What Did Jesus Teach?
It is perhaps no surprise that the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life place great emphasis upon the final days leading to his crucifixion and resurrection. As he repeatedly declared, this was the mission for which he volunteered, with all its momentous ramifications (Matthew 16:21, John 12:27). But there is much more to Jesus than this. In the roughly three years of his earthly activity, he devoted himself not only to training his immediate disciples, but also to carrying out an extensive teaching ministry.
Much within the gospel accounts is devoted to the content of Jesus’ teaching, contained in parables and sermons offered in synagogues, informal settings, and public gatherings. What is so notable about these teachings?
Arguably the single, most earthshaking statement Jesus ever made was, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21), by which he referred to himself as Israel’s promised king. This proclamation did not spring out of nowhere. It answered the long-suffering expectation of the children of Israel, who eagerly anticipated a world of righteousness and justice under the authority of the promised Son of David, who would rule with the sovereign majesty of God. It is a kingdom that turns the world upside down, as Jesus’ mother, Miriam (Mary), sang—where unjust rulers are brought down from their thrones, the hungry and humble are raised up and filled with good things, and the rich and proud are cast down and sent away empty (Luke 1:51–53).
Regarding this royal proclamation, Jesus gave the command: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). In many instances, in the tradition of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus contrasted the priorities and values of God’s kingdom with the existing social order. The extended passage in Matthew, known as the Sermon on the Mount, establishes many of the kingdom’s principles and practical applications. It is also a kingdom where “many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30). In addition, those who would be great in the kingdom must act as servants (Matthew 20:26), in contrast to the greedy, power-hungry impulses of this world.
Jesus is more than just a revolutionary teacher of a new order. Seekers after this kingdom must begin with a move toward inner transformation for it to have any effect. As Jesus instructed the religious leader Nicodemus, who sought him out under the cover of darkness, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). One becomes born again—that is, a new person with Spirit-empowered reordered priorities—by accepting Jesus’ message.
This new birth involves a radical reorientation of character and values based upon a lifelong exploration of the love of God toward creation and humanity. This unique form of love is embodied in the self-sacrificial lifestyle and ministry of Yeshua the Messiah. It is passed on to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom he imparts to his followers.
His love transforms our heart and attitudes toward others and even toward ourselves. It teaches us to put aside the bondage of pride in favor of the freedom of humility. It teaches us to delight in the gifts and contributions of others and not to envy them or compare ourselves. It teaches us to devote our talents and gifts to the service of our loving master.
Obeying Jesus’ teaching sometimes involves going against our own instincts, such as forgiving those who wrong us, forbearing those who get under our skin, and even suffering for the sake of his truth. But for those who have received him, he is indeed the “pearl of great value,” whom the buyer rejoiced to obtain, even at the price of every other thing in his possession (Matthew 13:46).
The teachings of Jesus are profound pathways into a rich and rewarding relationship with God. It is not without reason that many have remarked that no one taught like Rabbi Jesus taught. We encourage you to discover his uniqueness for yourself.