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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Existence of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: What Historical Facts Do We Know about the Life of Jesus?

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What Historical Facts Do We Know about the Life of Jesus?

The Existence of Jesus Christ – Question 17

It is important for everyone to understand that there is a central core of truth upon which both believers and unbelievers agree concerning the life of Jesus Christ.

From the New Testament we can deduce the following facts about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus Christ Existed

Today, no serious scholar doubts the existence of Jesus. The fact that Jesus lived is an established historical fact. Twenty-seven separate documents of the New Testament give firsthand testimony to His existence. There are at least nine different writers who provide this evidence.

Also a number of non-Christian writings mention Jesus. Indeed, both Jewish and Gentile sources testify to His existence. Thus, this issue has been settled.

Jesus Christ Claimed to Be the Son of God

All evidence that we have about Jesus, from the New Testament as well as other sources, admits that Jesus claimed a special relationship between Himself and God, that of Sonship. The fact that He made these unique claims about Himself is beyond dispute.

Indeed the religious rulers used this claim of Jesus as to why they sought to put Him to death. We read in the gospel of John,

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” (John 19:7 ESV)

The reason they wanted Jesus dead is because of the claims which He made.

He Predicted His Crucifixion and Resurrection

From the gospels we have the clear picture that Jesus predicted His death by crucifixion and resurrection. We read in Matthew’s gospel,

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21 ESV)

That these predictions were made is confirmed by the facts that the Jews asked the Romans to place a guard at the tomb. We read in Matthew,

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64 ESV)

Why guard the tomb if there had not been some prediction of a resurrection? Again, we are on solid historical footing here.

Jesus Christ Was Crucified and Buried in Jerusalem

The Gospels, as well as the Apostle Paul, unanimously testify that Jesus died by crucifixion in the city of Jerusalem and was then buried.

For example, Paul wrote,

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 TNIV)

There is no historical evidence to the contrary from any reliable source.

There Was An Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday

Three days after His burial, the tomb of Jesus was empty. If it had been occupied, the enemies of Christianity would have produced the body. The fact that unbelievers said that the disciples of Jesus had stolen His body testifies that the tomb was empty.

Of course, an empty tomb does not necessarily mean a resurrection but the fact that His tomb was empty is beyond all doubt.

The Disciples Believed Jesus Appeared to Them

The disciples of Jesus believed they had seen Him alive after His death on the cross. They assumed that He had risen from the dead. There is no doubt that this was their belief. The Apostle Paul wrote of these appearances:

...and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 TNIV)

There is no doubt whatsoever that these disciples believed that they had seen Jesus alive after He had died.

The Disciples’ Lives Were Transformed

There is something else which we know to be true. These same disciples were eventually transformed from cowards to martyrs. Because of the influence of Jesus, the lives of these men were radically altered.

On the night Jesus was betrayed, they all scattered:

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (Matthew 26:55-56 TNIV)

However, less than two months later they were boldly proclaiming the message of Jesus. We read in the Book of Acts,

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” (Acts 2:14 TNIV)

Peter then preached Jesus Christ to them.

Again, there was no doubt their lives were changed. The question is “what changed them?”

The Resurrection Was Their Message

The message of the Jesus’ band of disciples was that He had risen from the dead. The Book of Acts, as well as the writings of Paul and the other New Testament authors, has the resurrection of Christ as their central message. Of this, there is not the slightest doubt.

The Message Was First Proclaimed in Jerusalem

Some fifty days after the death of Jesus Christ, the message of His resurrection was heralded in Jerusalem—the very city where the events took place. His disciples fearlessly proclaimed that Jesus had risen.

On that day, Simon Peter said the following to the crowd which had gathered.

People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

What makes this all the more important is that they proclaimed it in the same place where the events of Jesus’ final days took place. In other words, they were not afraid of what people would discover when their story was investigated.

The Church Grew Rapidly

A group of believers in Jesus Christ banded together and became known as the church. The church grew rapidly, based on the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead.

All of the above are solid historical facts that are agreed upon by both believers and nonbelievers alike. There is no reason whatsoever to dispute any of this.

The New Testament Was Written from the Perspective That Jesus Had Risen

Finally, another historical fact which is not in doubt is that the New Testament was written from the perspective that Jesus was a miracle worker, that He had claimed to be Israel’s Messiah, and that He had risen from the dead.

There is no doubt that the writers believed this about Jesus. The question of course is this: What caused them to believe it? Obviously, something made them believe these things? What was it?

The most logical explanation is the one given in the New Testament. Jesus did all of these things which are attributed to Him. This means that He is everything which He claimed to be.

Summary – Question 17
What Historical Facts Do We Know about the Life of Jesus?

There are a number of facts that we are able know about the life and ministry of Jesus. We can summarize the main ones as follows.

First, He existed. No one doubts that Jesus was a historical character. Indeed, in the New Testament we have twenty-seven separate documents by nine different writers all of whom testify to Jesus’ existence.

Add to this there are Jewish and Gentile sources who, as antagonists, admit that He existed. Consequently, His existence should be beyond all doubt.

Furthermore, Jesus also made some astonishing claims about Himself. All ancient sources agree to this.

We also know that Jesus predicted His crucifixion and resurrection. There would have been no reason to guard Jesus’ tomb unless He predicted He would come back from the dead. Consequently we are on solid historical footing here. All sources agree that Jesus was crucified and buried in the city of Jerusalem. Again, we are in an area where there is no dispute among the written sources.

It is also an historical fact that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb on Easter Sunday. Had the body been still in the tomb it would have been produced by those who hated Jesus and everything He stood for. Yet they could not produce a body. We also know that the disciples of Jesus believed they saw Jesus alive after He had been dead. There is no doubt about their belief.

Furthermore, their message to the world is that “Jesus has risen from the dead!” The message was first proclaimed in Jerusalem, the place where the events took place. Again, we are dealing with solid historical facts.

The New Testament church experienced rapid growth based upon the belief of the resurrection of Jesus. The swift spread of Christianity is another historical fact.

All of these are known historical facts for believer and unbeliever alike.

Finally, we have a New Testament which was written from the perceptive that Jesus Christ lived, performed miracles, fulfilled prophecy, and came back from the dead three days after His death. There is no doubt whatsoever that they believed this to be true. Obviously something caused them to believe these things about Jesus.

Therefore, some explanation must be given for their belief; an explanation that fits all the historical facts. The only consistent explanation is the one in which they give. Jesus Christ, the man from Galilee, came back from the dead. In doing so, He showed Himself to be both Lord and Savior.

Has the Actual Burial Box of James, Jesus' Brother, Been Found? ← Prior Section
Who Is Jesus Christ? (Introduction) Next Section →
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