Up to the time of his crucifixion, Jesus’ ministry was one of teaching, healing, miracles, and prophesying. The principles he taught and the way he taught, especially about himself, were not as the scribes taught, for he taught as one having authority (Matt. 7:28-29). Jesus spoke to individuals, to small groups, and large crowds. He used many teaching methods: lecture, conversation, question and answer, demonstration and example, as well as parable and other forms of symbolism. He showed his authority through miracles of healing, control over the elements, and even raising the dead. He illustrated his message of God’s kingdom with over 60 parables. A parable has been called an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Perhaps the best known of these is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Jesus’ ministry, based upon the principle of a kingdom not of this world, was not what was expected of the Messiah. The Jewish people were expecting another David with the wisdom of Solomon who would lead Judea as a nation to independence from the Roman yoke, just as the Maccabees had freed Judea from Syrian control during the intertestamental period. They longed for a return to the glorious days of Solomon when Israel was at its zenith as a nation among nations. Even the disciples thought this was one of Jesus’ objectives right up to the time of his ascension. [“Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”(Acts 1:6)]
The Judeans were aware of the predictions of their prophets: that some such as Elijah and Elisha had the ability to heal sickness; that the prophets exhorted Israel to repent, that is, to turn away from evil and follow God’s commandments. They were familiar with God’s direction to love him and one’s neighbor, and to help the strangers and the unfortunate among them. They even had a form of baptism for Gentiles who embraced the Jewish faith. They probably would have accepted Jesus as an Old Testament prophet had he also embraced the institutional religion of Judea. They were surprised and amazed at his teaching of personal freedom and each person’s right to seek the kingdom of God independently. As Peter later said, believers are a “holy nation” and a “royal priesthood”(I Peter 2:9). Jesus taught that he came to save sinners and that the way to salvation is through him and his teachings (John 10:9;14:6). He said that he is “the way, the truth, and the life”(John 14:6), and that whenever two or three are gathered together in his name, he is in their midst (Matt. 18:20).
This points up the prime mystery of the New Testament Jesus’ death on the cross, His resurrection, and His ascension. The four Gospels show Jesus’ awareness that he must die physically at the hands of men as a sacrifice or propitiation for the sins of the world (Mark 10:45;Luke 18:31;I John 2:2;Heb. 10:12). Yet a risen Christ continues his ministry in a ritual plane seated at God’s right hand ready to judge both the living and the dead (Acts 10:42;I Peter 4:5). The Holy Spirit is ever present to assist seekers and believers, and his human representatives individually and collectively carry his message to the world (John 16:7-14;Acts 1:7-8;Acts 2:32-33).