Teachings of Jesus: 10 Messages Jesus Really Taught

Written by Joshua Schachterle, Ph.D

Author |  Professor | BE Contributor

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Date written: February 19th, 2024

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

It’s common today for the tenets of Christianity to be distilled down to who Jesus was believed to be (Son of God, Messiah) rather than what he taught. Some would blame Paul the Apostle for this, since he spent far more time in his authentic letters on the importance of Jesus as Messiah than on Jesus’ actual words.

Whatever the case, scholars know that Jesus was undeniably a teacher during his lifetime. In order to understand the historical Jesus, then, it makes sense to look at the teachings of Jesus.

Teachings of Jesus 10 Messages Jesus Really Taught

What Are Our Sources for the teachings of jesus?

In this article, I’m going to stick to the Synoptic Gospels as sources for Jesus’ teachings. Why?

First of all, our earliest written Gospel is Mark. Scholars therefore count on Mark, since it is closest to Jesus’ life, as containing more early traditions about Jesus’ sayings than later writings. In addition, we also know that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source.

The Gospel of John, on the other hand, while fascinating in so many ways, is not a great source for Jesus’ teachings as most scholars will agree. John, like the letters of Paul, is about Jesus’ identity far more than Jesus’ teachings. In John, Jesus spends most of his time talking about who he is – the “I am” sayings – rather than teaching what his followers should do. In this way, it differs significantly from the Synoptics.

New Testament scholar James Dunn puts it this way:

It is a striking fact that these ‘I am’ sayings appear only in the Fourth Gospel. It is almost impossible to believe that there were such sayings in the Jesus tradition, sayings that Jesus was remembered as uttering about himself, and yet all three synoptic evangelists ignored them completely.

All this points to the fact that we have a much better chance at getting to Jesus’ authentic teachings through the Synoptic Gospels, many of them included in discourses like the Sermon on the Mount.

In addition, all the teachings I include here can probably be linked to Jesus because, as Irving Zeitlin has noted, they fit well within the context of 1st-century Judaism. Jesus was a committed Jew and as such, his teachings had to fit that context. That’s why, for example, Jesus tells his followers in Matthew 5 that they must follow the Torah, the Jewish law, even more zealously than other Jewish groups such as the Pharisees or Sadducees.

How Did Jesus Teach?

One thing scholars know about the teachings of Jesus was that he often taught in parables. If you’re not familiar with the term, a parable is a simple teaching story which often employs metaphorical analogies to get its point across. There are many examples in the New Testament like this one from Matthew 13:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

This parable makes the point that nothing is more important than living according to the ideals of the Kingdom of Heaven, also called the Kingdom of God.

Jesus also used short, pithy sayings which the Gospel writers embedded in mini-dialogues called chreiai (singular: chreia). Here’s an example from Mark 13:1-2:

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

I should also point out that all of Jesus’ teachings can be placed under the umbrella of his proclamation that the Kingdom of God is coming soon. This meant that God would soon take charge of the world after punishing the wicked people who had been in charge for so long. The righteous, who lived according to the ideals of the Kingdom, would be saved and have a place in God’s Kingdom.

Having established Jesus’ teaching methods, let’s look at 10 essential teachings that scholars believe came from the historical Jesus (in no particular order).

1. Don’t Worry

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells his listeners not to worry about their needs, including food and clothing, because God will provide for them. He refers to nature as an illustration in this section:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

The message is clear: those who live out the ideals of the Kingdom must believe that God, as the righteous king, will always care for the people in his Kingdom. Therefore, they should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these [material] things will be given to you as well.

2. Love Your Enemies

In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Notice that loving one’s enemies is following the example of God. If you’re unaware of the context in which Jesus is preaching, you might think that his rain/sun statement means that God gives good and bad things to everyone.

However, Jesus is preaching in rural Galilee, where most people were subsistence farmers. In that context, both sun and rain were necessary and good. Jesus is saying, then, that people should treat everyone with kindness, whether they are righteous or not.

3. The Golden Rule

Matt 7:12 gives us a form of what has become known as the Golden Rule. By the way, this idea exists in most religions and can certainly be found in Judaism before Jesus.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Speaking of Judaism, it’s interesting to note that Jesus says that the Golden Rule is basically a distillation of the entire message of the Hebrew Bible. A later saying, attributed to the famous 1st- century rabbi Hillel in the Talmud echoes this idea:

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!

4. Love God

In Matthew 22:37-38, a Torah expert approaches Jesus and asks,

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [Jesus] said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.

Loving God, presumably by acting out the ideal behaviors of God’s Kingdom, is the most significant thing to focus on throughout one’s life. The other is…

5. Love Your Neighbor

Jesus speaks about caring for others in Mark 12:31, saying “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Bart Ehrman points out that this is actually a fairly revolutionary idea in the ancient world. He notes that for Greco-Roman philosophy, the ideal was happiness and/or well-being. However, Jesus’ ethic says “You feed, clothe, and house yourself. You are to do the same for others. Give to those who are in need. Even if it requires a personal sacrifice.”

It may sound strange to us, but that idea was virtually unprecedented in Greco-Roman thought as an ideal. Acting out this altruism, Jesus said, was necessary if one wanted to enter God’s Kingdom.

tenets of Chrisitanity

6. Forgive

Along with the idea of caring for others, in Matt 6:14-15, Jesus required people to forgive those who wronged them. After teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, which includes the notion of forgiveness, Jesus says

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Since God forgives every kind of sins, his followers must also forgive everyone’s sins if they want a place in God’s Kingdom. This is part of the price of admission.

7. Eye of a Needle

In this saying from Mark 10:25, Jesus takes a hardline stance toward wealth:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Why such a harsh attitude toward the rich? Remember, Jesus’ ethics are geared toward living out the ideas of the Kingdom of God. This includes caring for and giving to others in need. Being wealthy, on the contrary, is about fulfilling one’s desires without concern for distributing it to others. It is therefore the opposite of the life of the Kingdom.

8. Humility and Service

In Mark 9:35, Jesus “sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ In other words, you must put others before yourself in order to be considered worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

9. Peacemakers

Going along with humility, in Matthew 5:9 Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Yes, this means those who help to pacify conflicts between others, but it surely also includes avoiding conflicts between oneself and others as well.

Toward this end, in Matthew 5:39-40, Jesus also says

Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give your coat as well.

Why is it important not to engage in conflict with others? For the same reason that all of these teachings are important to Jesus: this is how the Kingdom of God operates. When you love and care for your neighbor, you refuse to hurt anyone ever, even if they are actively hurting you.

It’s interesting to note that both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were inspired by these teachings.

10. Let your light shine

For our last teaching of Jesus, let’s look at Matthew 5:16:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

This light Jesus refers to is one’s example. He is saying that if each of his followers act out these ideals of the Kingdom, people will see what a wonderful world is coming and may decide to join in, acting out the same ethics, all of which would build toward the coming Kingdom of God.


All of the authentic teachings of Jesus were focused on one thing: the advent of the Kingdom of God, the intervention of God into the sinful world in order to establish a peaceful kingdom of and for the righteous.

To that end, Jesus taught that people must care for each other, even more than they care for themselves. This included being humble and generous, not hoarding wealth or tooting one’s own horn. It also included treating others, even enemies, with kindness and refusing to engage in conflict with others.

All of these teachings showed one’s love for God and that one was worthy to be part of God’s kingdom, the very thing which Jesus saw as his life’s mission.

Josh Schachterle

About the author

After a long career teaching high school English, Joshua Schachterle completed his PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity in 2019. He is the author of "John Cassian and the Creation of Monastic Subjectivity." When not researching, Joshua enjoys reading, composing/playing music, and spending time with his wife and two college-aged children.

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