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What happened to the world when Jesus died?

Jesus of Nazareth, also known as Jesus Christ, is one of the most influential figures in human history. His life, teachings, death, and resurrection form the basis for Christianity, the world’s largest religion with over 2 billion adherents globally. When Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem around 30-33 AD, his death set in motion a series of events that profoundly shaped the ancient world and human civilization ever since.

The Growth of Christianity

During his lifetime, Jesus gathered a small but dedicated following as an itinerant preacher, healer, and prophet. After his resurrection, his disciples began preaching the gospel message throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. They taught that Jesus was the Son of God who died for the sins of humanity and was raised from the dead. Those who put their faith in him and followed his teachings would receive salvation and eternal life.

The missionary activities of figures like Paul and the authority claimed by the 12 apostles gave rise to the early Christian church. Congregations were established throughout the Roman Empire and Christianity steadily gained converts, despite periodic persecution by Roman authorities. Several factors contributed to the spread of Christianity at this time:

  • Jesus’ compelling moral teachings and promise of salvation.
  • His miracles and fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies.
  • The conviction of the apostles and early Christians.
  • The strength Christian communities provided during times of hardship.
  • The appeal of an afterlife to people of all social classes.

By the 4th century AD, Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great. The faith continued spreading across Europe and parts of Asia over the following centuries. Today, Christianity has around 2.5 billion adherents globally, making it the world’s largest religion. The growth of Christianity changed cultures, art, politics, and history more than any other single factor. None of this would have occurred without the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The Split Between Judaism and Christianity

During his life, Jesus operated within the context of 1st century Judaism and early Christianity was viewed as a Jewish sect. But in the decades after his death, Christianity began defining itself as a religion distinct from Judaism. Several factors drove this wedge:

  • Christianity reaching out to non-Jewish converts.
  • Disagreements over whether observance of Mosaic Law was required.
  • Jewish Christians being increasingly expelled from synagogues.
  • Distinct ordained priesthood established in Christianity.
  • Rising tensions and hostility between the two faiths.

This split was largely complete by the 2nd century AD. While Christianity emerged from Judaism, Jesus’ death and resurrection set it on a trajectory to become a global religion disassociated from its Jewish origins. This rupture with Judaism altered the course of both faiths dramatically.

Persecution in the Roman Empire

For the first few centuries of Christian history, the religion was illegal in the Roman Empire and persecuted to varying degrees. Roman authorities saw the Christian refusal to worship the traditional gods as dangerous and subversive. Several factors spurred persecution against Christians on and off over the years:

  • Christians denying the divinity of the emperor.
  • Rumors of strange Christian practices and rituals.
  • Christians seen as extremists threatening social order.
  • Local prejudices against Christians arising for various reasons.
  • Christianity competing with traditional pagan cults.

Persecution was especially intense under emperors like Nero in the 1st century and Diocletian in the 3rd century. Many Christians were executed, tortured, imprisoned, or faced public ridicule. While persecution failed to stomp out Christianity, the memory of these martyrs served to strengthen persistence in the faith for later generations. Without Jesus’ death demonstrating willingness to suffer for God, perhaps fewer would have chosen martyrdom.

The Development of Art and Iconography

As Christianity expanded, it developed a rich visual art and iconography that continues to flourish today. This includes frescoes, mosaics, paintings, sculpture, architecture, illuminated manuscripts, and other Christian-themed works. Some of the most common motifs include:

  • The crucifixion and passion of Jesus.
  • Stories and figures from the Bible.
  • Images of saints and martyrs.
  • Scenes from the life of Jesus like his birth, baptism, and resurrection.
  • Angels and other heavenly beings.

Such iconography served to illustrate scripture, convey theological concepts, and glorify figures important to Christianity. Artistic depictions of Jesus’ crucifixion have been especially integral in allowing Christians throughout history and across cultures to reflect on his sacrifice. Sets like the Stations of the Cross recreate his final hours in vivid visual detail for devotion and worship.

The End of Public Crucifixions

Crucifixion was one of the cruelest and most shameful forms of capital punishment in the ancient world, practiced by the Romans, Persians, Carthaginians, and others. Jesus’ death by crucifixion was seen as so central to Christianity that artistic depictions of crosses became a chief symbol of the faith. Ironically, it was the growth of Christianity itself many decades later that led to the gradual abolition of crucifixion across the Mediterranean world. As Jesus’ execution gained more sacred meaning, the practice of public crucifixion itself became less acceptable within Christianized societies. The Edict of Constantine and the Theodosian Code in the 4th century banned crucifixions to show reverence for Christ’s death. The association between crosses and Jesus thus helped end the cruel punishment that killed him.

New Testament Scriptures

Within a few decades after Jesus’ resurrection, Christian communities began compiling authoritative accounts of his ministry and teachings. The four gospels narrating his life were completed between approximately 65-100 AD. The Epistles of early Christian leaders were also written down and circulated during this time. These texts were confirmed as part of the biblical canon in the 4th century AD after much debate. This New Testament, together with the Hebrew Bible adopted from Judaism, became the Christian scriptures and basis for theology and practice. As the New Testament spread, it allowed access to Jesus’ words and the apostolic foundations of Christianity in every corner of the known world. The religion could now be unified on definitively established scripture tracing back to Jesus himself.

Changing Social Norms and Family Structures

Christian teachings on marriage, sexuality, and family life challenged accepted social norms of the pagan cultures they spread into. The early church advocated for the dignity of women, condemnation of abortion and infanticide, rejections of polygamy and concubinage, care for widows and orphans, and other counter-cultural views at the time. Christianity helped alter perceptions of marriage as a sacrament rather than just a social contract. Divorce became less common and taboo in many areas. Scriptural prohibitions against homosexuality, promiscuity, and prostitution were enforced to various degrees. While inconsistent over the centuries, these Christian conceptions of marriage and sexuality profoundly impacted family structures and gender relations in cultures across Europe and beyond.

Monotheism in Europe

Christianity played a central role in establishing monotheism in Europe and the West. Through evangelism and conversion, as well as political patronage under Constantine and other rulers, Christianity gradually supplanted the pantheons of pagan gods that previously dominated European religions. The Christian God was incompatible with worshiping the traditional Greco-Roman or Germanic deities. Local temples were destroyed, cultic practices banned, and indigenous polytheism eradicated through Christianization over several centuries. This shift dramatically reoriented the religious landscape of Europe toward belief in only one true God. The shift toward monotheism begun by Jesus’ ministry reached fulfillment many years after his death.

Church Infrastructure and Papacy

The early church originated as a loose network of individual congregations united in their faith in Christ and respect for the apostles. But over the decades and centuries after Jesus’ death, a centralized hierarchical institution emerged with powerful bishops, theologians, and church councils. This infrastructure allowed Christianity to articulate common doctrines, organize collective action, and convene representatives from across the Christian world. The Bishop of Rome claimed unique authority as the successor to St. Peter, the chief of the apostles appointed by Jesus. By the 5th century AD, the papacy was firmly established as the head of Western Christianity based in Rome. This institutional structure centered on the pope might not have developed without belief in the divine mandate Jesus supposedly gave to Peter as described in the Gospels.

Crusades to the Holy Land

Beginning in 1095 AD, crusading expeditions were launched from Western Europe towards the Middle East for religious and political reasons. These Crusades sought to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule and counter the expansion of the Islamic empire. The sacredness of Jerusalem for Christians stems from its central role in Jesus’ crucifixion and the site of many biblical events. Inspired by devotion to Christ, Crusaders embarked on bloody campaigns spanning centuries to control the historic Christian sites around Jerusalem established by Jesus’ time on earth. Additionally, those who died on Crusades were promised remission of sins, similar to martyrdom. While controversial morally, the Crusades illustrate the power of attachment to the physical places associated with Jesus’ death.

Antisemitism in Christian Europe

Tragically, as it diverged from Judaism, elements of Christianity began to exhibit hostility toward Jews throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times. Jesus’ Jewish origins were downplayed and warped theology falsely blamed Jews collectively for his death. Myths of Jews as “Christ killers” fueled prejudice and many restrictive measures, although papal protect


Jesus of Nazareth lived an obscure life in a backwater province of the Roman Empire. Yet his execution by crucifixion set into motion cultural and spiritual forces that utterly transformed the Mediterranean and European world. Without that pivotal event, Western civilization as we know it simply would not exist. Jesus’ resurrection is central to Christian theology as the affirmation of his divinity. But his crucifixion played an equally important historical role by providing the catalyst for Christianity to flourish. The apostle Paul realized this when he wrote: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Although Jesus physically died on the cross, his execution proved to be only the beginning of the Christian revolution that spread across continents and continues impacting millions worldwide today.