Christian Symbols main page.
Jesus Loved Children
It is widely held that Jesus loved children. Jesus says in the Gospels, particularly Mark 10:14, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me..." Like all Biblical verses, this is a translation from the languages Jesus and the Apostles spoke. Most likely, they spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. When an English translation of the Bible uses the word "suffer", it doesn't mean "in pain". This use of that word simply means that Jesus tells His disciples to "let" little children come to Him. Jesus was kind and gentle and we believe that children would have enjoyed being near to Jesus.
The Bible and most traditional Christian texts refer to God as "The Father", so there is much evidence that we view ourselves as God's children.
Is God a man?
Traditionally, God has been referred to as a male figure, and certainly, Jesus lived on earth as a human male. However, we don't exactly know the true nature of God. God is not usually present in a material form for us while we are alive. God is with us, but not like our Mom is with us.
All people have a father and a mother, even if all the family members don't live together in one home. In some cases, your father could have died before you were born, and in some cases you might not know your natural mother and father, but you still must have had a father and mother. The mother of Jesus was Mary (Luke 2). Mary carried Jesus in her belly just like all babies are carried in a mother's belly before birth. Mary was a woman, so she was the "mother" of Jesus. If Jesus was a human, then he also must have had a father. If the father of Jesus was God, was God a man?
Well, no. We can say that God acted as the father of Jesus, but we still don't know the true nature of God. Whatever God is, God is not a human being. Jesus lived as a human on earth, but ascended to heaven to continue to be part of God. Even though God knows what it is like to be human (because Jesus was human for a time and Jesus is part of the Trinity that includes the God referred to as the Father), God is not human. Even though God was able to be the father that allowed Mary to carry Jesus in her belly, God is not a man. And God is not a woman, either. God is a powerful being that created everything in the universe. If it sounds like I don't know what I'm talking about, well, that's about right. None of us can truly imagine the glory of God because we humans are simply not as glorified as God.
The picture is a section of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican's Basilica.
There are some stories (outside the Bible) about Jesus having a family. We have heard a lot about the novel The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, and this book states that Jesus got married and had kids. But this book is fictional; the author made up the story. It's OK to write fiction, even about Jesus, but fiction is not historical fact.
There is no direct evidence in the Bible (or any historical documents) that Jesus had any children, and most Christians do not believe that Jesus had children. But Jesus still loved kids!
You won't find the Easter Bunny in the Bible, and Santa Claus is modeled after a good man named Nicholas who lived long after the Bible was finished.
First, let's think about the early Christian church, during the first few centuries after Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected. Before He died, Jesus called his disciple Peter a "rock" on which Jesus would build His church (Matthew 16:18). In the early days of the church, many people felt that Jesus meant that one person should lead the church. In general, we can think of Peter as the first Pope, and members of the Roman Catholic church still believe that one male should lead all Christians. Today, not all Christians believe this, so many Christians belong to other denominations, such as Baptist or Episcopalian (there are many more).
But back in those early days, when Christianity was first being defined and passed on to others, and the chapters of the New Testament were being collected, the Christian church was led by a small, core group (with one top leader). And some of the things that had to be determined were how to celebrate the major events of Christianity. For example, should we celebrate the birth and resurrection of Jesus? And since the Bible doesn't directly say that Christmas comes on December 25, when should it be celebrated?
Remember also that Jesus lived in what is now called Israel, and it took centuries for Christian beliefs to spread around the world. The people who were to become Christian were often pagans, meaning that they didn't worship one god, but mainly worshipped the earth and the seasons. However, the idea of a single, loving Creator spread, and this idea (known as monotheism) is practiced by Jews, Muslims and followers of other faiths.
In many cases, early church leaders scheduled the Christian holidays around the times that the non-Christians were already celebrating other holidays. This might seem like a trick, but it really just made it simpler for people to learn about Jesus.
Christmas on December 25 is held around the time of the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere). Easter is timed according to the Jewish Passover, and this happens to occur in the springtime, and the springtime is associated with new birth and growth. And if you know anything about bunnies, it's that they have lots of babies. Eggs, too, are a symbol of birth (and therefore springtime). So even though there are no bunnies handing out colored eggs in the Bible, they have become associated with Easter. It's OK to color eggs, but also try to remember the real meaning of Easter. "Alleluia, the Lord is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia."
Remember that when Jesus lived, the Roman Empire ruled most of the civilized world. There were small groups of humans in various parts of the world who were simple farmers and hunters who didn't know the Romans, but most people were subject to the rule of the Roman emperor and Roman armies. As a result, the center of civilization, and the centers of art and culture and education, were all in Rome. So, it should be no surprise that the center of Christianity migrated from the Middle East to Rome.
At first, art was not important in Christianity. In fact, Christians were persecuted (treated badly) in the first years after Jesus died. In those early years, if you carried around a picture of Jesus, you could be identified as a Christian and you could be attacked. Christians used secret symbols such as a fish symbol (icthus), rather than actual pictures of Jesus. The use of a fish symbol is related to the saying that Jesus is a "fisher of men and women", meaning that Jesus "catches" us and shows us a great path for life. If anyone ever did paint an actual picture of Jesus while Jesus was on earth, the picture certainly did not survive, so there is no way for us now to truly know what Jesus looked like.
Eventually, the Roman empire fell. Not only did persecution of Christians end, but Christianity became one of the world's major religions. It then became safe to paint pictures of Jesus, but the center of Christianity was still Rome. The painters wanted Jesus to look great, but human, and those human painters were descended from Roman pagans, not from Palestinian Jews! As a result, the popular images of Jesus we most often see in Europe and North America make Jesus look, well, European (like in the picture at the top of this page).
That's OK, but probably not what a man from Nazareth would have looked like. A modern artist named Richard Neave used historical and archeological records to simulate what a Palestinian might have looked like in the 1st Century A.D.
picture is of a window at the Bethany
English Lutheran Church.
A few hundred years after the resurrection, the centralized organization of the Christian movement was taking root, persecution had subsided as noted above, and the use of art became more prevalent. But a thousand years later, the use of art had become so prevalent that the issue became one of many complaints against the Church during the Protestant Reformation. Many non-Catholic denominations considered art and music a distraction from worship and from their daily work. Drawing pictures and singing for fun were viewed as sinful, and even church singing was limited to voices (no instruments) and a small number of melodies. This may sound strange to us in the 21st Century, but it took another couple of centuries, into the 1800s, before Protestant churches began to encourage singing and instruments such as organs. Roman Catholic music and art also flourished.
In the previous paragraph, you may have heard all the words before, but think of what they mean. In the 15th Century, Martin Luther and others felt that certain practices of the Roman Catholic church needed to be "reformed", and this is where we get the word "Reformation". The Lutheran denomination is named after Martin Luther. The people who protested against the practices of the Roman Catholic church continue to be referred to as Protestants. There were many complaints having to do with the way the Roman Catholic church collected money and handled the forgiveness of sin (and more). Most of these complaints have been addressed in our modern times, so I don't mean for this essay to seem negative toward Roman Catholics, and of course, most Christians are Roman Catholics.
There are a number of stories in the Bible in which a living person ascends to heaven, including Jesus and His mother Mary. It is unclear if Moses' body ascended to heaven; Scripture says that God buried Moses in an unknown place (Deuteronomy 34:6). In this drawing we see the prophet Elijah riding a chariot of fire to heaven (2 Kings 2:11).
However, we typically do not think of being raised bodily to heaven, and it's hard to imagine what heaven is like for the few prophets and saints whose bodies ascended. Our souls leave our mortal bodies behind, and this allows us to experience paradise without earthly burdens.
I was a Christian for many years before becoming aware of the level of controversy surrounding this question. Many Christian denominations baptize infants and then provide a "confirmation" ceremony for older youths, while other denominations baptize only those mature enough to ask for the baptism. My personal feeling is that a person cannot really make an educated decision about religion until he or she has left home and experienced the world, so I do not see much difference between baptizing an infant or an adolescent. I brought up my own kids as Christians, and they are baptized and confirmed, and I think that's great, but I can't really claim they made fully educated choices independent of their upbringing.