Have you ever wondered if the Christ of the Bible really lived? Whether He performed such astonishing miracles as raising men from the dead, healing the blind and lame, and even walking on water?
Did Christ really walk the dusty roads of Palestine during the time of the Roman occupation more than 1,900 years ago?
The Bible bears record of a man named Jesus Christ. But is there proof outside the Bible that He really lived? That He performed miracles? That He was condemned to death by the Roman governor Pilate as recorded in the Bible?
It might surprise you to learn that such proof exists. Christ's existence can be proven not only from within the pages of the Bible itself, but also from the words of Roman historians and others who wrote about Him.
Before beginning this fascinating study, be sure to get your Bible, some paper and a pen or pencil. To benefit most from these studies, you should write out the Bible verses given in answer to the questions. This will help you remember what you are learning.
Before examining other historical evidence of Christ's existence, let's see some of the evidence the Bible itself has to offer.
1. Does the Bible record Christ's existence as a human being during the days of the Roman Empire? Matthew 1:16, 18, 21, 2:1-6, Luke 20:20-25, John 11:47-48.
The entire New Testament is a record of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. The written accounts, or gospels, of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Jesus' disciples and apostles) clearly show that Christ was born during the days of Herod, king of Judea, and that He lived during the time of the Roman Caesars and Roman occupation of Palestine.
2. Was Christ's miraculous birth to a virgin in the town of Bethlehem of Judea predicted hundreds of years earlier? Matthew 1:22-23, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 2:5-6, Micah 5:2.
These are merely two of the more than 300 prophecies and references to Jesus Christ in the Old Testament that are mentioned in the New Testament as having been fulfilled by Him. These prophecies, as historians and archaeologists will admit, were all written hundreds of years before Christ was born!
3. Did Christ show that the Scriptures of His day (now called the Old Testament of the Bible we have today) spoke about Him? John 5:39 and Luke 24:25-27, 44. Also read Matthew 26:55-56 and Luke 4:17-21.
Now let's notice several more specific Old Testament prophecies about Christ and see how He fulfilled them.
4. Was Christ to be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver? Psalm 41:9, Zechariah 11:12-13 compared with Matthew 26:14-16.
5. Would Jesus suffer a painful and agonizing death, with His hands and His feet pierced? Isaiah 53:7-9, Psalm 22:14-17, Zechariah 12:10 compared with Matthew 27:31, John 19:1, 34 and 20:24-29.
Jesus Christ is mentioned in several historical sources besides the Bible. (Photo by Hal Finch) 6. And yet would the bones in His body not be broken? Psalm 34:20 compared with John 19:33, 36.
7. Would lots be cast for Christ's robe? Psalm 22:18 compared with Matthew 27:35.
The New Testament accounts of Christ's life show that He fulfilled each and everyone of these and other prophecies written hundreds of years before His birth!
8. While on earth, did Jesus perform many miracles? Matthew 11:4-5, 15:30-31, 14:25-27, Luke 17:12-14, John 11:11-14, 38-44.
9. Did the religious leaders of the Jews, who were envious of Christ's miracles and fame, claim that His power was from a source other than God? Matthew 12:24. Although the religious leaders hated Christ and denied that He was the prophesied Messiah, they were forced by the very fact of His miracles and influence among the people to give recognition to Him in their records.
Jesus is often referred to in the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud is a record of Jewish debates, doctrines, stories and traditions covering a period from before the birth of Christ to the centuries immediately following. In the Talmud Jesus is scorn fully referred to as "that man," "dead dog," "the hanged one" and "the sorcerer." (The Jewish Encyclopedia lists the places where Jesus is referred to in the Talmud.)
The Talmud records Jesus' healing of the blind, the lame and the leprous. It also mentions His walking on the sea! But the Talmud also speaks of Jesus as having learned sorcery in Egypt (recall Matthew 12:24), in an attempt to discredit His miracles and His claim to being the very Son of God. The Talmud also records a full list of references to Jesus' mother, Mary, but in a very derogatory sense.
10. The envious religious leaders finally succeeded in having Jesus arrested by the Roman authorities under trumped-up charges that He was plotting the overthrow of the Roman government, and other false accusations. Did Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, find Jesus guilty of anything worthy of death after examining Him? Luke 23:13-23. Nevertheless, did Pilate give in to those who hated Christ and who demanded His crucifixion? Verse 24.
This event was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus, who lived less than a hundred years after Christ. He wrote that "Christus [the Latin spelling of Christ], from whom the name [Christians] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty [crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus..." (Annals, XV, 44).
As a Roman historian, Tacitus had access to government records of the Roman Empire. He was able to examine official historical documents showing that Christ was crucified!
Suetonius, another Roman historian and a contemporary of Tacitus, also refers to Christ. He tells us that in A.D. 49 the Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from the city of Rome (an incident also mentioned in Acts 18:2) and that Christ's followers were blamed:" He expelled the Jews from Rome, on account of the riots in which they were constantly indulging, at the instigation of Chrestus [a common misspelling of the name of Christ]" (The Lives of the Caesars, Book V, 25).
Reference to Christ is also made by the non-Christian Jewish historian Flavius Josephus of the first century A.D. Writing about the death of James, Josephus called him "the brother of Jesus who was called Christ" (Antiquities of the Jews, XX:9, 1).
These men were non-Christians — their writings are neutral, historical evidence of Jesus' life and crucifixion by the Romans.
An early reference to Christ also was made by Pliny the Younger, who was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. He wrote many letters to the Emperor Trajan concerning how Christians should be dealt with. One such letter, written about A.D. 111-113, provides conclusive evidence concerning Christ's existence and that of His followers (Christians) who were put to death for not renouncing their belief in Christ and their refusal to curse Him.
In this letter, Pliny describes Christians as coming together at fixed seasons and singing a hymn to "Christ, as to a god." This phrase clearly shows that Pliny considered Christ to have been a historical figure. He had no reason to doubt Christ's existence for he knew that Jesus was a real person who had lived and taught in the Roman Empire less than a hundred years earlier!
But what was the historical, literal Jesus of the Bible really like? Was He the pale-faced, delicate and effeminate-looking person so often portrayed by most of professing Christianity today? Or was He a real he-man who radiated true manliness and would command our respect if we met Him today? We'll find out in our next study.