Q: #180. How old was Jesus when He died?
A: When I first undertook this question, I thought that answering it would be fairly simple. I was wrong! I am not sure I found ANY two people who agree on this. The Bible is not clear on this subject, so an answer is based on a combination of several Bible verses, as well as historical evidence. Let me lay out what I believe are the important clues to consider in coming up with an answer.
#1. When was Jesus born? (Mt 2:1) tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the reign of King Herod. In my studies, nearly every scholar is in agreement that historical evidence points to Herod dying in 4 B.C. If we continue on in (Mt 2), we find that when Herod found out that the newborn Jesus was being called a king, he wanted to have Him killed out of jealousy and fear of a rival king. Herod told the wise men who went to see Jesus to report back to him after they had seen Him so he could go and “worship” Him too (a lie). However, when they failed to report back to Herod (because God had warned them not to in a dream), he became enraged and ordered the death of ALL male infants in Bethlehem 2 years old and under. (Joseph and Mary had already escaped to Egypt with the infant Jesus because an angel had warned them.)
Two things are important to consider here. First, most scholars believe that the wise men were either from Arabia or Persia. This being the case, the journey to Bethlehem would have taken over a year. This means that Jesus would have been around 2 years old by the time they arrived. This fits very well with the fact that Herod ordered the death of all the male infants 2 and under (Mt 2:16).
In addition, if Herod died in 4 B.C., obviously, Jesus was born before this. It is believed that Herod died shortly after his decree was issued. If this is true, and Jesus was around 2 at this time, then Jesus would have to have been born in about 5 or 6 B.C., right?
#2. What year did Jesus die? On this point, there is a LOT of disagreement. Let’s look at the clues.
First, there were 3 officials that were involved in Jesus’ trial before His crucifixion:
Caiaphas (the High Priest)(Mt 26:57)(Jn 18:13-14,24,28) reigned from app. 18-36 A.D.
Pilate (the prefect of Judea)(Mt 27)(Mk 15)(Lk 23)(Jn 18-19) ruled from 26-36 A.D.
Herod Antipas (tetrarch of Galilee and Perea)(Lk 23:7-8,11-12) ruled from 4 B.C.- 39 A.D. (He was the son of Herod the Great who died in 4 B.C.)
If we put these dates together, we can know that Jesus’ trial fell somewhere between 26-36 A.D.
Second, (Lk 3:1) says that “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” John the Baptist began his ministry of “preparing the way” for Jesus. Shortly after this, the Gospels show that Jesus began His ministry. Based upon quite a bit of historical evidence (i.e. the writings of Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius), nearly all scholars agree that Tiberius reigned alone from 14 A.D. until his death in 37 A.D. (He became emperor after Augustus died in 14 A.D.) However, it is also important to note that he was made a co-emperor by Augustus about 2 years prior to this in 11-12 A.D.
If we put these dates together, they tell us that John’s (as well as Jesus’) ministry began in the area of 26-29 A.D. (11-14 A.D. + 15th year = 26-29 A.D.)
#3. (Jn 2:20) says that the Jews told Jesus “it has taken forty-six years to build this Temple.” (Note that this says “has taken” and not “took.”) The Jews in this verse were speaking about a current rebuilding of the Temple that was begun by Herod the Great in 20-19 B.C., (recorded by Josephus) and was still going on even at that time (it didn’t finish until 64 A.D.).
*** Note: This was not referring to a rebuilding that happened 100’s years earlier.
If we put this together, it tells us that when the Jews said this to Jesus, it was 26-27 A.D. (20-19 B.C. + 26-27 A.D. = 46 years)
#4. According to John, 3 Passovers occurred during the time Jesus ministered on Earth. The first was in Jerusalem (Jn 2:13), the second was in Galilee (Jn 6:4), and the third was again in Jerusalem (Jn 11:55-12:1). From this, it is believed that Jesus’ ministry lasted about 3 years.
#5. Finally, (Lk 3:23) tells us “When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age.” (NASB) This is important because we are told in (Num 4:3,35,39,43,47) that this was the earliest age that a man could first minister as a priest. (Jesus is our High Priest: Heb 7:24-25.) I believe it is also important to note that the word “about” is used in (Lk 3:23), meaning Jesus probably wasn’t exactly 30.
OK, so let’s recap the dates.
#1. Jesus is born between 5-6 B.C..
#2. Jesus’ trial and ministry fell between 26-29 A.D.
#3. The Jews were speaking to Jesus about the Temple in 26-27 A.D. (COMBINE WITH #4)
#4. This was during the first year of Jesus’ 3 year ministry. (Jn 2:13 the first Passover in which Jesus ministered and Jn 2:20 the Jews speaking to Jesus about the Temple occurred together) Therefore, the first year of Jesus’ ministry would also be in 26-27 A.D., and the final year would be 28 A.D. (26 A.D. = year 1)(27 A.D. = year 2)(28 A.D. = year 3) or 29 A.D.
#5. Jesus began His ministry at about 30 years old.
If I combine all of this together, I come up with an age for Jesus’ death at between 33-35 years old in the years 28 or 29 A.D.
These dates are earlier than I believed when I began this study, and earlier than what many believe (a date in the lower 30’s is often mentioned), but this is my estimate.
NOTE: I should mention here, that if you wish to study this subject out further, there are two other clues worth following. The first is the census undertaken while Quirinius was governing Syria (Lk 2:1-7), and the second is the prophecy in (Dan 9:24-27) about when the Messiah would be born. I did not mention these primarily because there is wide disagreement on the dating and interpretation for both of them.
NOTE: It is also important to add that despite what you may have been taught, the calendars we use today do not perfectly correspond to a beginning at Christ’s birth. Obviously, they are off by anywhere from 5-6 years. This is due to some miscalculations over time by those who developed the calendar we use today. I explain this a little more here.