Was Jesus a Historical Figure?

Date written: November 5th, 2006
Scripture ref: Luke 1:1-4

SUBJECT: Apologetics

TITLE: Was Jesus a Historical Figure?

PROPOSITION: To set forth evidence that Jesus was a historical figure.

Objectives: That each would understand that Jesus was a historical figure.


1. Read: Luke 1:1-4

2. About the Text:

1) At the beginning of Luke's account of the gospel, he writes to Theophilus.

2) He says that the purpose of his writing was to "set in order" the things which they believed.

3) He says that these things were delivered to us from eyewitnesses.

4) He says that he wanted Theophilus to have certainty regarding these matters.

3. The question of Jesus existence.

1) For years, the question of Jesus' historical existence went unchallenged.

2) Even into relatively recent years, it went unchallenged.

3) Today, however, skeptics have challenged whether Jesus was a historical personage.

4) Surely if we are going to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we must first believe that He lived and walked on this earth.

5) Let's look at the evidence for the historical Jesus.

4. Ref. to S, T, P, O, and A.

DISCUSSION: We know Jesus was a historical figure because of the testimony of . . .

I.   Ancient non-Christian Historians (Hostile Witnesses)

1. Tacitus

1) He lived around 56-117 A.D.

2) He wrote a book in 115 A.D. called "Annals."

3) It was a history of Rome of his day and age.

4) In section 15:44 he said, "Nero fabricated scapegoats—and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome."

5) Noticed what this historical source tells us.

6) That Christians existed in the time of Nero (late 60s A.D.)

7) That Christ was their originator.

8) That He was executed in Tiberius' reign by governor Pontius Pilatus.

9) That Christians spread throughout Judea.

10) That Christians ended up at Rome.

11) We can conclude from this statement, that Jesus was a historical figure.

2. Seutonius (120 A.D.)

1) Seutonius was a good historian.

2) Scholars agree that he relied upon eyewitnesses for his history.

3) In his history of Claudius (25:4), he writes, "Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbance at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city."

4) This is also recorded as an act of Claudius in Acts 18:2 "And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them."

5) The name "Chrestus" is a reference to Christ.

6) What do we know from this quotation?

7) That Luke's historical record was accurate.

8) That Chrestus or Christ was the one that was blamed for the disturbances.

9) There were historical circumstances that stemmed from Jesus command to go into all the world and teach all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

3. The rabbis in the Talmud.

1) If there were a historical person known as Jesus, then the writings of the Jewish rabbis would record it.

2) The Talmud was such a writing that, by 300 A.D., was in print.

3) The author F.F. Bruce says regarding the evidence in the Talmud, "According to the earliest Rabbis whose opinions are recorded in these writings, Jesus of Nazareth was a transgressor in Israel, who practiced magic, scorned the words of the wise, led the people astray, and said that he had not come to destroy the law but to add to it. He was hanged on Passover Eve for heresy and misleading the people. His disciples, of whom five are named, healed the sick in his name."

4) In the Sanhedrin Tractate, some of this evidence is presented.

5) It says, "On the even of the Passover Yeshua was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned ….' But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of Passover."

6) "Yeshua" is the Hebrew equivalent of "Jesus."

7) John 11:8 records, "His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?"

8) The historical record of the Sanhedrin agrees with the historical record of John.

9) Jesus was a historical person.

4. Josephus

1) Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote two books as an apology for the Jewish nation.

2) In his book, Antiquities 18:3:3 he said, "And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He led away many Jews and also Greeks. This man was the Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him: and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out."

3) In another part of this same book, Josephus writes that the high priest Annas brought before the Sanhedrin, "a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death."

4) Josephus testifies that Jesus was a historical figure.

5) That James was his brother.

6) That Jesus was a teacher.

7) That he was called the Christ.

8) That he did good deeds.

9) That he was condemned by Pilate to the cross.

10) And that Christians were the people who followed his teachings.

II.  Ancient Christian Historians (post apostolic).

1. We also have several records from Christians themselves who believed that Jesus was a historical figure.

2. Clement of Alexandria (c.150 -215 A.D.)

1) He wrote a letter to the church at Corinth.

2) In chapter 16 he said, "For Christ is of those who are humble-minded, and not of those who exalt themselves over His flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sceptre of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him. "

3) He considered Jesus to be a historical figure.

3. Polycarp (c.65-155 A.D.)

1) He wrote a letter to the church at Philippi.

2) In this letter he said, "and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death…"

3) He considered Jesus to be a historical figure who died.

4. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.)

1) He wrote many things in defense of Christianity.

2) Regarding the birth of Jesus, he said, "Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judæa."

5. Ignatius (c. 98-117 A.D.)

1) He also wrote many letters to the early church.

2) He said, "Mindful of him, do ye by all means know that Jesus the Lord was truly born of Mary, being made of a woman; and was as truly crucified…. And He really suffered, and died, and rose again." (Epistle to the Tarsians, chapter 3).

6. Jesus was acknowledged by early Christian writers as being historical.

III. The Biblical Record

1. Of course, we also have the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude.

2. The Bible itself is a historical document and has proven to be correct time and time again in its historical observations.

3. One particular section of scripture, however, is acknowledged by scholars as being particularly significant.

1) 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…."

2) This particular portion of text in the book of 1 Corinthians has an underlying tradition.

3) Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians around 55 A.D. only about 25 years after Jesus death.

4) Paul says here that he delivered that which he also received.

5) When did he receive it?

6) It was, no doubt, sometime after his conversion that he was taught these things.

7) That happened around 36-38 A.D.

8) This information was given to Paul, so it is older, even, than that.

9) Thus, the New Testament record of the existence of Jesus dates very far back to the time of Jesus himself.

4. The gospel accounts.

1) Matthew was written in the 50-60s A.D.

2) Mark was written around the same time if not earlier.

3) Luke was written in the 60s A.D.

4) John was written in the 90s A.D.

5. Read from "The Historical Jesus" by Habermas, page 158 and 167-168.


1. Was Jesus a historical person?

1) Ancient non-Christian historians say he was.

2) Christians who wrote after the apostolic times say he was.

3) The New Testament says that he was.

2. The evidence is available to all.

3. Invitation – What will you do with the historical Jesus?