In a communist Russian dictionary, Jesus is described as "a mythical figure who never existed." Of course, no serious historian could hold to that position today. The evidence is overwhelming as to the fact that Jesus existed, not just from the Gospels and other Christian literature around the first century, but also from non-Christian sources.
Well respected historians of the day, including Tacitus (a Roman) speak of him, as well as the noted Jewish historian Josephus. He writes "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 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 at this day." Josephus: Antiquities XVIII 63f
Of course, a whole book is needed to cover all the evidence regarding the existence of Jesus. In fact, Josh McDowelI has already written one, called "He walked among us." Suffice it to say that there is overwhelming evidence to say that Jesus was a real historical person.
At this point you might say, "O.K. so he existed, but what does that have to do with me?"
Knowing that Jesus existed is not only relevant to lovers of history, but, as we shall see, is of supreme importance to everyone.
Why? The answer lies in discovering who this Jesus really was.
In all the surveys I've conducted, asking people who they thought Jesus was, I received a number of different answers. Some said, "He was a good teacher who lived 2,000 years ago." Others, that "He was a miracle worker and one of the many ways to God." Others said that they didn't know who Jesus was, and didn't want to look into such a controversial question. Of course, I met a number of people who said, "Jesus was and is the Son of God."
"But what's the big deal? Does it really matter what we think about Jesus?"
My answer may startle you, but I suggest that your answer to this question, is the biggest single issue in your life! "What?" you might say. Yes, who you believe Jesus to be is the most important question you will ever be asked. That's because if Jesus is the Son of God, and His claims are true, then your acceptance or rejection of Him will mean either eternal life with Him, or eternal separation from Him, and an eternity in hell. Wow, that's heavy duty stuff, but let me give you an example to illustrate what I'm saying.
Suppose I met you in the street, and said, "Hi, I'm John Samson, and I'm the only way to God. Me and God, we're one. If you've seen me, you've seen God. I am the Way, the Truth and the life, no one comes to God but through me. If you believe in me you'll have eternal life, but if you don't you'll be punished forever."
How would you react? Well there's a number of ways you could react. One of them would be to call for the guys in white coats to come and collect me!
But, wait a minute. Did you know that the things I said about myself to you in the street, are exactly the same things Jesus said about himself? Now think logically about this.
If Jesus was not all that He claimed to be, then it would be impossible for him to be put in the class of a good teacher.
Because Jesus' whole teaching centered around who he was claiming to be. Jesus was the one making those claims, not the Christians that followed him. The problem is that he has led multiplied millions astray in following after him as the way to God. If indeed, Jesus was not who He claimed to be He would be nothing more than another false teacher, leading his followers into error. He would be just another clever con man.
"So, he can't be a good teacher, and be leading people into deception. I get that! But are there any other options?"
Another option is that Jesus was a stark raving lunatic! I've never heard anyone suggest Jesus was a madman but we must face that possibility. In fact, experts in the realm of psychology and the mind sciences have commented that in their study of Jesus from the Gospels, they conclude that he was perhaps the person who was "most whole" in all of history. It's nice that they say that, but could they be wrong?
Well the evidence points towards the fact that Jesus was fully aware of his surroundings, and that he knew he was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. We all know the story of Jesus birth, but did you know that these events were foretold centuries beforehand in the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. He was born of a virgin, in a town called Bethlehem, as the Bible declared he would be (see Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2). And just before you say that he tried to fulfill prophecy to claim he was the Messiah, let me just point out that it is pretty impossible to control who your parents are and where you'll be born. Ever tried it?
In fact, he fulfilled around thirty prophecies in just one day - the day He died. He even claimed that after his death He would be raised again to life in three days. This was a known claim of Jesus, and the Romans made sure that a strong troop of soldiers were posted around his tomb to make sure that none of Jesus' disciples could secretly break in to the tomb, steal the body, and claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. One scholar of history has said that there is more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, than any other event in history. That's quite a claim isn't it? (for more on this I recommend Frank Morrison's book, "Who Moved the Stone?")
Let me take you to a passage in Matthew's Gospel Chapter 16. It reads as follows:
13 When Jesus came into the region Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"
14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Obviously, Jesus said and Jesus taught, that he was the Christ (or Messiah) the Son of God.
"So, are there any other views on who Jesus is? What are my options?"
There are only three options to choose from concerning who Jesus was:
#1 JESUS WAS MAD - He was a misled man who deceived many because he was deceived himself
#2 JESUS WAS BAD - He was an artist, a con man, who managed to start a whole world wide religion
#3 JESUS WAS GOD! - He was exactly who He claimed to be..
Certainly, the Bible teaches that Jesus is the Divine Son of God.
John 1:1 says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." Talking of Jesus, verse 14 of that same chapter says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..."
(You can check it out more references on this yourself if you look up these verses in a Bible: Isa 9:6; John 20:28,29; Acts 20:28; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; - these are just a few of the many verses that could be quoted)
C. S. Lewis once wrote, "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." (Mere Christianity, The MacMillan Company, 1960, pp. 40-41.)
So that's it! Those are the options. Jesus of Nazareth was either MAD, BAD OR GOD! The choice is yours to make. But remember, you must choose well, because if Jesus is indeed who He claimed to be, then the moment after you die, you will face Him, and stand to give an account of your answer. Here's the good news, if you make Jesus the Lord (the Boss) and Savior of your life, you can look forward to eternal life with Him. Jesus Himself said, " For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
Jesus said "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out!" (John 6:37)