A while back I started a series looking at some of the evidence that points towards the existence of God. Any given bit of evidence may not be all that compelling when looked at by itself. But none of the evidence exists in a vacuum. Each piece compounds on top of the others and when taken as a whole the case becomes pretty compelling that God really does exist.
In this article I want to take a closer look at the person of Jesus.
Most Consequential Personality
Jesus is arguably the single most consequential person who ever walked on planet earth. Two thousand years ago he spent about three years turning the world on its ear. The impact of those few short years of his public ministry changed the course of history.
He did this without conquering any territory. Nor did he lead any army. He wasn’t rich and he didn’t run a mega-corporation.
Jesus lived in an agrarian society. There was no mass media, no old media or new media, nor even any social media. Instead he spent those three years training up a core group of 12 guys (one of which didn’t work out too well.)
Then to top it all off he was executed in the most humiliating, degrading, and painful way possible.
Yet that core of
12 11 (remaining) guys and maybe 120 or so other folks carried his teachings on to the world in spite of some intense persecution from other people who tried to stomp out that message.
But let’s start at the beginning.
There are over 450 discrete and very specific Biblical prophecies that were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. This is very significant. It’s true that anyone can make a prediction about the future. If you want to maximize the likelihood of your predictions coming true, you should make them as vague and general as possible.
The reason you want to keep them vague is that the more specific you make them, the less probable that they’ll actually come true. For example, how likely is it that you could predict the city a future leader will be born in hundreds of years from now? Micah did that 700 years before Jesus was born.
How probable do you think it would be that you could describe in great detail the way a major religious leader will be executed a millennium from now? What if that method of execution that you describe hasn’t even been invented yet and won’t be for hundreds of years? David did that 1,000 or so years before Jesus was executed on the cross.
How about predicting the exact date a religious leader would appear hundreds of years from now? Daniel did that 530 years before Jesus was born.
If Jesus just fulfilled those three things (he did) that would be amazing in itself. But God is extravagant and wove well over 100 times more prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.
Mathematicians have calculated that the probability of someone fulfilling just 48 Biblical prophecies is one in 10^156 (that’s a number 156 zeros!) To give you a feel for the scale of that number the number of people in the world today is only a ten digit number. Scientists estimate that the number of particles that make up the entire observable universe is about 10^80, which is an 81 digit number. The odds of fulfilling just 40 Biblical prophecies needs a number nearly twice as big as that.
Except Jesus fulfilled nearly 10 times that many prophecies!
God made sure the person he meant was identifiable.
Life of Jesus
The birth of Jesus was announce by angels, but not like we might expect. Instead of heralding his arrival to the rich and powerful, the angels appeared to lowly shepherds. Out in their fields. At night. That’s not exactly what you might expect if you were going for a big splash.
Not only that, but with the exception of one anecdote from his youth we really don’t know much of anything about Jesus until he starts his earthly ministry at 30 years old.
In fact, pretty much everything about Jesus was just about the extreme opposite of what we might expect for someone who set out to make a significant impact on humanity.
The initial team Jesus recruited for his inner circle were working class, fishermen, and misfits. In fact, the only one that showed any promise at the beginning ended up being the one who betrayed Jesus.
Here’s what Jesus said his mission was at the start of his ministry.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,— Luke 4:18-19
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus explicitly set out to minister to those who were lowly and in bondage. When he walked the earth he wasn’t about conquering politically or lifting himself up. Instead he raised up others and set them free, especially those who were least likely to get assistance. In contrast there are other founders of religions who were all about acquiring wealth and power for themselves.
What Jesus taught was uniquely different. For example, Jesus taught what has become known as the Golden Rule.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.— Matthew 7:12
It’s true that most religions have a version of the Golden Rule. However Jesus framed it uniquely. Other religions say not to do for others what you don’t want done to yourself, or perhaps desire for others what you desire for yourself. Jesus said it actively in the positive – do for others what you want done.
I have heard it said that simply reading Jesus’ sermon on the mount aloud to psychiatric patients has a calming and soothing effect. There are very few who will disagree with the wisdom of what Jesus taught.
Death of Jesus
Millions of people have executed and killed by government authority. There’s nothing unusual about that. Even so, the death of Jesus was very different from most.
First there’s the prophecy. Reading through Psalm 22 is like reading through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. Only Psalm 22 was written about 1,000 years before Jesus was killed.
Isaiah 53 was written about 700 years before Jesus and describes details of his trial and execution. For example:
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,— Isaiah 53:7-9
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked —
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
That’s exactly what ended up happening as we can see in the Gospel accounts. Not only did Jesus not mount a vigorous defense at the multiple trials he went through on the night before he was executed, but he didn’t say anything in his own defense.
Jesus’ disciples abandoned him at his execution so he would have been buried wherever they inter criminals until the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea spoke up to offer his own tomb for Jesus to be buried in.
That’s how Isaiah said it would play out hundreds of years before it happened.
Resurrection of Jesus
The capper on it all is that Jesus was raised from the dead three days after he was executed. The resurrection is what separates the life of Jesus from being a tragic story of a good teacher and truly validates everything he said about himself.
The resurrection is so critical that believing it is one of the two requirements for a believer. As Paul wrote:
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.— Romans 10:9
But did it really happen?
It did. And while it takes faith to believe that Jesus was resurrected, it doesn’t take blind faith. We are not asked to believe in spite of the evidence, but rather because of it.
Start with that tomb where Jesus was buried.
The Jewish religious officials knew that Jesus claimed he would be resurrected before they had him killed. Because they knew that, they wanted to make absolutely sure there was no way his disciples could steal the body in order to perpetrate a hoax about Jesus being resurrected.
As far as they were concerned, that scenario would be worse than if they just left Jesus alone and never had him killed in the first place. Therefore those religious leaders went to great lengths to ensure there was no way to fake a resurrection of Jesus.
One of the advantages of burying Jesus in the tomb of a rich guy is that it had never been used before. And because Jesus’s body was the only one placed in that tomb, there was no chance that his body would be confused with another.
That particular tomb was carved out of solid rock. There was one entrance that could be controlled. Plus the tomb was nearby Jerusalem. So if the disciples did start talking about a resurrected Jesus anyone could inspect the tomb and see that he was still there.
After the body was placed inside, a very large stone was placed over the entryway of the tomb. Weighing in at about a ton and a half, it was a large enough barrier that it would take several men to move it aside.
To make extra sure that no one tampered with the tomb the religious officials went to the Roman governor Pilate and asked him to seal it with the Roman seal. That seal alone represented the authority and power of the Roman government. The penalty for breaking the seal of Rome was swift and severe. Anyone responsible for defying Roman authority by breaking an official seal was immediately executed by being crucified upside down.
The religious leaders also asked Pilate to assign guards to the tomb. A Roman guard consisted of 16 men. Their discipline was exceptional in large part because the consequences of mistakes were particularly harsh.
The punishment for falling asleep while on guard duty or letting a guarded prisoner escape was for the offending guard to be beaten and then burned alive in a fire started with his own clothes. If their superiors couldn’t determine which guard was responsible for the lapse in security then either lots were drawn to determine which guard was punished or all of the guards would be punished and killed.
It would take a small army to subdue a Roman guard. Most likely the guards would have to be killed outright because they would rather fight to the death than be executed for failing in their task.
Irony of the Security Measures
Ironically, by going to such extreme measures to ensure that it was impossible to fake Jesus’ resurrection, the religious officials made it incredibly difficult to deny the miraculous real resurrection when it actually occurred.
When some of the disciples arrived at the tomb on Sunday morning what the found was very different than what they expected.
The Roman guards were nowhere to be found. Not only was the Roman seal broken, but the large stone was removed uphill from the tomb entrance like it had been carried away some distance. The grave clothes that Jesus was embalmed in were lying in the tomb where Jesus had been laid. An angelic being told the disciples that Jesus wasn’t there, that he’d been resurrected just like he said he would be.
Knowing the punishment they were facing from their Roman superiors the guards went to the chief priests looking for help. The priests bribed them with a pile of cash to say they fell asleep while on duty and the disciples stole the body while they were sleeping. Then the priests assured the guards that they would smooth things over with the Roman governor Pilate so that they wouldn’t be punished.
Resurrection Hoax Easily Refutable
If the resurrection had been faked it would have been easily refuted. All the religious leaders had to do was produce the real body. They could have also shown people the guarded tomb with the Roman seal still in place.
Yet they never did that. Why?
Was it because an elite Roman guard abandoned their discipline and effectively forfeited their own lives by sleeping while eleven cowering disciples snuck in, carried a ton and a half rock away from the tomb entrance and stole the body?
Or was it because those eleven cowering uneducated disciples overpowered an elite sixteen man Roman guard, carried the stone away from the tomb entrance and stole the body?
Or were the religious leaders unable to produce Jesus’ body after his disciples started claiming to see him resurrected because those disciples were telling the truth and Jesus really is alive today?
Based on the evidence, which option do you think is more likely?
No matter how you chose to interpret the facts, the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus are unique in human history. That’s further evidence to me that God exists.