“And if Christ be not raised,” the Apostle Paul said, “your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” He continues, “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
This exhortation can be found in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. The Apostle Paul here is describing the importance of Christ’s resurrection to the Christian faith.
Without it, there is no Christian faith.
Throughout the years, many have made it their mission in life to spread the message that in fact, Jesus did not rise from the dead.
Some have made it their mission to show that Jesus never actually died in the first place!
Still others have come on the scene, claiming that Christ never existed at all! He’s simply a myth or a legend–a figment of our imagination.
A couple of weeks ago in the Sunday morning worship service at our home church, my pastor made a true and interesting comment. He said, “I’m believing and trusting in Someone I have never seen, or touched. I’ve felt Him, but I have not seen Him.”
This is certainly a true statement, but this same statement can be made about any historical figure. Obviously, we don’t place saving faith in George Washington, but our historical records lend quite a bit of credence to my faith that he existed.
I didn’t see Christopher Columbus stumble upon the Americas–but I believe, because of the vast historical documentation, that he did.
My Pastor’s statement is correct– he is placing his faith and trust in Someone he has never seen. But not someone that no one has ever seen!
If the Bible is true, and it is, Jesus Christ was a historical figure who existed within the fabric of time-space. He was a real person, with a real job to do.
There are some elements of His life that are different than yours and mine–sure! Namely, that He was God in the flesh!
But much like we learn from the history of other great individuals and make a logical decision about whether or not they existed and did what they said they did, we can do the same for Christ.
It’s important to understand the difference between belief that and belief in, however. Even Satan believes that Jesus existed (and still does). But knowing that He existed from a historical perspective can certainly lead us closer to belief in Jesus as Savior–the only belief that will make God’s free gift of salvation effectual in your life.
With that in mind, let’s examine four important truths about this man, Jesus Christ, to see if the Bible’s claim about who He is holds water.
1. Jesus, the Man
Crucial to understanding anything about Jesus is the understanding that He was a man. A man much like you and me!
The Bible says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
He was a man, yet He did not sin. We often use the term “God-man.” Though this is somewhat of a “pastorism,” it is also true! We say that God was 100% God and 100% man, because he had to be.
A proper understanding of original sin will help to shed light on why this must be. Romans says in verses 12-15, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.”
This is the fundamental difference between Christianity and every other religion under the sun. “Man” messed up, so “man” had to pay. Man can’t pay. So God, in His infinite grace and mercy, BECAME a man, lived a sinless life, and bore the weight of God’s wrath and judgment that in Him and through Him, we could be reconciled to God.
Here is the implication: In order for a man to do physical things in the physical universe, he must, by definition, exist in it. That means He had to be a historical person in order for what we believe to be true.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus’ “extraordinary” claims were always empirical in nature. He did not claim that He would rise from the dead spiritually, but bodily.
He did not claim to turn water into the appearance of wine, but actual wine. He did not raise Lazarus spiritually, but bodily, for everyone to see–He even waited four days when He knew the most people would be there.
There were no tricks. There was no magic. There were no optical illusions. Real water became real wine. Two real loaves of bread became thousands of real loaves of bread.
These are claims that could have been easily debunked.
Bart Ehrman is a prominent atheist scholar and professor. In his book Did Jesus Exist?,
Ehrman claims, “Despite the enormous range of opinion, there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.”
Ehrman goes on to say, “The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus.”
Here’s what all of this means: If you disagree with the miraculous nature of Jesus’ claims, that is one thing. But to do so on the basis that Jesus was not a historical person, is factually inaccurate and quite ludicrous.
Jesus was indeed a real man. On this point, there is really no debate to be had. And if He really did walk this earth, then we at least have a basis upon which to establish the rest of our claims.
2. Jesus, the Messiah
Now that we know for a fact that Jesus was a real man, we must investigate the His personhood. In a Jewish context, Jesus claimed to be the “Messiah” that would redeem and rule over their nation.
It’s important that OT Scripture itself be able to support the NT claims about the historical Jesus, since He claimed to be one with the God of the OT.
If you know your Bible at all, the reason why the Jews reject that Christ is their God is because the person of Jesus is not quite who they were expecting. Now–it is Who they were told to expect, but as is often the case in our own lives, sometimes our perception does not match reality.
The Jewish nation expected their king to arrive in glory, not humility. In power, not meekness. In rule, not submission.
But the Jesus who claimed to be the God of all glory was the humblest, meekest, and must submissive man to walk the face of the earth.
Not only was He submissive to the Father’s will, but He was also a servant. One day He will certainly return with “power and great glory,” but the Jews unbelief necessitated that Jesus come first in submission and in sacrifice, so that all the world might have an opportunity to be saved and reconciled to God.
Let’s look at two extremely well-known OT descriptions of this “Messiah,” and see if Jesus of Nazareth fits the bill:
#1. Isaiah 7:14:
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
In this verse of Scripture, we have (1) the condition in which this Messiah should be brought into the world and (2) the name that He was to be given.
Now, of course, one could easily just say that Mary and Joseph made all of this up and simply named Him in accordance with the Scriptures.
But the jig would be up if Jesus Himself did not live up to the moral expectations set in place by the next verse: “Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”
We know, of course, from the life of Jesus that He fit this description perfectly. In fact, Pontious Pilate could “find no fault in Him.” He was crucified for blasphemy, which is of course, a sin. But the claim here is subjective. If Jesus is God, and was God in the flesh here on earth, then His claim to be God is not blasphemous, and therefore, not sin.
Based on evidence from the life of Jesus and what this OT expectation of the Messiah seems to require, there is no problem accepting that Jesus is God.
#2. Isaiah 53:
This is the famous “suffering servant” passage. The Jews have made an arbitrary claim that this Scripture is in reference to Israel. But this is extremely arbitrary. This is nothing in this passage to suggest corporate language. It’s a Person. A very specific Person. The Messiah.
Let’s look at a few verses within this passage which I will provide some short commentary on.
Verse 2: “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
This verse alone suggests that the Messiah will not come to rule and reign at the time suggested. He will be tender, and He will not be beautiful or desirable. Indeed–His appearance was not comely. He was not royal or majestic. He didn’t even have a place to sleep at night.
Verse 3: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Everybody hated Jesus. Even those who were close to Him eventually turned their backs. The disciples alone remained faithful to the end, but even then, their faith wavered.
Verses 5 and 7: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”
Jesus Christ died and accomplished the divine decree set forth in His life by God the Father. He claimed that any and all could have eternal life if they would just trust in Him. He had the power to call 10,000 angels, but kept His mouth closed. He was, indeed, brought as a lamb to the slaughter.
We could continue, but I think this makes my point. This passage of Scripture was written around 700 years before the arrival of Christ on the scene, and yet describes His life and sacrifice to the letter. The Bible is a powerful, prophetic book full of God’s promises to mankind.
Christ, the Messiah, was the fulfillment to God’s ultimate promise: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).
#3. The Message of Jesus
Jesus was a wildly controversial person, but not for reasons many think–especially those with a warped concept of the God of the Bible.
The gods of all the world’s religions cause controversy because of what they demand. Jesus caused controversy because of what He did–out of love for mankind.
In order for a worldview to make sense, it must be coherent. That is to say that it must cohesively explain all aspects of our existence. Jesus spoke to the existential struggles we all identify with.
He spoke to the hurting. He spoke to the widows. He spoke to the sinful desires we all experience. He spoke about the paradise we all, in our heart of hearts, long to live in.
I don’t want to belabor or overcomplicate this point, because it’s actually an easy one to grasp:
In order for Jesus to be who He said He was, a natural requirement would be that He address and acknowledge the world for the way it actually is.
In his book, The Story of Reality, Greg Koukl observes, “Jesus’ humanity is also easy to glamorize, especially in film, but reality is a different matter. Though conceived by a miracle, Jesus still entered the world through labor and blood and pain, like all children. He grew as we all do—through joy and sadness, compassion and anger, rest and weariness, delight and suffering, friendship and betrayal.”
Jesus identified with us. The Bible says in Hebrews 4:15, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
God is not a cosmic dictator, sitting on high watching us like pawns in a game of chess. Humanity is valuable. As Dr. John Lennox observes (paraphrased), “If you want an ultimate reason for why a human life is valuable, here it is: ‘God became one.'”
Jesus was a man–a real man. He also fits the description to a tee of the promised Messiah the Jews expected. And when He arrived, we found out that He was much like us. He experienced life the way we all do, with one exception: He was “yet without sin.”
It is this extremely important distinction that allows for the satisfaction of God’s divine judgment to be carried out on the shoulders of Jesus instead of you and I. Jesus was a man, yes. But He was also God. And on the day God sacrificed Himself, you and I, upon our acceptance of His gift, were made free.
#4. The Mission of Jesus
Finally, we must shed some light on the mission. If Jesus is who He said He was, then He must have carried out the divine act that He said He did, and it must have meant what He said it would.
The act I’m referring to is, of course, His death, burial and resurrection. The central point in history. The day the veil was torn and we were given direct access to the Most High, Holy God of Heaven.
Here is what the Apostle Paul had to say about it: “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
I am going to borrow from something I have written elsewhere in order to make this point:
Paul was not a “blind faith” preacher. In modern-day terms we could say, “Pictures–or didn’t happen!” Paul always came armed to the discussion with evidence. In fact, the very creed found in 1 Corinthians 15 has been found to have originated to within 5 years of the cross itself, according to many Bible and historical scholars.
Those who say that the death and resurrection of Jesus was simply a myth or a legend have no ground to stand on. There was simply not enough time for a myth or legend to have developed, and the Scriptures indicate that probably somewhere between 500-600 people were eyewitnesses to the risen Lord Jesus.
There were enough eyewitnesses to the facts that any one of them could have called shenanigans had this been a lie. The truth is that something happened at the tomb–something powerful enough to spread Christianity in a culture where just the mention of His name would get you hanged.
Something powerful enough to compel 11 of the 12 men who followed Him so closely to suffer death as a result of preaching about Him (the 12th, John, was exiled on the Island of Patmus).
There are many directions we could go here, but to keep it simple, I want to leave you with four “E’s” which provide compelling evidence for the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
I’ve adapted these from Lee Stroebel, a skeptical Journalist-turned-Apologist who does a great job defending the resurrection.
“E” #1. Execution of Jesus
Second only to the overwhelming amount of evidence for the life of Jesus is the amount of evidence for His death. In fact, according to Lee, you would get laughed out of any secular institution for claiming that Jesus Christ was not executed on a Roman cross–the historical data is that good.
But of course, like any good fact, there is always an alternative theory suggested. One of these is the swoon theory–the idea that Jesus Christ wasn’t actually dead–it just looked like He was. This particular theory has been popularized by the Quran which teaches this.
The problem is that this theory doesn’t play out with the rest of the evidence that we’ll see in a moment.
Another explanation offered was the substitutionary theory–that someone took Jesus’ place on the cross and He escaped. This too fails with the upcoming evidences.
However, to address them right now, let me offer you a pretty compelling solution.
The Romans had perfected crucifixion–and they were proud of it. There were a couple of Roman soldiers whose job it was that day to make sure of one thing, and one thing only–that Jesus Christ was DEAD–beyond a doubt.
With an entire crowd of onlookers, is it not logical they would have made absolutely certain?
Furthermore, a scientific examination of what takes place during crucifixion and specifically what is described in the events of Jesus’ crucifixion reveals that without a doubt, He was dead.
“E” #2. Early Accounts that Jesus Rose from the Dead
So now that we understand the historical and scientific data around the death of Jesus, what about the things that supposedly happened after His resurrection?
We have something with Jesus that we just don’t have with many characters from antiquity–data.
There is historical data from within just a few months of this event that work to rule it out as legend. In fact, we can trace certain writings (ex., I Corinthians 15 creed) back to within 5 years of the cross itself!
In those days, studies show that it took about two generations for legend to develop. As mentioned earlier, there was simply not enough time between the events and the recounting of them for it to be myth or legend–someone, anyone, could have debunked it.
Furthermore, the earliest writings about Jesus are (generously) before 70 A.D., but usually thought to be before 50 A.D and boast 5600 manuscript copies. The next closest is Homer’s “Iliad” at 500 years between original and copies with only 643 manuscript copies found. What about Aristotle? We all agree he existed. The earliest copy of his original writings is 1400 years after and there are only 49 copies.
The facts are in–The New Testament boasts the best and earliest historical data for any figure of antiquity.
“E” #3. Empty Tomb
Thirdly, we see evidence that the tomb of Jesus was empty. I am going to attempt to keep this short, but there are multiple lines of evidence that demonstrate an empty tomb.
We’ll look at what I feel are the two most compelling, and I’ll give you a third “bonus” to do some further study on that is actually quite compelling.
First, the admission of the Jews. It is interesting to me that the first “plight” to discredit the resurrection by the Jews failed in its attempt to do because the very act implicated emptiness of the tomb! Matthew 28 records the Jews conspiring to claim that the body was stolen by the disciples, but by making that claim, implicitly confirmed that the tomb was empty!
Secondly, the finding of the empty tomb. It is interesting that the NT clearly records women as the first discover the absence of Jesus from the tomb. But, this is highly unlikely since, in that day, the testimony of a woman was basically considered meaningless. If this were a made-up tale, this detail, as well as many other embarrassing details, would have almost certainly be left out of the story (or more “palatable” versions written).
By way of a bonus, do some personal study on the Shroud of Turin. While this is a widely researched topic, its almost “too real and shocking to be true” aura often gets it disqualified from the standard lines of evidence. But I have heard some very compelling cases from some very trustworthy sources that the Shroud of Turin may very well be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. In your research, you will stumble across an almost supernatural piece of evidence on the cloth that suggests the resurrection (at least, no other good explanation has been offered and the phenomenon cannot, so far, be duplicated). Very fascinating.
“E” #4. Eyewitnesses
Lastly, and as I briefly mentioned above, there was a multitude of eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus.
In fact, the numbers show that around 515 individuals saw the risen Christ–around 500 of these at one time! Of course, we know that included in those numbers are His disciples who were so convinced of His resurrection that they gave their lives willingly to protect its truth.
There are some interesting refutations to these claims as well. They can be summed up as follows:
- They were hallucinating.
- They were lying.
- They were crazy.
Hallucinations? This is not a satisfactory explanation. Hallucinations are not something experienced as a group. Even if a case could be made for 11 or 12 people hallucinating at the same time, certainly one could not be made for 500 in different geographical locations. Scientifically and medically speaking, this theory is bankrupt.
Lies? The Apostle’s certainly could have made the whole thing up. But considering the embarrassing details mentioned earlier, the multitude of eyewitnesses mentioned earlier, the lack of time for legend to develop, their willing death to protect the truth of Christ’s resurrection, etc., this seems highly implausible.
Nutzo? Were they just crazy? Well again, I’m not sure you could prove this either way. But, I think if they were, you’d have to loop in a BUNCH of very smart and well-respected folks both of antiquity and of today who believe with good reason that Christ was raised. Furthermore, ever notice how the same crowd who says Jesus could NOT have risen from the dead also believes that life DID arise from non-life 13.8 billion years ago? Interesting. And, don’t anyone tell that the disciples’ death was anything close to that of an Islamic Jihadist martyr–they die for something they believe is true and are mistaken. The disciples died for what they knew was true and saw with their own eyes. I contend that 11 people would not give their lives for what they knew was a lie.
There is really just no good reason to doubt what the eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus claimed. As crazy as it may sound to you if you are a skeptic, you must admit that considering the facts that BOTH SIDES agree on, there is really only one logical explanation–“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4).
Jesus Christ–the most influential Person in the history of the world–was a real, living, breathing, man. Not only was He a man, but He was the God-man–the promised Messiah the Jews should have expected.
His message? “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
His mission? “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
As the songwriter says, “Oh, what love! Oh, what love!”
Recommended Further Reading:
- The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel
- In Defense of Jesus: Investigating Attacks on the Identity of Christ by Lee Strobel
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!