THE MYSTERY OF JESUS
First: Was the Biblical Jesus Fact or Fiction?
Leaving the Bible aside, most secular historical documents affirm that some 2,000 years ago a remarkable person called Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua) lived a rather brief life and voluntarily suffered a painful and humiliating death on a Roman cross. For example, historians Josephus and Lucian indicate that Jesus was regarded as wise, and Pliny, the Talmud, and Lucian imply He was a powerful and revered teacher. Josephus and the Talmud indicate He performed miraculous feats. And Tacitus, Josephus, the Talmud, and Lucian all mention that He was crucified. Tacitus and Josephus say this occurred under Pontius Pilate. See Ancient Evidence.
Whilst today there is a fringe “Jesus is myth” theory, in modern scholarship this is not supported by any tenured specialists in biblical criticism, link. Few scholars dispute that Jesus is historical fact, link. To quote just a few:
In New Testament scholarship generally, a number of specialists consider the question of whether Jesus existed to have been finally and conclusively settled in the affirmative
[Lawrence Mykytiuk, Assoc Professor, Purdue University]
I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence … than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead
[Thomas Arnold, appointed Professor of Modern History, Oxford, 1841]
No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary
[‘Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels’, Michael Grant, 2004]
There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that anymore
[‘Jesus Now and Then’, Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould, 2004]
As a historian I think evidence matters. Jesus did exist, as virtually every scholar of antiquity, of biblical studies, of classics, and of Christian origins agrees.
The Mathematics of Jesus: Was He a Fraud?
OK. Virtually all scholars are agreed that there really was a historical Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament. So what about those Old Testament prophecies of Jesus? Some claim that Jesus fulfilled 353 Old Testament prophecies concerning His birth and life on earth, from the book of Genesis to the last book, Malachi, link. You may like to read a few key prophecies about the virgin birth of Jesus, the place of His birth, His ‘Kingly’ ancestral descent, the miracles that He would perform, and His entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey, link.
Suppose we take just eight key prophecies about Jesus and estimate the probability of all eight being fulfilled by one man. A conservative estimate was one in 1017, link. That’s 1 followed by 17 zeros. Similarly, the chance that any one man fulfilled 48 selected prophecies was estimated to be 1 in 10157, link.
So, in reality, the probability of one man fulfilling even eight prophecies by shear chance is negligibly small. It seems Jesus’ identity and life was already written in the scriptures before He came.
The Mystery of Jesus
He lived and fulfilled many prophecies. So who was He?
OK. Let’s accept the scholastic view that there really was a biblical Jesus, and let’s accept the mathematical view that the life and death of this particular person was already written hundreds of years before in Bible prophecy. So who was He? When asked by the Jews to identify Himself, Jesus answered:
Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8.58)
They accused Him of blasphemy, but Jesus was really alluding to how the God if Israel described Himself to Moses in Exodus 3: “Say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent you’“. In other words, Jesus was associating Himself with the God of Israel i.e. with Deity. When pushed, Jesus actually acknowledged He was God in human form. Jesus said that when men looked at Him they looked at God! When talking to one of His followers he said: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14.9). A mystery indeed! But Jesus backed up His claims by performing many miracles, from healing diseases, to raising the dead to walking on water, link.
In his book ‘Mere Christianity’, when referring to Jesus, C.S. Lewis said:
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
In other words, from a philosophical basis, Lewis leaves us little option but to accept Christ’s claims: He was God in human form. Bible prophecy made some 700 years before Jesus came confirms this conclusion:
A virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel (which means ‘God is with us’) (Isaiah 7.14)
According to the Bible it seems that God, the Creator of all things
came to earth in the form of the man, Jesus. Why?
Most Jews Dispute this view of Jesus
Some 80% of today’s Jews follow the Hebrew scriptures (the Tanakh) in some way, from fundamentalism to loose Jewish practice. They are looking for the Moshiach, ‘the anointed one’. They believe the Moshiach will be a great leader descended from King David. They believe that in the coming Messianic era, the Moshiach will rule all nations with kindness and justice, and will uphold the law of the Torah, link.
This person is not unlike the Christ found in Old Testament prophecy, but with one crucial difference. Jews believe the Moshiach will be a human leader, not a divine ‘Saviour’, link. And they reject Yeshua (Jesus) as their Moshiach (their Messiah) since He did not come as King to deliver Israel, or usher in world peace. But Bible prophecy says that, at the end of this age, they will recognize who Jesus really was:
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him … (Zechariah 12.10)
Another Mystery of Jesus: Why did He Die?
OK. Let’s summarize where we are:
- From a scholastic standpoint, the existence of a biblical person called Jesus some 2,000 years ago seems beyond doubt
- From simple mathematics, Jesus could not have fulfilled even a dozen prophecies by chance. He had to be special – a mystery
- From the claims He made, Jesus was either a madman, or a demonic spirit … or God Himself
- For the doubters, Jesus backed up His claims by many miracles
So why was Jesus’ historic act, His voluntary death on the cross, so necessary? Here’s a little theology. The Bible teaches that there is just one God – the God progressively revealed through God’s servant, Israel, and then through Jesus Christ (God in human form). It teaches that God is holy, loving, just and moral, and that unrepentant rebellious man is none of these things in the sight of God. And, in contrast to other faiths, the Bible teaches that God is knowable.
But it also teaches that it is impossible for man to know God and “earn” his way into God’s presence. Admit it – our conscience tells us we do wrong things and think wrong thoughts. The Bible says that “guilt” separates us from the holy God. But Jesus claimed that through His sacrificial death He would reconcile all those who believe in Him to God. Jesus taught that, through Him, God holds out a hand of reconciliation to Himself. Jesus claimed that through His sacrificial act God would demonstrate His love for each one of us, forgive each one of us, and reconcile each one of us to Himself. All we have to do is believe it! Jesus put it like this:
God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16)
Contrast this with the jihad concept of man dying for God, as seen on the daily news! Which makes most sense? Which is most effective? Which offers most hope? Which shows most love?
Now for another mystery: Jesus offers believers eternal life i.e. abundant life now, and life after physical death. He demonstrated that this was possible by His resurrection. That brings us to a very interesting point.
Another Mystery of Jesus: the Resurrection. Does Jesus Live Today?
As mentioned, according to the New Testament, Jesus demonstrated amazing powers which backed-up His mysterious claims. Perhaps the most convincing verification of His claims is His resurrection, which He had predicted.
Evidence of the resurrection of Jesus is found in the numerous eyewitness accounts recorded in the New Testament. It is recorded here that Jesus appeared 12 times to different group sizes ranging from just one person to 500 people, link. These accounts go back to within just a few tens of years after the crucifixion, and probably before 70 AD. So compared to the sources for Greco-Roman history, the Gospels stand head and shoulders above what Greco-Roman historians have to work with, which are usually hundreds of years after the events they record and usually involve very few eyewitnesses, link.
For the many who prefer to discount the biblical account of the resurrection, then, yes, there is little non-biblical evidence, link. Perhaps the most notable evidence here comes from the Jewish priest and historian Josephus (c37-101 AD). It is claimed that he wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, link.
If Jesus is Resurrected, where is He now?
Here’s another mystery. Jesus Himself said that (after His resurrection) He would go somewhere where His disciples could not go at that time (Jn 13.36). The apostle Paul said that, at His resurrection, Jesus “became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15.45) and that Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things” (Eph 4.10). The work on the cross finished, Jesus is now symbolically seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places (Eph 1.10). Yet it is recorded that He appeared at will in a physical, recognizable form after the resurrection. It is such a resurrected, immortal, spiritual body that is promised to all believers in Christ.
Modern-day Evidence of the Resurrection
Despite the lack of non-biblical, historical evidence for the resurrection, there remains a very convincing verification of the resurrection. The living Christ changes people’s lives today!. Watch the videos to see how Jesus changes lives and heals people today:
For many more real-world examples of how Jesus changes lives, see testimonies. This modern-day evidence surely eclipses even the scholarly work (above) showing that Jesus was not a myth?
Who Hears the Gospel, and Who Cares Anyway?
Surprisingly, there are still huge segments of the world’s population that have never heard the name of Jesus, let alone a clear presentation of His gospel message of reconciliation to God as in John’s Gospel chapter 3. Most of these people live in the 10/40 window, link. In terms of numbers, some 42% of the world’s population are still unreached by the gospel, link. In 2016 that was about 3 billion unreached people, link.
Of the 4.4 billion (2016) who might have heard the gospel, perhaps 2.2 billion claim some adherence to Christ, link, link, link. Not all of these will be true followers of Jesus since there are many cults; not all will be truly “born again” in the gospel sense. But let’s be generous and assume some 2.2 billion express some belief in Jesus and don’t outwardly reject Him. This implies that, on a global average, out of every two people who hear the gospel, one walks away! One deliberately rejects Christ’s offer of reconciliation to God. Is that your experience?
Do we really need to Trust in Jesus?
Is it Essential to Follow Him? Is it Urgent?
Yes, it is essential, and it is urgent. Jesus said so. The Bible is clear on this. It is essential to take Jesus and the word of God seriously. Jesus said in John chapter 3:
I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again … no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit … I tell you that you must all be born again … those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God’s only Son
Jesus said that when we are confronted with the gospel message of reconciliation with God, then its important not to walk away. He said its important to be “in the Kingdom of God”. But what about the billions in the world who die never having heard the gospel? The Bible makes it clear that after death there is a judgement. Men are judged on what they have done with the revelation they have received about Jesus (see below). But God is loving and just. It seems that God only judges those who have heard the gospel and deliberately rejected it, because in doing so they have rejected Jesus who sacrificed Himself for them. Read John chapter 3 verses 18-20.
Time is Running Out. Few would deny that there is increasing chaos and instability in the world. It seems things are coming to a climax. The Bible calls it “the end of the age” and urges men to take Jesus seriously. Using the symbol of an open (but soon closing) door into the Kingdom, Jesus said:
Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from’ (Luke 13.24-25, emphasis added)
His point was that there will be a time when men will seek to be in the Kingdom, but the door will be shut.
What Happens if we are not in the Kingdom of God?
As mentioned, we have a free choice when confronted with the good news about Jesus – reconciliation to God through His work on the cross). We can decide to follow Him, or not. If we reject the good news we can carry on through life as normal. We can ignore God and the Bible. But what happens at our death? Note that Jesus stresses the importance of being “born again” and “being in the Kingdom of God”. He said that if we believe in Him (follow Him) we won’t “perish” and be “judged”. What was He referring to?
The one true God as revealed by the perfect man, Jesus Christ, is holy and loving and just. We all long for justice in life, but often don’t see it. Man often seems to avoid justice. So God sees that justice is done after death. And for those who have lived an unjust and sinful life and have never been reconciled to God there is a time of reckoning:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it … and I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And … they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds … and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20.11-15)
What Happens when we Trust Our Lives to Jesus?
Let Jesus change your life too. Try not to analyse a divine mystery with a human, unregenerate mind. What is first required is a step of faith in the reconciling work of Christ on the cross. A step of faith to trust in the living Jesus. Today He offers each of us reconciliation to God. There are no strings, it’s free. All we have to do is to acknowledge our imperfections AND accept His offer of a new life with Him. And when we do this we will be set free like a bird at sunset! Jesus said that when we do this some of the mystery fades and revelation of truth grows. He said:
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8.32).
Some things that will happen to you after this step of faith:
- Your new life will be like being ‘born again’ – this time its a spiritual birth (John 3.3)
- Your name will be written in heaven, in Jesus’ Book of Life (Luke 10.20)
- You will not come under that “great white throne” judgement for passed wrongs: you have passed from death into life (Jn 5.24)
- You will start a relationship with the one true God – the God of the Bible, the God of Israel, the Creator of all things (Romans 8.15)
- You will receive the ‘Spirit of Truth’ (God’s Spirit) to help you live your new life and to teach you truth. God’s word is truth – so pick up a Bible and start to read Jesus’ words in John chapter 3
- You need not fear death since you will live on after death, to be forever with Jesus and with God your heavenly Father
- You will also start to understand world events and you need not fear what is happening to the world. You can claim that special peace in your life that only Jesus gives
Did you know that Jesus is returning to Earth very soon to rule as King from Jerusalem, link?
An amazing thought. What will He say to YOU?