Both John the Baptist and Jesus were born under extraordinary circumstances. Both births were announced in advance by angels. John was born to parents well beyond the usual childbearing age. Jesus was miraculously born to the virgin Mary and was the Son of God. Mary and John's mother, Elizabeth, were relatives, and John was born a few months before Jesus.
John grew up to be a popular preacher and moral reformer who baptized people "with water for repentance" - a turning away from the ways of sin. He also announced the coming ministry of Jesus:
He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (NRSV, Mark 1:7-8)
Jesus was baptized by John and began His own ministry at about age 30. At Jesus' baptism,
... the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (NRSV Luke 3:22)
Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee healing people of their illnesses and performing other miracles. He spoke of the immeasurable value of being part of the "kingdom of God," the body of people who have devoted their lives to serving God instead of worldly pursuits. He told of the eternal life with God that awaits those in the kingdom of God and the eternal damnation awaiting those excluded. He also preached a radical doctrine of nonviolence, non-retaliation and universal love for all people.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (NRSV, Matthew 22:37-39)
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well. (NRSV, Matthew 5:38-40)
You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (NRSV, Matthew 5:43-44)
By the time of Jesus, the religion of Israel, as taught be its religious leaders, had degenerated into legalism. Salvation was said to come through obedience to the Ten Commandments and hundreds of other rules. Jesus, however, taught a religion of the "heart" - love for all people and purity of attitudes, thoughts and actions. Jesus severely criticized the corrupt religion of His time. He said the religious leaders observed the letter of the Law of Moses but ignored its spirit (Matthew 23:23-26).
According to Jesus, not only must we not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14), we should avoid entertaining even the thought of it (Matthew 5:27-29). Not only must we not steal (Exodus 20:15) and not envy what others have (Exodus 20:17), we should focus our lives on God, not on earthly possessions (Matthew 6:19-21). Not only must we not give false testimony (Exodus 20:16), we should even avoid evil thoughts and speech (Matthew 12:35-37). Not only must we be considerate to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-8), we should treat them as we would treat Jesus Himself! (Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus was a Jew, as were all his followers at that point in time, and he was very popular with the common Jewish people. But Jesus' teachings inevitably brought Him into conflict with Israel's religious establishment. The religious leaders were jealous of His popularity, resented His challenges to their rules and feared for their authority. Finally, the professional religious leaders - the chief priests, elders and scribes - conspired to kill Jesus. They brought Him before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, on a trumped-up charge of treason against the Roman Empire.
On Pilate's order, Jesus was crucified on a Friday before Passover, probably in the year 30 A.D., and His body was placed in a tomb. On Sunday morning, the tomb was discovered empty and an angel announced that Jesus had risen from the dead! Jesus' disciples and others saw and spoke with Jesus numerous times over the next 40 days before He ascended to heaven.
Jesus, Himself, said His death and resurrection were all part of God's plan for our salvation. Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sin of all mankind. Through His death, we are freed from the deadly grip of sin. Although we do not fully understand the how or why of Jesus' sacrificial death, it offers us a chance for salvation, and that is the central belief and hope of Christianity. Jesus' resurrection from the dead serves as a model for our own future resurrection and eternal life. Jesus defeated the power of sin and death. He promised that we, too, can overcome those powers to live eternal life with God.
Jesus radically changed the world. He was a new kind of leader, a new kind of king. Instead of power and wealth, universal love was His standard of worthiness. Instead of the sword, the word of God was His "weapon." Instead of the proud, worldly king, He was the humble bearer of the kingdom of God. Yet, no one in history has had the impact on world affairs that Jesus has. His teachings and principles have made their way into human thought throughout the world, far beyond the bounds of formal Christianity.