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In both the miracles of the loaves and fishes and the walking on water, Jesus seemed to fit the bill perfectly. But the miracle of the walking on water had many other meanings, especially in that difficult period from the middle of the first century onwards when early Christianity faced hostility and persecution from Imperial tyrants. The sea miracle functioned as a metaphor for the precarious situation in which Christian churches found themselves - especially in Rome.

To many Christians the Church must have felt like the fishing boat on the sea of Galilee, buffeted by strong winds and rocked by the waves. They must also have felt that Jesus had left them alone on the boat to fend for themselves. At best he was a ghostly appearance. But the message of the miracle is that they should 'take heart' and not be 'afraid': Jesus had not abandoned them, he was with them.

It was a message which helped Christians endure persecution through the centuries.

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Jesus and his mother Mary are invited to a wedding in the Galilean town of Cana. Jewish wedding feasts lasted all week and everyone in the village was invited, so it's not surprising that the hosts' wine is said to run out. Jesus asks one of the servants to fill the large water jars with water, and soon there is plenty of wine again. The miracle would have carried many messages. When the Jewish scriptures looked forward to the kingdom of God, they used a number of metaphors to describe it.

One of the most frequently used images is that of a marriage. The Book of Isaiah says:. Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame For your Maker is your husband The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit - a wife who married young, only to be rejected. On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines. I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.

They will plant vineyards and drink their wine. The Gospels contain records of over 35 miracles and of these the majority were healings of the lame, the deaf and the blind, exorcism of those possessed by demons.

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The meaning of the healings and exorcisms is best understood against the background of Jewish purity laws which stipulated that those deemed impure could not enter the sacred precinct of the Temple in Jerusalem to make their sacrifice to God. The Jewish scriptures tell us that the impure included the lame, the sick, the blind and those possessed by demons. By implication, such people could not under Jewish law enter the Kingdom of God. In healing the sick and casting out demons Jesus was sending a powerful signal - that they were now able to fulfill their obligations as Jews, and by implication that they were now entitled to enter the Kingdom of God.

The fact that the cures are done by Jesus himself carried a further layer of meaning - that Jesus had the authority to decide who could enter the Kingdom of God.


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This becomes explicit in the healing of the paralysed man in Capernaum. Jesus heals the man by forgiving his sin - an act that would have been considered a blasphemy by Jews: only God had the authority to forgive sins. By forgiving sins Jesus was acting with an authority that the Jews believed only God possessed. In the healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter Jesus goes a step further and effectively signals that Gentiles too are eligible to enter the Kingdom of God. Authors have applied this first-century meaning of the miracle to modern life. Jesus and the disciples were on one of their many trips on the Sea of Galilee, when the Gospels say they were hit by an unexpected and violent storm.

The disciples were struggling for their lives. But by comparison Jesus' reaction is bewildering. He's said to have been asleep. And when awoken, his response couldn't have been less reassuring. But what the disciples didn't know was that they were about to receive help in a way they could never have imagined. Jesus stood up and rebuked the wind and sea. The disciples must have wondered who on earth Jesus was: this man who appeared able to control the elements. But just as with other miracles, what amazed them wasn't what Jesus did, it was what it revealed about his identity.

They would have known the ancient Jewish prophecies which said very clearly, there was only one person who had the power to control the stormy seas - God. One passage from the Book of the Psalms recalls an occasion where God had shown his power to save his people from distress in exactly the same way as Jesus had on the Sea of Galilee - by stilling a storm. The similarities wouldn't have been lost on the disciples. Jesus' actions seemed to suggest that he had the power of God himself.

Later in the century this miracle took on a new meaning - a meaning that would resonate down the centuries. The Gospel writers saw that the miracles could speak directly to the Christians suffering persecution in Rome.


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  • Like that boat in peril, the Christians in Rome might well have feared that their Church was in danger of sinking. And like Jesus asleep on the boat, they might have worried that Jesus had forgotten them. But the message of the evangelists was this: if they had faith in Jesus, he would not abandon them; he could calm the storm on the Sea of Galilee or in Rome. The belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead became the foundation of the early Christian Church. What the early Christians made of the resurrection can be gleaned from the letters of St Paul, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

    It is a complex picture: did the early Christians believe that Jesus had undergone a spiritual or physical resurrection? The earliest sources are the letters of St Paul. His belief in the resurrection of Jesus is based on a vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Like the letters of St Paul, the Gospel writers also report appearances of Jesus to the disciples.

    But the evangelists also report the story of the empty tomb - the discovery of the disappearance of the corpse of Jesus from his tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. The clear implication from this account is that the early Christians took Jesus to have been physically raised from the dead. That in itself would have been hailed as a miracle.


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    But a series of religious experiences convinced the early Christians that the resurrection meant much more than that. First, Jesus was the divine son of God. The Acts of the Apostles reports that during the feast of Pentecost the disciples were gathered together when they heard a loud noise like a wind from heaven, and saw tongues of fire descend on them.

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    The Bible says they were filled with the Holy Spirit - and they took that as a sign that Jesus had been resurrected by God. The experience brought about a sudden and powerful transformation in the disciples. Until then Jesus had been a memory. Now for the first time Jesus became the focus of something unprecedented. A new faith flickered into life, a faith that worshipped Jesus as the son of God. Another meaning attached to the miracle of the resurrection is that it conferred eternal life to Christians.

    At the time Jews believed that there would be an after-life - but only at the very end of time. Some Jews believed that at the last judgement the dead would be resurrected, and that it would begin in the cemetery on the Mt of Olives, which overlooks Jerusalem. But the dead would have to wait an eternity before they could taste resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. There was no need to wait for the last judgement. If Jesus could conquer death so could others. All one had to do is commit completely to Jesus and follow his path.

    This would be the new way to an eternal life. This meaning gave the early Christians - and Christians throughout history - the strength to endure suffering. The Romans executed thousands of Christian martyrs but the resurrection of Jesus gave people renewed hope. If his resurrection signified victory over death - if it meant eternal life - then death could hold no terror.

    Because of what the resurrection symbolised, Christian martyrs like St Peter and St Paul were fearless in the face of such persecution. He talks about his claim that there's historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum, surveys the face of Jesus portrayed in art, starting with what may well be the earliest image there is: a mosaic from a Roman villa in Dorset. Harvard University Press Duncan Baird Publishers Continuum International Publishing Group Search term:.

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    Find out more about page archiving. Jesus Last updated Introduction We know more about Jesus than we know about many ancient historical figures, a remarkable fact given the modesty of his upbringing and the humility of his death. Gospel accounts Map of the locations in Jesus's story Our most important resource for the study of Jesus, though, is the literature of early Christianity and especially the Gospels.

    Who Jesus is Given the similarities in wording and order between the Synoptic Gospels, it is certain that there is some kind of literary link between them. Mark, the earliest of the four, certainly believes that Jesus is God's Son, but he also includes this extraordinary passage: As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

    John Reverend John Bell, leader in the Iona Community and minister of the Church of Scotland I think Jesus thought of himself very much as a healer - he saw healing as a key to his work and presumably this arose because he just found out he was able to do it. Jesus - an audio journey Edward Stourton presents a journey in the footsteps of Jesus. Galilee Jesus the Jew This first episode looks at the essentials of what can really be said about Jesus with any degree of historical certainty and places him in the context of the wandering charismatics and faith healers who were about at the time.

    Tom Wright, author of Who was Jesus? Tom Wright, theologian and Bishop of Durham. Iris Carulli, art historian. They complained that Moses had led them out to die.