The Historical Jesus
“Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'” – Matthew 16:16
Hey readers! Thank-you for staying along for the ride as I strive to be more like Christ.
We’ve talked about how the New Testament documents are reliable and accurate historical documents. They testify of Jesus the Christ. Some would like to believe that Jesus is just a made-up character. But, He is an historical figure. The New Testament demonstrates that, and many other sources stand in agreement.
Writings from early church fathers, like Polycarp – a Christian who lived around A.D. 69-155, testify that Jesus was a real person in history. Polycarp wrote a letter, The Epistle to the Philippians, in which he mentioned Jesus and detailed how Jesus suffered and died. There were other early Christians and eyewitnesses who documented the life of Jesus.
Not only do we have Christian testimony to the life and events surrounding Jesus, there is testimony from Jews – who did not believe in Jesus – that affirm Jesus in history. The books of Jewish law traditions arranged and studied by rabbis, known as the Mishnah and Talmud make mention of Jesus.
Apparently, the earlier rabbis thought Jesus was a magician and led people astray. In another Jewish writing, the Sanhedrin Tractate, it is written: “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy'” (Butt and Lyons, 10-11).
Josephus, a Jewish historian and Pharisee, also testifies to Jesus’ historicity. Josephus wrote the Antiquities of the Jews, in which he stated: “And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He led away many Jews, and also Greeks. This man was the Christ.”¹
And, finally, we have testimony of hostile witnesses to the historical Jesus. Hostile witnesses are those who give testimony in a negative way. Tacitus, an upper class Roman, who wrote a history of Rome entitled Annals, is one such witness.
In describing the Great Fire of Rome that happened in A.D. 64, Tacitus wrote: “Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”¹ There are other hostile witnesses of Christ, like Suetonius who wrote around A.D. 120, and Pliny the Younger who executed Christians simply for professing Christ.
There is plenty of evidence that attests to the historical Jesus. He’s not a fairytale character of storybooks. He really lived, performed miracles, and died on the cross of Calvary. Both people who loved and hated Him testify to that.
Thankfully He didn’t stay dead. He rose to newness of life and we can, too if we will obey Him. Jesus was no magician, He was and is the Son of God. Won’t you believe in Him today, won’t you confess His sweet name, repent of your sins, and be baptized?
I’m glad for the testimony of Jesus from all types of sources. Whether you love Him or hate Him, there’s no denying that Jesus is an historical figure.
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¹ Butt, Kyle and Eric Lyons (2006), Behold! The Lamb of God. pp. 5-18.