Jesus the Legend
Clearly, no other figure in human history has been the subject of more research, books and articles than Jesus Christ. Over the centuries, thousands of men have dedicated their lives to studying and documenting the life of Christ.
He has inspired a quarter of the world’s population to follow His teachings. Millions of people claim to have a deep, personal relationship with Him.
Even from a secular viewpoint, Jesus is a person of immense importance. His birth and death are the markers by which most of the world measures time. And His birth and death have become major holidays in Western civilization.
Despite His being a person of legendary stature, even from a secular viewpoint, many liberal scholars are trying to diminish Christ’s greatness by attempting to transform Him into a mythical figure.
Because of the attacks against our understanding of Jesus Christ, more and more people have begun to doubt the validity of the Bible and the historical record of Christ’s life. This article is intended to provide practical reasons for believing the biblical record of Jesus Christ is true.
The Liberal Media
All good stories have a villain – an agent who seeks to harm the hero. In this article, the liberal media is an easy fit for that role. All the polls I’ve ever seen show that the extremely liberal press holds views that directly conflict with traditional Christian values.
According to one recent poll, 79 percent of Americans and 87 percent of Christians say they believe Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary without a human father. An equally high number of Americans believe Jesus is coming back to earth someday.
The media’s negative view of Christianity is a reverse reflection of what the general public believes.
According to a 2001 Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservatives or moderates and 18 percent see themselves as liberals. A survey by the Los Angeles Times found that only 18 percent of the media claims to be in the conservative camp.
Here are a few additional figures compiled by the Media Research Center:
Nearly all of the media elite (97 percent) agree that it is a woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion.
Three out of four journalists (73 percent) believe that homosexuality is as acceptable a lifestyle as heterosexuality.
Seven out of ten journalists (71 percent) agree that government should work to ensure that everyone has a job.
Three-fourths (75 percent) affirms that government should work to reduce the income gap between the rich and the poor.
Relatively few journalists (39 percent) agree that less government regulation of business would be good for the economy.
The liberal media plays a key role in the attack on Jesus. Although it has lost much of its power with the advancement of technology, the press continues to play a major role in setting the social agenda. The press is not the sole source of our nation’s moral decline, but it is responsible for being a leader in that decline.
The media seems endlessly incapable of coming to terms with Jesus as a living, breathing person. It applies a standard to Christ that it never would dream of requiring of any other person in history.
In nearly every article about Jesus, the media implies that all current knowledge of the Lord Jesus is inaccurate or unreliable by raising questions such as “Who was this man?”; “Was he really the son of God?”; and “Because he never wrote any book of his own, how can we trust what his followers say about Him?”
The word “mystery” is very commonly associated with His name. I’ve counted dozens of major media publications that use that word in key articles about Jesus.
The type of questions these folks ask are so simplistic that one can only conclude they are either the result of ignorance or of a biased agenda. With such a wealth of first-hand resources referring to Jesus, I would have to say that bias is most likely the source of this lack of understanding.
George Washington has never received the same type of treatment. If so, these reporters would be asking such inane questions as, “Did Washington actually have wooden teeth?”; “Why do people say he’s the father of our country?”; and “How do we really know if he was the American President?”
To be able to question the validity of a historical figure, the researcher needs to be smart enough to address his subject with empirical accuracy. Some of the inquiries into the details of Christ’s life are so far off the mark they might as well be asking:
Does Jesus have His own website?
Are any people with the last name “Christ” related to Him?
Is He listed in the Israeli phonebook?
Does the Israeli DMV have His driver’s licenses in its database?
Has anyone tried contacting the FBI’s missing persons division?
Does Nazareth Senior High have records of His attendance?
Are any of the original New Testament authors still alive?
Do the Bethlehem city hospital have documentation of His birth?
The military keeps good records. Did He serve any time in the Israeli Army?
Does the Jerusalem Post have archived articles about Him?
As ridiculous as these questions might seem, many so-called scholars come very close to descending to this level of intellectual ineptitude. In the face of a mountain of historic evidence, it is a mystery to me how a person could be so clueless that he or she would openly ask if Jesus was a real person.
Anyone trying to make the assumption that Jesus is a questionable person in history is not working within the arena of common sense.
The Evolution of Jesus Christ
One of the most common methods of making Jesus out to be an unfathomable mystery is by promoting the idea that Jesus was a work-in-progress Savior. They claim the early church fathers regularly changed their views of who Jesus was to reflect the problems of a growing church or to advance political agendas.
These people are unable to produce writings that show how Christ evolved over time. Despite their claim of an embellished biblical record, there are no early writings with conflicting story lines. We don’t see examples that indicate Jesus was the son of a carpenter in one record, a baker in another historical source, and a butcher in yet another.
There is no conflict between the four Gospels. Each writer had his own style of reporting the life of Jesus, but the basic facts presented by each author are the same.
The naysayers try to find conflicts between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. The Divine Creator of the Old Testament is said to be more stringent than the One Jesus represents. Anyone thinking God has mellowed over the years needs to read the Revelation account of Jesus’ return at the battle of Armageddon.
Another popular way people try to reinvent Jesus is to claim He had connections to the Far East. Some authors promote the idea that Christ survived the cross and traveled throughout Asia communing with spiritual leaders such as Buddha.
These writers of Eastern religions and philosophies commonly try to gain legitimacy by piggybacking on what the Bible teaches by claming Jesus taught the same love message they promote. I’ve found quotes saying Jesus was “a great man,” “a son of God,” and even that He was “born of a virgin.”
Because there are so many of these assertions that Jesus had connections to Eastern mysticism, it would be pointless to try to disprove each one. A better way would be to refute them all at once by giving them the ‘I am the way’ test. Jesus said, ‘I am the way.” No one from a non-Christian faith can stomach the passage that says Jesus is the only way to God. By failing to agree on this point, they are admitting that their Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Bible.
The only thing that has evolved through the ages has been God’s master plan for salvation. The day Adam and Eve fell, God had predestined a way for man to be saved from his sins. Jesus is the Savior because He is the only Man in history who fulfilled the role predicted by old Testament prophets.
The So-Called Experts
I once read that the definition of an “expert” is “someone who knows a great deal about very little.” Experience has taught me that the ‘knows a great deal’ part may not even be a prerequisite to achieving “expert” status.
Anyone with the skills to put together a resume can declare himself an expert. There is no set standard for becoming an authority on any subject; simply claiming to be one puts a person in the club.
Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of news stories that mentioned the leftist animal rights group People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I rarely see the press interview middle-of-the-road organizations like the Humane Society on stories dealing with the treatment of animals.
If the media is going to go to PETA to get its wacko expert views, it should also get the opinions of People for the Eating Of Tasty Animals–there is such a group.
With Bible experts in such great abundance, the media has the option of choosing expert sources who match its liberal views. Judging by the fact that reporters always seem to pick the experts who hold to the most radical, leftist views of the Word of God, it should be obvious to all that the truth is continuously being misrepresented.
When the media chooses to interview a homosexual ministry to represent the typical Christian view on human sexuality, mainstream Christianity should take this action as a slap in the face.
One of the darlings of the liberal media is an organization called the Jesus Seminar. Members of this group of academicians come from some of the most liberal universities.
They are well-known for their practice of voting on the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus by dropping colored beads in a box. If a member believes something should be attributed to Jesus, he drops in a red bead. If he believes a passage from the Bible is the result of tradition, he drops in a black bead. The validity of the Bible is then determined by the bead count.
The Jesus Seminar members seem to have an ample supply of black beads. As a result of their novel voting system, they have concluded that Jesus never said 82 percent of the sayings the New Testament attributes to Him. Thus they assert that the New Testament is a hopeless mess of rumors and hearsay mixed with a little truth.
The Jesus Seminar is not a Christian organization. Its only purpose is to attack the authority of the Bible. This little band of pompous scholars would be nothing more than an insignificant fringe group if it hadn’t been for the liberal media giving it national coverage. The most infamous example of this free coverage occurred when it was featured on an ABC prime time special hosted by Peter Jennings.
The program’s producers did not offer a single conservative Christian the opportunity to rebut the claims reported in the broadcast. They depicted conservative “believers” as being too simple-minded to be given any air time.
Much of the blame for the Jesus Seminar gaining fame rests with the average Christian. Believers should have been outraged that the liberal media would dare use the group as a representation of all Christian scholars.
Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan decided to advance its campaign of hatred by changing its name to the African-American League and claiming to represent black Americans. There would be rioting in the streets if major networks decided to lend credibility to this group.
If Christians had just applied a small amount of scorn towards ABC, the network never would have aired the program. As long as the Church remains silent, these wolves in sheep’s clothing will continue their dirty work: “Ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:7).
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 7:15-19).
The Four Gospels
Because the first four books of the New Testament contain most of the information about the life of Jesus, skeptics have attacked them more than any other books. The fact that challenges to their authenticity have been going on for centuries is testimony to their legitimacy.
In the task of proving the validity of the Bible, it is not necessary for me to argue that it is “sacred,” “divinely inspired,” or “inerrant.” All I need to do is prove that it is a historical document.
First, the Word of God does not need to prove anything to modern-day scholars. They make the assumption that the New Testament documents are unreliable unless they can be verified through independent corroboration. That standard is never applied to any other historical records.
Because the Gospels have stood against an untold number of critics, new scorners need to come up with a good reason to doubt the Bible. In a court of law, we presume innocence until guilt is proven, laying the burden of proof on the skeptic. The fact that a purportedly historical document can’t be verified by another text shouldn’t disqualify that document.
If someone decided that George Washington was not the first US president, the burden would be on that person to produce evidence to counteract a mountain of documents proving that Washington indeed was the first president.
Many people buy into the lie that the New Testament was written many years after the first century and it is the product of folklore invented over the years. They assume there was a limited number of copies of the Bible.
In fact, the New Testament was completed within a few decades of the time of Christ and close to 5,000 manuscripts contain quotes from the original authors. For instance, the famous John Ryland’s papyrus fragment of John 18:31’33; 37’38, which dates to around A.D. 140, was written only 50 years after John wrote his Gospel.
Another consideration for skeptics is the candidness of New Testament writers. If the four Gospels were untrue, they would have to be among the first examples of self-admitted cowardice in a historic document ever recorded by lying authors. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all admitted that when Jesus was arrested, they fled for their lives.
Some of the most reliable information about Jesus comes from people who were unfriendly or indifferent to Christianity. What makes these people so helpful is their absence of bias.
Many of these negative or indifferent writers have proved to be valuable resources in verifying early Christian beliefs. They provide an independent confirmation of numerous historical facts that are mentioned in the Gospels, including: Jesus was crucified; He was regarded as a lawgiver; He was worshipped as God; and His followers committed to follow His laws. Here are a few examples:
Tacitus – “Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”
Caius Suetonius wrote about how Claudius had commanded all Jews to leave Rome – “He banished the Jews from Rome, who were continually making disturbances, Chrestus being their leader.”
Pliny the Younger made the following observations about Christians around 100 A.D. ‘ “In the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day, sang a hymn to Christ as to a god, bound themselves to not to any wicked deeds and were willing to die as martyrs rather than deny their faith in Jesus as the Son of God.”
The Babylonian Talmud ‘ ‘On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.””
Josephus – “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared.”
Lucian of Samosata recorded the experience of a Greek named Proteus — “At which time he learned the wonderful doctrine of the Christians, by conversing with their priests and scribes near Palestine… they spoke of him as a god, and took him for a lawgiver, and honored him with the title of master… They still worship that great man who was crucified in Palestine, because he introduced into the world this new religion… Moreover their first lawgiver has taught them, that they are all brethren, when once they turned, and renounced the gods of the Greeks, and worship that master of theirs who was crucified, and engage to live according to his laws.”
The Real Jesus
In preparing this article, I sorted through a mountain of evidence that offers good support of the biblical record of Jesus’ life. Knowledge is not the key to convincing people of the truth. If someone has already decided that a guy returning from the dead is a bunch of nonsense, no amount of historical proof will ever be enough to convince him to change his mind.
Experience has taught me that people don’t come to spiritual truth by weighing the physical evidence. Christian leaders endlessly talk about the power of arguing people into believing in Christ, but it rarely happens that way. I’ve been operating Rapture Ready for 18 years, and not once have I been able to argue a person into becoming a believer.
Most people come to belief in Christ and His Holy Word by accepting what might appear to be blind faith. Mark Twain once said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
Twain was wrong, because there is solid foundation that faith rests on. Spiritual faith has an unseen agent at work providing a level of certainty that goes beyond the physical realm.
In all acts of salvation and conversion, the Holy Ghost is active in pointing people to the truth. The Bible tells us that without the working of the Spirit of God, no man would find salvation.
Knowledge is important because people just don’t supernaturally learn about Jesus. They need to have someone to give them the information. Once they are provided with the information, the Holy Spirit provides the conviction.
In the end, everyone who has been exposed to the truth about Jesus will be sorted into two groups: those who accept the truth and those who reject it.
When all of humanity stands before the Great White Throne, every hidden thing will be revealed. The biggest surprise about Jesus Christ will be that He was never a secret. Only in men’s heart’s has He been a mystery. My advice to anyone with doubts is to seek the truth while there is still time.
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20:11-12).
— Todd Strandberg