It does not seem to happen too often, but occasionally there will be some who are not sure that there was a Jesus who existed in the first century. Typically, the greater problem is that people are not sure that Jesus was God. Rather, the usual explanation for Jesus is that he was a good, moral man whose good teachings ought to be followed. This is usually a reference to such commands as “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do not judge.” But is this an acceptable way to look at Jesus? Can we see him as just a man who had good teachings for the world? In this lesson we will consider why we need to believe that there was a Jesus who walked the earth in the first century and why we must believe that he is God.
Historical Evidence For The Existence of Jesus
First, let us begin by recognizing that there really was a Jesus. We have already proven in the last lesson that the Bible can be counted as a valid historical document that accurately recorded history. With that, we could simply point out that the Bible says there was a Jesus, and that can be counted as sufficient. But there are other secular historians and authorities who declare that there was a Jesus who lived in the first century.
Tacitus has been called the greatest historian of ancient Rome. Here is what he said:
But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also. (Annals XV, 44)
Josephus is also a historian, who would have not had any reason to promote Jesus or Christians because he was a Jew. Here is what he said:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise 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. When Pilate, as the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities, XVIII, 33)
There are more than seven other secular historical references to Jesus. Even Jewish traditional literature, although it mentions Jesus only sparingly, supports the gospel claim that Jesus was a healer and miracle worker. Of course, this literature ascribes these miracles to sorcery, which would be expected by those who were enemies of Jesus. But this also validates not only that there was a Jesus, but he was performing wonders, signs, and miracles in the first century. These should be enough to validate that there was a Jesus and the record the Bible gives concerning Jesus is accurate.
Was Jesus God?
Now we need to determine if Jesus was God. One of the more fascinating charges levied by scholars today is to say that Jesus never claimed to be God. Jesus’ favorite term was “son of man.” Jesus was later elevated to a status of God by the church. This charge was explicitly stated in the Da Vinci Code. Did Jesus think he was God? Was Jesus God?
Jesus Claimed To Be God
It is important to know without a doubt that Jesus did claim to be God. Consider the following passages:
In Matthew 14 the story of Jesus walking on the water is recorded. This, of course, is a great miracle to be able to walk upon the Sea of Galilee during a storm. When Jesus comes to the boat where the disciples are sitting, here is what happened: Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!” (Matthew 14:33). Jesus does not deny this assessment nor does Jesus reject their worship. Jesus accept worship of him as God.
The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:33). Notice that even the enemies of Jesus recognized that Jesus was claiming to be God. It was not simply the disciples who thought Jesus was saying he was God.
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:17-18). Again we see that Jesus himself declared himself to be equal with God and the Jews understood that he was making himself equal with God.
What about the charge that Jesus went around calling himself the “son of man” more often than calling himself the “son of God?” Was Jesus trying to call himself a mere man? Not at all. We must first remember that Jesus was teaching the Jewish people in the land of Israel. The phrase “son of man” had a very powerful meaning rooted in the prophecy of Daniel.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14). Notice that the son of man is pictured as going into heaven itself to where the Father, the Ancient of Days, resides. There the son of man receives dominion, glory, and a kingdom so that all are subjugated to him. This is the picture Jesus is declaring to Israel by saying he is the “son of man.” Jesus is not calling himself human. He is calling himself the prophesied Messiah, who is God himself. If Jesus only claimed to be a man, there would have been no reason for the Jews to kill him. They had many rabbis through the centuries teaching the people the way of the Lord. Jesus was different because he said he was God. So was he?
Proofs Jesus Was God
Miracles. As we have already noted, even secular historical writings outside of the scriptures record that Jesus was performing miracles and healings. This fits with what the scriptures teach that Jesus was doing. But it was not simply the disciples who saw and accepted the miracles. Even the enemies of Jesus realized that Jesus has performing miracles that could not be denied. Look at John 9 and the healing of the blind man. The Jewish leaders question this man because they do not believe that Jesus can do something like this. So they get his parents to see if this man was really born blind. The parents say that he really was born blind. Now the leaders are in a bind, because the miracle cannot be disproven. So they simply slander Jesus as a sinner and kicked the formerly blind man out of the Jewish community. The miracle was undeniable and Jesus did so many of them that even secular writers record Jesus as a healer and a miracle worker.
Sinless. Another expectation we would have of a person who claimed to be God would be that he would lead a perfect life, never breaking the laws of God. The Jewish leaders tried hard to find some sort of charges against Jesus so they could have him killed. “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false testimony against Jesus so they could put Him to death. But they could not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward” (Matthew 26:59-60). Pilate also found no basis for the Jewish charges against Jesus (Luke 23:14-16).
Fulfilled Prophecies. The first covenant given to the Jews told the people what to expect when the Messiah comes. There are nearly 300 references to the coming Messiah. Amazingly, Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies. Some have suggested that Jesus was a pretender who did things to “fulfill” prophecy to substantiate his claims. But that is not possible because he could not control the place of his birth, the place of his death, how he would die, what the soldiers would say and do, the way he was buried, or the lineage he would be born into. These things already had been previously prophesied. Some have suggested that by random chance and luck Jesus happens to fulfill all of these prophecies. Statisticians have done some calculations for us on the odds of this happening by chance. We find that the chance that any man might have lived to the present time and fulfilled eight of these prophecies which are out of human control is 1 in 1017. That is a one with seventeen zeroes after it. When we consider 48 prophecies, we find the chance that any one man fulfilled all 48 prophecies is 1 in 10157 (a one with 157 zeroes after it). Simple impossible. Especially when we remember that there are nearly 300 references in the scriptures to the coming Messiah.
These things leave us with only two options concerning Jesus. Either his claims are true about being God or his claims are false. We must realize that being a good moral man is not an option. Either what he said about himself is true or it is false. If the claims are false, then there are only two options: either he was a liar, knowing that he was not God, but tried to deceive everyone, or he was crazy, believing that he was God, but he really was not. If he is a liar, then he is not a good moral man. He tried to deceive the world, claiming to be something that he was not. There is nothing good about him because he taught others to speak the truth, yet was lying himself. Not only would he be a liar, but he would also be a fool because the reason he died was for saying he was God. If he was a liar, how do we explain the miracles? If he was a liar, how do we explain the profound moral instructions he left? If he was a liar, how do we explain his powerful moral example? In fact, no scholar is willing to accept this possibility because it just does not work. It is not possible for a selfish, deceitful, and depraved person to invent and consistently maintain himself from beginning to end as someone of pure and noble character, teaching things of such a moral magnitude that they still exist to this day.
The other option is that Jesus was mentally insane. He was so deluded that he thought he was God but he really was not. But the same problems exist. How can someone so deranged live a perfect life? How does a deranged person perform miracles? How does an insane person give the greatest teachings ever that forever changed the world? It is not possible. Even atheists do not accept this theory either because one would have to be as crazy to think that a deluded person could live a life like Jesus and teach like Jesus.
This leaves us with only one other option: that Jesus is the Lord. He really is God. Again, he cannot be merely a good moral person because he claimed to be God. By claiming to be God he put us in a dilemma to believe he really is God or he is not. If not, he is a liar or a lunatic and in either case is not a good moral person. Otherwise, he is the Lord. All we have done is applied reason and logic to the life of Jesus. He proves himself to be God. No one else in history has been able to sustain such a claim of being God. But Jesus was by his life and his teachings.