Who is Jesus?
A missionary working with children in the Middle East was driving her jeep down a road when she ran out of gas. She had no gas can in her car. All she could find was a potty chair. She walked a mile down the road and filled the pot with gas. As she was pouring the gas into the tank of her jeep, a large Cadillac occupied by wealthy oil sheikhs drew up. They were absolutely fascinated to see her pouring the contents of the pot into the jeep. One of them opened his window and said, "My friend and I, although we do not share your religion, we greatly admire your faith!"
Some people see becoming a Christian as a blind leap of faith – the type of faith that would be needed in expecting a car to run on the usual contents of a potty chair. There is indeed a step of faith required. However, it is not a blind leap of faith, but a step of faith based on firm historical evidence. Tonight, we are going to examine some of that historical evidence.
There are some who would say that Jesus never existed. Yet no serious historian could maintain that position today. There is a great deal of evidence for Jesus’ existence. Evidence that comes not only from the Gospels and other Christian writings, but also from non-Christian sources.
Evidence Outside New Testament about Jesus
Tacitus – Directly wrote about Jesus. Suetonius – Indirectly wrote about Jesus
Was born in 37 A.D. and describes Jesus and His followers as:Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians so named after him, are not extinct to this day.
Evidence within the New Testament
So there is plenty of evidence outside the New Testament for the existence of Jesus. But on top of this evidence, the evidence that we find in the New Testament is extremely strong!
The New Testament was written a long time ago, so you may ask, "How do we know that what they wrote down has not been changed over the years?" The answer is that we know, quite accurately through the science of textual criticism, what the New Testament authors wrote.
How do we know that we now have what they originally wrote?
Essentially, Textual Criticism means that the more copies of texts that we have, the less doubt there can be about the original. Textual criticism is the science by which all historical works are judged, whether we are talking about the Bible, Shakespeare’s Works, or the works of some great Greek philosopher. It is a hard science that we use to determine the authenticity of the copies of historical writings that are passed down through the ages.
The late professor F. F. Bruce (who was Rylands professor of Biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester) shows in his book Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? how rich the New Testament is in manuscript attestation by comparing the texts with other historical works.
|Caesars’ Gallic War||58-50b.c||900a.d.||950||9-10|
|Livy’s Roman History||59b.c. – 17a.d.||900a.d.||900||20|
|New Testament||40-100a.d.||130a.d. (full manuscripts 350a.d.)||300||5,000+ Greek
F.F. Bruce points out that for Caesar’s Gallic War we have nine or ten copies, and the oldest was written some nine hundred years later than Caesar’s day. For Livy’s Roman History we have no more than twenty copies, the earliest of which comes from around 900 A. D. Of the fourteen books of the histories of Tacitus, only twenty copies survive. Of the sixteen of his Annals, ten portions of his two great historical works depend entirely on two manuscripts, one from the ninth century and one from the eleventh century. Thucydides is known almost entirely from eight manuscripts from about 900 A.D. The same is true of the history of Herodotus. Yet no classical scholar doubts the authenticity of these works, in spite of the large time gap and the relatively few manuscripts that survive.
In regards to the New Testament, we have a great wealth of material. The New Testament was likely written between 400 and 100 A.D. We have excellent full manuscripts of the whole New Testament dating from as early as 350 A.D. (a time span of only 300 years) papyri containing most of the New Testament writings dating from the third century and even a fragment of the Gospel of John dating from about 130 A.D. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, over ten thousand Latin manuscripts, and 9,300 other manuscripts; as well as over thirty-six thousand citings in the writings of the early church fathers. I will summarize by quoting Sir Frederic Kenyon, a leading scholar in this area:
The interval then between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.
So we know, from evidence both inside and outside the New Testament that Jesus existed. (If you are interested in pursuing the subject of Gospel historicity, I would recommend reading Josh McDowell’s, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.)
He was Fully Human
But who is He? Martin Scorsese says that he made the film The Last Temptation of Christ in order to show that Jesus was a real human being. That’s not the issue at the moment, but few people today would propose that Jesus was not fully human – He had a human body.
Fatigue – John 4:6 Hunger – Matthew 4:2 Displayed Anger – Mark 11:15-17 Displayed Love – Mark 10:21Displayed Sadness – John 11:32-36 Temptation – Mark 1:13 Learning – Luke 2:46-52 Work – Mark 6:3Obedience – Luke 2:51
Was Jesus more than just a wonderful Man?
What many say today is that Jesus was only a human being – albeit a great religious teacher. Comedian Billy Connolly spoke for many when he said, "I can’t believe in Christianity, but I think Jesus was a wonderful man."
What evidence is there to suggest that Jesus was more than just a wonderful man or great teacher? The answer, as we shall see, is that there is a great deal of evidence. This evidence supports the Christian contention that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God. Indeed, He is God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity.
Was He more than a great moral teacher?
What did He Say about Himself?
Some people would state that Jesus never claimed to be God. Now, while it is true that Jesus did not go around saying the words, "I am God." When we look at all He taught and claimed, there is little doubt that He was conscious of being a man whose identity was God.
Teaching Centered on Himself
One of the most fascinating things about Jesus is that so much of His teaching was centered on Himself. He said to people, in effect "If you want to have a relationship with God, you need to come to me" (John 14:6) It is a through a relationship with Christ that we can encounter God.
I am I am the bread of life (John 6:35) I am the light of the world (John 8:12) I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25, 26) My kingdom (Luke 22:28-29) Many are seeking greater power and authority, Jesus claims to hand out whole kingdoms to His disciples. Come to me (Matthew 11:28-29) Follow me (Mark 1:17) Receive me – receive God (Matthew 10:40) Welcome me – welcome God (Mark 9:37) To have seen me is to have seen God (John 14:9) Claims man’s supreme love (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26)
Jesus claimed the supreme right to our love, above and beyond anyone and anything else we might cling to!
His Indirect Claims
In addition to all of these things, that we would assume only God would claim, Jesus said a number of additional things. Although not direct claims to be God, Christ shows that He regarded Himself as being in the same position as God, as we will see in the examples that follow.
To Forgive Sins
(Mark 2:5) Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins is well known. On one occasion he said to a man who was paralyzed, "Son, your sins are forgiven." The reaction of the religious leaders was, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus went on to prove that He did have the authority to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man. This claim to be able to forgive sins is indeed an astonishing claim.
C. S. Lewis puts it well when he says in his book:
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins, any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offense. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any other speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any other character in History.
To Judge the World
(Matthew 25:31-32, 40, 45) Another extraordinary claim that Jesus made was the one day He would judge the world. He said He would decide what happens to every one of us at the end of time. Not only would He be the Judge, He would also be the criterion of judgment. What happens to us on Judgment Day depends on how we respond to Jesus in this Life!
Suppose the pastor of your local church were to get up in the pulpit and say, "On the Day of Judgment you will all appear before me; I will decide your eternal destiny. What happens to you will depend on how you have treated me and my followers." For a mere human being to make such a claim would be preposterous. Here we have another indirect claim to have the identity of Almighty God.
His Direct Claims
Messiah (Mark 14:61-62) When the question was put to Him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? Jesus said, "I am." Son of God " – before Abraham was born, I Am!" (John 8:58) Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham, and claimed the sacred name "I AM" of God in doing so! "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28) Jesus disciples clearly believed that Jesus was God."Claim to be God" (John 10:33)
Jesus’ enemies clearly believed that he was claiming to be God, and they attempted to stone Him because of it.
Claims like these need to be tested. All sorts of people make all kinds of claims. The mere fact that somebody claims to be someone does not mean that the claim is right. Many people, some in psychiatric hospitals, are deluded. The think they are Napoleon or the Pope, or Elvis, but they are not!
So how can we test people’s claims? Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God; God made flesh. There are three logical possibilities. If the claim is untrue, either He knew they were untrue, in which case He was a LIAR, an imposter, and an evil one at that. That is the first possibility, Or He did not know, in which case He was deluded; indeed, He was mad a LUNATIC. That is the second possibility. The third possibility is that the claims are true, He is LORD! C. S. Lewis put it like this:
"A man who was merely a man and said the things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher." He’d either be insane or else he’d be the "devil of hell." "You must make your choice, " he writes. Either Jesus was and is the Son of God, or else He was insane or evil, but, C.S. Lewis goes on, "Let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher, He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
What Evidence is there to Support what He Said?
In order to asses which of these three answers is correct we need to examine the evidence that we have about His life.
The teaching of Jesus is widely acknowledged to be the greatest teaching that has ever fallen from anyone lips. Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 — 7) Some who are not Christians say, "I love the Sermon on the Mount, I live by it." (If they actually read it they would realize that this is easier to say than to do, but they acknowledge that the Sermon on the Mount is great teaching!) Bernard Ramm, an American professor of theology, said this about the teachings of Jesus:
They are read more, quoted more, loved more, believed more, and translated more because they are the greatest words ever spoken — Their greatness lies in the pure lucid spirituality in dealing clearly, definitively, and authoritatively, with the greatest problems that throb in the human breast — No other man’s words have the appeal of Jesus’ words because no other man can answer these fundamental questions as Jesus answered them. They are the kind of words and the kind of answer we would expect God to give.
Jesus’ teaching is the foundation of our entire western civilization. Most of the laws in America were originally based on Jesus’ teachings. We are making progress in virtually every field of science and technology. We travel faster and know more, and yet in nearly two thousand years no one has improved on the moral teaching of Jesus Christ. Could that teaching really have come from a con man or a madman?
(John 10:37-38) Jesus stated that the miracles He performed were in themselves evidence that "the Father is in me, and I in the Father". Jesus must have been the most extraordinary individual to have been around. Sometimes people say that Christianity is boring. Well, it’s not boring with Jesus.
He went to a party and turned water into wine (John2:1-11). He received one persons picnic and multiplied it so that it could feed thousands (Mark 6:30-44). He had control over the elements and could speak to the wind and waves and stop a storm (Mark 4:35-41). He carried out the most remarkable healings:
- Opening Blind Eyes
- Causing the Deaf to Hear
- Causing the Dumb to Speak
- Enabling the Paralyzed to Walk Again
When He visited a hospital, a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years was able to pick up his bed and walk (John 5:1-9). He set people free from evil forces that dominated their lives. On occasion, He even brought those who had died back to life (John 11:38-44)
However, it was not His miracles that made His work so impressive. It was His love, especially for the loveless (Leper, Prostitutes, etc.), that seemed to motivate all that He did. Supremely it was His love shown on the Cross. (Which we will discuss in detail next week. It was the primary reason that He came to earth.)
Here was a man that exemplified supreme unselfishness but never self-pity; humility but not weakness; joy but never at another’s expense; kindness but not indulgence. He was a man in whom even His enemies could find no fault and where friends who knew Him well said He was without sin. Surely no one could suggest that a man with a character like this was evil or unbalanced?
His fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy
Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies (spoken by different voices over a five hundred year period), including twenty-nine major prophecies fulfilled in a single day – the day He died. Although some of these prophecies may have found fulfillment at one level in the prophets own day, they found their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
I suppose that it could be suggested that Jesus was a clever con man who deliberately set out to fulfill these prophecies in order to show that He was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.
The problem with that suggestion is, first, the sheer magnitude of prophesies would have made it extremely difficult. Secondly, humanly speaking He had no control over many of the events. For example, the exact manner of His death was foretold in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53), and also the place of His burial and even the place of His birth (Micah 5:2). Suppose Jesus had been a con man wanting to fulfill all these prophesies. It would have been a bit late by the time He discovered the place in which He was supposed to have been born!
His Conquest of Death
The physical resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity. But what is the evidence that it really happened? I want to summarize the evidence under four main headings.
Evidence for the Resurrection
His absence from the tomb – theories
Jesus did not die?
(John 19:33-34) Jesus had undergone a Roman flogging, under which many died. He had then been nailed to cross for six hours. Could a man in this condition push away a stone weighing probably a ton and half? That soldiers were clearly convinced that He was dead or they would not have taken His body down. If they had allowed a prisoner to escape, they would have liable to the death penalty.
Furthermore, when the soldiers discovered that Jesus was already dead, "one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (John 19:34). This appears to be the separation of clot and serum, which we know today is strong medical evidence that Jesus was dead.
Disciples stole His body?
It has been argued that the disciples stole His body. Leaving aside the fact that the tomb was guarded, this theory is psychologically improbable. The disciples were depressed and disillusioned at the time of Jesus’ death. It would have needed something extraordinary to transform the apostle Peter in the man who preached at Pentecost when three thousand people where converted.
In addition, when one considered how much they had to suffer for what they believed (floggings, torture, and for some even death) it seems inconceivable that they would be prepared to endure all that for something they all knew to be untrue.
====Authorities stole His body?==== (John 20:1-9) Some have even claimed that the authorities stole the body. This seems the least probable theory of all. If the authorities stole the body, why didn’t they produce it when they were trying to quash the rumor that Jesus had risen from the dead? Perhaps the most fascinating piece of evidence relating to Jesus absence from the tomb is John’s description of the grave clothes. In a way, "the empty tomb" is a misnomer. When Peter and John entered the tome, they saw the grave clothes which were, as the Christian apologist Josh McDowell put it in The Resurrection Factor, "like the empty chrysalis of a caterpillar’s cocoon" when the butterfly has emerged. It was as if Jesus had simply passed through the grave clothes. Not surprisingly, John saw and believed (John 20:8)
Where these appearances hallucinations? Hallucinations normally occur in highly strung, highly imaginative, and very nervous people, or in people who are sick or on drugs. The disciples hardly fit into this category. Burly fishermen, tax collector, and skeptics like Thomas are unlikely to hallucinate. People who hallucinate would also be unlikely to suddenly stop doing so.
Number of Appearances
- At least 10 different occasions
- 500+ people
- Period of 6 weeks
It is possible for one person to hallucinate. Maybe it is possible for two or three people to share the same hallucination. But is it likely that 500 people would all share the same hallucination?
Finally, hallucinations are subjective. There is no objective reality; it is like seeing a ghost. Jesus could be touched, He ate a piece of broiled fish (Luke 24:42-43) and on one occasion He cooked breakfast for the disciples (http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=John+21%3A1-14). Peter says, "[They] ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead" (Acts 10:41). He held long conversations with them, teaching them many things about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3)
The effect of Jesus rising from the dead, as one would expect, had a dramatic effect on the world. The church was born and grew at a tremendous rate.
Effect Down the Ages
Countless millions of people down through the ages have experienced the risen Jesus Christ. They consist of people of every color, race, tribe, continent, and nationality. They come from different economic, social, and intellectual backgrounds. Yet they all unite in a common experience of the risen Jesus Christ.
I heard of a preacher preaching one day, and he was saying, "Jesus Christ is alive today." One of the hecklers shouted out to him, "How do you know?" The preacher replied, "Because I was speaking to Him for half an hour this morning!’
Millions of Christians all over the world today are experiencing a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ. During more than twenty five years I, too, have found in my experience that Jesus Christ is alive today. I have experienced His love, His power, and a reality of relationship that convinces me that He is really alive.
We saw when we discussed earlier tonight about what Jesus said about Himself, that there were only three realistic possibilities – either He was and is the Son of God, or else He was a madman or something worse. When one looks at the evidence it does not make sense to say the He was mad or evil. The whole weight of His teaching, His work, His character, His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and His conquest of death make those suggestions absurd, illogical, and unbelievable. On the other hand, the lend the strongest possible support to Jesus’ own consciousness of being a man whose identity was God.
I leave you with a quote from C.S. Lewis, "We are faced then with a frightening alternative." Either Jesus was (and is) just what He said or else He was insane or something worse. To C.S. Lewis (and me) it seemed clear He could neither have been insane or evil, and thus we conclude, "However strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God!"
I ask you, What have you determined? Is He a Liar, or a Lunatic, or do you believe as I believe that He is LORD!
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