WAS JESUS 50 YEARS OLD DURING HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Absolutely not! This idea stems from a misreading or misunderstanding of John 8:57: “Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?” When unbelieving Israel posed this question, it was an expression of sarcasm and skepticism. Luke 3:23 informs us the Lord Jesus was approximately 30 years of age at the beginning of His earthly ministry. For Him to actually be close to 50 years old in John chapter 8 would mean His ministry lasted two decades—and no one believes that! Based on the calendars provided in the Books of Luke and John, we can estimate Christ’s earthly ministry spanned no more than three years. (For more information, see our related study linked at the end of this article.)
Jesus’ critics are using 50 as a standard to gauge His aptitude or reliability—not speculating about His exact age. For instance, if you were to say to a toddler, “You are not yet an adult,” you are underscoring a baseline. Until he or she has reached adulthood, the child is not an adult. In no way were you implying he or she is technically an adult or anywhere near adulthood. The number 50 in Scripture connotes maturity. For example, according to the Law of Moses, the Levitical priests could serve up to age 50. By that time, they were retired from their duties, but, having had many years of experience, they could train the younger men still active in the priesthood. They could also help in other functions concerning Tabernacle/Temple worship.
Numbers chapter 4: “ From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation….  From thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them; all that enter in to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation….  From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation….  From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation:….  From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,….  From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that entereth into the service, for the work in the tabernacle of the congregation,….  From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation.”
See also Numbers 8:24-26: “ This is it that belongeth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation:  And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more:  But shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charge.”
Let us go back to chapter 8 of John, Jesus addressing Israel’s apostate religious leaders who have taken offence that He is greater than their patriarch Abraham. Verse 58 relates: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” When did Abraham “rejoice to see [Christ’s] day?” Hebrews 11:17-19 gives us a possible answer: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
Indeed, Abraham did not fully understand why the LORD God instructed him to offer his son Isaac on the mountain in Genesis chapter 22, but we, with a completed Bible, recognize Abraham indirectly viewed what Father God would do when He would offer His Son on Calvary’s cross some 2,000 years later. Abraham, while not having a full revelation of God like we do in the completed Bible, saw the LORD providing a substitute for Isaac. That substitute would eventually be Jesus Christ.
Now comes John 8:57, the verse in question: “Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?” They argue Christ is not even 50 years old, so how could He have had direct communion with Abraham? Abraham had lived and died some 2,000 years earlier, yet Jesus knew of Him and He had seen Jesus’ day?! Can you sense their sarcasm, their bewilderment, in asking, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?” Remember, in Scripture, the number 50 connotes maturity. Since Jesus was only about 33 years old here, Israel’s religious leaders do not consider Him old enough to comment so boldly on major issues such as Abraham. Again, they are worldly-minded, seeing Jesus as just an ordinary man instead of viewing Him as the God-Man, from eternity past (“from everlasting;” Micah 5:2 King James Bible).
In response to their inquiry of verse 57, verse 58 tells us: “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” There is no question about it. “Verily, verily”—as in “surely, surely” or “absolutely, absolutely”—the Lord Jesus knew Abraham. After all, Jesus was a unique human: He was the God-Man, the Creator of Genesis 1:1 (cf. John 1:1-4), the God of Abraham. He had existed as a Spirit before He took upon Himself the form of a man. As a Spirit, prior to His incarnation, He had fellowship with Abraham. He had talked with Abraham, eaten with Abraham, walked with Abraham, and so on (Genesis chapter 18, for example). Jesus added a striking expression to bolster His claim: “Before Abraham was, I am.” This is, no doubt, a strong claim to Deity.
The special or bizarre form of “to be”—“I am” (present tense) rather than “I was” (past tense)—allows us to link Jesus to Exodus 3:14: “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” In keeping with John’s theme, Jesus Christ declared Himself to be the JEHOVAH God of the Old Testament: “I am the ‘I AM’ that was before Abraham.” We know this is exactly what the Lord Jesus intended, what He meant, as His audience responds most negatively in the next verse, assuming He had committed blasphemy and was worthy of stoning to death: “Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59).
SUPPLEMENTAL: THE RUSSELLITE “BIBLE” AND JOHN 8:58
Every first-year Greek student knows the phrase “ego eimi” means “I am”—not “I have been” as deceitfully rendered in the “Jehovah’s Witness” (Russellite) “bible,” the New World Translation. To translate “ego eimi” as “I have been” is not only to demonstrate poor translation skills but also erroneous theology. The Russellites do not believe Jesus is JEHOVAH, which is why their perverted text reflects that idea. Here is just one of many examples of sectarian bias that can ruin any translation process; to wit, people are using preconceived ideas (denominational doctrine) to re-word the portions of Scripture that would otherwise contradict their theological system. If we can find one corrupt “Holy Bible,” there is bound to be another somewhere (and there are many)! We have all the more reason to keep and believe our King James Bible as our final authority.
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» How long was Christ’s earthly ministry?
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