Jesus' life is presented as a contrast to the cruelty and corruption of his time.
  • His teachings offer an alternative based on humility, love, and forgiveness.
  • The biography of Jesus is deemed crucial for contemporary society to study and learn from.

"We live in a cruel world, too, so Jesus'alternative is still relevant."

This quote draws a parallel between the times of Jesus and the present day, suggesting that the principles he embodied remain applicable and necessary for addressing today's challenges.

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