We have four gospels from which Jesus’ time on earth can be derived. However, the gospel writers’ intent was to record
Jesus’ ministry, not provide a biography. Also, each writer penned his gospel for different audiences and different purposes.
Consequently, we do not have perfect harmony between them, but by drawing from the three Synoptic Gospels, we can
attempt to deduce a timeline and identify the geographical areas in which Jesus carried His message. However, this isn’t a
straightforward exercise and their isn’t a definitive answer. This is just one version.
What follows is the gospel story primarily through the eyes of Matthew, but for completeness includes events not recorded
by him, identified by the text references.
Jesus before his ministry
Jesus’ birth and early years
[Matt 1:18–2:23; Lk 1:5–2:40]
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth is advanced in years and childless. While her husband, Zacharias, is performing his priestly duties,
the angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him Elizabeth will bear a son whom he is to name John (this John will be John
the Baptist). Six months later, the angel Gabriel visits Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph and still a virgin, and tells her she
is to be the mother of Jesus, conceived of the Holy Spirit. (This was prophesied by Isaiah [Isa 7:14]). He tells her that
Elizabeth is also pregnant, and so she visits her cousin and praises the Lord with the words we know
as the Magnificat [Lk
Mary’s pregnancy is a problem to Joseph, as his natural assumption is that she has been unfaithful. In the Jewish culture,
betrothal is a commitment to marry that can be broken only by a ‘divorce’ on the grounds of fornication. Joseph is
considering solving the matter privately when he is visited by the angel of the Lord who explains Mary’s circumstance and
that her son is to be named Jesus. And so Joseph marries Mary, but their marriage will not be consummated until after
Jesus is born.
In preparation for a tax to be levied a census is imposed on the population, requiring Joseph and Mary to travel to Joseph’s
hometown, Bethlehem. When they arrive, they can find no lodgings available at any inn and are eventually offered a
stable, where Mary later gives birth to Jesus. The birth is announced by angels to some local shepherds who visit the child,
then tell everyone they see what has happened.
Sometime later a group of Magi arrives in Jerusalem enquiring where the babe had been born who is to be king of the
Jews. They had been travelling from the east following a star they knew to be a sign of his birth. Their arrival worries King
Herod and all Jerusalem. Herod summons the chief priests and scribes demanding to know where Christ should be born.
When he is told his birthplace was prophesied as being Bethlehem [Micah 5:2], he arranges a private meeting with the
Magi, tells them the village where they should find him, and asks them to let him know precisely where he is so he too can
go and worship him. When they leave Herod, the star reappears and guides them to the house where Joseph, Mary and
Jesus are now staying. They worship the child and present him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having been
warned in a dream by God not to return to Herod, the Magi head back east by a different route.
The angel of the Lord then appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod as
he is intending to have the child killed. (This will bring about the fulfilment of Hosea’s prophecy and called my son out of
Egypt [Hos 11:1]). They set off that very night.
Once Herod realises the Magi have ignored his request to return to him, he has all the boys in Bethlehem of two years or
younger killed, their agebeing according to the time when the Magi first saw the star appear. (This had been prophesied by
Jeremiah [Jer 31:15].)
Soon after, Herod dies and Joseph is told by the angel of the Lord that it is safe to return to Bethlehem. But when Joseph
hears that Herod’s son Archelaus is now on the throne, he is afraid and, after being warned by God in a dream, heads for
the area of Galilee and settles in Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. And the
grace of God was on Him [Luke 2:40].
Jesus at the Passover
Jesus, now being twelve years old, is taken by his parents to Jerusalem for Passover. When the feast days are over they
head back for Nazareth, assuming Jesus is with them amongst their kinsfolk and acquaintances. After a day’s journey they
realise he is missing and return to Jerusalem in search of the lad. It is three days before they find him in the temple with
the teachers, both listening to and questioning them, astonishing everyone with his understanding. Joseph and Mary
reprimand Jesus, but he questions why they should not have known he would be about his Father’s business. They don’t
understand what Jesus means by this. The family returns to Nazareth where Jesus grows to manhood, remaining all the
while subject to his parents whilst increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Jesus’ baptism and temptations
Some eighteen years later, John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s son, is baptising people in the Jordan River, preparing the way for
the Lord. Jesus approaches John to be baptised by him. John at first declines, but then baptises Jesus and the Spirit of God
descends upon Him and God declares, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Jesus then goes into the desert and fasts for forty days and nights, after which he is tempted by the Devil. Three times the
Devil tempts Jesus. First, he suggests that as the Son of God he should be able to turn stones to bread to relieve his
hunger; then if he leaps from the highest point of the temple, angels will save him; and finally, if he should bow down to
the Devil and worship him, then he will give him all the world. Jesus responds to each temptation with a refusal and a
quote from Deuteronomy.
Having failed in his attempts, the Devil leaves and angels come to minister to Jesus.