Jesus Christ: Life and History
Jesus Christ’s mortal life was short, only 33 years, but the prophecies of His coming reach back to the days of Adam, and His life changed the lives of everyone who lives, has lived, or ever will live on earth.
Jesus Christ is the Creator and the Savior of our world. Before His life on earth, Christ created the earth under the direction of His Father. He also volunteered in the premortal life to come to earth and suffer for our sins and die so that we can be saved.
In the years before that sacrifice, Jesus Christ lived among humankind. He was born to a virgin named Mary as the Only Begotten Son of God. While His birth was celebrated by angels and by heavenly signs, the Savior grew up in humble circumstances, the son of a carpenter, Joseph, in Nazareth. The Gospel of Luke records that the young Jesus “waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:40, 52). Aside from this, very little is recorded of Jesus’s early years except that, at age 12, while traveling to Jerusalem, he was separated from his family. They found him days later in the temple teaching the most learned men of the city. Jesus seemed to already understand His life’s calling, because when His parents found him in the temple, He asked them, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).
Jesus did not begin his formal ministry until age 30, when He traveled from Galilee to the Jordan River. There He found John the Baptist and asked to be baptized. Although Jesus was without sin, He asked to be baptized by someone with priesthood authority in order to illustrate obedience to His Father in all things. After John baptized Jesus, John saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God descending. The voice of God the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). All three members of the Godhead were present at that moment: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. John the Baptist bore witness of this and of Christ’s divinity.
After His baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to commune with God, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Christ three times, challenging Him to perform miracles and tempting Him to accept an offer of power and riches. Jesus rejected Satan all three times. He then returned to Galilee, visiting neighboring villages where He chose several disciples and began performing miracles. In His first recorded miracle, Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding He attended with His mother and new disciples. Traveling through Judea and Galilee, Jesus used parables (symbolic stories) to explain how prophecies were being fulfilled and how to find salvation. He also performed miracles by healing the sick and raising the dead. As word spread of Jesus’s ministry and miracles, more people began to follow Him.
Consistent in all the accounts of Jesus’s ministry is His concern for the poor, compassion for sinners, and love for children. He preached in synagogues and confronted hypocrisy. In His Sermon on the Mount, which is now looked to as a source for Christian ethics, He presented the Beatitudes—a series of short statements that communicate His teachings of love, humility, and compassion. The Beatitudes quickly spread among the people, and more and more of them began proclaiming Him as the long-prophesied Messiah. The Pharisees heard of this and publicly challenged Jesus, accusing Him of having the power of Satan. Jesus warned His disciples of the Pharisees’ intentions to have Him killed and that He would be killed but would rise from the dead three days later.
About a year and a half after giving the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took three of His disciples to a high mountain to pray. There, the prophets Elijah and Moses appeared, and then a bright cloud overshadowed Christ and His disciples. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5). This event is now known as the Transfiguration. Afterward, six days before Passover, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding a donkey. Throngs of people laid down palm leaves and cloaks in His path out of reverence as they greeted Jesus at the city’s entry. This reverent action antagonized the priests and Pharisees, who became increasingly angry as Jesus continued His ministry. The chief priests and elders met with high priest Caiaphas and set plans in motion to arrest Jesus. Judas, one of Jesus’s own disciples, helped them with their plan.
For the Passover meal, Jesus and His twelve disciples met together. Jesus gave His worthy followers some final words of faith and administered the first sacrament—a means by which His followers could remember His sacrifice and renew promises they made to Him and to God the Father. This new ordinance replaced the need for animal sacrifice with the required sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit.
After this event, known as the Last Supper, Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. There, suffering under the weight of all of our sins, Jesus bled from every pore and bore the pains of the world in unimaginable physical and emotional agony. Soldiers and officials later appeared, led by Judas, who kissed Jesus on the cheek to identify Him. After His arrest, Jesus was taken to the Jewish high court, where He was interrogated, mocked, and beaten.
Jesus was then brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, and the Jewish priests demanded that Jesus be condemned to death. Pilate told the priests he could find no fault with Jesus, but he eventually relented in response to the angry crowd’s demands. The Roman soldiers whipped and beat Jesus, placed a crown of thorns on His head, and led Him to Calvary. On that hill, Jesus was nailed to a cross and crucified between two thieves; at His feet were, among other disciples, Mary Magdalene and His mother, Mary. Amid the taunts of the crowds and soldiers and the darkening skies, Jesus asked God to forgive His tormentors and then voluntarily gave up His life, commending Himself to His Father. Upon His death, the earth shook.
After Jesus died, His body was taken down from the cross and buried in a nearby tomb. On the third day after His death, Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and began weeping. Looking up, she saw Jesus and thought He was a gardener, until He called her by name. Jesus also appeared to other women. These women then hurried to share the astounding news of Jesus’s appearance with His disciples, who had been in hiding. Eventually, Jesus appeared to His disciples as well, at which time He invited them to feel the nail wounds in His hands and feet and said, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). Later Jesus instructed them to “feed [His] sheep” (John 21:16) and to “go . . . therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).
After ministering among His disciples for 40 days, Jesus led the apostles to the Mount of Olives, where He spoke His final words to them. He promised them that they would receive power and the Holy Ghost. Then, “when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
Christ’s post-Resurrection ministry was not limited to the Holy Land. His Resurrection and Atonement were for all humankind. Earlier He had told His disciples that He planned to share the gospel with others: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Some of the “other sheep” referred to in that passage were the people of the Americas. At least some of these ancient inhabitants of America were people descended from the house of Israel called Nephites, whom Jesus visited after His Resurrection. The resurrected Christ appeared at a temple built in a place called Bountiful, and there He ministered for three days to several thousands of these inhabitants. As He had done in Jerusalem, He invited the people to “feel the prints of the nails in [His] hands and in [His] feet, that [they] may know that [He is] the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and [has] been slain for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:14). The people went forth one by one to do so, and they “did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come” (3 Nephi 11:15).
Jesus then chose twelve disciples from among these scattered tribes of Israel, giving these Saints (the common name for members of Christ’s Church) the authority to perform ordinances and commanding them to teach their people (see 3 Nephi 11:18–41). His teachings included a sermon similar to the Sermon on the Mount (see 3 Nephi 12). He healed their sick, blessed their children, and introduced the ordinance of the sacrament. He explained God’s covenant with the house of Israel, quoting Old Testament prophecies of Moses, Isaiah, and Micah that the remnants of Israel will be gathered when they begin to believe in Christ. This gathering has begun and continues today as missionaries preach the gospel throughout the world.
During His brief three-year earthly ministry, Jesus Christ established His Church on earth, reintroduced the higher priesthood authority to act in God’s name, atoned for our sins, was crucified, and was resurrected. He also taught us by example how to live a perfect life. He blessed countless people with His many acts of kindness, simple words of instruction, and parables and miracles. The Gospels of the New Testament and the Book of Mormon chronicle these narratives, teachings, and profound examples of Christlike living. By studying them and applying them to our lives, we continue the work begun during the Savior’s earthly ministry with our own efforts, numbering ourselves among His disciples today.