Q&A: How old was Jesus when he was murdered?

How old was Jesus when he was murdered?

Question

How old was Jesus when he was murdered?

Answer

While the Son of God has no beginning and has no end (Psa. 90:2), with his incarnation as a human being, Jesus could and did die, only to rise again three days later. But the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how long Jesus lived on the earth before he was crucified. However, we can estimate his age. The simplest way to do this is to locate when Jesus began his public ministry and from there approximate how many years he lived thereafter.

Some say Jesus was a priest and therefore was 30 years of age when he began his priesthood. They assert Numbers 4:3 referring to the Levitical priesthood in their discussions. However, though Jesus was a priest, he was of the tribe of Judah (Matt. 1:1-6; Luke 3:31-34; cf. Rev. 5:5) and so not a Levitical priest (Heb. 7:12-14). [1] Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life" (Heb. 7:3). So, this doesn’t help to establish Jesus’ age at the beginning of his ministry.

Nonetheless, according to Luke 3:23, Jesus entered public ministry when he was "about thirty years of age." This date is upheld as Luke established the time by citing six authorities who were ruling or exercising authority at about the same time:

(1) In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1)
(2) Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea (Luke 3:1)
(3) and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee (Luke 3:1)
(4) and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis (Luke 3:1)
(5) and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1)
(6) during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (Luke 3:2)

In addition, we can add the different yearly Passovers he celebrated during his earthly reign. It appears from reading the gospel of John that Jesus observed three to four distinct Passovers:

(1) Beginning of Ministry (John 2:12-17)
(2) Mid-Ministry #1 (John 5:1) – debatable [2]
(3) Mid-Ministry #2 (John 6:1-6)
(4) End of Ministry: Last Supper, preparation for Passover (John 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; cf. Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:14-16). "… Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7; cf. John 18:28, 39; 19:14).

The fourth Passover (or preparation for [3]) is often referred to as the Last Supper (Matt. 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-38; cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-25). (See "Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper" below for how John handles the Lord’s Supper.)

Having established the beginning of our timeline at approximately 30 years of age and noting that Jesus likely observed three to four Passovers, we can add these time points together and find Jesus lived approximately 32-33 years before he was murdered. [4]

This said, while there are numerous other methods for estimating Jesus’s age at his death, they are all only rough guesstimates, as is the one above. Ultimately, however, how old Jesus was when he was crucified doesn’t really matter. It has nothing to do with our faith. Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10, "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." Notice Paul doesn’t write that God raised him from the dead at age 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, or 50, etc. What is essential to believe is that God raised Jesus from the dead! [5].

Footnote

[1] Some argue that Mary was related to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Luke states that Elizabeth was in the tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5, 36). So, from this some argue Jesus was a Levite.

However, even if Elizabeth and Mary were "cousins" (Luke 1:36, KJV; "relative" or "kin" [Gk. syngenis] is a better translation) they could have still been from different tribes. It's possible that Mary's mother was of the tribe of Levi and related to Elizabeth's family, while her father was from Judah. Women identified with their father’s tribe, and not their mother’s. So, Mary being a Levite doesn’t necessarily follow from their argument.

An example may help. We see an intertribal marriage in Exodus 6:23 when Aaron, the brother of Moses and a Levite, married Elisheba [the name Elizabeth is derived from this Hebrew name], daughter of Amminadab, and sister of Nahshon. Nahshon was a prince of the tribe of Judah (Num. 1:7). But after her marriage, Elisheba identified with the tribe of her husband. So, returning to our point, once Mary married outside the tribe of Levi she would identify with the tribe of her husband. Joseph was from the tribe of Judah.

This said, most observe that Mary’s father was Heli, who was a descendant of Judah, not Levi. And the angel Gabriel affirmed Jesus’ lineage, informing Mary that "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David" (Luke 1:32). David was from the tribe of Judah (1 Sam. 17:12).

Therefore both Joseph and Mary were from the tribe of Judah and thus Jesus was from the tribe of Judah.

[2] There were three feasts that all Jewish men were required to attend: (1) Passover; (2) Pentecost; and (3) Tabernacles. John 5:1 doesn’t record which feast is being attended, but it was more than likely one of the main ones just mentioned as John uses an indefinite article "the" in front of the word "Feast." Some maintain that it is Purim (Tabernacles) but it did not include a Sabbath Day which is a serious point of contention in the remainder of the chapter (John 5:2, 9, 16, etc.). In examining the entire chapter, Passover fits better in the chronological arrangement because in the next scene we observe the disciples plucking grain (Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5) while the Sabbath question is still in focus, and the harvest season opens with the Passover.

[3] John 19:14 states, "Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, 'Behold your King!'" One might naturally ask, was Jesus crucified on the day of preparation for Passover or literally on Passover? (1 Cor. 5:7).

John and the Synoptics don’t disagree on the day of the Passover (or Pesach). Passover was seven/eight days long (week, cf. Ezek. 45:21-22). "Day of preparation" (Gk. paraskeue) is the normal word for "Friday" in early Christianity. John says that this paraskeue was the day before the Sabbath or Saturday (John 19:31). So, he clearly means Friday. The Synoptic Gospels also call the day of the crucifixion paraskeue (Matt 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54). So, the phrase "Preparation of Passover" (paraskeue tou pascha) can be properly understood as "Friday of Passover," rather than just "preparation for Passover."

[4] In counting the Passovers, we don’t add a year for the first one because it was at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. So, if we add a year between the first and second, the second and third (the questionable year), and the third and fourth, Jesus’ ministry was approximately 2-3 years long.

[5] All three members of the Trinity raised Jesus from the dead. There is only one God, so all three persons must have been involved: of the Father (Acts 2:32-33; Gal. 1:1); of the Son (John 2:18-19; 10:18); and of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Related Topics

Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).