Duration of Yeshua’s Ministry

Posted by on May 29, 2016


The dominant understanding of the duration of Yeshua’s ministry is that it lasted three and half years or so. The proof reading for this is found in the Gospel of John which describes three different Passover feasts over the course of Yeshua’s ministry. This implies that Yeshua preached for a period of three years, although some interpretations of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) suggest a span of only one year or so.

Other views are not uncommon. There are no lack of interpretations as to how long was the Messiah’s ministry as that of Isaac Newton who argues that there were no less than five Passovers in the Messiah’s ministry meaning His ministry from the baptism to His death lasted five years. On the other hand, he says in his Notes On Prophetic Works, source: Yahuda Ms. 10b, National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, Israel, this:

About the time of our saviour’s death many things are disputed. Some in the Apostolic age regarded not these kind of niceties. Those in the next began to take up several opinions one of the most ancient opinions was that our saviour’s preaching lasted but about one year of which mind was Clemens, Alexandrinus, Origen, Tertullian, Africanus, and others. Afterward finding three successive passovers in St Johns gospel, and some fancying four divers took up opinions of two or three years and some months and the former opinion went down.

The narrative of “Yeshua and the money changers” occurs in the Synoptic Gospels and in the Gospel of John; it occurs close to the end of the Synoptic Gospels (Mar_11:15-19, Mat_21:12-17, Luk_19:45-48) and close to the start in Joh_2:13-25 where the first Passover in His ministry is recorded The Gospel of John adds some details of Messiah’s ministry prior to the period covered in the Synoptic Gospels namely that “the Passover was near.” Some have taken the three Passovers mentioned in Joh_2:13, Joh_6:4, and Joh_11:55 (which will be detailed below) as evidence of a ministry lasting more than three years, but this would be incorrect since the Gospel of John is not strictly chronological as none of the books of the Scripture is with the exception of the Book of Acts.

The Passover in Joh_6:4-13 known as the Feeding with Five Loaves of Bread and Two Fish is the one that brings the controversy in the chronology of Yeshua’s ministry. There seems to be a problem in this story because when the leavened bread was to be removed from the entire land of Israel, Yeshua fed 5,000 people with leavened bread and the people stayed with Him and not having gone to Yerushalayim for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That they ate leavened bread is seen in Mat 16:9-12,

Do you still not understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread, but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees? Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

And who would have made leaven bread when the Passover was near? If the Passover were approaching (Joh_6:4), they were supposed to stay home, inspect the Passover lamb, and clean their houses from the leaven. And a few days later (supposedly during the Feast of Unleavened Bread), He fed 4,000 people with leavened bread again. This is the only event recorded in all four Gospels and none of the other accounts in Matthew, Luke, and Mark, mentions Passover; not even the chronological account of Luke (Mat_14:16-21, Mar_6:38-44; Luk_9:13-17).

But why would any one want to alter the Scripture? What would be their motivation? Consider that if Joh_6:4 was added to the text, then it would not only strengthen the idea of a three-and-half year ministry, but it would also support the doctrine that Yeshua did not keep the Torah and taught others to do so (contrary to what He declares in Mat_5:17-20): He fed the people with leavened bread and did not go to Yerushalayim. However, the Torah commands all males to go up to Yerushalayim three times a year (e.g., Deuteronomy 16), and if Yeshua had stayed in the Galilee during the Passover, then He would have given us all an example of knowingly violating the Torah. In Joh_12:11-19 we see that the crowd and Yeshua did go to Yerushalayim for the last Passover. The first one is in Joh_2:13.

Therefore, the harmonization of the Gospel of John with the Synoptics leads to the following conclusions:

1. The Passover events described in Joh_2:13-25 correspond to the first Passover of Yeshua’s ministry. The evidence of this is provided by Joh_3:22-23, which shows an overlap with Yochanan’s ministry during the spring/summer baptizing season, the season of Passover indicating that that was the end of Yochanan’s ministry and the beginning of Yeshua’s (Joh_3:22-30).

2. We are given another clue in Joh_4:35. Yeshua was telling them in the story with the Samaritan woman at the well that the harvest in the fall, which takes place at Sukkot, was still four months ahead. But also what Yeshua was saying was that the harvest now was ready. The fields are already white. Four months before Sukkot puts us at the Feast of Shavuot, which is the wave offering of wheat loaves. At this time the wheat fields are already white and ready for the harvest. After the narrative with the Samaritan, Yeshua went to Galil and in Joh_4:45 we see that Yeshua was received by the Galileans because of “all that He had done in Yerushalayim at the festival, for they also went to the festival.” Which festival? It must have been Passover when all were required to go to Yerushalayim. So, the events in chapter 4 of John must have taken place between Passover and Shavuot that year but closer to the latter as indicated in Joh_4:35.

3. In the story of Yeshua healing a blind man on Sabbath (Joh_5:1) another “festival of the Yehudim” is mentioned which may bring the narrative to Sukkot in the fall being the third and last festival of the year for the Yehudim to visit Yerushalyim.

4. The Passover mentioned in Joh_6:4 (voided in the most ancient Greek manuscripts) was subsequent to the feeding of the five thousand and Messiah walking on water and if it is somehow related to the events, it must have taken place well before them. The clue we are given is in Joh_6:71 where Yeshua is speaking of Yehudah from Qerioth who “was about to deliver Him up” indicating that the last Passover in Yeshua’s ministry was approaching.

5. The next clue found in the Gospel of John is in chapter 7. This time the narrator is very specific and explicitly reveals for us the next festival: that of Sukkot (Joh_7:2, Joh_7:14, Joh_7:37). That this would be the last Sukkot in Yeshua’s ministry is seen from the context of the chapter telling us that the crowd was already divided whether He was the Messiah or not and the pharisees were antagonized to lay hands on Him. And in Joh_8:12 Yeshua spoke of Himself, I am the light of the world. The occasion was Sukkot (see Joh_7:2). Sukkot was known as the “Festival of Light.” The entire city of Jerusalem was filled with light from giant seventy-five feet tall menorahs (m.Sukkah 5:2–4; b.Sukkah 52b).

6. Hanukkah in Joh_10:22 speaks of Messiah being in Yerushalayim in winter preceding the last Passover. Since the Synoptics preclude Messiah’s presence in Yerushalayim during the winter preceding his crucifixion, then that Hanukkah must have occurred in His last one. This is supported by the context of Joh_10:31-40 which indicates that from that moment on they sought to kill Him.

7. The Passover in Joh_11:55 corresponds to the crucifixion Passover seen in the context of Joh_11:46-57 regarding the plot of the corrupted religious elite to kill Him after the resurrection of Lazarus. What would be a better moment for the death and resurrection of Lazarus than taking place six days before Passover (Joh_12:1), the day of death of Yeshua.

Another approach to correctly determine the duration of Yeshua’s ministry is to take into account the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Luk_3:1-4 tells us that Yochanan began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius. Yeshua was baptized soon afterwards as he was approaching his thirtieth birthday (Luk_3:21-23). Tiberius was appointed co-regent with Augustus Caesar in late 11 AD. Thus the fifteenth year of Tiberius would be late 26 AD. Since Messiah’s ministry began with baptism (Mat_3:6, Mar_1:9), it was likely to occur during fall, since this was the rainy season (the rainy season is from October to early May but the peaks are from December to February, Son_2:11), or spring when the melting snow of Mount Hermon was feeding the Yarden River (Joh_3:23). This places Yeshua’s baptism to the fall of 26 AD. In Joh_2:20, the Temple was dated as forty-six years from the start of construction. Per Flavius Josephus the reconstruction of the Temple began in 19 BC. Therefore, the incident of Joh_2:13-22, in which Yeshua drove the money changers out of the Temple, occurred in spring of 27 AD, as Passover was near. The start of Messiah’s ministry preceded that date thus supporting the baptism date of fall of 26 AD, given Yom Kippur falls in late fall when He read Isa_61:1-2.

Putting together the above data we can propose a likely framework for Yeshua’s ministry of no longer than two years as follows:

1. Yeshua was born on Sukkot of 3962 (3 BC).

2. Taken to Egypt in 3964 (1 BC).

3. Return to Nazareth after Herod’s death in 3965 (January 10, 1 BC).

4. Yeshua was baptized and began His ministry on Yom Kippur of 3991 (26 AD).

5. He was lead to the wilderness to be tempted and afflict His soul for forty days.

6. He visited Yerushalayim during Hannukah of 3991 (AD 26) (Joh_10:22).

7. He visited Yerushalayim for the first Passover of 3992 (27 AD) (Joh_2:23).

8. His ministry overlapped John’s during the spring/summer of 3992 (27 AD) (Joh_3:22-23).

9. Yeshua called His disciples after Sukkot of 3992 (27 AD) and began his closing ministry.

10. He was crucified in Yerushalayim on Passover of 3993 (Wed, April 28, 28 AD).

Or, we can conclude that the life of Yeshua was about thirty-one and half years:

From Yeshua’s birth:        1st day, 7th month, 3 BC (15th day, 7th month if Sukkot)

To Yeshua’s death:           14th day, 1st month, 28 AD

Yeshua’s life:                    14 days, 6 months, 31 years

As Yeshua’s ministry began when “He was about thirty years of age” (Luk_3:23) on Yom Kippur of 3991 (26 AD) and His lifespan was thirty-one years and six months, then the duration of His ministry should have corresponded to year and half (seventy-nine weeks if He was born on Yom Teruah and seventy-seven weeks if Sukkot was the day of birth). Therefore, having said all that, we may conclude that the year in which Yeshua revealed the mission of His ministry (Isa_61:1-2) was the year before the Sabbath of the Land (see Jubilees Table) and He also foretold the year of His death and resurrection when He would have paid the penalty for our sins and released us from debt.

Having said all that regarding the year of crucifixion and the duration of the Messiah’s ministry, the following conclusions, which are summarized in two variants, can be made:

1. Year and half year ministry from Yom Kippur of 26 A.D. to Passover of 28 A.D and 28 A.D. as year of death and resurrection of the Messiah, and year 31 A.D. as the end of Daniel’s 70-week prophecy, or

2. Three and half year ministry from Yom Kippur of 28 A.D. to Passover of 31 A.D. and 31 A.D. as year of death and resurrection of the Messiah, and 34 A.D. as the end of Daniel’s 70-week prophecy.

Each one of these variants of this study has its own merits and deserve serious considerations. The present author, however, has considered the former without any preferences over the latter.