Q:— “The Bible shows that Jesus was 33-1/2 years old when he was crucified in the early spring of the year 33 C.E., at the time of the Jewish Passover. This means, counting backward, that he was born in the early fall of the year.”
A:— If you are referring to Daniel 9:25, your method to discover when Jesus began his ministry is sound. However, it seems that you are combining this idea with the fact that Jewish rabbis did not begin their public ministry until age 30. It doesn’t follow that Jesus began his ministry exactly on his 30th birthday.
“Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times” (Daniel 9:25).
From the going forth of the commandment — From the seventh year of King Artaxerxes, in 457 BC, when by his commandment Ezra began the work of completing the restoration of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem (Ezra 7).
Seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks — From the time of 457 BC, according to the best chronology, there were just 69 weeks of years (483 years) to the baptism of Jesus Christ, in AD 27, when he first began to preach and execute the office of the Messiah.
Then Daniel 9:27 says: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
In the midst of the week, or, in the middle of the week. Christ preached from 27 to 30 AD, to the middle of the 70th week of years, and then by His sacrifice on the cross abolished all the sacrifices of the law.
This does not mean that Jesus was exactly 33-1/2 years old when He was crucified. The anchor date is not Jesus’ birthday, but rather Artaxerxes’ order to begin the work on the Temple, which was probably counted from the Jewish New Year in September of 457 BC.
In actuality, Jesus’ public ministry lasted less than three years, from fall of 27 to the spring of 30 encompasing the three Passovers mentioned in the Gospels in the years 28, 29 and 30 AD. In the Jewish reckoning of years, two years and part of another year are counted as three years. The crucifixion occurred the middle of the 70th week of years, but this does not indicate exactly 3-1/2 years.
However, we can use Luke’s time markers to determine the year when Jesus began his ministry. Then we may reconcile that with the date of Jesus’ birth and a date given in Daniel 9:25 — the Jewish New Year in the fall of 27 AD.
Both Matthew and Luke agree that Herod was governor of Judea when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Since Luke is consistent with Matthew on this marker in the chronology, a birth date earlier than the spring of 4 BC, when Herod died, is necessary. Luke also has some other markers that would preclude any later date as being Jesus’ birthday.
“… in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea; Herod being tetrarch of Galilee; his brother Phillip the tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis; and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1).”
“And Jesus himself, when he began to teach, was about thirty years of age …” (Luke 3:23).
John the Baptist begins to preach “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” Jesus is seen as entering the ministry when he was “about thirty years of age.” If Jesus was born in late 5 BC or early 4 BC, then he would have been about 30 years of age anytime after December or January of 26/27 AD.
A Jewish man customarily would not become a rabbi until after age 30, so Jesus’ ministry probably lasted from the fall of 27 to the Passover in 30 AD, a period covering the three Passovers mentioned in the Gospels and “the middle of the week” of years mentioned in Daniel. A 30th birthday in late 26 AD would put Jesus’ birth in late 5 BC at least several months prior to Herod’s death in 4 BC. (Remember when going from BC to AD not to count the year zero.)
When is “the fifteenth year of Tiberias Caesar”?
According to Luke’s reckoning, the fifteenth year of Tiberias Caesar is about 27 AD. This is when Luke writes that John the Baptist began to preach. If John’s 30th birthday was in the summer of 26, Jesus’ 30th birthday would be six months later in the late fall or early winter of 26/27.
Tiberius’ reign began on August 19, AD 14. Luke may have been using any of several methods to define the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. If we use simple addition (14 plus 15) we end up at 29 AD. But this does not fit the chronology. What then is “the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar”?
In eastern provinces [of the Roman empire] … years were reckoned from the accession of the reigning emperor, the second beginning on the first New Years day after the accession, and the date on which this occurred varied from one province to another (Encyclopedia Britannica).
If Tiberias was installed before the New Year, which occurred in the late summer in the eastern provinces, it is likely that Luke and his audience of Greek speaking Christians counted the accession year twice. The year 14 AD in our modern reckoning, contained Tiberias’ first and second year. The fall of 15 AD was his third year, and so on until the fall of 27 AD, which was his 15th year.
Another way of reckoning the beginning of Tiberias’ reign is to predate to 13 AD, the year when Tiberias became “co-princeps” with Augustus, a common arrangement among the Emperors. At this time, the powers held by Tiberius were made equal, rather than second, to Augustus’s own powers. In the event of the Emperor’s passing the latter would simply continue to rule without any political upheaval. In this case, according to our modern reckoning of years, Tiberias’ “fifteenth year” would have been in the fall of 26 AD.
Either one of these two reckonings fits Luke’s account. Since both John and Jesus were both 30 years old by 26 AD, they could have entered the ministry anytime from late 26 to late 27. This squares with the other dates offered by Luke.
- Pontius Pilate had his rulership over Judea from 26 to 36 AD.
- Caiaphas was high priest during the same period, 26 to 35 AD.
- Herod Phillip II, tetarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis was born in 4 BC and died in 34 AD.
- Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, was born in 20 BC and died in 40 AD.
- Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene, ruled the province between c.14 to 29 AD.
When Luke numbers the year of Tiberias’ reign as 15 and gives the names of several other rulers, he indicates a time window of about three years for the beginning of Jesus ministry – no earlier than 26 and no later than 29 AD. Having decided on this, it becomes fairly certain that Jesus began His public ministry sometime between late 26 AD to early 28 AD.
How long did John preach?
One problem with placing “the 15th year of Tiberias Caesar” in the fall of 27 AD is that it does not seem to give John enough time to “prepare the way” for Jesus. Many assume John must have preached for several months or even several years prior to Jesus’ baptism. Most agree John was arrested a short time after that. In John 5:35, Jesus said, “He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.” It’s interesting to note that the Greek word here is hora. It means literally an “hour,” but is translated “season,” “time,” and “a while.” The sense here is that John’s ministry was sensational and brief.
It’s also possible to interpret Luke 2:1,2: “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness” as meaning that John had already been preaching in the wilderness for a time prior to giving the prophecy about the coming of Jesus. If John’s 30th birthday was on June 24th, 26 AD, this gives a window of 18 months prior to this time Jesus appears. However, the sense of John 5:35 is that the Forerunner’s ministry may have lasted only a short time, perhaps two or three months prior to Jesus’ ministry and continued after Jesus baptism for a small overlapping period of two or three months until his arrest.
A Brief Chronology
For the purpose of this chronology, the beginning of Jesus public ministry is the Jewish New Year, September 20th, 27 AD, which also happens to be the beginning of the last Jubilee year on the Hebrew calendar prior to the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in 70 AD. This is still several months prior to Jesus’ 31st birthday. I want to here stress again that I am not dogmatic about the traditional date of Jesus birth being December 25th. In fact, Luke’s time markers give a leeway with a window of about 12 to 18 months for most of these dates if we try to reconcile them with the modern calendar.
- September 24th, 6 BC — John the Baptist conceived
- March 25th, 5 BC — The Annunciation of Jesus
- June 24th, 5 BC — John the Baptist born
- December 25th, 5 BC — Jesus born in Bethlehem
- April 5th, 9 AD — Jesus found in the Temple in Jerusalem
- Winter/Spring 26 AD — Pontius Pilate military governor of Judea
- June 24th, 26 AD — John the Baptist is 30
- December 25th, 26 AD — Jesus is 30 years old
- Summer/Fall 27 AD — “15th year of Tiberius Caesar”
- Summer/Fall 27 AD — John the Baptist begins preaching
- Summer/Fall 27 AD — Wedding feast at Cana
- September 20th, 27 AD — Jubilee Year commences
- September 20th, 27 AD — Jesus “about 30 years of age” is baptized by John
- Fall 27 AD – 40 day fast; Jesus begins public ministry
- April 7, 30 AD — Jesus is crucified