Who Is Jesus?
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Who Is Jesus?
This is an important question that few take the time to ask and investigate. You may never have heard of him; or you’ve heard his name used as a swear word; or perhaps heard of him in passing but never given him serious thought. In fact, our entire dating system centres around his birth and he remains a man who has shaped history more than any other.
Who was this man who lies at the centre of Christianity? Some believe he was a good moral teacher, still others a great prophet, and—for Christians—the Son of God and Saviour of the world. What is certain is that he existed.
A Man of History
Early Jewish, Greek, and Roman figures are unanimous in their affirmation that Jesus existed. One cannot dismiss him as a mere myth. How can we trust their reports? In addition to their reputations as historians, their hostility towards the followers of Jesus proves they had no bias in his favor. This animosity validates their records.
Flavius Josephus (d. AD 100) —Jewish Historian
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, 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, Book 18, ch. 3, par. 3.
Pliny (d. AD 113) —Roman governor in Turkey
“They [the Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds …”
Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X: 96.
Lucian (d. 180) —Greek Writer
“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account … which explains the contempt of death & voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; & then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, & deny the gods of Greece, & worship the crucified sage, & live after his laws.”
Lucian, “The Death of Peregrine,” 1113, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols.
Suetonius (c. AD 69–122) —Roman historian
“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”
“Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”
Claudius, Lives of the Caesars, sec. 25; and sec. 16.
Tacitus (d. AD 120) —Roman historian
“Nero … fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus …” Annals 15.44
History proves that Jesus existed! The next important question is “Who was he?” These non-Christian historians affirm common facts about his life: he was a wise teacher and doer of “startling deeds,” the importance of faith and duty for his followers, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and that he continued to be given exclusive worship by his followers because of “superstitions”—that is, they claimed he was God’s Son and that he had risen from the dead.
Can the Bible be Trusted?
The life of Jesus is recorded by Christian authors in the four Gospels. Three were written between 22–29 years after Jesus’ death, and one some 37–57 years after. These documents were written in close proximity to the events which they describe—they were not written many centuries later.
In addition, we have many ancient copies of these Gospels, and can compare our current version to these early copies, validating that the Bible can indeed be trusted. In fact, if you stack them one upon another, early copies of the New Testament measure 1¼ miles high! By comparison, any remaining copies of other ancient documents (such as Homer’s Illiad) measure just 4½ feet high. This makes the Bible, as a document, the most trustworthy ancient source in the world!
The question then is not whether the Gospel accounts are accurate copies of the original, but rather whether what they say about Jesus is true! Knowing Jesus did live and die, the more interesting question is whether he died and lived!
C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, believed this presented us with a quadrilemma. Are the Gospels LEGENDS? No. They were written too early, they don’t fit the genre, they’re too realistic and they portray a suffering leader. If their words must be taken as accurate records of Jesus then there are only three other options. Jesus must have been a LIAR who claimed to be God but wasn’t. No. He taught about truth and integrity (John 18:23). Then he must have been a LUNATIC to claim he was God’s Son. No. When you examine the life and teachings of Jesus, one does not find evidence of a deranged mind (Matthew 6:44). This leaves the only other option, that he was who he said he was, LORD (Mark 12:37).
Who do you say that I am?
One day Jesus was with his followers near Caesarea Philippi, a place where many gods were worshipped, including Pan (god of all-things). He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They gave various replies. He then asked them this personal and exclusive question against this inclusive backdrop, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).
Who do you say Jesus is?
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me has eternal life” (John 6:47). Whoever believes (has an active faith) in Jesus will have new life, both now and forever, in place of sin and death.