In about 4 BC, God came to earth as a human being. He was born as a Jewish boy in an obscure province of the Roman Empire called Palestine. We know him as ‘Jesus,’ but this name is a Greek translation of his real name. While on earth, his Hebrew name was Yeshua from which we get the popular name Joshua.
Jesus’ mother was a young Palestinian girl named Mary. She was of peasant stock and probably aged about 13 when Jesus was born (if she was older, she would have been married already) Only after the child’s birth did she marry her fiancé, Joseph. Many later traditions suggest that Joseph was an old man when he married Mary. This idea is unlikely: he was probably about the same age as Mary, or maybe just slightly older.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small town where the great Jewish King David had been born 1000 years earlier. Soon after Jesus’ birth, his family fled and settled in nearby Egypt when King Herod started killing all the local baby boys. They only returned to Palestine after Herod died, and stayed in the northern region of Galilee, in a town called Nazareth.
The Bible tells us that Jesus had half-brothers and half-sisters. Both Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 name his brothers as Simon, James, Joses and Jude (or ‘Judas’). We do not know the names of any of his sisters, or how many they were.
Jesus worked as a carpenter for most of his adult life and never married. He was also a rabbi, which is an Aramaic word for ‘teacher.’ He taught in the Jewish Synagogue at Nazareth. There, he read the scriptures (cf. Luke 4:16–23) and preached. He also taught his few disciples.
The Bible is always keen to demonstrate that Jesus was fully human. Like us, he grew from being a baby, became a teenager, and thence grew up as a man. The Bible also describes times when he needed sleep, food and warmth, just like us. It also shows him as having the full range of human emotions: he wept, was angry, and so on.
And that’s the point: being fully human, this God–man had a perfect understanding of what it’s like to be human. We call this mind-boggling concept ‘the Incarnation’.
We simply don’t know what Jesus looked like. Many people think he looked like the British actor Robert Powell, who played Jesus in Franco Zefferelli’s 1975 film, Jesus of Nazareth. Others think he had golden hair and blue eyes, like the images in many old stained-glass windows. All these ideas are wrong because Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. We can be certain:–
- Like everyone born in the Middle East today, Jesus’ hair and eyes would also have been dark. And he would have had a fairly dark skin.
- He was probably quite short: people malnourished from birth usually are, and Jesus was of peasant stock.
- His hair would have been short: the ancient Jews thought it an insult for a man to have long hair, because it would make him look like a woman (see for example 1 Corinthians 11:14).
- An ancient prophecy said the Messiah would not be attractive in any physical sense (Isaiah 53:2b), so forget any hunky images we see of him!