What is an approximate timeline of Jesus' life?Scripture does give us a general timeline of Jesus' life on earth. However, readers need to understand that the Gospels (the first four New Testament books that record Jesus' ministry) were never meant as perfect chronological accounts of His life. The Bible is made up of many different genres of writing and is, first and foremost, how God reveals Himself to humanity (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). There is no book large enough to give a perfect moment-by-moment writing on the history of humanity and God's plan for salvation, nor even to give a full account of Jesus' entire earthly life and ministry (John 21:25). What we do have is exactly what we need in order to know God, understand the sinful state of humanity, follow the thread of God's salvation plan, and be educated in our sanctification as children of God upon belief in Jesus (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
That being said, let's look at some things we do know about Jesus' life:
1. He was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:30–38).
2. We see the unborn John the Baptist physically respond to unborn Jesus when Mary and her relative Elizabeth meet (Luke 1:39–45).
3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Angels announced His birth to a group of shepherds who visited Jesus there (Luke 2).
4. Jesus was circumcised eight days after His birth (Luke 2:21) and recognized as the Messiah by Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22–38).
5. His birth was marked by a celestial event that led the wise men to Him (Matthew 2:1–12).
6. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with Jesus to protect Him from the murderous Herod and returned to Nazareth after Herod's death (Matthew 2).
7. We know very little of His childhood, except one short story where Jesus is travelling with His family home from the Passover in Jerusalem. His parents can't find Him in the caravan of relatives. Eventually they return to Jerusalem and find Him in the temple, talking with the priests and asking questions. "Did you not know I must be in my Father's house?" He asks them (Luke 2:49). Jesus then "went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. … And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:51–52).
8. The next time we see Jesus, He is grown, approximately 30 years of age (Luke 3:23), and being baptized by His relative John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–22; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:29–43). This is followed closely by His 40-day fast and temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13).
9. After this, Jesus' ministry of approximately three years (marked by the three Passover trips to Jerusalem) has a general overview of one year beginning with the disciples, one year of miracles and growing popularity, and the final year of growing opposition from the Jewish authorities. It is within these three years that the four Gospel accounts weave their narratives. Each writer has his own emphasized theme, purpose, and style. Just as two people would recount a story differently, so, too, do these four writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, focus on different parts of Jesus' life.
You can find more specific timelines from scholars on Jesus' life, but part of those arrangements will be conjecture.
Besides Jesus' birth, we are given a very clear, accurate rendering of the last week of His life because of its importance. Highlights include:
1. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, referred to as the triumphal entry and observed on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–40; John 12:12–19).
2. Jesus confronts Jewish authorities in the temple where He overturns the merchants' tables, heals people, and teaches (Matthew 21:12–17; Mark 11:15–19; Luke 19:45–48).
3. Jesus is anointed by Mary in Bethany six days prior to the Passover (John 12:1–8) and a few days later by an unnamed woman at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9).
4. Jesus has the disciples coordinate the Passover dinner (Matthew 26:17–19; Mark 14:12–16; Luke 22:7–13).
5. Jesus and the disciples celebrate the Passover, often referred to as the Last Supper. This includes Jesus washing the disciples' feet as an example of Kingdom leadership, instituting the Lord's Supper, predicting His betrayal by Judas Iscariot, predicting Peter's denial, promising the Holy Spirit, and praying for believers (Matthew 26:20–35; Mark 14:17–31; Luke 22:14–38; John 13:1—17).
6. Jesus announces He will be betrayed; Judas Iscariot leaves to betray Him (John 13:21–30).
7. Jesus leads the disciples through the Kidron Valley to the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1).
8. In the garden, He prays for God to "let this cup pass from me" and promises to obey (Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:39–46).
9. Judas betrays Him, Jesus is arrested, and the disciples run for their lives (Matthew 26:47–56; Mark 14:43–52; Luke 22:47–53; John 18:1–11).
10. Jesus is taken in the middle of the night to an illegal questioning/trial (Matthew 26:57–68; Mark 14:53–64; Luke 22:66–71; John 18:12–24).
11. The High Priest delivers Him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who tries to free Him, sends Him to Herod, has Him beaten, and ultimately commands His death (Matthew 27:1–26; Mark 15:1–15; Luke 23:1–25; John 18:28—19:16).
12. The Jews demand Jesus' death, as they were not allowed to execute anyone (Matthew 27:15–26; Mark 15:6–15; Luke 23:18–25; John 18:28–32; 19:6–16).
13. Jesus is mocked, stripped, beaten, and given a crown of thorns (Matthew 27:27–31; Mark 15:16–20; John 19:1–5).
14. Jesus carries His cross to Golgotha, aided by Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21–22; Luke 23:26; John 19:16–17).
15. Jesus is crucified on a Roman cross alongside two criminals (Matthew 27:33–56; Mark 15:22–41; Luke 23:32–49; John 19:18–37).
16. Jesus speaks various things from the cross, including, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46), "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), loudly calling "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" (Luke 23:46), and proclaiming "It is finished" (John 19:30).
17. Jesus dies, and His body is taken down and buried in a tomb (Matthew 27:57–61; Mark 15:42–47; Luke 23:50–56; John 19:30–42).
18. On the third day, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and potentially other women go to the tomb to anoint His body, but He's gone. Angels announce that He has risen (Matthew 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–10).
19. Jesus appears to many people for 40 days before ascending into heaven in front of witnesses (Luke 24:13–53; John 20:11—21:25; Acts 1:3–11; 1 Corinthians 15:3–8).
Jesus lives! Based on Jesus' death and resurrection, from His grace and His love, God grants forgiveness and eternal life to all who put their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1–10; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21). Hebrews 10:12–14 explains, "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Jesus "holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:24–25). Jesus is alive in heaven and will one day return to bring final judgment and complete redemption (Philippians 3:20–21; Revelation 22:12–13). "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10–11).
With any summary of Scripture, whether a commentary or a timeline like this, it is best for the student to read the Scripture for themselves, asking the Holy Spirit to help them see and understand the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What were the key events in the life of Jesus?
What are the main points of Jesus' teaching?
What were some of the miracles of Jesus?
Is Jesus in heaven? Where is Jesus now?
Jesus' mission—What was it?
Truth about Jesus Christ