He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.
And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Gospel of Luke Chapter 4, verses 16-21
The Gospel of Mark may well be the first to have been written, by John Mark, the personal secretary of the apostle Peter. The version we have now was certainly composed in 65-70 AD, 35 to 40 years after the events Mark recorded, by a well–educated Greek-Speaking Christian. The term Gospel means “Good News” and the author was concerned with how he was bringing such news to the people rather than writing an actual biography of Jesus.
In this Gospel, Jesus is described as “the Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). For most Jewish people at the time this would have been a remarkable statement and to the educated élite would have appeared quite unacceptable. For “Christ” is Greek for the “Anointed One”, and is the equivalent of the Hebrew term for “Messiah”. The Jews were awaiting a great military leader or cosmic figure who would deliver them from their enemies, not a person who had just suffered and in their eyes died ignobly on Calvary. And yet that is precisely why the author says… Jesus was the Messiah….
One of the significant points about the account is that at the beginning nobody actually seems to have known he was the Messiah. Jesus’s family didn’t seem to know. The neighbours from his virtually unknown little village of Nazareth wondered what on earth this son of the local carpenter was talking about… But, most of all, his disciples didn’t seem to know who he was. God, of course, knew who he was, because Jesus, at his baptism by John the Baptist, and only Jesus, heard a voice from heaven declaring” you are my beloved son” (1:11)…. Mary Magdalene knew, for she was the closest and most faithful friend Jesus ever had, and he loved her more than the other disciples…. And the demons he cast out knew….But no one else seems to have had a notion.
All this changes in the middle of the Gospel, with the metaphor of the blind man who gradually regains his sight. The disciples at last begin to understand, though Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone. And he continues to predict that he must suffer and die, to take away the sins of the World. Yet, at the very end, even Jesus himself seems not to be so sure after all. He prays to God three times to save him from his fate, and then cries out in total despair before he dies, literally of a broken heart. He had suffered extreme torture and mental anquish, following flogging or scourging with a flagrum, consisting of braided leather thongs with metal balls and pieces of sharp bone woven or intertwined with the braids, causing hypovolaemic shock, so he could no longer carry the cross.
On crucifixion his heart finally failed, with massive pulmonary oedema and pericardial effusion, as the description of his death authentically shows, for ”one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” ( John 19:34), rupturing his heart and releasing the pleural and pericardial effusions. He was totally, absolutely, completely dead. Yet if anyone had any doubts at all about what happened next, the author does not. Jesus’s death and resurrection had inevitably to be such, and, in fact, we are all expected to take up our own crosses and follow our beloved Master….
The Gospel of Thomas is of another kind, a “Sayings” Gospel, which records 114 of Jesus’s sayings rather than the story of his life, death and resurrection. Its purpose is to promote the secret teachings of Jesus and explain to the faithful that by understanding his words rather than by believing in his death and resurrection that they would have everlasting life. The Gospel is attributed to Didymus Judas Thomas, whom Jesus says is his “twin”, “Didymus” being Greek and “Thomas” Aramaic for “twin”. If it is not a forgery, as some believe, it may be the closest we ever get to the real Jesus. Yet, as we have been told, the leadership of the church in Jerusalem passed, not to Thomas, but to Jesus’s brother, James the Just, who followed the Law, supported the poor against the rich and was deeply respected among the whole Jewish community. He sought to limit the doctrine of Paul, whose mission was essentially to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. When James was executed in 62 A.D., therefore, on the orders of Ananus (Hanan), a corrupt High Priest who was bathed in luxury, the whole Jewish community were appalled.
The convert Paul was, apart from Jesus Himself, the most important figure in the spread of Christianity. His letters to the young churches were probably written sometime between 50 and 60 AD. Paul’s conversion appears to have been the result of an encounter with the living Jesus following his death and resurrection which completely altered his understanding of Jesus, God’s Law and the true road to salvation. He became convinced that the end of the World was nigh and people needed to be saved before it was too late. His total belief in the resurrection of the Christ had the clearest implications for the ethical well-being of the community.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke have been dated to between 80 and 85 AD. The Gospel of Matthew concentrates on Jesus’s Jewishness but at the same time demonstrates his opposition to the Jewish leaders of his day. Yet for all that, Jesus was a Jewish Messiah, sent by a Jewish God to a Jewish people to gather Jewish disciples, in fulfilment of Jewish Scriptures. He was merely summing up the Jewish Law into two Commandments: to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (22:35-40).Thus he superseded the Scribes and Pharisees and all their works.
Luke was a Gentile physician, known to have been a travelling companion of the apostle Paul, but there is the usual academic debate about whether he wrote the Gospel or not. Nevertheless, Jesus is portrayed as a Jewish prophet, who as the Son of God brought the whole world to salvation, not just Jewish people but Gentiles as well. He was therefore the Salvator Mundi, the Saviour of the World. He was born like a prophet, preached like a prophet, and finally died like a prophet. He was even obliged to go to Jerusalem to be killed, for that is where all the prophets die (13:33).
The Gospel of John, as we have it, was written between 90 and 95 AD and has been traditionally ascribed to John, the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’s closest friends. But this ascription cannot be found anywhere until the latter part of the 2nd Century. In earlier sources John is described as a countryman from Galilee, who would have spoken, like Jesus, Aramaic, not the literary Greek in which the Gospel is written. Moreover in Acts 4:13 John is described as illiterate. The Gospel is, in fact, likely to have been translated from oral or written Aramaic sources towards the end of the 1st Century, so that whether John was illiterate or not is of no special significance.
John’s Gospel provides a completely different view of Jesus. He is no longer the compassionate and charismatic healer and worker of miracles, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God, a prophet without honour among his own people. Nor even the Jewish Messiah, sent by the Jewish God to fulfil the Jewish Scriptures to physically liberate the Jews from their enemies. He is now the Logos, the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. Jesus had passed from the prophetical to the mystical to the Divine….
For on the third day he rose from the dead as He Himself had foretold.
So, trully this man was the Son of God….