Acts 2 marks a paradigm shift from the Old Testament era to the New Testament era. All history of God’s people that took place before the Pentecost of Acts 2 would be judged by their living under the Old Testament law. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are records of Jesus’ ministry under the Old Testament law in order to prepare Israel for His ascension to the right hand of God to assume all authority from throne of David.
It is difficult to determine the year for the crucifixion of Jesus, and thus, the year for the establishment of the church in Acts 2 in reference to our calendar today. In order to come to some conclusions concerning the year of the Acts 2 Pentecost and establishment of the church, however, there are some specific historical facts that we should know. These are historical facts that we cannot ignore, neither can we discount them because of any previous assumptions, or mistakes on the part of past scholarship. It is the objective of the biblical scholar to absorb all known facts concerning a proposition. Objective minds seek to base beliefs on facts, regardless of traditional beliefs. Therefore, we are challenged with the following points in order that we draw a conclusion for ourselves concerning the date of the Acts 2 Pentecost and the establishment of the church.
A. Jesus was crucified during the Passover Feast.
There is little controversy over the fact that Jesus was crucified during the Passover feast of the Jews, though there is some debate over the exact day of the week Jesus ate the Passover feast with the disciples. The Passover lamb was traditionally eaten on the 14th of Nisan, on Friday evening before the Sabbath and the Pentecost that followed the Sabbath. Because the 14th of Nisan was determined by the new moon, it would be very difficult to determine the exact day in reference to our calendar today when Jesus ate His last Passover meal with His disciples. The biblical text is not clear as to when Jesus ate this meal with His disciples. Because the New Testament writers left us little information on this subject, we would conclude that the Holy Spirit does not want us to ponder the matter in reference to an exact day, even the exact day of the week Jesus ate the Passover feast with the disciples. Our focus should be on the event, and that He was three days in the tomb as He prophesied (Mt 12:40), with His resurrection early on the first day of the week (Mk 16:9). The important thing to remember is that He was the Passover lamb, and the crucifixion took place during the Passover feast of the Jews.
B. Jesus visited Jerusalem on possibly three Passovers.
It is not easy to determine how many times Jesus visited Jerusalem during His adult earthly ministry. For this reason, it is difficult to determine the length of His earthly ministry. Estimates for the length of the ministry have been anywhere from two and a half to five and a half years. Since the record of the gospel according to John seems to be the most historical in recording the number of visits Jesus made to the feasts of the Jews, we use his document to establish a possible number of visits Jesus made to Jerusalem during His ministry.
- First visit to Jerusalem: During His ministry, Jesus first went up to Jerusalem for the Passover that is mentioned in John 2:13. This visit took place after the first signs of Jesus in Capernaum (Jn 2:11). We are not told how long He was into His ministry when He made this trip, but we could assume that it was about six months.
- Second visit to Jerusalem: There is another “feast of the Jews” mentioned in John 5:1 when Jesus again went up to Jerusalem. However, the difficulty is to determine whether this was the annual Passover feast or another feast of the Jews. Some have suggested that this “feast of the Jews” could have been the feast of Tabernacles that took place in the month Tishi. If this is true, then regardless of John 5:1 being a specific reference to the Passover, reference would be to a second trip of Jesus to Jerusalem to a feast that was an annual feast of the Jews. It would represent a year in which a second Passover visit took place in His ministry. However, we do not know if Jesus attended any other feast of Tabernacles except the one that is mentioned in John 7:2. We might assume, therefore, that the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 was an annual Passover feast of the Jews. However, some have also suggested that the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 was the feast of Dedication, or even the feast of Purim. It is difficult to determine which specific feast is intended. Nevertheless, many biblical scholars believe that John 5:1 was a Passover feast, and thus, Jesus’ second visit to Jerusalem.
Another Passover feast is mentioned in John 6:4. Because of the increased hostility that was mounting against Him, however, Jesus did not attend this Passover. John simply recorded, “He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews sought to kill him” (Jn 7:1). Now what complicates the matter is the fact that this may have been the second Passover of Jesus’ ministry, not the “feast of the Jews” mentioned in John 5:1. But if the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 was a Passover, then John 6:4 was the third, and the John 13:1 Passover the fourth. This would make Jesus’ ministry the traditional three and a half years in length.
C. Third visit to Jerusalem: The last feast of Passover that Jesus attended is recorded in John 13:1. This was the feast during which He was crucified. Since John 2:13 was the first Passover visit, and assuming John 5:1 was a Passover, and thus the second Passover visit, with John 6:4 being a Passover that was not attended, then the John 13:1 would be the third Passover visit.
John specifically records that Jesus attended two mentioned Passover feasts, the one in John 2:13 and the one in 13:1. He did not attend the John 6:4 Passover. If the “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1 is another Passover, then He attended three during His ministry, but over a period of four Passovers, one just after the beginning and the last at the time of His crucifixion. If there were four Passovers during Jesus’ ministry, then Jesus’ ministry would have been over three years in length, possibly over four years. Assuming that He was into His ministry several months before the John 2:13 Passover visit, we conclude that His ministry was not shorter than three and a half years.
D. Jesus began His ministry when He was about thirty years old.
“Now when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age …” (Lk 3:23). Under Old Testament law, this was the common age when priests began their ministry (Nm 4:1-3,22,23,29,30). The word “about” in Luke 3:23 adds some ambiguity to the matter, but we assume that Jesus was somewhere in His 30th year at the beginning of His earthly ministry. We could assume that the Holy Spirit added the word “about” in order for us not to focus on exactly what we are doing here, that is, trying to determine an exact date for the crucifixion and establishment of the church. Nevertheless, when we add “about” thirty with the time of the earthly ministry of the preceding point, we come up with Jesus’ approximate age at the time of His death. Jesus would have been at least thirty-three years of age when He was crucified.
E. Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
In reference to the Roman Empire, Jesus was born when Augustus was Caesar of Rome. Luke records that a census was taken during this time, which census affected the lives of Joseph and Mary (Lk 2:1-4). It was because of this census that Joseph and Mary made their way to Bethlehem, the prophesied place of the birth of the Messiah (Mc 5:2).
F. Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great.
Jesus was born during the latter years of the reign of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-6). It was Herod who commissioned the slaughter of the Bethlehem babies who were two years of age and under (Mt 2:16). He made this proclamation of genocide in order to make sure that Jesus would be included in the slaughter. However, this does not mean that Jesus was as old as two years by the time of the slaughter. It simply means that Herod was not sure about the time of birth, and thus wanted to make sure that Jesus was included in the slaughter.
In reference to the birth of Jesus, here are some historical facts that must be considered:
- The testimony of encyclopedias and dictionaries: Since Jesus was born during the final days of Herod, then it is imperative that we determine the date of the death of Herod in reference to our calendar today. Now keep in mind that the establishment for the birth of Jesus is dated from our modern-day calendars. We are not judging the date from the Roman calendar, though the Roman calendar must be considered in order to determine the date of Herod’s life history. As will be pointed out later, there was a discrepancy made in affixing the Roman calendar dates with our modern-day calendar, which discrepancy was noted and corrected over a century ago. But in reference to our calendar today, all secular and biblical encyclopedias and dictionaries establish the date of Herod’s death to have occurred in Jericho the last of March in 4 B.C. The World Book Encyclopedia states, “Herod the Great (73? – 4 B.C.) ruled all Palestine from 37 to 4 B.C.” (1976, Vol. 9, p. 198). Other encyclopedias or dictionaries do not contradict this statement. Though first published in 1917, the 1939 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that Herod died in 4 B.C. (1939, Vol. 2, p. 668). The New Bible Dictionary affirms the 4 B.C. date, as well as A. T. Roberston in his renowned Harmony of the Gospels. Historically speaking, therefore, one will not find any encyclopedia or dictionary that will disagree with the 4 B.C. date.
- The record of Josephus: Josephus was a Jewish historian whose work transitioned from the latter part of the 1st century into the 2nd century. In his Antiquities, XVII, 6, 4, he alluded to an eclipse of the moon that occurred shortly before the death of Herod. Thus the birth of Jesus could not have occurred after the death of Herod, or after this eclipse since Jesus was born during Herod’s reign. The eclipse establishes the time of Herod’s death, which eclipse also helps us to determine the time of Jesus’ birth in reference to our calendar today.
Now here are some conclusions to ponder. According to our calendar today, Herod died in 4 B.C. Jesus was about thirty years old when He began His ministry. His ministry was about three and a half years in length, which means that He was about thirty-three years old when He was crucified. We can place the birth of Jesus somewhere in the two-year window of Herod’s slaughter of babies. Add the figures and we come up with the crucifixion and establishment of the church around A.D. 30 according to our calendar today. This is the date that all current Bible resource books use in reference to the events that transpired and were recorded in Acts 2.