Here are a few facts that we know, to help try to answer this question:

  •  Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, probably in the 15th year of Tiberias (29AD) or very soon afterward.
  • Jesus then went straight away out to the wilderness for 40 days.
  • When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus withdrew to Galilee and began his ministry, choosing his disciples at this time.
  • Jesus was about 30 when he began his ministry.

Some verses supporting the above facts:

Matthew 4:12 – 21 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum . . . From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother . . . And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.

Luke 3:23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age

It seems likely that Jesus’ ministry lasted between 3 and 4 years, as there are 4 Passovers mentioned – the last Passover being when Jesus was crucified.
It seems likely that Jesus’ ministry lasted between 3 and 4 years, as there are 4 Passovers mentioned – the last Passover being when Jesus was crucified.
It seems likely that Jesus’ ministry lasted between 3 and 4 years, as there are 4 Passovers mentioned – the last Passover being when Jesus was crucified.

Mention of Passovers in John:

First Passover after he had chosen his disciples:

John 2:13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

Second Passover

John 5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Third Passover

John 6:4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

Fourth Passover

John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

John 13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

If these four Passovers in John’s gospel account, were the only Passovers after Jesus chose his disciples, he was with his disciples for more than 3 years and less than 4.

Matthew, Mark and Luke, only refer to the last of these Passovers by name.

There may be a hint in the parable of the fig tree, to the length of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke 13:6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. (7) And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ (8) And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. (9) Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

  • The owner of the fig tree represents God.
  • The vinedresser represents Jesus.
  • The fig tree represents Israel.

The owner complains to the vine-dresser that for 3 years he’d been seeking fruit and there was none. The vine-dresser pleads for a little more time but we know from the reference of Jesus to the cursing of the fig tree that the fig tree did not produce fruit.

Mat 21:19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

Conclusion

Although uncertain, it seems likely that Jesus spent between 3 and 4 years with his disciples based on:

  • the references to the Passovers in the book of John
  • and the parable of the fig tree
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