Who Do You Say He Is?
Easter and Christmas are the two times a year that we are more inclined to think about Jesus. With Easter drawing near I would like to provide some thoughts and commentary on the historical and Biblical Jesus. In the next few weeks I also plan to write about Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
There are few names in history that provoke more discussion, disagreement and controversy.
There is little information outside the Bible about Jesus.His life here on earth was relatively short, 33 years and he never traveled more than 200 miles from his home.
Keep in mind that it would be amazing if there was an ancient record of Jesus outside of the Bible. Jesus lived over 2000 years ago. He is an ANCIENT figure from history, and there are some things that we need to remember about historical figures and events from this period of time:
1. There are amazingly few manuscripts of ANY text, about anyone written during Jesus’ time
2. Historians of this period wrote amazingly little about religious figures anyway
3. Jesus was active for an amazingly short period of time (just three years)
4. Jesus ministered in an amazingly remote corner of the Roman Empire **
There are a number of ancient classical accounts of Jesus from pagan Greek sources. These accounts are generally hostile to Christianity and try to explain away the miraculous nature of Jesus and the events that surrounded his life.
Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus and he is so ancient that his writings don’t even exist anymore. But Julius Africanus, writing around 221AD does quote Thallus who had previously tried to explain away the darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion:
“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. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
There are some things we can conclude from this account: Jesus lived, he was crucified, and there was an earthquake and darkness at the point of his crucifixion.
Pliny the Younger (61-113AD)
Early Christians are also described in secular history. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan, describes the lifestyles of early Christians:
“They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to 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.”
This EARLY description of the first Christians documents several facts: the first Christians believed that Jesus was GOD, the first Christians upheld a high moral code, and these early followers met regularly to worship Jesus.
Cornelius Tacitus was known for his analysis and examination of historical documents and is among the most trusted of ancient historians. He was a senator under Emperor Vespasian and was also proconsul of Asia. In his “Annals’ of 116AD, he describes Emperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome and Nero’s claim that the Christians were to blame:
“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. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only 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 center and become popular.”
In this account, Tacitus confirms for us that Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in Christ.
Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD)
Sometime after 70AD, a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compared the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. The fact that Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. As a matter of fact, Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King”:
“What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”
From this account, we can add to our understanding of Jesus. We can conclude that Jesus was a wise and influential man who died for his beliefs. We can also conclude that his followers adopted these beliefs and lived lives that reflected them to the world in which they lived. *
In doing the research for this post I found some interesting statistics:
The name Jesus is searched for on the internet 500,000 times a day 16,000,000 times a month.
When I typed in “Jesus” I received 184,000,000 results in .36 seconds.
I could not come up with a definitive answer as to how many books have been written about Jesus. It was clear from the information available however that even that simple question inspires a great amount of interest, controversy, and disagreement.
But what about the Biblical record? What did Jesus contemporaries have to say about Jesus?
Herod tried to kill him because he threatened his kingdom
After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
Messenger of the Lord (to Joseph): Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for. He is planning to search for the child and kill Him. But you will be safe in Egypt.
The Pharisees the religious elite of the day accused Jesus
Matthew 12:10 Accused of being a lawbreaker
“He noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)”
Mark 3:22-30 Accused of being demon possessed
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He has Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casts he out devils.
The people answered and said, You have a devil: who goes about to kill you?
Luke 7:34 Accused of being a drunkard and a glutton
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Mark 6:3 Accused of being illegitimate
Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son?
Mark 3:21 Accused of being insane
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
What did the people say about Jesus?
To the woman at the well he knew everything about her, but did not condemn her
To the woman caught in adultery he was her rescuer
To the blind man, he was healer
To Peter he was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God
Matthew 15:23 ;Luke 9:38
To the parents with a demon possessed child he was the deliverer
To the thief on the cross he was Savior
To Pilate he was innocent
As we have looked at all of these statements about Jesus I want to finish up with a quote by C.S. Lewis
“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 a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
Jesus could only have been one of four things: a legend, a liar, a lunatic–or Lord and God. **
For each of us there are questions we must ask…
Who do you say Jesus is?
What are you going to do with Jesus?
It is a choice we must all make.
In light of the following verse, is rejecting or ignoring him a chance we really want to take?
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
* Information provided by pleaseconvinceus.com
** C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity