SUMMARY OF BIBLE HISTORY - PART II
PART II - THE NEW TESTAMENT
A. The Life of Christ (based on the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
From His Birth to the Beginning of His Public Ministry
Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem when Caesar Augustus was the Emperor of Rome. This was around 1 B.C. His mother, the Virgin Mary, was a descendant of King David, but the king of Palestine at the time of Christ's birth was Herod the Great. King Herod was aware that the promised Messias was to come during his time, so He tried to find out from the visiting magi where Christ was to be born, that he might kill him. To escape the cruelty of Herod God commanded Joseph, the foster-father of Christ, to take Mary and the Child temporarily to Egypt. The Holy Family had just left for Egypt when the order came from King Herod the Great to kill all male children two years old and under (Matt 2:16).
King Herod died the following year after Christ was born. But, five years before his death Herod the Great divided his kingdom between his three sons: Herod-Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip. Herod-Archelaus was the one who took over the government of Judea, Samaria and Idumea, and was the Herod who tried Christ during His passion. Herod Antipas took control of Galilee and Perea; he was the Herod who executed John the Baptist. Herod Philip received the territory of Itrurea and Trachonitis on the east of the river Jordan, but he was not featured in any of the gospel narratives.
After Herod’s death the Holy Family returned to Nazareth (in Galilee). This does not mean that there was already perfect peace in Galilee when the Holy Family settled there, because the insurgents continued to resist Roman rule. In fact, Josephus reported in his Antiquities of the Jews Book 17, Ch. 10, #10, that in another town near Nazareth the Romans, under the command of Varus, the Roman Legate of the province of Syria, crucified two thousand Jews after burning the town to the ground. This happened when Christ was just 3 or 4 years old.
Now, when Christ reached twelve years of age the Holy Family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Unknown to His parents, Christ stayed for three days in Jerusalem discussing the Scriptures with the Scribes and lawyers in the temple. After finding Him in the temple, Mary and Joseph took Him back to their hometown, where He “advanced in wisdom and age, and grace with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Jesus among the Teachers
A painting by Konstantin Makovsky, 1860
Image source link: Wikiart.org
Nothing is recorded in the gospels about Christ’s hidden life in Nazareth. He began His public life by going to the river Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist, c. A.D. 29. When Christ came out of the water John saw a vision where the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ in the form of a dove. John heard a voice addressed to Christ, saying: “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
After His baptism Christ retreated into the desert where He prayed and fasted for forty days and forty nights. At the end of His retreat the devil tempted Him, that He might worship him. Christ overcame the temptation and returned to the Jordan where He met His first followers - Simon (later called Peter), Andrew, James and John). After this Christ returned to His mother in Galilee, and at a wedding in Cana He performed His first miracle - by changing water into wine (John 2:1-11). From there He went with His mother and His followers to Capharnaum. But He stayed there only a few days, then proceeded to Jerusalem. (See Map of Palestine in the Time of Christ below)
In Judea, A.D. 30
His first act in Jerusalem was to cleanse the temple of money-changers who had converted it into a den of thieves. There He also met Nicodemus, to whom He revealed the necessity of baptism for salvation. After a brief visit to Jerusalem He traveled in towns and villages in Judea outside Jerusalem, with his disciples baptizing those who believed. It was while He was in one of the towns in Judea that He heard about John the Baptist’s imprisonment. John was arrested and cast in prison by Herod Antipas because he censured Herod’s incestuous relationship with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. On hearing this Christ returned to Galilee.
In Galilee, A.D. 31
It was here in Galilee that Christ continued His ministry of preaching repentance and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He preached in Nazareth, then in Capharnaum, His own city. He preached in parables. Everywhere He went He talked about the Kingdom of God, and performed miracles to demonstrate the truth of His teachings. He cast out devils and healed people’s illnesses. Others flocked just to hear Him speak. His fame as a preacher and prophet quickly spread, for He spoke with authority, as no man spoke before (John 7:46). It was also about this time that He called Matthew (also known as Levi) to be one of His followers. But he also encountered the jealousy of the Scribes and Pharisees. They watched all His actions, and tried to test Him with craftily worded questions. His increasing popularity was a threat to their security, so they made their first plans to kill Him (Matt 12:14).
Watercolor painting by Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)
Image source link: Marysrosaries.com
Among His disciples Christ chose additional followers to make up His twelve Apostles who would become witnesses to His work and teachings. To name them all, the twelve Apostles were Simon, who was later called Peter, his brother Andrew, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him (Matt. 10:2-4). In addition, He selected seventy-two other disciples, whom He sent two by two to the places where He Himself would visit.
Soon Christ heard of the martyrdom of the Baptist, who was beheaded by request of Herodias’ daughter (Matt 14:6-12). But this did not stop Him. He continued teaching and large crowds followed Him. It was here in Galilee that Christ performed the first multiplication of loaves, and that He claimed to be the Bread of Life. Many did not believe Him, but Christ faulted them for their unbelief.
In Pagan Lands, A.D. 32
Christ returned to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and later for the Feast of the Dedication. He preached and performed many miracles, but noticed that it was not safe for Him to work there anymore. He was being persecuted for doing good works on the Sabbath, for exposing the hypocrisy and excesses of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and for claiming that He was the Son of God. For this they even attempted to stone Him (John 10:31-39). To avoid the hostility of His enemies, Christ traveled with His Apostles to pagan lands, such as Tyre and Sidon, and also Caesarea Philippi (See map below). At this time Christ’s main focus was only to train and instruct the Twelve, not to convert the pagans to Judaism. He changed Simon’s name to Peter and appointed him the visible head of His Church.
Palestine in the Time of Christ
Picture #103 from the Bible Atlas of Access Foundation
Image source link: Bible Atlas
Back to Judea, A.D. 33
By a circuitous route they were again at Mount Thabor in Galilee, and finally in Jerusalem where there had been attempts to stone Him. Christ went to Bethany at the news of Lazarus’ death. It was after He raised Lazarus to life that the Pharisees felt they could not tolerate Him any longer. They knew that if He was allowed to continue, they would not be able to stop the people from believing Him as the Son of God. Meanwhile, Christ took refuge at Ephraim, a town north of Jerusalem, before going back to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. This time His return to Jerusalem was no longer secret. The people welcomed Him with palms in their hands, singing: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt 21:9). But the Sanhedrin resolved to put Him to death.
His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven
Christ knew that His end was near. While He was at Supper with His Apostles He took bread, lifted up His eyes to Heaven, gave thanks to the Father, blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to His Apostles, saying: “Take ye, and eat; this is my Body.” Likewise He took the chalice, gave thanks and gave it to them, saying: “Drink ye all of this, for this is my Blood of the new testament, which shall be said for many unto the remission of sins.” Thus, the Holy Eucharist was instituted. After this Christ continued His discourse, and promising His Apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit, who should teach them all things.
He then went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. His sorrow was so great that His sweat became as drops of blood that trickled on the ground. Meanwhile A band of soldiers, led by Judas, came and arrested Him, took Him to the Sanhedrin where He was mocked, and condemned guilty. Not having the power to condemn Him to death, they brought Him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, who, in turn, sent Him to King Herod. Neither of them could find any fault with Him, but to pacify the crowd Pontius Pilate had Christ scourged. The Roman executioners did not merely scourge Him, but also crowned Him with thorns and insulted Him. Bribed by the Pharisees the people clamored for His death, preferring to set the murderer Barabbas free. Pontius Pilate gave up and delivered Christ to them to be crucified.
The Death of Jesus
Watercolor Painting by Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)
Image source link: Marysrosaries.com
Christ carried the heavy cross to Mount Calvary where He was crucified between two thieves. Although estimates vary, many scholars believe that Christ died on April 3, A.D. 33. As the prophets had foretold, His hands and feet were pierced, and a lance was thrust upon His side to ensure His death. On the cross Christ prayed for His enemies, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Finally, after three hours of painful torment, He exclaimed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” At this the earth shook, the rocks split, the veil of the temple was rent, and saints rose from their grave.
His Body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. The Jews sealed the tomb and guarded it, but on the third day Christ rose from the dead. His resurrection could not justly be denied because a few days after His death, He was again seen alive by the women (Matt. 28:9), by the Apostles (John 20:19-28), and even by 500 disciples at one time (1 Cor. 15:6). He remained on earth for forty days, instructing them about their mission to baptize and evangelize the world. At Mount Olives Christ blessed them as He ascended into Heaven.
B. History of the Early Church (based on the Acts of the Apostles)
After Christ’s Ascension into Heaven the Apostles gathered in the “upper room” to join Mary in prayer, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile they elected Matthias as Apostle to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:15-26). On the tenth day there suddenly came a loud sound as of a mighty wind, which filled the house where they were gathered. Then the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and each of the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire. Filled with new power and courage the Apostles began speaking of Jesus Christ to the multitude outside. Then a miracle happened. Although the listeners were of different nationalities, they all understood the Apostles because they heard them speaking in their respective languages. Peter also spoke to the crowd, and He preached so persuasively that more than three thousand asked to be baptized right away (Acts 2:41). Shortly after this Peter and John went to the temple to pray, where they saw a lame man lying at the gate. Peter said to him, “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk” (Acts 3:6). The lame man immediately stood up and joyfully walked with them to the temple, praising God. Seeing and hearing of this miracle five thousand more asked to be baptized (Acts 4:4).
The Apostles continued preaching and doing miracles in Jerusalem. Seeing that more people were following the lead of the Apostles the chief priests caused the Apostles to be apprehended, and prohibited them from speaking further of Christ whom they crucified (Acts 4:1-3). But the Apostles continued to work on the mission that Christ entrusted them to do. In fact, they even ordained seven deacons to help them in their work, one of whom was St. Stephen (Acts 6:1-7). By his preaching St. Stephen outraged some of the Jews, who then took him out of the city and stoned him to death (Acts 7:57). His martyrdom only increased the number of converts to Christianity. But the persecution of the Christians also continued to be more aggressive. One active persecutor was Saul, but he, too, - as related later in the Acts, - was converted to Christianity, and his name changed to Paul, when Christ confronted him in a vision asking, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” (CNT Acts 9:4; 22:6-11; 26:12-18)
Stoning of St. Stephen
A painting by Filippo Lauri (1623-1694)
Image source link: commons.wikimedia.org
The Spread of Christianity and the Beginning of Heresy
The new converts in Jerusalem formed the first Christian community. Their conduct was edifying. They offered what they had to help others (Acts 4:32-37). You could tell they were Christians by their love. The Apostles were their leaders. With Peter as their leader the Apostles preached, administered the sacraments, and governed the community of the faithful that we call “The Church.” Incidentally, the Blessed Virgin Mary was still on earth when the Church began to expand. She was the comfort of the Apostles intheir trials, their “go to” person when they had problems or needed advice. She was truly the Mother of the Church. In his book, The Life of the Virgin, Chapter 7, #99, St. Maximus the Confessor said that the Virgin Mary played a key role in the development of the infant Church. The year of her Assumption into heaven is not recorded anywhere, but St. Bridget of Sweden said, based on the Blessed Virgin's revelation, that she remained on earth for 15 more years after Christ’s Ascension. This is close to what Bl. Catherine Emmerich said that Mary lived for 16 more years after the Ascension. However, the Venerable Mary of Agreda reported that the Virgin Mary stayed on earth a little longer - about 22 years after the Ascension, since she was about 70 when she passed away. (St. Bridget, Revelations, Book VII, Ch. 26; Bl. Catherine Emmerich, The Life of the Blessed Virgin, Ch. XV; Ven. Mary of Agreda, The City of God, Vol. IV, Book II, Ch, 17, #701)
The Church began to spread outside Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Peter journeyed to these places to visit the newly established communities in these areas, and to encourage and confirm them in the faith. In Samaria where St. Peter came to confirm the faithful, there was a certain man named Simon Magus (so-called because he was a sorcerer or magician), who saw how the power of the Holy Spirit was conferred on the faithful by the laying of hands. He offered to buy the magical power of the Sacrament from Peter, but Peter rebuked him instead (Acts 8:14-24). After him other false prophets came, such as the Ebionites and the Cerinthians, who denied the divinity of Christ. It was precisely to counter the errors of these false teachers that St. John the Evangelist wrote his gospel. For, together with the growth and expansion of Christianity the devil also began to sow the seeds of heresy.
The Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 49)
In other places that Peter visited, such as the towns of Lydda (west of Jerusalem) and Joppe (at the sea coast), he also performed miracles (Acts 9:32-43). In Caesarea Palestinae (not the same as Caesarea Philippi) there was a God-fearing Roman centurion, named Cornelius, whom St. Peter admitted to the faith, confirming the gospel teaching that salvation is open, not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Moving forward, the converted Saul – now called Paul – would later travel to various lands to bring the Good News to the Gentile world.
After the conversion of Cornelius, Peter returned to Jerusalem. In the year A.D. 44 King Herod Agrippa continued the persecution of the Christians. He beheaded James, the brother of John, and imprisoned Peter. With the help of an angel Peter escaped his prison cell, while Herod was punished with a deadly disease (Acts 12). In Jerusalem St. Peter, together with the Apostles, resolved certain issues that were disputed by the Christians – such as whether circumcision should be imposed on Gentile converts. In a gathering of the Apostles, now known as the Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 49), Peter presided as Head of the visible Church, and demonstrated his primacy over all the Apostles (Acts 15). It can be seen that since A.D. 49 and to this date the Catholic Church continues to settle disputed questions through a gathering of Bishops, called Councils.
The Voyages of St. Paul
In his work of spreading the gospel to the Gentile world, St. Paul made three missionary voyages. In his first voyage (A.D. 45-49) Paul and Barnabas (his companion) went from Antioch to the island of Cyprus; then they crossed the island as far as Paphos; then they sailed to Perga and travelled by land to the Antioch in Pisidia; then they proceeded to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, then back to Perga again and, finally, to Antioch where they started (Acts 13:4-14:27). See Picture # 119 of Bible Atlas for the Map of St. Paul's First Journey. He was able to attend the Council of Jerusalem, which was held a year after his first voyage. In his second voyage (A.D. 50-52) Paul and Silas (his new companion) started from Antioch, passed through Syria and Cilicia, went again to Derbe and Lystra (where they were joined by Timothy), then to Phrygia, Galatia, Troas, and Philippi (capital of Macedonia) where he established a small church (Acts 15:40-16:18); Paul and Silas were arrested for preaching the Gospel, but asked to leave when the magistrates found out that they were also Roman citizens (Acts 16:19-40); then Paul proceeded to Thessalonica, Berea and several other cities including Athens and Corinth (Acts 17:1-18:17); finally, returning by way of Ephesus, Caesarea and Jerusalem, he came back to Antioch (Acts 18:18-18:22). See Picture 120 for the Map of St. Paul's Second Journey. In his third voyage (A.D. 53-58) he started from Antioch, passed through Galatia and Phrygia, and came to Ephesus where he remained for two years; he then passed over to Philippi in Macedonia, then to Corinth in Greece, and to Troas where he stayed a week; he continued his tour of the islands of Lesbos and Chios, thence to Samos and Miletus; then he sailed again to Tyre and Caesarea, and finally he was back to Jerusalem (Acts 18:23-21:17). See Picture 121 for the Map of St. Paul's Third Journey. Everywhere he went he preached the Gospel, converted pagans, built Christian communities. For this reason he was appropriately called “The Apostle of the Gentiles.”
Upon his return to Jerusalem, the Jews arrested him. But he was rescued by Lysias (Acts 23:26), a Roman tribune, who moved him to Caesarea to protect him from being murdered by the Jews. After two years as a prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 24:27), he was sent to Rome at his request to be judged by the Emperor (Acts 25:10-12). Thus, Paul had a fourth but non-missionary voyage, and that was his Journey to Rome. However, he was shipwrecked at the island of Malta on his way to Rome. He survived that shipwreck by a miracle (Acts 21-28). But in A.D. 65 he was beheaded by Emperor Nero in Rome at the same place and the same day that St. Peter was crucified with his head down. See Picture 123 for the Map of St. Paul's Fourth Voyage.
St. Paul Shipwrecked at Malta
This illustration has been colorized.
Original black & white illustration is by Gustave Dore (1832-1883)
Image source link: Marysrosaries.com
While St. Paul was preaching in Asia and Europe, the other Apostles also were establishing Christian communities in other lands. The Apostles preached to the Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, the Medes and Persians, Scythians and Thracians. Some, such as St. Thomas the Apostle, travelled as far east as India. Many of them also died as martyrs to the faith. St. James the Less was stoned to death, while St. Thomas was thrust with pine spears. St. James the Greater, the brother of John, was beheaded by order of Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem, while St. Andrew was crucified, suspended on an olive tree. See the chart, Death of the Apostles.
The Destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70)
Although many of the Jews in Judea became Christians, the rest remained obstinate and the nation of Israel was soon punished for it as well. For, when they revolted against Rome in A.D. 66, the Romans, under the command of the Roman General Titus, came back with a vengeance and in A.D. 70 destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. An eyewitness account of this terrifying event was recorded by the noted Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, in his book, The Wars of the Jews.
With the destruction of Jerusalem famine and pestilence set in. The Jews were dispersed outside Israel (the diaspora), and so were the Christians, but the Church continued to grow and spread into the world.
The continuation of the Story of Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem may be found in the Church History tab of this website.