"Who Is Jesus?" part 2
The Historical Jesus
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 11, 2010

Well, this morning, we’re continuing our message series entitled, “Who Is Jesus?” Over the next several weeks, that’s the question we’re going to try to answer. And we’re going to try to answer it by examining some of His miracles, some of the events in His life, some of the things He taught… we’re basically going to discover everything we can about the man, the mission, the message.

We actually started this series last Sunday by looking at the most important event in all of history… the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Which is kind of like starting at the end of the story, isn’t it? Of course, it’s not really the end of the story because we believe the story’s not finished yet. We believe He’s alive and active today, and that someday He will be coming again. And we’ll get to that later on in this series.

But the reason why we started kind of at the end of the story is obviously because last week was Easter. And if it weren’t for Easter… if it weren’t for the Resurrection… it really wouldn’t matter who Jesus is or was anyway. And there’d be no point in doing this series at all.

But as we explored last Sunday, Jesus really did rise from the dead. As incredible as that sounds… and as hard as it would be for us to believe someone came back from the dead today… the evidence actually supports the conclusion that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

We talked about the eyewitness testimony and how reliable that was.
We talked about the undisputed facts that even skeptics agree on… that Jesus was indeed crucified, He was dead and buried, the tomb was then found empty, and there were hundreds of people who reported seeing Jesus during the 40 days after He had been crucified.
And we talked about how the disciples went on to be killed for their claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. If it was a made up story or if they were just confused or weren’t sure what was going on, surely one of them would have recanted their claim that Jesus was alive, but not one of them did. And remember, those followers of Jesus were in a position to know whether what they were claiming was true or not. So they weren’t dying just for some abstract faith that they happened to believe; they were dying for what they saw with their own eyes. And the message of the resurrection of Jesus became the central message they would spend the rest of their lives proclaiming.
And as we saw last week, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then it proves that Jesus really is the Son of God.

So right off the bat, right at the beginning of this series, we’ve already looked at the most important event in the life of Jesus and the core message of Christianity today.

But you know, every once in a while, you’ll actually run into someone who argues that they don’t believe Jesus was even a real person at all. They don’t believe He ever lived, let alone was resurrected.

Which is really a ridiculous claim. And I don’t say that just because I don’t agree with it. I say it because in order to make that claim you have to completely ignore all the available facts. But still, you might run into someone who makes that claim. And what you need to understand is, if someone is making that claim, they are probably just repeating what they heard someone else say. Because there is overwhelming evidence for the historic Jesus, both Biblical and non-biblical. This claim that Jesus didn’t really exist arose in the 18th and 19th century and has been pretty much refuted. And there are very few scholars today who would make such a claim. But still, even though it’s been refuted, there are still many people who buy into it.

So let’s go through this… here’s some of the evidence supporting the existence of the historical Jesus:

How Do I Know Jesus Even Existed?

A.    The hundreds of references in the New Testament

Now, people who argue that Jesus didn’t exist will also probably tell you that you can’t use the Bible to prove Jesus existed. But as we touched on last week, that’s just and absurd restriction. It’d be like trying to learn about the Great Wall of China but you couldn’t look at any pictures or talk to anyone who’s ever seen it. Or like going to court but you couldn’t call any eyewitnesses because they would have their own beliefs about what happened.

Why would you ignore the earliest, the most detailed, and the most credible sources we have? I’m not even talking here about using the Bible as Scripture. I’m just talking about using it like any other historical text. And remember, the New Testament didn’t even exist at first. They were all individual books being circulated around the known world, there were plenty of copies being made, some of them as early as 20 years after the events actually took place. And that’s an incredibly short period of time for any historic text. In fact, if you bought what some people argue that some of the books weren’t written until sometime in the second century, that would still be an incredibly early date. Most historic events, the earliest texts we have were written hundreds or even thousands of years later. So the New Testament is strong evidence for the historic Jesus.

B.    The abundance of non-Biblical references

Mostly from the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, you have the documents and writings of people like these…


Clement of Rome (c. 96 AD)
Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107-110 AD)
Flavius Josephus (37–100 AD)
Julius Africanus (c. 221 AD)
Acts of Pilate (c. 37 AD?)
Babylonian Talmud (70-200 AD)   
Pliny the Younger (c. 61-112 AD)
Mara bar Sarapion (1st-3rd century)
Suetonius (c. 70-130 AD)
Justin Martyr (103-165 AD)
Apocrypha & Gnostic writings (up to 4th century)   
Lucian (c. 125-180 AD)
Celsus (c. 180 AD)
Tacitus (c. 56-117 AD)
Thallus (c. 50-100 AD)
Papias (c. 90)
Quadratus (d. 124)

All of those referencing Jesus. Which is amazing, because remember… at the time, not a lot of people knew about Jesus. The Bible describes how Jesus lived and ministered in a relatively localized area, in a rather insignificant part of the Roman Empire, and was only a public figure for about three years. Yet we have a lot more information about Jesus than most major public figures at the time. At the time, it would have seemed like Jesus would just be an obscure footnote in history, if that. But Jesus purposefully spent those three years, pouring Himself into His followers, specifically the 12 plus others who came to follow Him, too. And He entrusted them with the responsibility and the honour of spreading His message the world. And here we are a couple thousand years later… Jesus has been the single most influential person in history… and we’re still committed to spreading His message today.

Now, I am not an expert on non-Biblical (or extraBiblical) sources about the life of Jesus. So let me quote someone who is. Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. Dr. Yamauchi has some pretty impressive credentials… he has degrees in Hebrew, and Hellenistics, and in Mediterranean studies. He’s been awarded eight fellowships, he’s lectured at more than 100 seminaries and universities, including Yale and Princeton and Cornell, he’s published dozens of articles in scholarly journals and he’s participated in archaeological digs around the temple in Jerusalem and has written books on the subject. And this is what he claims about the ancient non-biblical references to Jesus. (not in PowerPoint)

“One expert documented thirty-nine ancient sources that corroborate more than one hundred facts concerning Jesus' life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection.
“We would still have a considerable amount of important historical evidence; in fact, it would provide a kind of outline  for the life of Jesus. We would know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside-men and women, slave and free-worshiped him as God. …
“Even if you were to throw away every last copy of the gospels, you'd still have a picture of Jesus that's extremely compelling – in fact, it's a portrait of the unique Son of God.”
~ Dr. Edwin Yamauchi
in “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel

So again, the documents of the New Testament are the earliest and the most credible sources we have about the life of Jesus. But even if we did have to exclude them, we would still know a lot about who Jesus was and how people saw Him. People who claim that there wasn’t a historical Jesus are really speaking out of their own biases and are grasping at straws.

Further Study:
Bruce, F. F. Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus. Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1996.
McDowell, Josh, and Bill Wilson. He Walked among Us. Nashville: Nelson,  1994.

C.    The thousands of Christian martyrs in the first century

Remember, people will die for what they believe to be true. But nobody will die for what they know to be a lie. Yet thousands of people in that very first century willingly went to their deaths because that the man Jesus was in fact the Son of God. He wasn’t just some comic book character, He wasn’t a compilation of pagan myths, He was a really breathing person who lived and walked where they lived and walked. Many of them knew Him personally. As we talked about last week, hundreds of them saw Him after the Resurrection.

Okay, so all of this today is really by way of introduction for this series. Yeah, I know it’s a bit odd to do the introduction in the second week of the series, but I always have been a little different, right? Sometimes holidays dictate that we need to do things like that.

But through the rest of this series, we’re going to be looking specifically at what the Bible tells us about Jesus. But today I wanted you to be able to understand that even without the New Testament, there’s evidence for the life of Jesus. We can learn a lot about Him, we can learn what people thought about Him – His life, His death, His Resurrection – we can discover what He taught His followers.

In fact, if every copy of the New Testament were destroyed, and all we had to go on were the extraBiblical references we talked about earlier and the writings of the Early Church Fathers through the first couple centuries, we could completely reconstruct the New Testament with the exception of 10 verses or less with an accuracy of 95%.

So through this series, we’re going to use the New Testament to uncover the identity of Jesus. We’re going to explore some of His teachings, we’re going to examine some of the events of His life, we’re going to see how other people of the day saw Him, we’re going to talk about His mission in life… we’ll get into a little theology… some weeks we’ll be a little more academic like we’ve been today, other weeks are going to be more practical and hands on… we will get into some of His miracles, but I’m more interested in getting into His character… understanding who He really was and is. So we’ll talk about his kindness and compassion, we’ll look at the way He lived and how He tells us to live, we’ll examine His priorities, we’ll see what makes Him angry and what causes Him pain… we’ll talk about the humanity of Jesus, today we’ve talked about the historicity of Jesus, and next week we’ll talk about the divinity of Jesus. We’ll explore what it means for Him to be the Son of God. During this series we’ll talk about some of the other religious figures from history and see how Jesus compares… we’ll look at other viewpoints of Jesus today… was He just a good teacher with some good things to say like you might hear from a Jew? Was He just a prophet of God like you might hear from a Muslim? Was he just an enlightened human being, who was somehow able to gain God-consciousness – like someone like Deepak Chopra might tell you? Is He just one option among many, like Oprah and so many others would tell you today?

Personally, I’m really looking forward to going through this series with you. Seriously, this may be the most important series we’ve ever done. Because the message we have is the message of Jesus. The hope we have is the hope that comes from Jesus. The reason the Church exists is because of Jesus. We even call ourselves Christians or Christ-followers… because we follow Jesus.

“For centuries, Jesus of Nazareth has been the most influential person in the history of the human race, and He refuses to go away.”
~ William Lane Craig

[PowerPoint - Plastic Bobblehead Jesus image]
You know, many people in our society today, even in Churches, have a really superficial understanding of Jesus… kind of this “plastic Jesus” impression of Him. He was just some lovey-duvy guy who walked around in sandals preaching peace. But we’re going to try to get to the heart of who Jesus is.

And the Bible makes no secret about just how important Jesus is. Take a look at these verses… we’re going to look at several of them… First of all, Matthew 16 where Jesus asked if people understood who He really was…

What Does the Bible Say about the Importance of Jesus?

Matthew 16:16 (NLT)
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

John 6:35, 38, 40 (NLT)
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me… For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”

John 8:12 (NLT)
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

John 8:23-24 (NLT)
Jesus continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. …Unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”

John 11:25-26 (NLT)
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”

John 14:6 (NLT)
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

John 15:5 (NLT)
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Romans 2:16 (NLT)
…The day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

John 1:29-30 (NLT)
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”

Acts 10:42-43 (NLT)
…Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

1 John 4:15 (NLT)
All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.

1 Timothy 2:5 (NLT)
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.

Does it sound like Jesus might be someone important? Does it sound like we should do our best to learn as much as we can about Him? There’s so much more to Jesus than just that bobble-head, plastic Jesus. In fact, we’re going to take the next 12-16 weeks focusing in on the person of Jesus, and we’ll still only be scratching the surface.

VIDEO – CHIP INGRAM: WHO IS JESUS? From BluefishTV.com (3 minutes)

It’s the most important question we need to answer… Who Is Jesus? So that’s what we’re going to be exploring, and I’d encourage you to with us every Sunday if at all possible.

And let me tell you this; I’m going to do my very best to make this series relevant for seekers and still challenging for seasoned believers. So you can feel comfortable inviting your friends and come knowing there’s going to be something for you, too.



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010 SunriseOnline.ca