What proof is there that Jesus really existed? Is He only mentioned in the Bible? Listen to this lesson to learn about many historical sources written in the early first century that mention Christ, including Gentile and Jewish sources. See how there is confirmation of the period of darkness on the day of the crucifixion and how there are attempts to explain it away as an eclipse. Hear and underline in your Bible a number of references where Jesus claimed to be the Son of God so you can locate them when talking to unbelievers.
Giving an Answer – Part 15
Who is Jesus?
1 Peter 3:15
1 Peter Lesson #097
June 29, 2017
“Father, we’re thankful for this time and opportunity to come together as a body of believers to encourage each other by our presence, to be reminded of Your faithfulness and Your goodness to us. Father, we’re thankful that we have the opportunity, the freedom in this nation, as we come together this weekend, beginning a celebration of our nation’s birthday, to be reminded that it was founded upon biblical principles, founded upon divine principles of divine institution which are true for all people at all times, whether they are believers or not, to recognize that this nation has a unique heritage of freedom and, as such, that freedom has been the target of Satan ever since.
Father, we pray for us as believers that even though we live in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, that we may shine forth as lights, that we may be examples of Your grace and Your goodness.
Father, we pray that You would help us to understand the things in Your Word that we study this evening, that we might be encouraged and strengthened in our ability to give an answer for the hope that is in us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
This is our 15th lesson in this series on “Giving an Answer” where we’ve been studying 1 Peter 3:15, which is focused on the command to every believer. It is not an option. Whoever you are, we are to be prepared, be ready, be trained as part of preparation, to be able to give an answer for the hope that is in us. We have to understand these things. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to do that at the beginning, that how we do something is as important as what we do. For a right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. So methodology is important.
I’ve emphasized that. There were probably a dozen things, when I was in seminary, that Tommy Ice and I constantly got into discussions with other students about, and that was, “You can’t do that, because that’s the wrong way.” It’s the methodology. “What part of that don’t you understand?”
And in Christendom there’s this idea, because they are influenced by the pragmatics of the world, that “If it gets somebody saved, then it must be okay.” No. Just because God’s grace allowed His Word to bear fruit doesn’t mean that you had anything to do with it or that He blesses the way you did it. And a right thing done in the wrong way is still wrong. So we had to understand that.
Now we’re looking at some of the things that we need to control in terms of basic information. Because facts are still important, evidences are still important, and that information is important. And what I’m hoping to do in these few lessons is just capture a few things—not give you everything there is to document these—but just two or three things that you can grab hold of and put on a 3 × 5 card and memorize so that if something comes up, you can say, “Okay. I remember this, this, and this.” You may not remember these quotes, but you can remember two or three of the people who gave the quotes. And that’s important.
So what we’ve done here is look at three questions.
Tonight we’re going to look at the question, “Who was Jesus?” which is the 2nd question.
The 1st question was: Can we trust the Bible? As part of that, we have the question, “Can we trust the gospel records?” Yes, we can. I didn’t spend a lot of time on that, because if we can trust the Bible—and the Gospels are part of the Bible—then we can trust the Gospel records. So I didn’t drill down on that particular area.
So tonight when we look at the question, “Who was Jesus?” we can surely trust the Gospel records. I’ve had people say, “Well don’t you know that the Gospels were not written down until 100, 150, or even 200 years after Jesus?” I said, “That’s interesting, because if you look at some of the early sermons that we have, notes, and scraps of paper called lectionaries that just had written down on them the daily or weekly reading of Scripture in the church services, we have quotes from the Gospels that go back into the late 1st century. So if they were not written until 150, then it’s kind of unusual that somebody would be quoting from Matthew as early as AD 85 or 90 and that we would have a scrap from the Gospel of John from approximately 120. So just knowing some things like that sort of helps put you in a position where you’re not on the defensive but on the offense in having a conversation with somebody. So we asked this question, “Who was Jesus?”
The third question has to do with the resurrection, and that is, “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” Is that just something made up? Is that just something legendary? Aren’t there other mythologies that have people rising from the dead? Is this unique? Is this documented? How do we know Jesus rose from the dead? So we will get to that.
But tonight and next week we’re going to address this question, “Who was Jesus?” Now that really involves three things. The 1st part of this we looked at last week.
- Prophecies from the Old Testament.
We looked at about nine of them last week. I talked about the probabilities of them being fulfilled in one person, and it’s just almost mathematically impossible, according to the laws of probability, for one person to fulfill nine of them. And I talked about the fact that it’s equivalent to the chances of a blind man choosing a marked silver dollar. If you were to spread out silver dollars across the entire state of Texas to a depth of two or three feet, and the chances of one person, blindfolded or blind, going out and picking that marked coin—it’s not going to happen. That’s the same probability.
Being able to understand that is very helpful.
So, the prophecies from the Old Testament. There were over 100 that were fulfilled by Jesus at His 1st coming. The others will be fulfilled when He returns a second time. Understanding that there are two comings of the Messiah, one for suffering and one in glory, is important, especially if you’re talking with somebody who’s from a Jewish background. The question that they always ask is, “Well, Jesus didn’t fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah, He only fulfilled some of them.” And walking through that twofold aspect of His coming is important, because they still focus on the kingdom glory promises rather than the suffering Savior promises.
So we looked at prophecies from the Old Testament. Tonight we’re going to look at this question, “Did Jesus really exist?” and “What did He say about Himself?” “Who is Jesus?” So that’s our starting point tonight.
Bertrand Russell, in an essay entitled, “Why I am not a Christian,” wrote the following. Bertrand Russell was a 20th-century skeptic. He was a philosopher. He was considered very intelligent, but he’s a pagan philosopher. He was an atheist. He was a total skeptic about Christianity—totally rejected everything about Christianity. He wrote, in the early 20th century, “Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we know nothing about Him.”
Now today we live in a world where a lot of young people especially, but some older people as well, have been so enmeshed in fantasy. They have watched so many fantasy TV shows, so many fantasy movies, and read so much science fiction, that for some of these people it’s really hard for them to separate fact from fantasy. So they don’t really understand what’s true and what’s not true. They’re not people who have spent a lot of time studying history.
But somebody like Bertrand Russell should have known history, and that this was, even at his time, a totally bogus claim. We do have many sources that reference Jesus—not just biblical and not just from the early church.
He went on to say, regarding Christ, “I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects.” I would want to know, “What do you mean by ‘wisdom’? What do you mean by ‘virtue’? And where do you get those ideas?” Asking those kinds of questions.
Now in order to put together the introduction for this, there are still people today, despite all of the historical and literary evidence that Jesus existed, still doubt that. I went to Richard Dawkins’ website, and there is a short article there by a man named Raphael Lataster. He said, “The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the historical Jesus is the lack of early sources.” What he means by that is [paraphrasing], “There aren’t any, other than the Bible.” So that’s part of his assumption he puts out there.
He says, “The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.” So that’s another claim that he makes [paraphrasing], “You do have a few early sources, but the earliest ones are only talking about Jesus as He is understood to be the Savior of the world.” So that’s his claim—that there are no sources other than those who are pro-Jesus as Savior.
He says, “These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events …” Now “decades” can be an ambiguous term; that can be 30 years, or it can be 130 years. He says they were “compiled decades after the alleged events, all …” Notice the word “all.” Whenever you’re reading something like this, always look to the meaning of “all.” Whenever somebody says “all,” usually that’s where they have a problem.
“All stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity—which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources—which they also fail to identify.” Now a question you would ask there is, “Well, would you tell me where Tacitus defines his sources? Or where Suetonius defines his sources? Or some of the contemporary historians from that time—just any ancient literature—do they define sources or do they necessarily give authorship in the way that we do in modern times?
Then he makes the claim, “Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time …” Where does he get that information? Document that! These are claims or assertions that are made that have no foundation. There is no evidence of that; they just constantly get thrown out, but there’s nothing to back them up.
So let’s look at just some facts and some information to indicate that there is information out there. One of the things they always deny is their understanding of the of the New Testament. You’ll still run into people who do this. They will want to late date the New Testament. What do I mean by “late date?” “None of it was written in the 1st century. Maybe Paul, a few things, but a lot of it was written in the 2nd century and much, much, much later.” And the problem is you go back to what I taught when we looked at confirmatory evidence of the Bible, that there is evidence that the New Testament was all written in the 1st century.
But there’s a scholar by the name of John A. T. Robinson. Robinson wrote a book called Honest to God in the early 60s, and he’s considered the father of the “God is dead” movement. But he also wrote a book later on the Gospels. Now this is a guy who is a bona fide liberal theologian, rejects supernaturalism, rejects what you and I would consider anything close to a conservative view of the Bible, and he claims—and conservative Christians wouldn’t even go along with this—that every book in the New Testament was written before the fall of Jerusalem—that it was all written before 70. So that’s an important piece of information to have, because it shows that people who claim it was all written later, here’s one of their greatest scholars, and he puts everything before 70. You are going to have to put it in the 1st century if you’re honest with archaeological evidence, inscriptional evidence, things of that nature.
I want to start with non-Christian writers who say something about Jesus and give evidence that they are aware of the existence of Jesus and the beliefs of Christians and the expansion of Christianity. The 1st one we’re going to look at is Cornelius Tacitus.
His dates are AD 55–120. So he’s born about the time that the church is really expanding. He’s born a little over 20 years after the crucifixion. And his time of adulthood is from about 75, after the fall of Jerusalem, until about 120, a period of about 45 years. Gary Habermas, who is an evangelical scholar, has written a book on Jesus and the evidence for His existence, the resurrection, and a number of other apologetics works, says that Tacitus was, “…a Roman historian who lived through the reigns of over a half dozen Roman emperors. He has been called the “greatest historian” of ancient Rome, an individual generally acknowledged among scholars for his moral “integrity and essential goodness.” That’s a quote from Moses Hadas who wrote the “Introduction” to The Complete Works of Tacitus.
So Hadas is certainly not a believer. The name sounds very Jewish, but he affirms the importance of Tacitus as a witness in his historical works of Rome in the 1st century.
Tacitus wrote two works: Annals and Histories. The Annals, we believe, originally had 18 books; not all of them have survived. But it covers the period from Caesar Augustus’ death in AD 14 to that of Nero in AD 68. And the Histories begins after Nero’s death and goes to the death of Domitian in AD 96.
The Annals was written about AD 115. So think about that—that is about 80 years after the death of Christ. He wrote that, and he is talking about and describing what happened in Rome with the great fire of Nero and how this fire started. I’ve read other accounts recently that in Rome, especially in the poorer sections, everything that was built was built of wood and it was hovels. And they were very close together. The streets and alleys were very narrow. And it would be very easy … In fact, there were always fires that would spring up from fire in the fireplace, cooking fires would get out of control, things like that.
Nero had to find an explanation for this. So he pinned it on the Christians. Because otherwise it reflected so poorly on him, and that was what the rumor was.
Tacitus writes in his Annals, “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.” The first thing we learn is that there’s clearly a group in Rome, at the time of Nero, that are called “Christians.”
So if there’s a group that are called Christians, then that presupposes a certain amount of information and knowledge about Jesus by that time. It names Him “Christus,” which is a misspelling, but that often happens in the ancient world.
“Christus, from whom the name had its origin,” and then he tells us something about Christ, that He “suffered the extreme penalty [which would be death; a penalty is an execution] during the reign of Tiberius.” So it locates it at the time of Tiberius, and an even narrower timeframe would be during the time that Pontius Pilate was a procurator.
Then he says, a very enigmatic statement, “… and a most mischievous superstition.” I think maybe that is an allusion to the resurrection.
“… a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment.” Okay? that is, this movement was checked by the death. But he says, “… again broke out not only in Judaea.” So something happened to stop it, and then all of a sudden it just broke out in Judea. “… the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”
So what we see in this quote is that,
1. He recognizes the historicity of Jesus.
This is written in AD 115, but he’s writing the history that occurs in Rome in the AD 50s and 60s. He recognizes the historicity of Jesus.
2. He recognizes the historicity of Pilate.
There is no other ancient source that mentions Pilate. Now, a couple of weeks going when I talked about archaeology, we have found, around 1990, there was discovered a slab with an inscription about Pontius Pilate on it at Caesarea by the Sea. There is a facsimile of it there; the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. So he attests to the historicity of Pilate.
3. He recognizes the time frame of Jesus’ existence; it is under Tiberius.
4. He affirms His death by execution.
5. And implies indirectly the resurrection.
So contrary to the claim that there’s nothing written affirming the existence of Jesus from an early source, or anybody other than those who are sympathetic with Jesus, this is wrong.
Now there is a second quote. I found this one quite interesting. We haven’t gotten there yet in Matthew, but what happens at the time of Jesus’ death? What happens between 12 pm and 3 pm? The earth is covered in darkness, right? Is that just local, or is that evidenced throughout the empire? And we see a couple of different writers; their works haven’t survived, but they’ve been quoted by others later on that there was a time of darkness that they try to explain as an eclipse. The problem with that is you can’t have a solar eclipse at the time of the full moon. Jesus is crucified at Passover, which is a full moon, so their explanation doesn’t work.
One of these is the Thallus who live lived around AD 52. He’s about the time of the early writings of the Apostle Paul. He’s quoted by Julius Africanus, a Christian, in AD 221. So his works survived for a while, but they’re no longer extent. And Thallus states, “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.”
Africanus writes, “This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”
A third example is from the writings of an administrator in the Roman Empire in Bithynia. This is in the north central area of what we call Turkey today. He was a Roman author, writer. His father, Pliny the Elder, wrote about natural history, wrote about creation, flowers, animals, things of that nature. And Pliny the Younger, as an administrator, was responsible for carrying out persecutions of Christians. And so, as he is doing this, he’s wondering how effective this really is. They are willing to die because they have this belief in resurrection. They’re not too concerned about dying, because they are going to go right to heaven. It really doesn’t scare them; they’re not fearful. How far should he go? So he’s writing to Trajan, the Emperor, to find out just what he should do and how he should handle this.
And in his letter he says, “They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light …” That is a recognition of the remembrance of the resurrection early in the morning.
“… on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ [so there is historical attestation there], as to a god [indicating the deity; they treated Christ as God], and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to [do] any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
Basically, what he recognizes here is that for all practical purposes these Christians were just like anybody else. They worshiped their God, Jesus. Later in the letter he talks about His followers as believing in this excessive superstition and a contagious superstition, which is similar to Tacitus. I’ll talk about Suetonius next. Suetonius talks about that in the same way.
This talk about “food of an ordinary and innocent kind” is a reference to communion and what was called in the early church a “love feast” when everybody would come together and eat together. So he doesn’t see anything extremely dangerous about these Christians, and he sees them as being fairly moral and ethical.
Now the next witness of the existence of Jesus at this time is by Suetonius. Usually, he is just referred to as Suetonius. His full name is Suetonius Tranquillas. He was another Roman historian along with Tacitus. He makes one reference to Jesus and one to Christians, and he writes during the time of Emperor Hadrian, AD 117 to 138. For those of you who connect that to Jewish history, Hadrian is the one who invaded Israel during the Second Revolt, the Bar Kokhba revolt, and he’s the one who cast all the Jews out of Jerusalem, renaming it Aelia Capitolina. Also, he’s the one who renamed Judea “Palestine” in order to just remove all their history, wipe it out, and do away with it. So that’s Hadrian; he also built Hadrian’s Wall up in the north of Britain to keep the Picts and the Scots out.
He wrote about an event at the time of Claudius. He states, “Because the Jews at Rome …” If you remember, Acts tells us that Claudius kicked all the Jews out because they were causing trouble. Well, he says, “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [this is another misspelling, but he is talking about Christ], he expelled them from the city.”
If you remember, when we were studying Acts, we talked about Paul traveling to various cities in Asia Minor and Greece. He would go to the synagogues first, and then there would be this uproar and riots caused by the Jews—and sometimes by Gentiles like the silversmiths in Ephesus. So this would cause an uproar.
Apparently, there were some riots in Rome caused by the Jews who were rejecting Jesus. And, of course, Christianity was in the womb of the Jewish culture. So that would have caused quite an uproar in Rome. So, for that reason, he says that Claudius expelled them.
Now another source of information other than these Gentile pagan writers from the 1st century is Flavius Josephus. Josephus is an important source because Josephus is Jewish. Josephus lived in the 1st century. He was born around AD 40 to 50. He is a general in the Jewish army at the time of the Jewish revolt in AD 66 to 70. His army that he has command of is in the north in Galilee, and he’s defeated and he surrenders his troops. Then he went over to the Romans. He said, “There’s no way we can defeat them. Everybody needs to just give up, give in. We can’t do it.” So the Jews viewed him as a traitor.
Josephus was taken in as a member of the household for Titus and Vespasian. They are the Flavian emperors, so he adopts their family name as his; that is why he is called Flavius Josephus. After all that was over with he goes back to Rome. He wrote on the histories of the Jews and the antiquities of the Jews. So he writes a lot about the wars of the Jews. And he is an excellent source to read about what is going on in the 1st century. He also wrote, in the Antiquities of the Jews, what we would refer to as the biblical history but also the intertestamental history of the Jews.
In Antiquities XVIII, 33 there’s a highly controversial passage where he talks about Jesus. In this quote I have italicized certain lines. There’s a lot of debate over this and I believe, on the basis of what I’ve studied and the questions I’ve asked friends of mine who’ve spent more time studying this, that these italicized lines were probably inserted by Christians at some later date. There’s enough evidence that they are probably not original. But even if they’re not original, this statement says a lot about the existence of Jesus. So I’m going to read it, and I will leave out the italicized lines.
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man …” Now, a wise man in Israel is a man who is from God, a man who is a prophet, a man who is an expositor of the law. So by calling Jesus a “wise man” he is saying a lot about who Jesus was. The statement “if it be lawful to call him a man” is inserted later.
“For he was one who wrought surprising feats [or miracles in some translations] a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.” Here we learn that this Jesus is a teacher of men; it indicates that He would have had a group of disciples or students who followed Him around. It also tells us that He performed miracles.
It goes on to say, “he drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles.” And that tells us that there were both Jews and Gentiles who followed Him. Then it says, “He was (the) Christ,” or He was the Messiah. That’s was inserted as well.
“And when Pilate, at 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.” Now what he is saying there tells us that it’s at the time of Pilate, that He was punished because of the instigation of rulers among the Jews, “the principal men among us,” that He was condemned to the cross. That is, He would be executed with one of the worst deaths assigned to criminals.
“Those that loved him at the first did not forsake him.” Now we think, “Well, wait a minute. Peter denied Him. And they ran when He died.” But they came back. So His followers ultimately didn’t leave Him because of the resurrection; we know the rest of that story.
Then there’s this insertion, “For he appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold …” So, the rest of it is not part of the original. But that tells us a lot about the historical existence of Jesus. And that He has attestation from nonbelievers, from non-Christians in the 1st century, both Christians and Jews.
Another thing you can say about the Jews is that in the 1st century, the 2nd century, and the 3rd century there was a lot that was said and written in the Talmud about Jesus. When most people cite the Talmud and what the Talmud says about Jesus, they cite from the Babylonian Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud’s bad enough, but when you look at what is said about Jesus in the Palestinian Talmud, it is exceptionally blasphemous. It is really hostile to Jesus. The Babylonian Talmud is just hostile to Jesus.
There are a number of things that you can see in relation to the Talmud. But it clearly affirms that the Jews accepted His historical existence.
A couple of pages from the earlier quote, there’s another statement by Josephus talking about the death of James, that he was “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” That wouldn’t make sense unless you had already introduced Him into the narrative in an earlier page.
Now, in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, we find the statement, “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [which is Jesus]. The Greek is IÉSOUS. “Yeshu” just doesn’t have the last syllable “ah” on there. They are all forms of the same name.
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.” Now Paul talks about cursed is any man who hangs on the tree. This was a euphemism in Jewish language that related to how they described someone who was crucified. It comes from a prophecy in the Old Testament that was actually before crucifixion was invented and introduced. That was applied to those who were crucified. So Sanhedrin 43 recognizes that “Yeshu” was “hanged” or crucified, and then it adds a number of fanciful things that aren’t true.
But there are a number of other places in the Talmud—I didn’t want to get sidetracked into all this—where they try to refute the virgin birth of Mary. They say that she had an affair with this Roman soldier named Pantera. And some people think that that’s a play on words, that it wasn’t really an actual soldier, that they just made up the name because it’s a play on words and it sounds very similar to “PARTHENOS,” which is the Greek word for “virgin.”
So you have these statements. But what they tell us in their opposition to Jesus is that they are a testimony to the historicity of Jesus, that He wasn’t a myth, He wasn’t just something that was dreamed up by His followers later on. But you have the ongoing hostility by the Jews as exhibited by the statements in the Talmud.
Then there is another statement by Phlegon. He is a freedman of Hadrian. He was born about AD 80. He wrote an apology to Hadrian. Origen records from his 13th book. He says, “Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future, but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.”
Another quote in Origen, because we’ve lost the original. Phlegon’s works are no longer extent. He quotes Phlegon regarding this darkness at the time of the crucifixion, “And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles.” Julius Africanus, whom I mentioned earlier, also quoted Phlegon with regard to this, and he attempted to explain away the darkness in terms of an eclipse which, of course, couldn’t work.
So we have all these sources. It just shows that, no indeed; there are these quotes. Now if you want to remember some things, just remember three things.
1. Remember Tacitus.
2. Remember Suetonius.
3. Remember Josephus.
Just remember those three. In a conversation if somebody says something, you can just say, “Well, there are statements by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus that affirm the historicity of Jesus.” You can always go find the exact data from some reference book like Evidence that Demands a Verdict or Habermas’ book. A number of other resources give this information, and you can get that later. But that gives you something to hold on to.
Then we have these statements by Christians. Clement of Rome is late 1st century. He’s the Bishop of Rome. He wrote an epistle to the Corinthians in AD 95. And it’s mostly doctrinal and related to ethical topics, but in the middle of it he says something about the Gospel and Jesus. He says, “The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come.” Now that’s a great quote! You can’t write that if the Gospels aren’t written until 150 or 180 or 200. You can’t write this if Jesus didn’t actually exist in the 1st century. So this is good validation of the historicity of Jesus.
Ignatius of Antioch was a bishop in Antioch in the early 2nd century, around AD 110, 115. He’s arrested; he is taken to Rome. On the way he wrote seven letters; six were to churches, and one was to Polycarp, who was a personal student and disciple of the Apostle John. In his epistle to the Trallians he wrote, “Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born [so he’s emphasizing the physical humanity of Jesus] and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him.”
See? So you have these statements: he affirms who He is; he affirms that He is a descendent of David; born of Mary; persecuted under Pontius Pilate; and He died and then rose from the dead.
In the epistle to the Smyrneans he says, “For I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the resurrection; and when He came to Peter and his company …” He goes on in this quote to affirm the historicity of Jesus.
Then in a third epistle to the Magnesians he says, “Be ye fully persuaded concerning the birth and the passion and the resurrection, which took place in the time of the governorship of Pontius Pilate; for these things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ our hope.” So again, you have clear documentation of His historicity.
Then also Quadrutus in AD 125 in his apology to Hadrian refers to Jesus, to His miracles, that He healed people, raised some from the dead. And at the end he says, “So that some of them have also lived to our own times.” You can still go talk to some of these people who were raised from the dead and who were healed at the time of Jesus—they are still alive. Some of the children and young people would be pretty old, but they were still alive.
So this is the historical evidence that substantiates the historicity of Jesus. No one who is educated, no one who is knowledgeable, no one who knows anything about history can possibly claim that Jesus never existed, that He’s a non-historical figure. But what they then try to do is they try to say, “Well, He was just a good moral teacher.”
We will address this more next time. “He was just a good moral teacher,” or in the 60s and 70s, “He was a revolutionary,” and there were various other claims.
But before we get to that, we need to understand, “What did Jesus claim about Himself? So what did Jesus say? What’s recorded in the Gospels? Now this presupposes the truthfulness and the accuracy of the Gospels, that they were written by eyewitnesses, which is what they claim, and that they were not written some 100 or 200 years later. There’s a lot of documentation for that, which I sort of skipped over when we looked at the Bible. Because if the Bible’s what it claims to be, the Gospels clearly reflect an early 1st century environment. They are accurate in all areas. Nothing’s ever been demonstrated that proves them wrong.
In Mark chapter 14 we have Jesus in His trial before the high priest. We are told, “And the high priest stood up in the midst [in the middle of this trial—this is one of the six trials of Jesus] and asked Jesus, saying, ‘Do You answer nothing?’ ” Because Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53, “Like a lamb before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”
“ ‘Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?’ But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ ” In other words, “Are You the promised Messiah from the Old Testament, the Son of God?”
“Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ” The term “the Power” is a circumlocution talking about God.
So, Jesus there talks about
1. “I am.” He is affirming that He is the Messiah.
2. He refers to Himself as the Son of Man, which is a messianic title from Daniel 7:13.
3. He is seated at the right hand of the Power; that’s from Psalm 110.
4. And Daniel 7 also says the Son of Man will come with the clouds of Heaven.
Immediately, the high priest tore his clothes. Now that’s just not for dramatic effect. He tears his clothes and says, “What else do we need? We don’t need any other witnesses. He’s condemned himself before us by claiming to be God,” which is what they crucified Him for.
Then he addresses the Sanhedrin. He says, “ ‘You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.” He’s condemned to death for claiming to be Who He is—the Son of God.
In Leviticus 10:6 and Leviticus 21:10 the Torah prohibited the high priest from tearing his garments. He was not to uncover his head or to tear his clothes, “lest you die,” upon the penalty of death. It was the death penalty for him to take his headgear off or tear his clothes as prohibited in Leviticus 21:10. The only exception to this was in the case of blasphemy. That’s why tearing of the robe is so significant: It could only happen—and it was required to happen—in the case of blasphemy.
I mentioned that those two statements of Jesus about the Son of Man coming with the clouds and then sitting at the right hand come from Daniel 7:13, which is talking about the Son of Man in Heaven going to the Ancient of Days to request the kingdom, and the Ancient of Days giving the kingdom to Jesus. This is one of those passages you ought to have underlined in your Bible. We’ve alluded to it or gone to it many, many times in the study of Matthew on Sunday morning. That’s a passage you ought to know.
Of course, the same with Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord.” Well, who’s the Lord? The Lord, here, is Yahweh, God the Father, speaking to “my Lord.” David is speaking; who is his Lord? Who is over David? He’s the king of Judah; there’s nobody over him other than God. So, it indicates the two Persons—at least two Persons—in the Godhead. And the One, Yahweh, says to the Other, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” So He is seated until those enemies are defeated, which occurs during the campaign of Armageddon when God the Father gives the kingdom to God the Son, the Son of Man, and He returns.
It’s very clear that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. In fact, the centurion at the cross recognizes this was the cause of his crucifixion. “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him [this is said with great sarcasm]; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” There’s the testimony there that He is crucified by claiming to be the Son of God.
What I want you to do at this point is I want you to turn in your Bibles to each of these references and you should underline these references. These are clear statements where Jesus claimed to be God. Some people say, “No, no, no, no, Jesus never claimed to be God.” “Well, why do you say that? Where do you get that evidence? The Gospel accounts say that He claimed to be God.”
“Well, I don’t trust the Gospel accounts.” See, this gets into a series of regression, so you have to be able to at least say, “Well, why don’t you believe in the Gospel accounts? What evidence do you have that they could not possibly be giving accurate information about Jesus?”
In John 10:25–31, Jesus again is in a confrontation with the Jewish leadership. When He talks about the Jews, John, and other writers—even Josephus—refers to them as “the Jews.” Some people come along and say, “See, that’s anti-Semitic.” It’s not anti-Semitic. John is a Jew. Jesus was a Jew. All the disciples were Jews. All the followers of Jesus were Jews. You have a couple of exceptions in the Gospels of Gentiles becoming followers of Jesus, but 99.9% of them were Jewish. It’s not a derogatory term. It basically refers to the leaders of the Judean religious leadership. “Jew” comes from the word “Judah.”
John 10:25, “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. …’ ” Then He says, “I and My Father are one.” This is a profound statement where Jesus is claiming to be God.
What’s important to note is that when Jesus uses the term “one” here, the number one could be used in either a masculine form, a feminine form, or a neuter form, depending on that to which it was referring. So if it were referring to a masculine noun, then you would use a masculine form of the word “one.” If it’s referring to a feminine noun, it would be a feminine form. If it’s referring to a neuter noun, it would be using a neuter term. And what we have here is a neuter form of the word “one.” If it was masculine, Jesus would be claiming that He is one in Person with the Father. But He’s not claiming He’s identical in person with the Father; He’s claiming He is one in essence with the Father, so He uses the neuter form of one.
But what’s their reaction? They understood exactly what He was claiming—that He was claiming to be God. They reached for the stones to stone Him. And the text says that He just walked away.
He says in verse 32, “ ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ 33 The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’ ” So they clearly understood what Jesus was claiming. After this, Jesus just sort of walked through the crowd and disappeared, and they didn’t know where He was.
In John 5 we have another tremendous statement where Jesus claims to be God. John 5:17–18. You ought to underline each of these verses in your Bible. “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’ ” By linking them together He’s implying, at least at this point, that They’re the same. And they get it. Look at verse 18. You don’t get it, because we don’t think the way their language worked—but they got it. “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him.” They understood He was claiming to be identical with God. The Father’s working, and I’m working; We’re doing it together.
“Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” So when He says, “My Father,” notice that the Pharisees never refer to God as their Father. It never shows up that way in the Talmud, the Mishnah, anything like that.
It’s like the idiom, “son of a murderer” which means you have the characteristics of a murderer. It is not saying your father was a murderer; it’s saying you have the characteristics of a murderer. So if the “son” of something is an adjectival form of that, then saying that God is your father is identifying yourself with God, that you have the same qualities as God. That’s what they understood Him to be saying, and they sought to kill Him.
In John 8, a little further on from the passage we looked at a minute ago, the debate intensifies with the Pharisees. “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ ” What’s happened in this debate is that He has made the statement that Abraham looked forward to seeing His day and they replied somewhat sarcastically, “You’re a young man; You couldn’t have lived long enough for Abraham to have known you.” And He says, “Before Abraham was” [past tense of the verb “to be”]. Then He uses the present tense, but He uses two words in Greek: EGŌ EIMI.
The proper name for God is “Yahweh.” “Yahweh” is derived from the Hebrew verb ‘eh·yeh which means “to be.” ‘eh·yeh and EIMI are the same words, our word “is” or “to be.” So when Jesus says “EGŌ EIMI,” He is repeating the meaning of Yahweh by saying, “I AM.” What did God say to Moses when Moses said, “Who do I say You are?” God said, “Tell them that ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ ” The name of God was often interpreted to be “I AM”; He’s the self-existent One.
This is very well known in the Gospel of John; Jesus has seven times that He refers to Himself as “I AM.” We also think of, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the door.” “I am the bread of life.” All of these are these “I AM”, EGŌ EIMI, statements, and by using that term He’s making a claim to deity. So He claims here that He is of His Father.
In John 8:19, which is earlier in that chapter, “Then they said to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.’ 20 These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.” But by saying that “no one laid hands on Him,” John is implying that they were hoping to, wanting to, trying to, but they were not able to. Again, he’s reinforcing what he indicates several times—their desire to kill Him because He’s committed blasphemy.
Then the last verse from the Gospel of John is from John 14:8–9. This is at the Upper Room Discourse. They are still talking in the Upper Room. They are about to leave, they’re about to go to Gethsemane. “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ ” “We need to know the Father.” Jesus has just said, “I’m going to go to the Father,” and Philip says, “Show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father …’ ” That is a strong claim! Jesus clearly claims again, and again, and again that He is God. That is clear—that was why He was crucified.
Paul says the same thing. Two key passages. Romans 9:5, “of whom are the fathers [talking about the Jews] and from whom, according to the flesh [in His humanity] Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” So He’s born according to the flesh, but He is also the eternally blessed God. This is a clear statement that He is the God-man.
Then the last passage, one you should always be aware of, is Philippians 2:6–11, the famous kenosis passage. We’ve taught it, gone through it many, many times; it is a clear statement that Jesus had the essence of God. He was in the form of God in verse six. He didn’t think that it was necessary to assert His deity; that is translated as “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”
“… taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” So He was in the essence of God, He took on the bondservant role in His humanity, found in appearance as a man, became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the Cross.
Philippians 2:9–11, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Then the last statement from the lips of Peter, Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” So it was the clear testimony of the early church and the Apostles that Jesus was fully God. It was the testimony of Jesus Himself; He claimed to be God again, and again, and again. And that “blasphemy” in the eyes of the Jewish leaders was why they crucified Him.
So you can’t get away with saying Jesus didn’t claim to be God. You can’t get away with claiming there is no historical evidence outside of the Bible for the existence of Jesus. It’s clear that Jesus existed and that He claimed to be God. So if that’s true, what do you do with it? We’ll look at that next time.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to go through this material to be reminded of this evidence that You have given. You don’t do anything in secret; You always give evidence. You always substantiate what You are doing so that we recognize that we’re not just believing something because it’s a good thing, or it makes sense, or it “works for us,” but we’re believing because there is historical attestation of it and that You have given us that evidence. We’re not putting our brains in neutral; in fact, we’re using our brains. And that it is those who reject the claims of Jesus who really aren’t using their brains very well.
Father, we pray that You would give us the courage to witness and that we might have a recall of this information when we are talking to people about the Lord. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”