The Bible has much to say about the life and teaching of Jesus and there is ample independent evidence to verify that he actually existed. The Bible names many eyewitnesses, such as the Apostle Peter, who after the ascension of Jesus to heaven preached in Jerusalem saying:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves also know – Him, being delivered by the carefully planned intention and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up...Acts 2.22-24
The Apostle Paul provides more examples, writing of Jesus being ‘seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve. After that he was seen by over five hundred brethren at once’ (1 Corinthians. 15.5, 6).
Outside the Biblical record, Jesus is mentioned by non-Christian writers of those times, Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger being examples. The fact that about 2,000 years later, a third of the world’s population believe in him, is strong evidence that Jesus existed. So there is no doubt that Jesus is a historical person.
Accepting, through the testimony of the Bible and others, that Jesus was a real person living in the first century we now ask ‘where did he come from?’ The Bible asserts that he came from God or that he was sent by
God but what does that mean? It is important to understand that his parentage was unique. Born of a virgin through the operation of the Holy Spirit, the birth of Jesus fulfilled the divine prophecy given through Isaiah, about seven hundred years earlier:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name ImmanuelIsaiah 7.14
This ‘sign’ was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary. The narrative of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth in Matthew’s gospel record makes it clear that this event was a direct fulfilment of that particular prophecy recorded by Isaiah:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins”. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us”Matthew 1.18-23
Jesus’ birth to a virgin through the intervention of God was confirmed at the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary:
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God."Luke 1.30-35
The birth of Jesus was also predicted when God made an important promise to king David, the ancestor of Mary, that one day He would set up a special king on David’s throne (see quotation above from Luke chapter 1):
“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his Father, and he shall be my son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But my mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established for ever before you. Your throne shall be established for ever.” According to all these words and according to all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David2 Samuel 7.12-17
So Jesus had a unique parentage. From the human point of view he was in the line of David through his mother Mary and was from the Jewish tribe of Judah. This made him a mortal man, having all the feelings attributable to us. On the other hand, God was his Father, and Jesus showed in his role as a Saviour (which is what the name Jesus means) qualities possessed by his Heavenly Father.
Having considered the birth of Jesus and his parentage, it is important to realise that Jesus was a mortal man and not God. The Bible makes it plain that there is one God and that Jesus is the Son of God, not God the Son.
Because he was descended from Adam through his mother Mary, he was a human being and therefore had the same characteristics of the human race with one important difference, he overcame the tendency to commit sin. The writer to the Hebrews described him in this way: ‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15). When we think about the sacrificial role of Jesus, who almost invariably described himself as the ‘Son of Man’ (for example Matthew 9.6), we see it as important that the sacrifice should be made by a person who shared our human nature. The offering of God Himself, if it were even possible, would have achieved nothing. It was important that the sacrifice was made by a descendant of Adam and the genealogies in the gospel records of Matthew and Luke show the human parentage of Jesus.
For nearly 2,000 years, Jesus has performed the very important work of acting as mediator between his Father and his true followers, by presenting their prayers to Him. The writer to the Hebrews explains: ‘But he, because he continues for ever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he ever lives to make intercession for them’ (Hebrews 7. 24, 25). True believers in Jesus may fully trust that he will present their petitions for forgiveness to God effectively. Jesus is well equipped for this work having experienced the same temptations as his followers.
It is also important to note that Jesus was always subordinate to his Father and there is not a single instance of him failing to carry out his Father’s will. He always obeyed his Father and was subject to Him. This is seen most remarkably just before his greatest trial when, fully aware of the horror shortly to overtake him, he said: ‘O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26.39). When it was clear that it was not in the purpose of his Father to grant his request, Jesus went through the terrible ordeal of crucifixion to bring salvation to his fellow men and women.
Although human, Jesus has a greater honour than the rest of mankind, a fact that the whole world will recognise when these words are fulfilled: ‘You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour, and set him over the works of your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet...’ (Hebrews 2.7,8).
Currently it is estimated that there are over two billion Christians in the world. Therefore it could be argued that Jesus has achieved much. It could be said that through his teaching Jesus has had more influence than any other person ever born. However, his success with his own people, the Jews, was very mixed. At the beginning of his ministry he drew large crowds to him to listen to his preaching about the kingdom of God and to see his miracles as the gospel records show:
Now when it was day, he (Jesus) departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowd sought him and came to him, and tried to keep him from leaving them; but he said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent”. And he was preaching in the synagogues of GalileeLuke 4.42-44
…great multitudes came to him, having with them those who were lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and he healed them. So the multitude marvelled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.Matthew 15.30, 31
However the New Testament records make it clear that, although Jesus’ message was the gospel (the good news) of the kingdom of God, a literal kingdom to be set up upon this earth with himself as the king, the people were more interested in his healing abilities and his miracles than his preaching. In time, these crowds giving popular support thinned, the religious authorities turned the people against Jesus and finally conspired with Judas Iscariot (one of the Twelve) to put him to death. The Romans had him crucified as the ‘KING OF THE JEWS’ (Matthew 27.37) but as had been foretold hundreds of years before, the Jews rejected him, saying that they had ‘no king but Caesar’ (John 19.15).
In addition to the miracles, his preaching on the subject of the kingdom of God was his main work for the three and a half years of his public ministry. For example, we read that ‘after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel”’ (Mark 1.14, 15). This message of the coming kingdom of God is styled the ‘gospel’, a word which means ‘good news’. To the Jews of Jesus’ day, who were expecting the coming of their Messiah, it was indeed good news. For centuries the Old Testament prophets had foretold the coming of a king who would defeat their enemies and restore the kingdom of Israel (God’s kingdom), which had been overturned in the reign of King Zedekiah. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God had foretold the coming of the Messiah in words addressed to Zedekiah their last king:
Now to you, O profane, wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose iniquity shall end, “thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Remove the turban, and take off the crown; nothing shall remain the same. Exalt the lowly, and abase the exalted. Overthrown, overthrown, I will make it overthrown! It shall be no longer, until he comes whose right it is, and I will give it to him”Ezekiel 21.25-27
In addition to preaching about the kingdom of God, Jesus had much to say regarding the way of life of his followers. He emphasised the need for a moral life, very much in line with the principles expounded in the Old Testament. A very useful summary of his teaching is found in the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus spoke of the need to follow God’s commandments and show a caring, peace seeking attitude to others. He said: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Matthew 5.5-9). So important is our attitude towards others, Jesus said that forgiveness depends on it: ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you’. (Matthew 6.14).
Despite his preaching about the coming kingdom of God, with himself as its king, Jesus was taken and crucified. Had God’s purpose through him failed? Could he have been a fraud? Certainly not! Before it took place Jesus spoke about his crucifixion and predicted his resurrection from the dead. Indeed, the New Testament tells us that his resurrection was to be an assurance that God will set up His kingdom in the future as Paul told the Athenians:
…he (God) has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all, by raising him from the deadActs 17.31
When Jesus was crucified he fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies which had foretold his death as the following verses demonstrate:
…He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare his generation? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people he was strickenIsaiah 53.7, 8
For dogs have surrounded me; the assembly of the wicked has enclosed me. They pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones. They look and stare at me. They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lotsPsalm 22.16-18
…then they will look on me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for him, as one grieves for a first-born.Zechariah 12.10
Jesus was provided as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, thus demonstrating the love of God: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3.16).
The Bible shows that death is a punishment for sin and not the gateway to eternal bliss. Death was introduced into the world when Adam disobeyed God by partaking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The Apostle Paul commented on this when writing to the Romans: ‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned’ (Romans 5.12).
Death is the direct result of sin. It came first to Adam when he disobeyed God who had warned him against eating the forbidden fruit: ‘but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat the fruit of it you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2.17). Then death comes to all of Adam’s descendants because they inherit the sinstricken nature of Adam. We are unable to escape this inevitable end to our mortal life; we die and cease to exist. The Bible tells us that death is the end of life: ‘For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun' (Ecclesiastes 9.5, 6).
This is the natural state of mankind and we cannot redeem ourselves from the effect of sin – which is death. But Jesus was provided as a saviour, and we are told that this name was given to him because of the part he was to play in God’s plan for the world: ‘…for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1.21).
After Adam and Eve had sinned, God introduced the rite of animal sacrifice, by which a person who believed in God could obtain foregiveness after acknowledging their sin. The animal was killed and its blood shed. In doing this, sinners acknowledged that they personally merited the death inflicted on the sacrificial animal. Such sacrifices achieved only temporary forgiveness, but they pointed forward to the offering of the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1.29). Jesus was this perfect sacrifice, as we read in Hebrews:
not that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another – for then he would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for him he will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.Hebrews 9.25-28
So through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the way of escape from death has been made possible.
How then do we view Jesus? If we wish to escape death we need to be able to take advantage of his sacrifice. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, afterwards those who are Christ’s at his coming’ (1 Corinthians 15.22, 23). We are able to escape eternal death through the sacrifice of Jesus, by belief in the gospel and by baptism into Jesus:
And he (Jesus) said to them (the disciples), “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.Mark 16.15,16
On his ascension into heaven his disciples were promised by two angels that Jesus would return to the earth just as literally as they had watched him leave it to go to heaven:
And while they (the disciples) looked steadfastly towards heaven as he (Jesus) went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven”Acts 1.10, 11
The purpose of his return will be to set up the kingdom of God on earth. The return of Jesus, as King of the Jews to reign over the house of David in Jerusalem is the true Christian hope. This is the gospel of the kingdom preached by Jesus.
Today, Jesus calls us to repent (the word means to think and behave differently) and to believe the gospel; to believe in and take advantage of his sacrifice for sins and to become related to the great promises that God has made. Jesus said ‘You are my friends if you do whatever I command you’ (John 15.14). In His love for us all, God sent His Son into the world to be our Saviour. Jesus showed his love in willingly accepting the pain and ignominy of the cross, in order that all who believe on him may have eternal life. He will soon return to the earth to reward those who have truly believed and obeyed him. His invitation to all is ‘Come to me…and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11.28).
How will Jesus give rest to his followers? The clear answer from the Bible is that the rule of Jesus on earth will bring justice, peace and righteousness to the world with all discord and wickedness being removed for ever. There are many Scriptures that confirm this and give us encouragement, like this passage from the Psalms:
Give the king your judgments, O God, and your righteousness to the king’s Son. He will judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness… In his days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth… Yes, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him… There will be an abundance of grain in the earth, on the top of the mountains; its fruit shall wave like Lebanon… His name shall endure for ever; his name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessedPsalm 72.1-3, 7, 8, 11, 16, 17
The problems of mankind will be removed at source and the earth will yield plenty for all. No longer will the environment be under threat; no longer will fear spoil the lives of so many. The result of this new state of peace and prosperity is described in the last message of Jesus to his followers, where a truly wonderful prospect is promised to all who respond to the Gospel message and commit their lives to following Jesus now.
Are you prepared to do this?
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away”. Then he who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new”. And he said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”Revelation 21.4, 5