SYNOPTIC GOSPELS: THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF CHRIST Thank you for studying The Life and Teachings of Christ with us. This may be the most important course you will ever study. Together, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are 68 chapters – almost one third of the New Testament! These three Gospels present similar accounts. As we seek to know more about our Saviour and Lord, we will blend the synoptics together to get one unified version. This will enrich your life, and so will our emphasis on practical applications and the Scriptures themselves. Get ready for a study that will serve as a foundation for all of your life and ministry. Before you begin the first lesson, take time to read the entire Gospel of Mark. Reading this short account of the life and ministry of Jesus will provide a powerful overview of the events and teachings important in this course. You will have a better frame of reference when you begin the study lessons if you have just read the Gospel through.

Course Description
A study of the life and teachings of Christ based on Matthew, Mark, and Luke. After a brief introduction to the world into which Jesus was born, it provides a chronological study of His life. Emphasis is given to the context of His teachings and miracle. The content is arranged to help learners apply the principles of the study to their own lives and to use them in their preaching and teaching.

Course Objectives
Upon completion of the course, you should be able to 1. Analyze the background, political setting, and religious setting into which Christ came. 2. Compare and contrast the purposes and content of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 3. Identify the five teaching pillar in Matthew, and analyze their relationship to the rest of the Gospels. 4. Identify five districts, ten important cities, and three seas in or near Palestine. 5. Distinguish between Christ’s early ministry, great Galilean ministry, final year from Galilee to Jerusalem, and Passover week ministry. 6. Analyze the relationship between the Kingdom of God, the church, and the world. 7. Describe the preaching and teaching methods of Jesus. 8. Analyze and participate in God’s plan to redeem through the life, death, resurrection, and commission of Christ.


A background study is needed to understand the life and ministry of Christ. Therefore, the first unit of this course spans from the intertestamental period to Christ’s early ministry. God has prepared the world for centuries before sending His Son. He used the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and other civilizations and people, as well as rulers like the Maccabees, to ready earth for the Messiah. Jesus came at a precise moment predestined by the almighty God. There was no chance in His arrival. The momentous event of Christ’s arrival and ministry on earth to set all people free from their bondage to sin is similarly explained in three of the four Gospels (the Synoptic Gospels). Despite their similarities, Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written with a different purpose in mind, and consequently, provide unique insights into Christ’s life and ministry. Unit 1 lays the foundation for the entire course. Hopefully, it will lead the reader to praise God for having sent His Son, Jesus the Light of the World. As Simeon testified, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). Studying the life and teachings of Christ is at the heart of discipleship, and following Jesus is crucial to life and ministry. No matter how much a person already knows learning more about the Lord should be exciting. CHAPTER 1: THE KING’S BACKGROUND, BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS Lessons 1.1 1.2 1.3

The Background of the Gospels The Birth of Jesus The Early Years of Jesus CHAPTER 2: THE EARLY JUDEAN MINISTRY OF JESUS

Lessons 2.1 2.2

The King’s messenger and Baptism The King’s temptation, rejection, invitation and promise


The first lesson of Chapter 1 paints the colourful backdrop for Jesus’ birth. The anticipation for Messiah’s arrival is depicted, and the significance of each Gospel is stressed. Lesson 2 explores the miracle of Christ’s birth, examines Gabriel’s visits to Zechariah and Mary, observes how God used ordinary people for extraordinary purposes, and explores great truths through five Christmas songs. Then, the third lesson explores Jesus’ lineage and examines His relationships with the people of His day. Before you begin working in these lessons, read these chapters in the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 1, 2; Luke 1-3. Lesson 1.1 Objectives 1.1.1 1.1.2 The Background of the Gospels

Relate specific ways that God historically and politically prepared the earth for Christ’s coming. Compare and contrast the focus of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Birth of Jesus Summarize truths found in Gabriel’s visits to Zechariah and Mary. The Early Years of Jesus Relate lessons the contemporary church can learn from Jesus’ family lineage. Explain significance of Jesus’ name and virgin birth. Identify common attitudes towards Jesus as recorded by Matthew.

Lesson 1.2 Objectives 1.2.1 Lesson 1.3 Objectives 1.3.1 1.3.2 1.3.3


Lesson 1.1

The Background of the Gospels
Objectives: Relate specific ways that God historically and politically prepared the earth for Christ’s coming.
Take time to study this first section. Like a picture, this section helps frame the Gospels. Consider some important events God orchestrated to precede Christ’s birth.

Political History between the Testaments
In the Bible, the New Testament is just a page or two away from the Old Testament. However, those pages represent a huge span of time. After the final book in the Old Testament had been written, four hundred years elapsed before the events in the book of Matthew and vast changes had taken place. Aramaic took the place of Hebrew as the language of Palestine; new religious leaders – the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes – guided religious thinking; Synagogues (small places of worship, study and socialization) had become common; and the Jews were ruled by the powerful and hated Roman Empire. After three hundred years under the cultural influence of the Near East, change had come quickly and completely. What had happened?

The Greek Period
The Persian Empire was in power at the end of the Old Testament (when Zerubbabel and Jeshua had rebuilt Jerusalem’s temple and Nehemiah had rebuilt Jerusalem’s wall). In 333 BC, however, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and much of the known world, including what remained of Israel and Judah. He Hellenized much of the world; meaning, he spread Greek culture and influence everywhere he ruled. When Alexander died at age thirtythree, he left no heir. Consequently, his empire was divided among four generals who competed for control. The land they called Palestine was one of the disputed areas of their royal dynasties. For a while these dynasties were tolerant of the Jew’s religion and way of life, but Antiochus IV (Epiphanes meaning “the brilliant or shinning one”), 175-163 BC, wanted to crush Jewish culture. Forcing Jews to accept the Greek language, culture and gods, he sentenced to death those who owned or read the Torah (Jewish scriptures- the first five books of the Bible). Epiphanes destroyed Jerusalem’s city walls and sold many Jews into slavery; he plundered the temple in Jerusalem then made it a shrine for the Greek god Zeus; he even sacrificed a pig – an unclean animal – on the temple’s alter in honour of Zeus.

The Independent Period
The Maccabees, a godly family of priests, revolted against Epiphanes. One of the five brothers, Judas – who was nicknamed Maccabeus (“the hammer”) for his severe blows to Syrian army – led the Jews in successful war for independence. This century of rare freedom was known as the Maccabean period. The Jew’s resistance to the Hellenist’s assaults on their religion caused a crucial shift. Jews closely guarded their faith, nation and culture. They rejected foreign gods for good, distancing themselves from others while trying to live holy and pure lives. They were careful to follow God’s laws. The sect of the Pharisees began in this period, and their beliefs and practices reflect the separatism valued at the time.


The Roman Period
In 63 BC, General Pompey conquered Jerusalem for Rome. During the invasion, he overtook the temple, killing the priests. His reckless entrance into the Most Holy Place earned him Jew’s hatred. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the people were still chafing under Rome’s rule. The Roman practice of emperor worship caused bitter conflict. The Jews longed and prayed for the Messiah to rescue them. Q. 1 About how many years passed between the end of the Old Testament and the events in the book of Matthew? Q. 2 Explain how the rise of the Pharisees reflects the Jews’ response to the Hellenistic attack on their religion?

God's Hand in History
Roman rule fostered a deep desire for the Messiah's coming and paved the way for Christ in several ways.

The Pax Romana or "Roman peace"
The powerful Roman Empire unified the Mediterranean world under its control. This ushered in a time of law, order, and peace. The relatively calm atmosphere allowed the coming of the Prince of Peace to take center stage and also made spreading the gospel throughout the vast empire much easier.

The Greek Language
When the Romans conquered Greece, they adopted much of its language. Greek became the common language used in politics, learning, commerce, and culture. The shared language enabled people in all areas of the Empire to communicate with each other. Later, this was an especially valuable asset in spreading the gospel beyond the Jewish state. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. With the spread of the Greek language, these Scriptures were translated into Greek (250-150 BC). The new translation was called the Septuagint. Septuagint is a Latin word that means "the Seventy." It was believed that seventy scholars finished the translation in seventy days. The Septuagint made Old Testament teachings available in Greek. For the first time, all educated people (including many Gentiles) could read about God. Jews in many nations could read God's law even if they no longer spoke Hebrew. Even when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans, it was written in Greek, not Latin.

The Complex System of Roads
To reach, govern, and trade with all the areas of the Empire, the Romans developed a broad network of roads. These roads also made spreading the gospel to the entire known world easier. The Romans were ignorant of God, but He still used them for His purposes. Through the Roman Empire, God prepared the world for Christ and the gospel to come. "When the time had fully come, God sent his Son" (Galatians 4:4). Q. 3 Name three periods of political control between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament. Q. 4 In what three ways did God use the Romans to prepare the world for the Gospel?


Religious Life at the Time of Christ
Religious Groups
The Pharisees, whose name means "separated ones," were the major religious sect during the life of Jesus. Their strict obedience to the Law initially served an important role in that it helped preserve the Jewish faith in spite of pressure to compromise. However, by the time of Christ, many Pharisees had become legalistic. This group often kept the letter of the Law, but not the spirit of it. They gave their own complex traditions or interpretations of the Law equal weight with God's written laws. Though most Pharisees were laymen, some were priests. Most of these men were highly educated students of the Law, and many were disciples of professional scribes. Pharisees took care of synagogue worship and learning. Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus, had strong religious beliefs. They accepted all of the Old Testament as God's Word. Pharisees believed in angels, spirits, and life after death. The Gospels show it was the Pharisees who most often challenged the teaching of Jesus. Most were more concerned with small details than with justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23-24). Thus, they became angry with Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and they did not approve of His eating with unwashed hands or with His having mercy on sinners. Jesus' popularity with the common people equally threatened the status of the Pharisees. Interestingly, this is the only Jewish sect to survive to this day. It has become the basis of modem Orthodox Judaism. However, not all Pharisees were legalistic and self-serving. Some, like Nicodemus, truly sought God and accepted Jesus. Some, like Saul of Tarsus, turned from legalism and were greatly used by God. Even the Pharisees realized some unhealthy extremes in their own ranks. This is described in the first five of the seven types of Pharisees listed in the Talmud. The "shoulder" Pharisee, who carried his religious duties on his shoulder for all to see The "spare me a moment" Pharisee, who kept others waiting to draw attention to his good deeds. ("Wait for me while I do a good deed") The "blind" Pharisee, who closed his eyes so he wouldn't be tempted but who ran into a wall The "pestle" Pharisee, who kept his head bowed to keep from being tempted The "calculating" Pharisee, who kept a record of good deeds to make up for bad deeds The "God-fearing" Pharisee who was truly righteous The Pharisee who loved God The Sadducees were not as numerous or as popular as the Pharisees, but they held more political power. Many were priests by birth. They scorned belief in life after death, angels, and spirits (Acts 23:6-8). They were willing to compromise with Greek influences for the sake of personal power. They believed only the Torah was God's law. Sadducees held most of the positions on the Sanhedrin, which was the highest Jewish court and the court that ruled Jesus' death. The Sadducees were the major persecutors of the apostles and the early church. Their main purpose was to continue the laws and rituals of the temple. Therefore, after the temple was destroyed in AD 70, the Sadducees disappeared forever. The Scribes were another religious group at the time of Jesus. They belonged mainly to the party of the Pharisees, but as a body they were separate. Some Scribes were also members of the Sanhedrin (Matthew 16:21). Scribes were experts in the study of the law, and consequently, were often called lawyers. They began the services of the synagogues and often taught.


Religious Structures
The temple in Jerusalem was the center of religious life for the Jews. They came from near and far to worship and to offer sacrifices at the temple. Jews kept the religious feasts of Judaism, especially the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Synagogues were also important to the Jews. Unlike the temple, synagogues had no priests or sacrifices. They were schools, community centers, and places to teach the Scriptures on the Sabbath. Many Jews lived far .from Jerusalem and the temple; however, most of them lived close enough to attend a local synagogue. Jesus often worshipped in synagogues (Matthew 13:54; Luke 4:15-30). Early Christians often went to synagogues in new places to tell the Good News to Jews (Acts 13: 14; 26: 11). Some launched their ministry to others from there (Acts 9:20). Q. 5 List some of the differences between the temple and synagogues.


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