Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Pinterest Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr Connect on YouTube

Why Did Jesus Die in His Thirties?

March 14, 2017

Why did Christ die in his early thirties rather than as an older man? This would have permitted Him more time to teach and to set forth His Church. St. Thomas Aquinas answered the question in the following way:

Christ willed to suffer while yet young, for three reasons. First of all, to commend the more His love by giving up His life for us when He was in His most perfect state of life. Secondly, because it was not becoming for Him to show any decay of nature nor to be subject to disease …. Thirdly, that by dying and rising at an early age Christ might exhibit beforehand in His own person the future condition of those who rise again. Hence it is written (Ephesians 4:13), “Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ” (Summa Theologica III, 46, 9 ad 4).

Speculations such as these strike some as purely arbitrary. Others consider the reasoning to be a post hoc justification: Christ died at the age of 33, so let’s make something up to try to explain it.

St. Thomas’ reasoning, however, is not based on wild speculation. There are premises to his reasoning.

First, there is the premise that God does nothing arbitrarily and we do well to allow even seemingly minor details in Scripture (e.g., the time of day) to teach us.

Another premise is based on the nature of perfection. Perfection can be harmed by either excess or defect. Consider the case of age: A young person may lack physical and intellectual maturity (youth being a “defect” in age), but there comes a time when age becomes problematic in the other direction as time takes its toll on the body and the mind becomes less sharp (old age being an “excess” in age). Thus, there is a period of time when one’s age is in the “perfect” range: harmed neither by excess nor defect.

In St. Thomas’ time one’s thirties was considered to be that time of perfection. This is arguably still so, though we do seem to take a lot longer to reach intellectual and emotional maturity these days.

St. Thomas notes that because Jesus died while in the prime of His life, the sacrifice was greater. His apparent lack of any disease or physical imperfections also increased His sacrifice. This is a model for us. We are to give the best of what we have to God in sacrifice; not merely our cast-offs, or things of which we might say, “This will do.” The Lord once lamented, through Malachi,

If I am a Father, then where is my honor? When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts (Mal 1:8).

And thus what might seem to some to be an unremarkable detail (Jesus’ age) actually provides important teachings to the sensitive soul. Christ gave His all, His best—and He did so when He was in the prime of His life. We too are summoned to increasing perfection

Filed in: Lent

Comments (13)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Nick says:

    Saint Thomas is a Church Doctor, but not the Magisterium. He can be wrong on the Crucified’s age, just as he erred about Mary’s sin. We must await the Church’s teaching.

    Some Church Fathers say Jesus died at fifty years old, but we should not make an appeal to popularity fallacy, since fallacy is error and concupiscence inclines us to error; nor should we rely on some Saints more than Christus Totus, since we must obey God rather than men.

    There are even reasons why Jesus dying at thirty is not believed by some people:
    1) Gregorian calendar is based on the Nativity, splitting time before and after (BC and AD), so we cannot measure out His years from it (saying Jesus was born in 4 AD would mean the calendar’s 0 date would need to be pushed back)
    2) Hebrew calendars (liturgical and civil) are not the same as the Gregorian: Tevet is not the same as December, for example.
    3) Julian calendar is also not the same as the Gregorian, for we use a reform of the reformed version of it
    4) It is numerology (a type of superstition) to reckon the Nativity from Old Testament prophecies and mitvah, just as it is to reckon Creation from the ages of the Patriarchs and Prophets, since the Bible is not a logbook or a science textbook
    5) Jesus was miraculously preserved, even as He bore our infirmities while healing the infirm (indeed, the Messiah curing the ill was considered symbolic by Jews, yet Jesus fulfilled it literally, just as we consider the Messiah bearing our infirmities to be symbolic and bearing our wounds to be literal)
    6) Prime of life is cultural: some believe it is teenage, twenty, thirty, fifty, seventy, or a hundred years of age
    7) The Evangelists omit certain details from Jesus’ Life (such as His pidyon haben), so we cannot say for how long He lived (ex: “Jesus celebrated Passover thrice, so He only ministered three years”)
    8) Mary in her Assumption is the surest sign of our hope in the resurrection, yet we cannot determine when she died from when she became God’s Mother because we don’t know when she became pregnant: Was it at the earliest age of marriage in Judaism (12)? Was it at a certain country’s age of consent (18 in America, 16 in England, etc.)?
    9) The Lord is the Resurrection and the Life, and His Humanity is stamped with His Divinity, and He prefigured His Resurrection in His Transfiguration, yet we cannot say dying in one’s prime is the best time to die: Saint Moses died at 120, Saint Augustine died at 75, the Holy Innocents died at 2, Saint Maria Goretti died at 11, etc.

    All that said, we can approximate the time of Jesus’ Life, just as we can approximate the circumference of the Earth, using science (in this case, archeology and mathematics):

    According to Matthew
    – Jesus is forty-two generations after Abraham
    – Jesus is conceived during the erusin of Mary and Joseph
    – Jesus is born under Herod Antiphas (4 BC-39 AD)
    – Jesus is tried by former High Priest Annas (who ruled from 6 AD-15 AD)
    – Jesus dies under Pontius Pilate (26 AD-36 AD), under Caiphas (6 AD-36 AD)

    According to Luke
    – Jesus is conceived under Herod I (37 BC-4 BC), six months after Elizabeth conceives John during the eighth priestly division of Ahijah (1 Chronicles 24:10)
    – Jesus is born under the census of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), under Herod Antiphas (4 BC-39 AD), under Quirinius (6 AD-21 AD)
    – John begins preaching in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (14 AD-37 AD), under Pontius Pilate (26 AD-36 AD), under Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD), under Philip (4 BC-34 AD), under Annas and Caiaphas (6 AD-36 AD)
    – Jesus is around 30 under when John baptizes Him
    – John is beheaded by Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD)
    – Jesus goes to the Second Temple (516 BC-70 AD)
    – Jesus dies under Pontius Pilate (26 AD-36 AD), under Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD)

    Thus:
    – Jesus is conceived six months after the eighth priestly division of Ahijah, during the erusin of Mary and Joseph, under Herod I (37 BC-4 BC)
    – Jesus is born under the census of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), under Herod Antiphas (4 BC-39 AD), under Quirinius (6 AD-21 AD)
    – Jesus is baptized around 30 after the fifteenth year of Tiberius (14 AD-37 AD), under Pontius Pilate (26 AD-36 AD), under Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD), under Philip (4 BC-34 AD), under Annas and Caiaphas (6 AD-36 AD)
    – Jesus is baptized before John is beheaded by Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD)
    – Jesus ministered during the time of the Second Temple (516 BC-70 AD)
    – Jesus is tried by former High Priest Annas (who ruled from 6 AD-15 AD)
    – Jesus dies under Pontius Pilate (26 AD-36 AD), under Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD), under Caiphas (6 AD-36 AD)

    The census of Augustus is typically mistaken for the census of Quirinius, while the dating of John’s ministry (in the fifteenth year of Tiberus, etc.) is typically mistaken for the dating of Jesus’ Baptism. And there are many more historical details in the Fourfold Gospel that we take for granted: the existence of the Jewish groups (Pharisees, scribes, etc.), the Sanhedrian and High Priest, the existence of a Public Ministry, the fig tree not being in season, Jesus’ Tzitzit which the bleeding woman touches, the Tachrichim that wrapped Jesus’ Corpse (a mitzvah), the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first day of Pentecost, Jesus resurrecting on the Sunday of Passover, the paying of the Temple tax, the death penalty for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:15-16), Jesus being tried at night without witnesses (a capital sin), etc.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Too much here. I think you’re lost in the details. Only one Church Father says Jesus died at 50. But Irenaeus says he was between 30 and 50 and is not very reliable when it comes to dates. As for the rest, whatever, this is not dogma and you’re using a cannon to kill a flea. St. Thomas Aquinas is not magisterium, but neither are you or the sources you quote that are root in rather shaky postmodern notions. I think I’ll go with the angelic doctor.

      • Israel B says:

        Too often, people feel like they can destroy others’ faith with pedantic excess. The Romans and Jews of Antiquity certainly would have exploded a mythological Jesus in the proverbial cradle if such records to accomplish this were available. If they didn’t find any in 100AD-200AD, what makes anyone think something we can discover in 21st century will?!

      • James in Perth says:

        Indeed too much. By the time I got to the end, I forgot the subject of the article and had to go back and refresh myself.

        Thanks Msgr. Pope for sharing your thoughts on why Jesus died when he did. God bless.

    • Darren says:

      Here’s a good analysis on the date that Jesus was born.

      http://jimmyakin.com/2013/04/what-year-was-jesus-born-the-answer-may-surprise-you.html

      Enjoy.

      I’d like to know how you come up with the following:

      “Jesus is born under Herod Antiphas (4 BC-39 AD).” Matthew is not specific which Herod Jesus was born under. Speculating it was Herod Antiphas and stating it is FACT is deceiptful.

      Jesus was born under King Herod the Great, Herod Antipas’ father. So, this earlier statement is false.

      There are doubts as to when King Herod the Great really died.
      Read this.

      http://jimmyakin.com/2013/04/jesus-birth-and-when-herod-the-great-really-died.html

      When did Jesus die:

      http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/when-precisely-did-jesus-die-the-year-month-day-and-hour-revealed

      Jimmy Aiken does a very good job in helping to further clarify and correct what you mention above.

      God bless.

    • Gary Lockhart says:

      Embrace the concept of pithiness.

  2. Maureen Fischer says:

    Yes, Msgr. Pope, we really should try to give Christ our best….. and try to love Him with all our strength.
    Thanks for the inspiring reflection.

  3. Jesus was not 33 years old though. He was likely born in June or July of 2 B.C. Let’s for argument sake, assume He was born in the night between June 25 and 25. He was crucified on April 3, A.D. 33. This means He was a few months short of 35 years old when He was crucified.

    Granted, this really does not affect the “Jesus died in the prime of His life argument” in any significant way.

  4. Patrice Becker says:

    I am not a theologian, just a Catholic housewife and mother of five children. I have an idea of why Christ died at 33. When I was 26 years old I was pregnant with our first child but around the end of the 2nd month I experienced a corpus luteum hemorrhage, the corpus luteum cyst that forms on the ovary burst and I began to bleed to death. I lost nearly 3/4 the volume of my blood and was rushed to the hospital where I had a near death experience. This was in 1985 long before I new of such things. I experienced an auditory warning while in the sonogram room, where they confirmed my doctor’s suspicion of internal hemorrhage, a voice told me “You are going to die” no one else heard it, then it put in my heart the urge to say the act of contrition, which i did and it was immediately after that I went into hemorrhagic shock. No feeling in my extremities ,my skin was ghostly pale, I lost the sight in my eyes, my doctor asked me if I could hear him but I was unable to speak although I could hear him. In the ER I was prepped for emergency surgery and on the operating table the pain in my gut became so intense I screamed out to the Lord in my mind “Take me God I can’t take it (the pain) anymore”. Instantly I was relieved off all pain, in fact I felt relieved of my body. The noisy operating room which was seconds ago filled with Doctors and nurses all talking at once, was gone. My soul was departing my body gathering toward the center then moving through my neck and out the top of my head. I felt it moving upward past the many storied hospital and into the sky and beyond. It came to a stop. I was given time by God to reflect, I had died, and I felt such sorrow for my young husband, our life together had just begun and now it was over. I remember my earthly worries fell away like flakes, bills, health concerns, they fell toward earth and then I realized I will never be able to hold my baby. I was filled with sorrow, I mourned the lost of my parents my family. Then the intense blindness that had come upon me with the blood loss suddenly lifted and I saw a blue swirling cloud moving like a column with me in the middle, it was lit from above with a brilliant star. I looked to see if I had hands, I felt as I did, but I did not see any, my soul it seemed was invisible. I looked up toward the light and was pulled into the light at ever increasing speed till I burst into an area of all golden light. It felt ecstatic. The light was total acceptance, joy and love, and home. Then I was shown my life in two movies, one all the things i had done wrong, then all the right. Then I was told all sort of truths about good and evil, about how we are deceived often on earth and then a movie about the number three and how the number 3 is the divine number. It is everywhere as God is everywhere, there are 3 persons in the trinity, three parts to an atom, and even 3 quarks to a proton. I felt my soul praising God as he revealed the secrets of the Universe to me and then I knew, this is heaven and if I stay I can never go back, and I instantly remembered my poor husband and his cries in the ER. My will stopped the movie. I did not speak with lips but with my mind. “Stop, Greg needs me!” Then a person that was made of light 7 or 8 ft tall came to talk to me, I knew it was Jesus. He asked me If I wanted to go back. I said “Yes Greg needs me, he’s crying. He is an intern and it is so hard right now. I am really his only friend, and we were so happy, we are going to have our first baby.” Then he said “Your daughter is with me, and she is 33.” I was bewildered and thought how can she be 33, she’s a fetus, 2mo old fetus? I did not speak my thought to him but he knew what I was thinking. He spoke his thought to me, He is all light, he told me everyone is 33 years old in heaven. It threw me off from my earthly conception, but I felt glad for my daughter. I have a daughter! Then I thought about it, “Oh, it’s the three thing in the movie that I stopped. 3 is the divine number, perfection, hebrew numerology.” Then my heart began to stop, this knowledge IS your eternal reward, I knew I had to make a choice to stay in this wonderful loving place or go help Greg on the not so wonderful earth. The movie isn’t just about the number three, you learn about everything without trying, it comes over you in waves, lifetimes and lifetimes of knowledge and you learn God is more amazing than you could ever imagine, more powerful, more scientific, more creative, more kind, more loving, and best of all he KNOWS you. He knows all you have been through and he told me he was taking me now to avoid future pain, but if I should choose to go back and help Greg on this earthly trek, then if I am good, I can come back here and be with him and my daughter and even if my body dies at an old age in heaven I will be 33. He knew something about my future, and was offering me an opportunity to avoid it. He said it would not be physical pain but emotional and it would change the course of my life. I begged him to let me go, my husband is so shy, he depends on my to make the friends, he is too serious, I lighten him up. The light laughed, it went up and down, and it said “I know I made you for him”. He meant it in the complimentary fashion we complement one another. I was shocked by that, maybe this is God the Father I thought, but he seems young, and gentle like Jesus. I never could get my head around the whole Trinity concept, but I believe it, it was right there in front of me. I started to panic, I can’t stay out of my body forever, you have to help me back I pleaded. I know it is wonderful here and I really want to stay and meet my baby girl, 33 year old daughter. And he stopped laughing in a loving warm way and gave me one more chance to back out. Saying it would be nicer for me to stay with him in the golden light, but I felt a sense of responsibility. I was scared of the warning but felt so bad for my husband I felt I must go. He said I would need 2 things, Abandonment to Divine Providence and Imitation of Christ. I wasn’t sure what he meant, were they suggestions? Ways to behave? Later on Earth I learned they were books. I mustered all the courage I could to go back and face the bad future, I told him I wanted to go back, he then told me in the most kind loving voice, as if I were going into a red hot furnace, “Ok, just remember I will always be with you.” So That is why Christ died at 33. It is the Hebrew number for perfection, it is God’s shorthand to us that this is from God. He is so egalitarian, that even as he took human form he chooses that we all be the same age in the afterlife. He and everything he does is perfect, and having met him, i don’t think he would want us to overthink it too much. I look at the two books H recommended, In Abandonment the author Fr. Pierre Caussaude talks of doing your simple duty, your work and service to others can be your prayer you don’t need to over think it. The Lord spoke to my heart and told me to read that book right away, it helped me to understand him. Then for 23 years I would pick up Imitation of Christ and an interior voice would say “No, not now; and then at the most hurtful moment of my life, a sister who had been shunning me and belittling me for most of my life,must have gotten angry with me because I was unable to attend this sister’s daughter in laws baby shower. I dropped of my gift in advance along w my apologies. Then after the weekend, a niece called me to see how I was feeling. I said fine. She said we missed you at the shower. I asked her if my sister had told her I was at a medical conference with Greg, she was shocked. That is where you were? Yes, I replied, then she told me this sister told everyone I had a mental breakdown and was in a mental institution. I was positively numb. Then I felt HIS presence. I was standing wrapped in HIS love, and He told my heart “Now read Imitation of Christ” I found the book and of course it fell open right to what he wanted me to see. Chapter 46 “Trust in God Against Slander, The Voice of Christ”. The words I read that day were like a salve of pure love on a broken and wounded heart. These were Jesus’ words dictated to a Monk by the name of Thomas A Kempis hundreds and hundreds of years ago, but at this moment in my life, I knew Jesus was telling it to me. “My Child, stand firm and trust in Me. For What are words but words? They fly through the air and hurt not a stone.”… “Do not worry about the words of men, they fly through the air and cannot harm you”… “for I am the Judge, and the discerner of all secrets. I know who causes injury and who suffers it. From Me that word proceeded, and with My permission it happened, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. I judge the guilty and the innocent but I have wished beforehand to try them both by secret judgment”. That was what he was talking about while my body lay on the operating room table 23 years before. In HIS mercy he was shielding me from the pain of the realization of the slander I would suffer by this relative, she told all my cousins I was insane. I was at a FEMA medical conference in the lake of the Ozarks. My husband was trained at Walter Reed and knows how to treat victims of biowarfare and there had been an Anthrax threat, so while I was gathering sample packs of antibiotics to save my sister and her family in case our city would be attacked, she was attacking me without my knowledge. She was busy destroying my reputation, and she had the help of my two younger sisters all telling the same lie. But I had the Voice of the Lord, who took time out of his day running the Universe to tell me He knows what up. He came to me not a moment too soon or too late; He is perfect, He is Kindness, He is Love. With that overwhelming knowledge of complete betrayal I was comforted by the God of the Universe, and in that moment I no longer felt the sting of hurt my sister meant for me; I felt no anger for her, only pity, for I know that one day she will have her life review, and she too will face the all knowing Just Judge. So that is why God died at 33. It is because He willed it, because it means something, the number 3 is perfection, and he is egalitarian, he wants to be with us in paradise, where every tear is wiped away. Praised be the Lord.

    • Mae Treakle says:

      Wow i am so glad you respobded to this. Your story has inspired me so much. God bless you sister. God is so good. As i was reading i truly felt like i was there with you in heaven.

  5. Dan says:

    I remember a Greek Catholic priest also once added that one could see that He chose and accepted His own Passion. No one could contribute His death to old age or to natural causes.

  6. Bill D says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    I’ve seen it written in various places that according to Jewish tradition, a man had to be at least 30 years of age in order to become a priest or high priest. This wouldn’t answer why Jesus mission only lasted 3 years, but it would help to explain how it would have formally begun when he turned 30 years of age. Thanks, Bill