Jesus Christ—Evidence That He Walked the Earth
DO YOU believe in the existence of the man named Albert Einstein? You may readily answer yes, but why? Most people have not personally met him. Yet, reliable reports of his accomplishments prove that he did exist. The influence of his existence is felt through scientific applications of his discoveries. For instance, many benefit from electricity generated by nuclear energy, the release of which is closely linked with the application of Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2 (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared).
The same reasoning applies to Jesus Christ, admittedly the most influential man in history. What was written about him and the visible evidence of the influence he wielded prove beyond doubt that he did exist. As interesting as the recent archaeological finding of the James inscription, described in the preceding article, may be, Jesus’ historicity does not depend on this or any other artifact. The fact is, we can find evidence of Jesus’ existence in what secular historians wrote about him and his followers.
Testimony of Historians
For instance, consider the testimony of Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian who was a Pharisee. He referred to Jesus Christ in the book Jewish Antiquities. Although some doubt the authenticity of the first reference where Josephus mentioned Jesus as the Messiah, Professor Louis H. Feldman of Yeshiva University says that few have doubted the genuineness of the second reference. There Josephus said: “[Ananus the high priest] convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ.” (Jewish Antiquities, XX, 200) Yes, a Pharisee, a member of the sect many of whose adherents were avowed enemies of Jesus, acknowledged the existence of “James, the brother of Jesus.”
The influence of Jesus’ existence was felt through the activities of his followers. When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome about 59 C.E., the principal men of the Jews told him: “As regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:17-22) They called Jesus’ disciples “this sect.” If they were everywhere spoken against, secular historians would likely report about them, would they not?
Tacitus, born about 55 C.E. and considered one of the world’s greatest historians, mentioned the Christians in his Annals. In the account about Nero’s blaming the great fire of Rome in 64 C.E. on them, he wrote: “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures 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 one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” The details of this account match the information regarding the Jesus of the Bible.
Another writer who commented on Jesus’ followers was Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia. In about the year 111 C.E., Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan, asking how to handle Christians. People who were falsely accused of being Christians, wrote Pliny, would repeat an invocation to the gods and worship the statue of Trajan, just to prove that they were not Christians. Pliny continued: “There is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians, into any of these compliances.” That testifies to the reality of the existence of the Christ, whose followers were prepared to give their lives for their belief in him.
After summarizing the references to Jesus Christ and his followers by the historians of the first two centuries, The Encyclopædia Britannica (2002 edition) concludes: “These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”
Testimony of Jesus’ Followers
“The New Testament supplies nearly all the evidence for a historical reconstruction of Jesus’ life and fate and for the earliest Christian interpretations of his significance,” says The Encyclopedia Americana. Skeptics may not accept the Bible as evidence of Jesus’ existence. Yet, two lines of reasoning based on Scriptural accounts particularly help to establish that Jesus actually walked the earth.
As we noted, Einstein’s great theories prove his existence. Similarly, Jesus’ teachings prove the reality of his existence. Take for example the Sermon on the Mount, a well-known discourse that Jesus gave. (Matthew, chapters 5-7) The apostle Matthew wrote of the impact of that sermon: “The crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority.” (Matthew 7:28, 29) Regarding the effect the sermon has had on people over the centuries, Professor Hans Dieter Betz noted: “The influences exerted by the Sermon on the Mount generally far transcend the borderlines of Judaism and Christianity, or even Western culture.” He added that this sermon has “a peculiarly universalistic appeal.”
Consider the following concise and practical words of wisdom found in the Sermon on the Mount: “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other also to him.” “Take good care not to practice your righteousness in front of men.” “Never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties.” “Do not . . . throw your pearls before swine.” “Keep on asking, and it will be given you.” “All things . . . that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” “Go in through the narrow gate.” “By their fruits you will recognize them.” “Every good tree produces fine fruit.”—Matthew 5:39; 6:1, 34; 7:6, 7, 12, 13, 16, 17.
No doubt you have heard some of these expressions or the gist of them. Perhaps they have become proverbs in your language. These are all taken from the Sermon on the Mount. The influence that this sermon has on many peoples and cultures eloquently testifies to the existence of “the great teacher.”
Let us imagine that someone fabricated a figure called Jesus Christ. Suppose that person was clever enough to come up with the teachings credited to Jesus in the Bible. Would he not contrive to make Jesus and his teachings as palatable as possible to people in general? Yet, the apostle Paul observed: “Both the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness.” (1 Corinthians 1:22, 23) The message of Christ impaled was attractive neither to the Jews nor to the nations. That was, though, the Christ that first-century Christians proclaimed. Why the depiction of the Christ impaled? The only satisfactory explanation would be that the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures recorded the truth about Jesus’ life and death.
Another line of reasoning supporting Jesus’ historicity is found in the untiring preaching of his teachings by his followers. Only some 30 years after Jesus started his ministry, Paul could say that the good news “was preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) Yes, Jesus’ teachings spread throughout the ancient world despite opposition. Paul, who was himself persecuted as a Christian, wrote: “If Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-17) If preaching a Christ who had not been resurrected would be in vain, preaching a Christ who had never existed would be even more in vain. As we read in the report by Pliny the Younger, first-century Christians were willing to die for their belief in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for Christ because he was real; he had walked the earth and had lived as the Gospel accounts record.
You Have Seen Proof
Belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the prerequisite for Christian preaching. In your mind’s eye, you too can envision the resurrected Jesus by seeing the impact he is making today.
Just before Jesus was impaled, he gave a grand prophecy about his future presence. He also indicated that he would be resurrected and would sit at God’s right hand awaiting the time to deal with his enemies. (Psalm 110:1; John 6:62; Acts 2:34, 35; Romans 8:34) Thereafter, he would take action and oust Satan and his demons from the heavens.—Revelation 12:7-9.
When would all of that happen? Jesus gave his disciples ‘the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.’ The sign to identify his invisible presence included great wars, food shortages, earthquakes, the appearance of false prophets, an increase of lawlessness, and severe pestilences. Such calamitous events were to be expected, for the ouster of Satan the Devil would mean “woe for the earth.” The Devil has come down to the vicinity of the earth “having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” In addition, the sign includes the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom “in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.”—Matthew 24:3-14; Revelation 12:12; Luke 21:7-19.
Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together, the things that Jesus prophesied have occurred. Since the outbreak of World War I in 1914, we have seen the composite evidence of the invisible presence of Jesus Christ. He is reigning as the King of God’s Kingdom and is wielding tremendous influence. That you have this magazine in your hand is evidence that the Kingdom preaching work is being carried out today.
To appreciate further the effect of Jesus’ existence, you need to study the Bible. Why not ask Jehovah’s Witnesses about the details of Jesus’ presence?
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Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger referred to Jesus Christ and his followers
All three images: © Bettmann/CORBIS
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Early Christians were convinced that Jesus was real