Many artists have attempted to picture Jesus’ appearance. These are only guesses. Each artist fittingly paints Him as one bearing their cultural identity. But while no accurate picture exists, the Gospels do preserve historical records which help approximate His age as He went willingly to the cross.
Following His baptism by John the Baptist, Luke 3:1 states that Jesus began His ministry during the 15th year , 28 or 29 AD, of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. He succeeded Emperor Caesar Augustus, who ordered the census just before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
Following His baptism, it appears that Jesus spent three years training His disciples in ministry, prior to heading to Jerusalem for His final Passover. There He literally became the Passover Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. So His crucifixion would have been in 31 or 32 AD.
But how old was He? We know He was not born on 1 AD, as His birth was incorrectly calculated when the calendar was changed from BC to AD. The tax census ordered by Caesar Augustus prior to Jesus’ birth was in 8 BC. Herod the Great died in 4 BC, after Jesus was born. The discussion between the Wisemen or Magi from Persia and Herod helps us calculate more exactly when Jesus was born.
First, upon reaching Jerusalem, they asked Herod, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.”(Matthew 2:2) It would have taken many months after seeing the star to plan the trip and make the long journey by camel caravan from Persia (modern Iran). Second, Matthew records how Herod determined the time of Jesus’ birth: “Herod gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, according with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16).
The Magi had apparently told Herod the date they first saw the star in the Persian sky. So contrary to tradition, the Wise Men did not arrive at the stable in Bethlehem shortly after the shepherds were invited by angels. They came a year or two later. Herod was still alive while Joseph and family fled to Egypt, being warned of Herod’s evil plans. So Jesus was born 2-3 years prior to Herod’s death in 4 BC, but after the ordered census in 8 BC. His birth most likely occurred around 7-6 BC.
Luke records that “Jesus was about thirty years old when He began His ministry…” (Luke 3:23) following His baptism in AD 28-29. (Luke 3:1) He would have been approximately 32 when His ministry began. Dating is complicated because whenever born, He would be age one a year later. And 1 BC and 1 AD were the same year, because there are no 0 BC or AD.
When He died during Passover three years after His baptism, Jesus was about 35 years of age. He accomplished in three short years what no other individual in the world has ever done. Through His obedience to His Father, training of His disciples, preaching, teaching, and healing, He was the Lamb of God who took upon Himself the curse of sin and death for us all. And by His resurrection and ascension, He open up the Kingdom of God with new life in the Spirit to all who would come to trust in Him! Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Dr. Larry Selig, April, 2017