3.1 Why is it important to know Jesus?
• If you were told that someone died for you, wouldn’t you at least find out if this was true, and, if so, why? A man named Jesus died on a cross. He said he did this for you, to save you from eternal suffering and lead you back to God. This is either an extraordinary act of love and power or a ridiculous lie. Even out of curiosity alone, we would want to find out how much of this claim is true. And when our destiny is at stake, we must find out.
3.2 Who is Jesus Christ?
• Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin named Mary (Mt 1:18, Lk 1:34-35). Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5 tell us Jesus was born when Herod the Great was still alive, and thus indicate his birth occurred sometime before Herod’s death in 4 BC. Due to a mistake in calculation by a Scythian monk, our era is dated according to Christ’s birth in 1 AD. According to most historians, however, Jesus was born sometime between 8 and 4 BC, and about 750 years after the traditional date for the founding of Rome in 753 BC. He was born in Bethlehem of Judah (Lk 2:4), the city of David, and grew up in Nazareth, a small city in Galilee. His name, “Jesus,” is the transliteration of the Greek for the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “The Lord saves.” The title “Christ” is derived from the Greek term that means “Messiah” (Hebrew), or “Anointed One.”
• Despite his unique birth, Jesus fully displayed his humanity. He experienced hunger (Mt 4:2), thirst (Jn 19:28), and needed rest (Mk 4:38). He felt anger and grief (Mk 3:5), wept when one of his dearest friends died (Jn 11:35), and suffered agony before and during his crucifixion (Lk 22:44; Mt 27:46). He aged, so that though he began his ministry at about thirty years of age (Lk 3:23), he appeared to be about fifty (Jn 8:57). He died on a cross; his side, pierced by a Roman soldier’s spear, gushed water and blood. He was buried according to Jewish customs (Jn 19:38-42), resurrected and appeared to his disciples, including to over five hundred of them at once (1 Cor 15:6).
• Beyond the data we have about him, Jesus made several significant claims about himself:
- He is God: “I and My Father are one (Jn 10:30); “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn 14:9).
- He is the way to God and salvation: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn 14:6); “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (Jn 10:9).
- He carries supreme authority, even over nature (Lk 8:25), for “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18)
- He has power to forgive sins (Mk 2:5-12; Lk 7:48-50; Jn 8:24)—power that only belongs to God
- “Before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn 8:58): he existed before Abraham; he is the eternal Yahweh (Ex 3:14).
- His words are eternal: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mk 13:31).
- He is the light of the world (Jn 8:12).
- He is the living bread and gives his flesh as food (Jn 6:51); he provides living water to quench thirst eternally (Jn 4:14).
- He will answer prayer (Jn 14:14).
10. He is the resurrection and source of eternal life (Jn 11:25-26).
3.3 What evidence is there to support the claims of Jesus’ identity?
• The goodness of his character
Even though many have rejected his claims regarding his identity, few fail to recognize the goodness of Jesus’ character. He had compassion on others, comforted those in need, associated freely with the outcast and downtrodden, and humbled himself as a servant. His teachings upheld the strictest standards of moral goodness, and he fulfilled them with his own blameless life. “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” he asked, “And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (Jn 8:46).
If we recognize his goodness, then how can we deny Jesus’ claims to be God? If he were not God, he would be a blatant liar—the greatest sham and hypocrite of them all. This is the contradiction we are faced with, just as the Jews at the time debated the same questions (see Jn 7:12; Jn 10:21). But even Pilate, the Roman who judged Jesus, found no fault in him (Mt 27:24; Lk 23:4). If his claims were false, why would Jesus deliberately deceive, and willingly die for a lie? And why would he then make no attempt to defend or justify himself before his accusers (Mt 27:14, Mk 15:4-5)? No one in his right mind would willingly suffer and die for a lie he created.
• His wisdom astonished others
Jesus not only exemplified goodness in his life, he displayed extraordinary intelligence and wisdom. His knowledge and understanding astonished his listeners (Mt 8:28; 13:54), even in his boyhood (Lk 2:47, 52). His enemies marveled at his replies to their challenges and were unable to answer him (Mt 22:22, 33, 46). He was perceptive of the doubts, questions, and difficulties those around him faced and was able to address them. He proclaimed prophecies regarding his own death, as well as the destruction of the temple, which were later fulfilled.
• His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies
The Bible predicted that there would be a Messiah who would come to save God’s people. Several different authors, at various stages in history—centuries before Jesus—prophesied about the Messiah’s coming, his mission, his life. Jesus’ life fulfilled these Messianic prophecies one by one: he would be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14) in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2) of the seed of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and the house of David (2Sam 7:12ff); he would be preceded by a messenger, Elijah (Mal 3:1, 4:5); he would be betrayed by a close friend (Ps 41:9) for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:12); he would be silent before his accusers (Isa 53:7); he would be crucified, sneered and mocked (Zech 12:10; Ps 22:7); he would resurrect (Ps 16:10) and ascend to heaven (Ps 68:18).
As Jesus said, the Scriptures bear testimony of him (Jn 5:39,47) that he is indeed the Christ, the Savior of man.
• His miraculous ministry
Jesus did not just dispense moral teachings during the three years of his ministry; he performed numerous miracles that healed the blind, lame, and leprous (Mk 1,2); multiplied bread (Mt 6:11); cast out demons (Mk 9:14-27); even raised the dead (Lk 9:49-56). These signs and wonders were proof to an otherwise unbelieving people (Jn 4:48) that Jesus came from God and was the prophesied Messiah (Isa 35:5-6). Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews who came to believe, said to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2).
• His resurrection
The women who followed Jesus went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with fragrant oils and spices. When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away, and his body gone. Peter and John came to inspect the tomb and saw only the grave cloths lying there. Jesus later appeared to the disciples several times, showing them his hands and feet and eating with them to show that he had indeed resurrected. He spent some time with the disciples explaining the scriptures: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Lk 24:46-47). It was the first time in history that such an event had occurred; no other religion can make the same claim.
• The gift of the Holy Spirit
Jesus promised his disciples that when he went away, the Helper, the Spirit of truth, would come to guide them. He told them, “[I]f I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). The pouring out of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts testifies to Jesus’ claims, for it fulfills the promise he made to his disciples. Jesus must have returned to the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit to them (Acts 3:33). Today, we can receive the Holy Spirit because Jesus fulfills his promise to us. This is manifest in the physical evidence of believers who pray for the Holy Spirit and, in being filled, speak in tongues as the apostles did, or even are healed of their illnesses.
• The testimony of his followers
Among the Jews, given their strict monotheism, it is highly unlikely that any would so easily come to believe the “myth” that the man, Jesus, was also Lord. Yet even the Jewish rulers—including someone as well educated as Nicodemus—came to believe in Jesus (Jn 12:42).
When Jesus was arrested, his disciples and followers scattered out of fear and went into hiding. Peter denied Jesus three times to avoid any trouble with the authorities. Yet within a few months after his death and burial, Peter and the other disciples fearlessly preached Jesus and his resurrection before the multitudes and the authorities that had sentenced Jesus to death. Even the authorities marveled at their boldness (Acts 4:13). The apostles persisted in preaching the gospel despite being threatened, beaten, imprisoned and stoned—even unto death. The dramatic change that took place in them, and the witness that they continued to bear under extraordinary pressure to stop, testify to the truth of their claims. As they said to the council of rulers that threatened them: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The persistence of Christianity to the present day, despite all odds, supports the veracity of its beliefs. Jesus’ followers continue to bear witness of him today, despite societal pressures and even heavy persecution in various parts of the world.
• He answers prayers
The work of Jesus continues today; in his name, addictions are conquered, diseases are cured and lives are transformed—all testifying to the power, authority, and eternal words of a living Lord. As testimony verifies, he answers the prayers of those who earnestly seek him: healing our bodily ailments; imparting peace and true joy; empowering us to overcome the conflicts and temptations that bind us; giving us the most precious gift of his Holy Spirit.
3.4 Jesus was a good man, a teacher, or a prophet at best.
• Suppose someone walked up to you and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am not just a messenger of God, but God himself! Besides me, there is no other way to heaven.” Would you take him to be just another moral teacher?
• No one can reasonably feel neutral about Jesus. His self-portrayal doesn’t give you that option. You can call him crazy and walk away in disgust, or you can believe that he really is God. What’s important is not to brush him off without first examining the facts. Through his life on earth, Jesus proved that he is God coming to save us.
• When Paul presented his case for Christ before King Agrippa, Festus, the Roman governor, proclaimed that the apostle was out of his mind: “Much learning is driving you mad!” But Paul answered: “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king…knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:24-6). The evidence, which is plain, would sway us, as it nearly did Agrippa, if we were not as quick as Agrippa to dismiss all notions of faith. If we take the time to examine the evidence, we will discover that there is truth behind the claims, and reason to believe.
3.5 What does “resurrection” mean? How did Jesus resurrect?
• While the exact nature of resurrection remains a mystery to us, we know very simply that Jesus’ body “got up”1 and was transformed into a spiritual body; thus, he was able to appear to the believers even though the doors to where they were gathered were locked. Jesus was not, however, a ghost (i.e. a spirit without a body) because he could be touched, and he ate with them. He was not merely “revived” as Lazarus was, for while Lazarus walked out of the tomb with his grave clothes, Jesus’ grave linens lay in the tomb; Lazarus would suffer physical death again, whereas Jesus was clothed in an immortal body. Jesus’ resurrection is not the same as reincarnation, either, because his body was immortal, even as it still bore the scars and resemblance to his old self. Finally, Jesus’ resurrection was not assumption—he was not taken up directly into heaven as Enoch and Elijah were. Rather, he came from the dead, having suffered the torments of Hades for our sins, back to earth to reinforce the message of his resurrection. As Paul explained, “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1Cor 15:42-44).
3.6 How do we know Jesus’ resurrection really happened? Does it even matter?
• Paul wrote that “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain” (1Cor 15:14). Thus it is crucial that we understand and believe in the truth of the resurrection.
• Jesus’ death is confirmed: the Roman soldiers saw that he had died, and it is impossible he could have survived the final stab in his side. His body was buried behind a stone, and guarded by Roman soldiers, and yet on the third day the tomb was discovered empty. Either Jesus resurrected, or his body was stolen. But who, other than the disciples, would want to steal the body? Those who were against Jesus could have proven that the resurrection was a hoax simply by trotting out his body from the tomb. They did not, because they could not.
• Jesus’ resurrection is a fact established by Paul’s own testimony, the witness of the other apostles, as well as the witness of over 500 hundred other believers. It is incomprehensible that they would suffer and die for a lie that they had created. They had neither the means to pull the fraud, nor the motive to promote it, given the immense hostility they faced.
• We know he resurrected and lives today through tangible evidence: 1) we receive the Holy Spirit, just as the apostles did in Acts, and 2) because he answers our prayers, even in miraculous ways (see Question 3.3).
3.7 “Jesus saves? From what?”
• On one level, Jesus came to save us from our sorrow and labor. But more importantly, Jesus came to show us what life is really about and what is beyond our life today.
• It is only through Jesus that we can make an informed decision about our destiny. Can we afford to remain uncertain about our worth and our future, or do we place our hopes in Jesus’ true promise to change our lives for the better? Where will we end up? Will we be in heaven, forever with God and his love, or will we be in hell, forever apart from God and all that is good? The stakes are too high to ignore.
• Jesus Christ died and rose again to show us the hope we have in him. When we believe in him, our old, troubled self dies and we are resurrected to become a new person. That’s how Jesus saves us from evil and suffering. When we believe in him, he will help us through our troubles and live a life filled with God’s love and guidance.
- According to Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, “the words in the earliest creeds are anastasis sarkos and anastasis nekro-n, which mean ‘the standing up [or getting up] of the flesh’ and ‘the standing up of the corpses’! Both expressions are as concrete as possible. Anastasis is a word for a bodily posture. Sarkos and nekro-n mean that the real concrete bodies of the dead will rise,” in Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: 1994) 178.