Jesus is renowned for his teaching, which was surprising and colourful. These questions look at different areas in the teaching of Jesus.
What did Jesus say about God? In 25 words or fewer. Well, here are one or two (i.e. four) pointers…
God loves people – Jesus constantly depicted God as the perfect father, full of unconditional love, wanting the best for us, helping us and providing for us.
God is just – God promises recompense for those who are hard done by, and retribution against those who oppress and mistreat people.
God forgives – God offers to wipe the slate clean for absolutely anyone who comes back to him and turns away from their wrongdoing.
God is at work in the world – Jesus saw his own mission as the power of God breaking into the world, and expected his followers to carry on the work.
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Love was for Jesus probably the most vital ingredient in the way people should live. He said the two most important commands in the Hebrew scriptures were the one that said love God and the one that said love people.
This love, of course, is not to be confused with “lurve”. For Jesus, love was nothing much to do with feelings, but all to do with how you treat people. Neither was it a case of just being generally vaguely well-disposed to the human race. It meant actively doing for others what you would want if you were in their shoes. And more, it meant repaying evil with good.
Jesus made it clear that for himself love meant dying for the good of the world.
For Jesus love was not so much a nice feeling as a hard and often painful way of life…
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone hits you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek. If someone takes your cloak, don’t stop him taking your tunic. Give to everyone who begs, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. After all, if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:27-32).
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Jesus was so far as we know single and celibate. He did not have the huge downer on sex that so many Christian thinkers throughout the centuries have had. On the other hand, he did not share our own age’s obsession with it. It’s a broad subject, of course, but here’s what Jesus said in some of the main areas of interest…
Marriage – he liked marriage, and saw it as a lifelong union between a man and woman (for more on this, see Divorce).
Adultery – Jesus took it for granted that adultery was wrong, a betrayal and a sin. But he went further, warning that if a husband merely lusted after another woman he was committing adultery in his heart. His followers were expected to strive for faithfulness of the mind and not just the body.
Sex before marriage – Jesus said nothing about this.
Celibacy – Jesus was presumably celibate himself, but he did not make a big thing about it. He never unambiguously held this up as a standard for all his followers.
Homosexuality – Jesus made no recorded comments about homosexuality at all.
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Jesus urged his followers not to resort to violence and not to hit back at those who hurt them. Was he only talking about personal, one-to-one situations? Or was he saying that we must have nothing to do with war, etc.?
It’s hard to say. The majority of Christian interpreters throughout history have said that war (and capital punishment, etc.) are perfectly in line with Jesus’s teaching. But a minority have insisted that Jesus called us all to live by non-violence in every way.
It is true that Jesus rejected the idea of a violent rising against the Roman occupation, despite the fact that the Messiah was generally expected to lead one. But he never explicitly forbade his followers from fighting in a war.
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Jesus reassured his followers that as children of God they did not need to worry, and tried to help them get things in perspective. Here are his famous words on the subject…
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink. Or about your body and what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t sow or reap or store food, but your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you much more valuable than they? Who by worrying can add a single hour to their life?… But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).
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He was not a fan of divorce. Jewish religious law permitted husbands to divorce their wives, but no one imagined wives had similar rights.
Jesus strongly discouraged his followers from divorce, probably because he considered marriage to be a lifelong union and commitment. The words of the marriage service, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder,” are a quotation from Jesus on this subject (Mark 10:9).
Two of the Gospels (Mark and Matthew) record Jesus saying this, but Matthew also has Jesus mentioning an exception to the rule: adultery. Here are his words, which have been the subject of much debate: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
Doubtless, Jesus would have allowed other exceptions, too, such as violence. But his basic point was that divorce was not a lifestyle option, but a failure and a tragedy.
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Jesus pretty much ruled out revenge for his followers. The reason goes like this:
We are all sinners, we have all let down God, others and ourselves, and we need God to forgive and forget everything we have done wrong if we are to return to a proper relationship with him. This was central to Jesus’s message.
But if we cry to God for mercy, have him wipe out the vast debt we owe him, what right have we then got to remember all that we are owed by others, and exact revenge for every petty grudge we bear them?
“If you do not forgive those who sin against you,” Jesus said, “your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
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Jesus had lots to say about wealth. He seemed to think weath is a dangerous thing – and in a society where wealth was generally seen as God’s reward to his favourites, this was controversial. Some of Jesus’ teaching…
God has a special concern for the poor – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
Too much money does untold damage to the spiritual life – “No one can serve two masters. He will love one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
Those who have money have a duty to give to people in need – “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:30).
Following Jesus may sometimes require the deliberate renunciation of wealth – “You lack one thing. Sell what you have and distribute the money to the poor” (Mark 10:21).
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What did Jesus say about prayer? Lots and lots. For a start he taught his followers “the Lord’s Prayer”...
Father, hallowed be your name.
May your kingdom come,
and your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Do not put us to the test.
Jesus also gave his followers plenty of specific instructions. Here are a few examples.
Pray simply – “Do not go on and on, babbling like the pagans, who think they’ll be heard because they use so many words” (Matthew 6:7).
Pray generously – “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Pray with confidence – “Everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:8-11).
Pray with persistence – “Jesus told his disciples this parable to tell them to keep praying and not give up. ‘There was a judge who cared neither for God nor man. A widow in his town kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “OK, I care neither for God nor man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t wear me out with her visits.”’ Jesus said, ‘Think about what that unjust judge said. Won’t God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly’” (Luke 18:1-8).
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Like other Jews, Jesus did not talk so much about dying and going to heaven (or elsewhere), as about dying and then everyone being raised from the dead in the age to come.
He never went into the subject much, in the sense of: “If you’re curious about the afterlife, here’s the lowdown.” But he did talk about it a fair bit. There were Jewish people in his day who believed in “one life, one death, and that’s your lot.” Jesus thoroughly disagreed with them. “You don’t know your Bibles,” he said. “Or the power of God.”
Other Jews believed in the Day of Resurrection. We all die, and lie around for a bit. Then at the end of the world, the dead are raised to life and judged by God, and the good guys get to live in a newly-recreated world. This seems to be what Jesus went along with.
But what about this day of judgment? Jesus talked about it as a way of setting the world right. There was to be recompense for those who missed their fair share and whose goodness had gone unrewarded, and justice for those who had done wrong and got away with it.
If this sounds very familiar, though, be warned. The stereotyped Christian idea of heaven and hell – a choice between eternity with goatee-wearing demons sticking pitchforks in you or harp-playing on a cloud in a whiter-than-white nightie – is reading an awful lot between lines that Jesus left blank.
What he said on the subject was not so much to inform as to warn and encourage. To sum it up: “It’s good news for the good and bad news for the bad. So make sure you’re on the right side.”
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There are books around which claim that Jesus in the Gospels made astonishingly detailed predictions about “the end times” which are all being fulfilled in the present day, so the end of the world is well and truly, as they say, nigh.
They could be right… but they’re not. People have played this game with Jesus’s words for 2,000 years, and they’ve always been proved wrong.
The traditional Christian understanding of what Jesus said is that he would return to earth and this would signal the end of the world. The dead would be raised, he would judge every person, and he would recreate the earth. He said even he did not know when this would take place.
For an alternative interpretation, see Did Jesus say he was coming back?
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Is there reliable evidence that Jesus ever lived? Was he a great religious teacher… or an alien? Read our Jesus FAQs pages here. If you have a question about the life or teaching of Jesus, check here first to see what’s been posted about it.
Written by Steve Tomkins
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