Is there evidence for Jesus’ existence outside the Bible?
Yes, there are other writings (written by non-Christians) that refer to Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, his alleged miracles, his death and his alleged resurrection.
There are a number of ancient documents from Rome and regions within the Roman Empire that make reference to the real historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth:
Caius Suetonius Tranquillus (Roman historian who lived during the reign of Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, and was secretary to Hadrian). In Claudius 25.4, a section in “The Twelve Caesars”, Suetonius referred to Jewish Christians who followed “Chrestus [i.e. Christ] their leader” and who, in AD 49, were expelled from Rome (this is also mentioned in Acts 18:2).
Cornelius Tacitus (Roman historian who lived from AD 55 to AD 120, Governor of Asia/Turkey around AD 112, famous for his writings, Annals and Histories, which, together, span the period from the death of Caesar Augustus in AD 14 to the death of Domitian in AD 96). Tacitus referred to Christians as followers of “Christus, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was put to death as a criminal by the procurator [governor] Pontius Pilate” (Annals 15.44). Tacitus confirms many historical details referred to in the Gospels.
Pliny the Younger (Roman historian, who also served some time as a governor of the Roman provinces of Pontus and Bithynia during the reign of Emperor Trajan). In his Epistles 10.96–97, Pliny referred to Christians who refused to worship Trajan and also refused to curse their leader “Christ”. He also refers to how Christians worshipped Christ as ‘a god’.
Flavius Josephus (Jewish historian who lived from AD 37 to AD 97, emigrated to Rome after AD 70, and served as historian to Emperor Vespasian). In his Antiquities 20.9.1, he refers to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”. In Antiquities 18.3.3, Josephus makes reference to Jesus, his miraculous works, his identity as the Messiah and his alleged resurrection.
Lucian of Samosata (a Greek satirist living in the Roman Empire and former government official in Alexandria, Egypt, during the reign of Hadrian). Lucian referred indirectly to Jesus in The Passing of Peregrinus, but the reference to Jesus of Nazareth as a real person is clear: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day… who… was crucified… from the moment they are converted, [they] deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws…”1
Thallus (a historian, who wrote even earlier than when the Gospels were written and recorded a history of the eastern Mediterranean from the Trojan Wars until his own day). Apparently, his work is lost, apart from a few fragments, but his work is referred to by Sextus Julius Africanus (historian of third century AD, born in Libya but emigrated to Jerusalem—he wrote the five-volume History of the World in about AD 220). Africanus takes issue with Thallus over the uncanny darkness observed by all at the time of the execution of Christ. Thallus had tried to explain the darkness as an eclipse of the sun—Africanus argued against him, saying it was impossible at full moon (Passover) for there to be an eclipse of the moon because, at that time, the moon is situated opposite the sun.
Roman Emperor Trajan responded to Pliny (Letters 10.97) and discussed how Christians (i.e. followers of Christ) should be treated as a result of their refusal to worship Caesar.
Roman Emperor Hadrian, like Trajan before him, discussed the way to deal with Christians (i.e. followers of Christ) who refused to worship Caesar (Hadrian’s letter to Minucius Fundanus appears in the writings of the Church Father, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 10).
Mara bar Sarapion (a Syrian philosopher). In a letter to his son, he made reference to the Jews and the execution of their “wise King” (Syriac Manuscript Additional 14.658).
Jewish Talmud (a collection of Jewish spoken traditions and notes about them by Rabbis). In a section of the Babylonian Talmud known as “Sanhedrin 43a”, there is a quote from the Jewish Talmud which acknowledges that a real person called Jesus was hanged on the eve of Passover.
While this list contains some very important information about Jesus, it’s certainly not a huge amount of information. But the information that is available is quite significant and when summarised, gives us enough information to form a reasonably broad outline of Jesus’ life:
Jesus existed in Israel.
Jesus taught in Judea.
Jesus was called ‘Christ’.
Jesus’ followers were called ‘Christians’.
Jesus’ followers worshipped him as a deity.
Jesus’ followers were devoted to him and refused to worship Caesar.
Jesus had a brother called James.
Jesus was known to be wise.
Jesus was known as the Jews’ King.
Jesus was called ‘Messiah’.
There were superstitious miracles or magic about Jesus.
Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
Jesus’ tomb was empty.
Jesus’ followers claim that he rose again.
“Overall, at least seventeen non-Christian writings record more than fifty details concerning the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus…”2
1 Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, vol. 4, The Works of Lucian of Samosata, trans. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1905), 82–83. 2 Gary R. Habermas, “Why I believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable”, in Why I am a Christian, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 164.
(Question 2 is only available in the Leader’s Guide.)
Why didn’t ancient historians record more about the life of Jesus if he is so important?
There are many possible reasons why there are not more ancient references to Jesus of Nazareth.
Not many documents from the ancient Greeks and Romans survived. There does not appear to be much ancient documentation (AD 30s to 60s) available on any subject. Philo, the Alexandria-based Jewish philosopher (20 BC to AD 50), was a prolific writer but his interest was in exploring how Jewish religion influenced Greek culture/philosophy—so he would have had no specific interest in a controversial countryside preacher called Jesus. Other than Philo, from the AD 30s (Jesus’ lifetime) there are only fragments from the inexperienced historian Paterculus; from the AD 40s, some fables of one writer, Phaedrus; from AD 50s and 60s, works remain from only a few writers including Seneca (a Roman governor/politician).
Jesus didn’t register on the Roman ‘Richter scale’. John P Meier, a modern-day ‘Jesus scholar’, reminds us that we need to see Jesus in perspective. While Jesus had a significant impact in Galilee and Jerusalem, on the big scale of things, Jesus was never thought of as being significant to the Roman authorities. Meier says: “Jesus was a marginal Jew leading a marginal movement in a marginal province of a vast Roman Empire.”1 This marginalism relates not only to Jesus, but to others in Israel at that time. For instance, even Pontius Pilate is not mentioned in any Roman histories, except when Tacitus refers to him in connection with Jesus. In fact, there is nothing mentioned about any Roman governor of Judea.2
There were many people claiming to be the Messiah in Jesus’ time and many think that Jesus was only one voice among them—so he was not singled out for special attention. Even the miraculous nature of Jesus’ ministry was labelled as ‘superstition’ or ‘magic’ and not believed to be authentic (Matthew 12:24).
Religion did not figure prominently in ancient Greek and Roman histories. The Romans were more interested in the politics of the empire (cf. remarks made by Festus regarding Paul (Acts 25:19)) and this is shown in Greek and Roman histories.
Tactical omission. Some historians showed their disapproval of those with whom they did not agree by completely ignoring them. This could also explain why Jesus is not mentioned more often in non-Christian sources.
1 John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1, Origins of the Problem and the Person (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 56. 2 Frederick F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 27.
Why should we think that the four Gospels give us accurate information about the real Jesus?
Christians take the four Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament) as their primary and sufficient source for their belief that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed and was the Messiah. Christians believe the Gospels provide a reliable history of Jesus because:
They were written by men determined to record the truth
The information in them does not conflict with what we know of history at that time.
Discussion: There are seven points that support the truthfulness of the Gospel writers:
They wrote honestly. That is, they were committed to reporting the facts (Luke 1:1–4). Matthew and John were ‘direct’ eyewitnesses of all that happened, having been with Jesus from the beginning (Matthew 10:1–4; Luke 6:12–16; Acts 1:12–13, 21–22). Mark and Luke were not apostles but were ‘indirect’ witnesses: Luke was a ‘no-nonsense’ historian who went to great efforts to collect eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:1–4) and was a travelling companion of the apostle Paul; and Mark was the apostle Peter’s personal writing assistant.1 As witnesses, they were certainly ‘in the know’. Critics have supposed that, because the Gospel writers had a theological agenda (i.e. to favourably present Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah), their histories cannot be trusted. But, in response, three things must be said:a. Having a theological agenda probably made them even more careful and precise in their reporting.They would not want anyone to criticise their historical reports and therefore question their theology/research.b. The love and respect they had for Jesus was so deep they recorded nothing but the truth about him.c. People with ideological agendas can still write the truth—as did the Jews who recorded the history of the holocaust. Of course, they were passionate (perhaps even fanatical) about their cause but that does not mean they weren’t accurate. Just because someone is French and is passionate about French history does not mean they cannot write an accurate history of France! In fact, someone who is passionate about French history is likely to be very exact in their presentation.
They wrote with integrity. They included the Jesus story ‘warts and all’. There are things in their Gospels that, had the authors been even slightly biased, they might well have left out. For example, embarrassing things (like Peter’s denial (Mark 14:66–72), or like James and John’s crass jostling for power and position in the coming kingdom (Mark 10:37–45), or like the disciples falling asleep during their watch in the crucial hours of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32–42)), difficult things (like Jesus saying he did not know the day or the hour of his return (Mark 13:32), or his cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)), or demanding things (like “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) or “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children… such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26)).
They wrote freely and independently. None of them was forced into producing a contrived or concocted story. That’s why there are differences between all four Gospels. Scholars report a 10% to 40% variable range of material between the Gospels. But those differences are important and we should be glad for them. They show the writers were not being controlled to produce a piece of religious propaganda. The writers were free to present their own perspectives. Despite the variations between the Gospels, there are no contradictions.
They wrote plainly. The record they present is clear and plain. There is no attempt to hide anything to avoid criticism or objection. The Gospel records were open to the most intense scrutiny—they were able to be read by the eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus (friends and enemies) who were still alive when the Gospels were written (Acts 2:22). Had the Gospel records contained false information, the eyewitnesses would have no doubt exposed any errors.
They wrote bravely. They wrote knowing they may well pay the ultimate price for their efforts. As it turns out, 11 of the 12 New Testament apostles were killed because of their religious beliefs. The question is: Would such men die for what they knew to be a story full of lies?
They wrote accurately. Luke’s writings (Luke and Acts) have proved to be extremely accurate. Luke mentions the names of many people, 32 countries, 54 cities, nine islands2 and, so far, archaeologists and historians have found no discrepancies between what Luke says and actual history. Also, archaeologists have been finding proof of places in John’s Gospel including the pavement stone (John 19:13), the existence of the pools of Bethesda (John 5:2) and Siloam (John 9:7), and Jacob’s well (John 4:6). Recent archaeological and historical discoveries have only confirmed the truthfulness and reliability of the Gospels. Serious scholars are also prepared to say that, to date, neither archaeology nor history has disproved anything in the Gospels and Acts. Of course, geo-historical accuracy does not prove Jesus was who he claimed to be but it certainly adds to the reliability and credibility of the Gospels as a whole—including the truthfulness of their message. So archaeology ‘tips the scales’ and helps us trust the Gospel record that says Jesus actually claimed to be the Messiah.
They wrote reasonably quickly. While critics of Christianity have always insisted the Gospels were written a long time after Jesus lived—perhaps even 100 years or more after he lived—there is very good reason to believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke were all written by AD 61 at the latest (and many scholars think John’s Gospel could have been written anywhere between AD 55 and AD 95). Here’s the basis of the argument:a. The Book of Acts had to be written before AD 70 because it doesn’t record the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70). Something so momentous as the destruction of Jerusalem could not have been missed.b. The Book of Acts had to be written before the mid-60s AD because there is no mention of the Jewish war with Rome (AD 66).c. The Book of Acts had to be written before AD 62 because, while Acts mentions a good deal about James, Peter and Paul, it doesn’t include any of their deaths (James died AD 62, Paul and Peter mid-to-late 60s).d. Luke’s Gospel had to have been written before AD 62. Luke’s Gospel, being volume 1 (see Acts 1:1–2), had to be written before the book of Acts, being volume 2. If Acts (volume 2) was written in AD 62, then the Gospel of Luke (volume 1) must have been written earlier than AD 62.e. If the Gospel of Luke was written around AD 61–62 then, in all probability, Matthew and Mark’s Gospels must have been written even earlier. Luke in particular mentions that when he wrote there were already many accounts about Jesus around (Luke 1:1–4), and it’s very likely these accounts included Matthew and Mark. This means that the Gospels were written within 30 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Even liberal critics agree on an early date for the Gospels, e.g. William Foxwell Albright (probably the most famous of all American archaeologists), Colin Hemer (contemporary English classics scholar) and John A T Robinson (former Bishop of Woolwich and leader of the 1960s’ ‘Death of God’ movement).3
An early date for the writing of the Gospel records makes the Gospels very believable because:
a. They were written close enough to the time of the actual events of Jesus to ensure accurate recall b. Eyewitnesses were still alive and would have corrected any errors in the Gospel records c. This closeness of time means there was not enough time for myth to develop and change the real history of Jesus.
1 Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15) quotes Papias, a disciple of the apostle John: “This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things done or said by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 106.3) agree. 2 Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992), 385. 3 William F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1955), 136; Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990); John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1996).
What makes Christians think the writers of the Gospels could remember the words and works of Jesus so accurately?
The Gospel writers could remember the words and works of Jesus accurately because:
Events recorded within 30 years do not require extreme recall
They lived in a world that practised the discipline of ‘oral tradition’
Jesus said and did things more than once (John 21:25)
Jesus was a memorable teacher who taught and acted in ‘unforgettable’ ways
Written records of Jesus’ life and teachings were available long before the Gospels were written
The Holy Spirit gave special help in the recall process.
The Gospel writers could remember the words and works of Jesus accurately because:
Events recorded within 30 years do not require extreme recall. A gap of 30 years, between the event and the recording of it, is close enough to guarantee a very accurate recall. As we age, we can still easily remember events and conversations going back 40 to 50 years (weddings, funerals, births, engagements, reunions, career events, friendships, school experiences, childhood holidays, etc.). Sometimes when relating such events or conversations we say, “I remember it like it was yesterday”. In fact, many reliable histories (books, TV documentaries) use this kind of ‘eyewitness recall’ as they retell the events of the past. If we have that recall, surely the writers of the Gospels had that recall over a much shorter period of time.
They lived in a world that practised the discipline of ‘oral tradition’. The Gospels were not written on the spur of the moment. They were written after years of telling the story over and over again in an ancient (pre-technical) society skilled in the discipline of ‘oral transmission’. Each time the story was told, it was subject to exacting criticism and correction—from both supporters and non-believers. ‘Oral transmission’ was the key method of preserving important information and the process was subject to serious scrutiny. The Gospel writers wrote within this exacting tradition.
Jesus said and did things more than once (John 21:25). What has been recorded would have been the substance of his repeated sermons over a three-and-a-half-year period. John tells us Jesus did so many miracles that, had they all been recorded, the world would not have been big enough to contain the books that would have had to be written (John 20:30–31; 21:25).
Jesus was a memorable teacher who taught and acted in unforgettable ways—both in what he said and the way he said it. His teaching was calculated so it would never be forgotten (Matthew 7:28–29; John 7:46). What Jesus said and did, he said and did repeatedly in the most unforgettable ways over a three-and-a-half-year period. His words and works would have been firmly fixed in the minds of the eyewitnesses.
Written records of Jesus’ life and teachings were available long before the Gospels were written. Luke specifically mentions the existence of these eyewitness records—and the fact that there were many of them, and that he used them in writing about the life of Jesus (Luke 1:1–4).
The Holy Spirit gave special help in the recall process. This ensured that they had a perfect recall of all he said and did (John 14:26).
(Questions 6–8 are only available in the Leader’s Guide.)
Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah?
Yes. Three of Jesus’ recorded claims to be the Messiah are found in Matthew 16:16–17, Matthew 26:63–64 and John 4:25–26.
Here are three places where Jesus claimed to be the Messiah:
Matthew 16:16–17. When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was: “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’” Jesus didn’t object to Peter’s answer but highly approved of it! Jesus even said that God had revealed his Messiahship to Peter and then he blessed Peter for giving the correct answer.
Matthew 26:63–64. At Jesus’ trial before he was crucified, he claimed to be the Messiah even though this would land him in big trouble: “The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.”
John 4:25–26. When a Samaritan woman told Jesus that she was expecting the coming Messiah, “Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he.’”
What does it mean that Jesus is the ‘Messiah’?
The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘anointed one’. When the Bible says that Jesus is the Messiah, it means that Jesus is God’s specially anointed servant. God had other servants who were referred to as his anointed servants (e.g. Israel, King Nebuchadnezzar, King Cyrus the Great) but God predicted the coming of one special anointed servant king, Jesus the Messiah.
Where was it predicted that the Messiah would be both God and human?
Some Old Testament predictions that the Messiah would be God and human are found in Psalm 110:1, Isaiah 9:6–7, Jeremiah 23:5–6 and Micah 5:2.
The Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would be both God and human. The following four prophecies show this:
Psalm 110:1. “A declaration of Yahweh to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’” (LEB). Psalm 110 was a psalm of David. The first person referred to in the psalm is Yahweh. The second person referred to is “my lord”, meaning David’s Lord. So who was David’s Lord? When David wrote this psalm, he was the King of Israel. No one was greater in position than King David. The only person greater than David would be the Messiah (his descendant).Yahweh says to the Messiah to sit at his right hand. We learn from 1 Kings 2:19–20 that someone who sits at a king’s right hand is given equal authority to the king. When one king made a formal visit to another king, he would sit at his host’s right hand because they were both equals. Since the Messiah is invited to sit at Yahweh’s right hand, it follows that the Messiah must be equal with Yahweh.
Isaiah 9:6–7. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”In this prophecy, Isaiah calls the Messiah, who will rule over David’s kingdom on David’s throne, a “child”, “son” and “Mighty God”. The two names, “child” and “son”, show that the Messiah will be a human male and will begin as a baby “born” “to us”. Isaiah uses the phrase “Mighty God” in the very next chapter (Isaiah 10:21) of Yahweh (God)—so it’s clear that the Messiah will be none other than the “Mighty God”!
Jeremiah 23:5–6. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.’” Jeremiah teaches that the LORD (Yahweh) will raise up for David a king. This refers to the Davidic king, the Messiah, who would be descended from David (see also Jeremiah 33:15)—this means the Messiah is a man.The name of the Messiah is revealed in this prophecy. The Messiah will be called, “The LORD [Yahweh] Our Righteous Savior”. Both “Yahweh” and “Righteous Savior” express the Messiah’s nature and character. Since God calls the Messiah “Yahweh”, the Messiah is of course Yahweh (God)!
Micah 5:2. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This prophecy in Micah teaches that the Messiah will come from one of the clans of the tribe of Judah and will be born in Bethlehem. This means the Messiah will be a man. The prophecy further describes the origin of the Messiah as being “from old, ancient times”. These words used in this specific phrase are the strongest Hebrew words that could be used for an endless past and mean that the Messiah is eternal. Since God is the only person who is eternal, this verse teaches that the Messiah is the eternal God.
Why did the Messiah need to be God?
There are two reasons why the Messiah had to be God: (1) he needed to be God to restore the world into a place of peace; and (2) he needed to be God to restore the people to himself.
The Messiah needed to be God because:
He would restore the world. In the future, the Messiah will change the world into a place of perfect peace (Isaiah 9:7). No human being could change the world into a place of perfect peace. Isaiah 9:6 tells us that the human Messiah will bring universal peace because he is also the “Mighty God”.
He would restore people to God. To do this, the Messiah needed to pay the penalty for sin. The penalty for sin was eternal separation from God (Matthew 25:41, 46; Revelation 20:14; 21:8). The Messiah needed to be eternal so he was able to pay the penalty of eternal separation. Because Jesus was an eternal person (God), the separation Jesus would suffer on the cross had an eternal dimension to it (see module 9—death, Q 5).
In short, only God can fix the consequences of sin and the cause of sin.
Did Jesus actually claim to be God?
Yes. The Gospels tell us Jesus claimed to be God in three ways:
Jesus said he was equal with God.
Jesus used God’s actual names for himself.
Jesus exercised God’s exclusive rights as his own.
Jesus said he was equal with God:a. Mark 14:36. When Jesus prayed, he called God “Abba, Father”. The Jews called God ‘Father’, but never ‘Abba, Father’. That was a term used only by Christ. By saying “Abba, Father”, Jesus was claiming to be of the same substance as the Father—just as any son is of the same substance as his father.b. John 5:16–18. When the Jews persecuted Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath, Jesus defended his actions by saying, “My Father is always at his work to this very [Sabbath] day, and I, too, am working”. Jesus is saying that what he did on the Sabbath was actually the work of God himself. The Jews understood precisely what Jesus was saying and tried to execute him because, “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God”.c. John 10:30–39. Jesus said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). While some (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses) argue Jesus is not claiming equality with the Father, the Jews’ decision to execute Jesus for ‘blasphemy’ (John 10:31–33, 39) and Jesus’ lengthy response (John 10:32, 34–38) show that Jesus fully intended his words to be taken as a claim to be God. Jesus has clearly said that he is God’s Son (John 10:36). If a man has a son, the son will automatically be of the same substance (i.e. the man’s son will, like his father, be a human being).1 If an ape has a son, the son will be an ape of the same substance as its father. If a dog has a son, it too will be of the same substance as its father (i.e. a dog). And if God has a Son, the Son will be of the same substance as his Father (i.e. he too will be God). Jesus is clearly claiming to be equal with God because he is of the same substance as God—he is God’s Son. Other verses where Jesus speaks of himself as God’s Son include Matthew 11:25–30, Matthew 24:36 and John 3:16–18. Other verses where God speaks of Jesus as his Son include Matthew 3:17 and Matthew 17:5.d. John 14:9–11. Jesus said: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
Jesus used God’s actual names for himself:a. Matthew 22:41–46. Jesus is going ‘head-to-head’ with the Pharisees about his claim to be Messiah. Jesus quotes a Psalm about Messiah—Psalm 110:1. In that Psalm (v. 1), David says his Messianic son (descendant) was also his ‘eternal lord’ (Hebrew: ‘Adonai’): “A declaration of Yahweh to my lord [Adonai], ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’” (LEB). By claiming to be David’s Messianic son, Jesus is also claiming to be David’s eternal Lord, as shown in Psalm 110:1! That means Jesus is taking to himself the name ‘Adonai’, the common Old Testament name for God used in place of Yahweh. In taking this name, Jesus is making himself equal with God.b. John 8:12. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.” In describing himself this way, Jesus was equating himself with Yahweh—“The LORD is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27:1).c. John 8:58–59. Jesus said: “before Abraham was born, I am!” Jesus was taking the divine name of Yahweh to himself (cf. Exodus 3:14).d. John 10:11. Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus was taking the divine name to himself—“The LORD is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).
Jesus exercised God’s exclusive rights as his own:a. Jesus exercised God’s right to forgive sins (Matthew 9:1–8; Luke 5:20–21). We can forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12, 18:35; Ephesians 4:32) but we cannot forgive anyone’s sin against God or other people. In forgiving sins, Jesus was making himself equal with God.b. Jesus exercised God’s right to give eternal life (John 4:13–14; 5:39–40; 6:27, 33, 40, 47–51, 58; 10:28–29; 11:25–26).c. Jesus exercised God’s right to raise the dead. In the Old Testament, only Yahweh could raise the dead (John 5:21) but Jesus exercises that right (John 11:43–44) and claims he will raise from the dead all who believe in him at the last day (John 6:39–40).d. Jesus said that his words, like God’s words, would last forever. Isaiah the prophet said, “the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Jesus was claiming his words were as eternal as were God’s words.e. Jesus said he would exercise God’s right to judge every human being: “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:22–23). Jesus claimed to have the authority to judge because he is the Son of Man (John 5:27). See also Matthew 25:31–34, 41 and 46 where Jesus claims to be the one who sends people to eternal punishment or to eternal life.
1 In this illustration, we are following Peter Kreeft, “Why I believe Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God”, in Why I Am a Christian, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 240.
What does it mean that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’?
The term ‘Son of God’ means two things: (1) that Jesus is God’s appointed King; and (2) that Jesus is God’s unique Son.
In the Old Testament, ‘son of God’ was used in a royal sense (2 Samuel 7:11–16; 1 Chronicles 17:10–14; Psalm 2:7). The kings of Israel were referred to as ‘God’s sons’. Therefore, ‘Son of God’ is a title indicating that Jesus is God’s appointed King (Messiah).
In the New Testament, ‘Son of God’ was used in a relational sense. In John 5:17, Jesus called God “his Father”, meaning that Jesus was calling himself God’s ‘Son’ in a relational sense. The Jewish leaders who heard Jesus call God his ‘Father’ “tried all the more to kill him”. Why? They reacted this way because, by calling God his own ‘Father’, “he was… making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). When Jesus called God his ‘Father’, he was claiming to be God’s unique ‘Son’ (i.e. fully equal with God).
If there is only one God, how could Jesus claim to be God? If Jesus were God, wouldn’t this make two Gods?
There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:6, 8; 1 Timothy 2:5) but there are three persons within this one God. We refer to this somewhat mind-bending concept as God’s tri-unity or the Trinity (see also module 3—the beginning, Q 6).
From the beginning of the Old Testament, we know there is only one God—he is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. But we also know there is some kind of plurality in God: “Let us make…” (Genesis 1:26), “Let us go down…” (Genesis 11:7). By the time we are halfway through the Old Testament, Isaiah clearly predicts a man would come (Isaiah 7:14) who would also be God (Isaiah 9:6–7).
When we get to the New Testament, we have three persons spoken of as God: God the Father (Matthew 6:1, 4, 6, 8–9; Ephesians 1:3), God the Son (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8) and God the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Acts 5:3–4). The New Testament clearly presents all three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as fully God. But the New Testament still teaches there is only one God—not three (1 Timothy 2:5)! Because the Bible teaches a tri-unity or Trinity, Jesus could claim to be God. He is the second person of that tri-unity or Trinity.
Why did Jesus do miracles?
The miracles of Jesus show God approved of Jesus and his teaching.
The miracles of Jesus show God approved of Jesus and his teaching. Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2; cf. Acts 2:22).
Miracles were signs of God’s approval of the message and the messenger in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, God gave his messengers public approval by including miracles in their ministries (e.g. Moses (Exodus 4:17); Elijah (1 Kings 18:1–46); Elisha (2 Kings 4:8–37), etc.). In the New Testament, God gave his messengers public approval by including miracles (e.g. the 12 apostles (Matthew 10:1) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:11–12)).
The miracles of Jesus are no different in quality from the other miracles recorded in the Old and New Testaments. They simply provide God’s seal of approval on Jesus and his message. Jesus’ message was unique: he was the Messiah, the Son of God. The miracles show that God agreed with his claim.a. The miracles of Jesus proved that he was the Messiah. When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was the true Messiah or whether they should be looking for another (Matthew 11:2–3). Jesus answered John by reminding him of the miracles that he was doing (Matthew 11:4–6). By doing these miracles, Jesus was showing he was the Messiah and he could bring about the utopian Kingdom promised in the Old Testament (Isaiah 29:17–19; 35:5–6; 42:1–7). Nothing was beyond Jesus’ ability to control—disease, death, climate, productivity, demons—he controlled everything and this was a sign that he was the true Messiah and could establish the long-anticipated Kingdom.b. The miracles of Jesus proved that he was God (Mark 2:1–12). While miracles on their own do not prove anyone is God (otherwise Moses, Elijah, Elisha, the 12 apostles and Paul could all claim to be God because they all did miracles just like the miracles of Jesus), Jesus’ miracles did show that God was agreeing with his claim to be God. Under any other circumstances, anyone claiming to be God would be guilty of blasphemy and executed under Jewish law. But the case of Jesus of Nazareth was unique—God was actually confirming Jesus’ claim through miracles. When Jesus told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven (Mark 2:5), the Pharisees predictably accused Jesus of blasphemy—since giving forgiveness was strictly God’s business (Mark 2:6–7). Understanding their way of thinking, Jesus asked, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” In other words, the miracle Jesus did showed that God completely agreed with Jesus’ claim to be God, and that he also completely approved of Jesus handing out forgiveness. Forgiving sins was a very appropriate thing to do, because Jesus was God.
Do people need more miracles today to enable them to believe in Jesus?
The Gospel of John says ‘no’ (John 20:30–31). This is remarkable because the Gospel of John records specific miracles of Jesus so that it would serve for all time as the Gospel that creates belief: “these [miracles] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing [what is written] you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). In other words, the record of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel of John is sufficient evidence for us.
Jesus says ‘no’ (Luke 16:27–31). Jesus told the story of Abraham and the rich man who was in Hades. The rich man begged for a special, miraculous communication from the world of the dead (Luke 16:30) so his five living brothers would realise the warning and escape the coming judgement in hell. Jesus said Abraham refused the request: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them… If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [the written Old Testament], they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:29–31). The conclusion is clear: the written record is sufficient for belief in Jesus.
(Question 14 is only available in the Leader’s Guide.)
Was Jesus’ mother really a virgin and why was this necessary?
Two Gospels definitely say that Jesus’ mother was a virgin:
Matthew 1:18–25 makes it clear that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. These verses teach that Jesus was conceived not by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit (in fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14). Joseph did not have a sexual relationship with Mary until after Jesus was born. Notice Matthew 1:16 said, “Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah”. This clearly shows Jesus was born of Mary.
Luke 1:26–28, 34–35 makes it clear that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. These verses teach that Mary was a virgin while she was engaged to Joseph and that her pregnancy was created by the Holy Spirit.
Strange as it may seem, the man we know as Jesus did not need a personal beginning. He already existed as God the Son. When a couple come together and procreate, a whole new person is conceived. In Jesus’ case, this was absolutely impossible because he already existed as the second person of the Trinity. He ‘came down’ from heaven to earth (John 6:41–42). Therefore, he did not need a beginning—he simply needed a human body for his birth on earth. So there was no need for a reproductive act on Joseph’s part. The moment Mary conceived, God the Son left heaven and took up residence in the womb of the virgin. He was brought into the world by a woman.
Two Gospels definitely say that Jesus’ mother was a virgin and the other two (along with the rest of the New Testament) assume it.
The person we now know as Jesus actually existed before his birth as God the Son—the second person of the Trinity. Therefore, he did not need a beginning—he already existed. What he needed was a human body and this was specially arranged by the intervention of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
Why is it important to think about Jesus’ perfect life?
There are two reasons why we should think about Jesus’ perfect life:
To show that Jesus is perfectly ‘sane’ even when claiming to be God
To show Jesus was sinless and therefore a suitable saviour.
There are two reasons we mention Jesus’ perfect life:
To show Jesus was perfectly sane. While the Gospels present Jesus as a real human being (human birth, human body, human DNA, gender, racial identity, normal human development), obviously we can’t say Jesus was ‘normal’ in the sense that he was like everyone else—he just wasn’t. For one thing, he wasn’t sinful—for another thing, he wasn’t naturally mortal. Because he was without sin, death was not ‘ticking away’ inside him like it is inside every other human being. This is probably the reason we never read of Jesus being sick. Jesus died only because he became [deliberately] “obedient to death” (Philippians 2:8). Also, he is said to have worked some extraordinary miracles. So, he wasn’t the normal, ‘run-of-the-mill’ human being like the rest of us. Yet we can say that the Gospels present him as being perfectly ‘sane’. There is no sign of psychological or emotional or irrational behaviour in Jesus. He had enemies but there are no signs of paranoia in him; in fact, his enemies were so real they eventually crucified him. There were times when Jesus was deeply sad and troubled—but there’s no sign of depression. His claims were quietly and deliberately stated and carefully thought out. His works of power were obvious for all to see—his enemies could not deny them, they could claim only that an evil source caused these powers (Matthew 12:24). The reason for highlighting Jesus’ perfect life is to emphasise that Jesus was perfectly sane, even though he claimed to be God.
To show Jesus was sinless and therefore a suitable saviour. If someone cannot swim, they cannot hope to save someone drowning in a fast-flowing river. Why? Because they have the same problem—neither can swim. If someone is blind, they cannot act as a guide for another blind person. Why? Because they have the same problem. If Jesus has come to save us from sin, he cannot have the same sin problem we have. The fact of Jesus’ sinlessness means that there is no doubt about his ability to save us from sin.
Can the weather presenter predict the future? Part 1
All of us look up a weather report at some stage. When events are weather-dependent (e.g. when to put out the washing or when to go swimming at the beach), we need to know what the forecast is. And hopefully, the forecast is right—but of course sometimes it isn’t.
Imagine if we turned on the evening news and the weather presenter gave us not a five day forecast, but a fifty year forecast. If they were to say, “On Tuesday, exactly 50 years from now, at precisely 2:59pm, the temperature will be exactly 22.39 degrees Celsius, slightly overcast, with 56.95% relative humidity”, well, we would have very good reason to be thoroughly sceptical. But then if the weather presenter were to forecast the rest of the week in 50 years’ time, we would rightly think that the presenter was just a little bit wacky!
Now imagine that the weather presenter predicted the weather, entirely accurately, not just for that Tuesday, but also for the rest of that week. Of course we know this is just imagination, because no person could ever have such knowledge.
The Bible is a little like this weather presenter in that it also offers predictions—except that it ramps things up with the number of predictions it makes and it predicts much further into the future, sometimes up to and in excess of 2000 years ahead. From a human perspective, to do this seems impossible. But the Bible claims that it can predict (prophesy) the future accurately only because the source of these predictions is not human, but found in God (see 2 Peter 1:21). Let’s take a look at God’s claim from Isaiah 46:9–10:
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Simply put, the bold claim of this verse is that only God can 100% accurately predict the future. He is the ultimate weather presenter!
In this module, we will look at some places where the Bible claims to predict the events of the Messiah’s life hundreds of years before they happened.
Old Testament Prophecy
New Testament Fulfilment
The virgin will conceive and give birth to the Messiah
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18–25)
The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:1–7)
A messenger will prepare the people for the Messiah
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3)
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’” (Matthew 3:1–3)
A messenger will prepare the people for the Messiah; the Messiah will come to his temple
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple”. (Malachi 3:1)
“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John… ‘This is the one about whom it is written: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”’” (Matthew 10:7a, 10) “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.”’” (Matthew 21:12–13)
The Messiah will be anointed by the Holy Spirit
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him”. (Isaiah 42:1)
“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21–22) “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and… he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
The Messiah will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’” (John 12:12–15)
The Messiah will be a descendant of Abraham
“… through your [Abraham’s] offspring [seed] all nations on earth will be blessed”. (Genesis 22:18)
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”. (Matthew 1:1) “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)
The Messiah will be a descendant of David
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6)
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”. (Matthew 1:1) “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph… which was the son of David”. (Luke 3:23, 31)
The Messiah would be both God and man
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
“Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:17–18)
For further reading:
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ha-Mashiach: The Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures, rev. ed. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2014). (Previously titled Messianic Christology.)
We don’t need to let the title of the book put us off—“Ha-Mashiach” is simply Hebrew for “the Messiah”—but the book is written in English, not Hebrew!
This book explains the prophecies of the Messiah’s life, death and resurrection in easy-to-understand language.
Eyewitness news: Do the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) contain accurate eyewitness accounts about Jesus?
This video is by Dr Peter Williams from Tyndale House, the University of Cambridge. He discusses some new evidence that the Gospels do record the events of real people in real places in real time. In other words, real history!