Bible Class Curricula - First Principles - Lesson #4 - Jesus of Nazareth
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Muslims would tell you He was a great prophet among prophets but not the Son of God. Mormons would tell you He was a god among many gods. People of the world would tell you He was just an ordinary man who made a big impact in world history. What does the word of God say? Who is Jesus?
The Historicity of Jesus
No other person has had more influence on the world in history than Jesus of Nazareth. Even the common dating system centers on Jesus (B.C.means “before Christ” and A.D. is a Latin phrase, anno domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord”).
Ancient Historical Writings
- Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-100), Jewish historian, wrote in his Antiquities of the Jews: "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. … He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets have foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (18.3.3). Josephus also wrote: "he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James." (20.9.1).
- Jewish Talmud (A.D. 200-500): these writings of Jewish traditions claim that Jesus was born out of wedlock after his mother was seduced by a Roman soldier named Pandera. They refer to Jesus’ miracles as “magic” and state that He claimed to be God. It also mentions Jesus’ execution on the eve of the Passover: "On the eve of the Passover they hanged Jesus," (Baraila, Babylonia Sanhedrin, 43a).
- Tertullian (A.D. 197), a theologian in defense of Christianity, wrote: "Tiberius accordingly, in those days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decisions in favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all of the accusers of the Christians" (Apology, V. 2).
- Thallus (A.D. 52) was one of the first historical Gentile writers who mentioned Christ. Julius Africanus (A.D. 221), a Christian writer, comments about Thallus: "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun – unreasonably, as it seems to me. Unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died." Julius is referring to the Gospel accounts of the darkness which fell upon the land during Christ’s crucifixion (Luke 23:44-45). Because this event was so well known, non-believers felt compelled to give a naturalistic explanation for it. However, even Thallus was not fully convinced of his own “natural” explanation. (1/113)
- Justin Martyr (A.D. 150), a Christian apologist and philosopher, wrote in his Defence of Christianity to the Emperor Antonius Pius and referred him to Pilate’s report. Justin supposed it was preserved in the imperial archives. But the words, "They pierced my hands and my feet," he says, "are a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the ‘Acts’ which were recorded under Pontius Pilate." Later he says: "That He performed these miracles you may easily be satisfied from the ‘Acts’ of Pontius Pilate." (Apology I. 48)
- Mara Bar-Serapion, a non-Christian philosopher, wrote a letter sometime later than A.D. 73 to his son while he was in prison to encourage him to seek wisdom. He pointed out that those who persecuted wise men were overtaken by misfortune. He mentions the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Christ (1/114; see Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. p 54).
- Clement of Rome, “Apostolic Church Father” of the 1st century A.D., wrote: "The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God" (Corinthians 42)
- Ignatius of Antioch, “Apostolic Church Father” of the 1st century A.D., wrote: "Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died,"
- Polycarp of Smyrna, “Apostolic Church Father” of the 2nd century A.D., spoke passionately of Christ and wrote against certain heretics of his day. Irenaeus, “Apostolic Church Father” of the 2nd century, said that Polycarp had a personal association with the Apostle John, and with others who "had seen the Lord" (Eusebius V. XX).
The Pre-Existence of Jesus
According to the Bible, Christ had a pre-existence before He became known as Jesus of Nazareth. His pre-existence was from eternity (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 9:6). This refutes a false doctrine that was taught during the early centuries of the church, namely that Jesus was created by God the Father. Even today, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to this ancient heresy by stating that God the Father created Jesus who then created everything else. But John 1:1,2 states: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." John 1:14-17teaches us that Jesus is the One of Whom the context speaks. These verses prove that Jesus had a timeless existence. He was not at any time brought into existence. He always has been and always will be. He was not created; instead, He was the eternal Creator of all things and beings (Hebrews 1:10; Colossians 1:16-17). In fact, Jesus is indeed God (John 1:14-17). In Hebrews 1:7-9, the Bible calls Jesus Jehovah. Jesus was and is “Almighty God” (Isaiah 9:6).
The Virgin Birth, Childhood, and Adult Life of Jesus
About seven hundred years before Christ was born as the Son of Man, Isaiah the prophet predicted in Isaiah 7:14 that Jesus would be born of a virgin and Micah the prophet predicted in Micah 5:2 that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. Matthew records the fulfillment of these divine prophecies in 1:22-23; 2:5-6. The gospel writers cover the life of Jesus from when He was an infant to when He was about two and then when He was twelve, but then skips about eighteen years of His life to when He reaches the age of about thirty and begins preaching (Matthew 2:11; Luke 2:41-50; 3:23). If Jesus was such an important individual, why skip all these years? Obviously, God’s emphasis was to be placed on His Son’s final years on this earth, including the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.
The Miracles of Jesus
Some of the main purposes of God’s miracles were to confirm that the messenger(s) was from God and that the message was from God (Hebrews 2:1-4). By witnessing the miracles of Jesus, it was obvious to one of the Jewish leaders named Nicodemus that Jesus was from God because he states in John 3:2, "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."
We do not know the exact number of miracles Jesus performed while on earth for it would have been impossible for the Gospel writers to record them all. But, the miracles which are recorded total about thirty-four or thirty-five (John 21:25). They were performed in three different realms: the human realm (the healings of the deaf, blind, dumb, etc.), the natural realm (walking on the water, turning water into wine, multiplying the loaves and fish, etc.), and the spiritual realm (demon exorcism, bringing the dead back to life, etc.). The enemies of Jesus recognized that He was performing genuine miracles, but they attributed His miracles as coming from Satan (Matthew 12:24-30). Jesus refuted their claim by revealing their irrational reasoning with powerful logic. If Jesus was performing miracles on behalf of Satan, why would He be speaking against Satan? Peter testifies to the miracles that Jesus performed. In his sermon to Cornelius, Peter states in Acts 10:38, "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."
John, the beloved disciple, shows why he wrote his inspired Gospel, revealing the main purpose of his Gospel in John 20:30-31, "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." Jesus did not perform these miracles to prove He was a powerful magician or to put on a show! The main purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to show people that He was Who He claimed to be – the Son of God. Peter states in Acts 2:22, "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[.]"
The True Messiah
The Old Testament foretells of an individual who would come and be known as the Messiah (Hebrew word meaning “Anointed One,” Daniel 9:26; Micah 5:2; John 4:25). In the New Testament, Jesus reveals Himself as the Messiah. For example, when a Samaritan woman who is drawing water from Jacob’s well meets Jesus, she says to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things" (John 4:25-26). Jesus says to her in verse 27, "I who speak to you am He." Jesus claimed to be the Anointed One chosen by God. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning the work of the Messiah. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. They still did not understand the events that had previously taken place, so Jesus said to them, "O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:25-27).
The Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus
Crucifixion was one of the most dreadful, agonizing death punishments in ancient times. The location of Jesus’ crucifixion was Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Though it was outside the wall of Jerusalem, it was in the immediate vicinity of the city. The crucifixion took place on Friday about 9 A.M. Isaiah 53:8 and Daniel 9:26 prophesied that Jesus would experience a violent death. Psalm 22:16 reveals that He was to die by crucifixion (even though crucifixion had not yet been invented). Psalm 22:11 states that Jesus’ death would be in the midst of His enemies, that His garments would be parted, and Psalm 22:18 reveals that the parting would be determined by casting lots. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Romans 3:24-26 states: "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Jesus had to become our substitute (Galatians 3:10-13). He took our sins and bore them on the cross (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53; Hebrews 9:26-28; 12:2).
After Jesus died on the cross, His body was taken and put in the new tomb that was owned by Joseph of Arimathea. The Roman guards stood watch to make sure that none of the disciples would come to steal the body, heeding a warning given to Pilate by the Jewish Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:62-66). The body was in the tomb for three days. Early Sunday morning, something spectacular happened. The power of death could not hold Jesus in its grasp (Mark 16:9; Acts 2:22-39). Jesus arose from the dead by the power of God (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)! He appeared to His disciples who became eyewitnesses of His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-9).
Acts 1:9-11 states, "Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He 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." Jesus went back into heaven to show that He completed the sacrifice for sin by showing His blood that He had shed. Jesus then sat down at the right hand of God and began His reign over His kingdom, the church of Christ (Matthew 16:18-19; Acts 2:29-36; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 1:1-4). Jesus is coming again at an hour we do not expect (Matthew 24:36; Hebrews 9:28). We need to make sure that we are obeying Him as our Lord and Master (Luke 6:46).
- Prove that Jesus of Nazareth existed.
- Was Jesus created or is He eternal? Explain.
- Give a few examples of the miracles of Jesus.
- Why are the miracles of Jesus significant? What do they prove?
- How can one know that Jesus was a prophet sent from God?
- What is the importance of Old Testament prophesy in relation to Jesus?
- Prove that Jesus was the Son of God.
The Gospel of Christ
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