How Long Did Jesus Live on Earth?

A lesson inspired by the Baltimore catechism

A Russian icon of the Baptism of the Lord. (Photo © Slava Gallery, LLC; used with permission.)
A Russian icon of the Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist. The dove represents the Holy Spirit; the three angels represent the Trinity. Slava Gallery, LLC;

The chief account of Jesus Christ's life on earth is, of course, the Bible. But because of the narrative structure of the Bible, and the multiple accounts of Jesus' life found in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, and some of the epistles, it can be hard to piece together a timeline of Jesus' life. How long did Jesus live on earth, and what are the key events of His life here?

What Does the Baltimore Catechism Say?

Question 76 of the Baltimore Catechism, found in Lesson Sixth of the First Communion Edition and Lesson Seventh of the Confirmation Edition, frames the question and answer this way:

Question: How long did Christ live on earth?

Answer: Christ lived on earth about thirty-three years, and led a most holy life in poverty and suffering.

The Key Events of Jesus' Life on Earth

Many of the key events of Jesus' life on earth are commemorated every year in the Church's liturgical calendar. For those events, the list below shows them as we come to them in the calendar, not necessarily in the order in which they occurred in Christ's life. The notes next to each event clarify the chronological order.

The Annunciation: Jesus' life on earth began not with His birth but with the Blessed Virgin Mary's fiat—her response to the Angel Gabriel's announcement that she had been chosen to be the Mother of God.

At that moment, Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb by the Holy Spirit.

The Visitation: Still in His mother's womb, Jesus sanctifies John the Baptist before his birth, when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth (John's mother) and care for her in the last days of her pregnancy.

The Nativity: Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, on the day that we know as Christmas.

The Circumcision: On the eighth day after His birth, Jesus submits to the Mosaic Law and first sheds His blood for our sake. 

The Epiphany: The Magi, or Wise Men, visit Jesus sometime in the first three years of His life, revealing Him as the Messiah, the Savior.

The Presentation in the Temple: In another submission to the Law of Moses, Jesus is presented in the temple at 40 days after His birth, as the firstborn Son of Mary, Who thus belongs to the Lord.

The Flight Into Egypt: When King Herod, unwittingly alerted to the birth of the Messiah by the Wise Men, orders the massacre of all male children under the age of three, Saint Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.

The Hidden Years in Nazareth: After Herod's death, when the danger to Jesus has passed, the Holy Family returns from Egypt to live in Nazareth. From the age of about three until the age of about 30 (the beginning of His public ministry), Jesus resides with Joseph (until his death) and Mary in Nazareth, and lives an ordinary life of piety, obedience to Mary and Joseph, and manual labor, as a carpenter at Joseph's side. These years are called "hidden" because the Gospels record few details of His life at this time, with one major exception (see next item).

The Finding in the Temple: At the age of 12, Jesus accompanies Mary and Joseph and many of their relatives to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast days, and, on the return trip, Mary and Joseph realize that He is not with the family. They return to Jerusalem, where they find Him in the temple, teaching men who were much older than He the meaning of the Scriptures.

The Baptism of the Lord: Jesus' public life begins around age 30, when He is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and a voice from Heaven declares that "This is my beloved Son."

The Temptation in the Desert: After His baptism, Jesus spends 40 days and nights in the desert, fasting and praying and being tried by Satan. Emerging from the trial, He is revealed as the new Adam, Who stayed true to God where Adam fell.

The Wedding at Cana: In the first of His public miracles, Jesus turns water into wine at the request of His mother.

The Preaching of the Gospel: Jesus' public ministry begins with the proclamation of the kingdom of God and the calling of the disciples. The bulk of the Gospels covers this portion of Christ's life.

The Miracles: Along with His preaching of the Gospel, Jesus performs many miracles—hearings, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the casting out of demons, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. These signs of Christ's power confirm His teaching and His claim to be the Son of God.

The Power of the Keys: In response to Peter's profession of faith in Christ's divinity, Jesus elevates him to the first among the disciples and grants him "the power of the keys"—the authority to bind and to loose, to absolve sins and to govern the Church, the Body of Christ on earth.

The Transfiguration: In the presence of Peter, James, and John, Jesus is transfigured in a foretaste of the Resurrection and is seen in the presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets. As at Jesus' baptism, a voice is heard from Heaven: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!"

The Road to Jerusalem: As Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem and His passion and death, His prophetic ministry to the People of Israel becomes clear.

The Entrance Into Jerusalem: On Palm Sunday, at the beginning of Holy Week, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey, to shouts of acclamation from the crowds who acknowledge Him as the Son of David and the Savior. 

The Passion and Death: The joy of the crowds at Jesus' presence is short-lived, however, as, during the celebration of the Passover, they turn against Him and demand His crucifixion. Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with His disciples on Holy Thursday, then suffers death on our behalf on Good Friday. He spends Holy Saturday in the tomb.

The Resurrection: On Easter Sunday, Jesus rises from dead, conquering death and reversing the sin of Adam.

The Post-Resurrection Appearances: Over the 40 days after His Resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples and the Blessed Virgin Mary, explaining those portions of the Gospel concerning His sacrifice that they had not understood before.

The Ascension: On the 40th day after His Resurrection, Jesus ascends to Heaven to take His place at the Right Hand of God the Father.