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Did Jesus really exist? (Part 5)

We continue with some final evidences of Jesus’ existence.  The persecution of early Christians continued in the Roman empire. In Asia Minor (or modern day Turkey), Pliny the Younger was writing to Emperor Trajan in the second century seeking advice. Since so many Christians had been killed, whether young or old, male or female, Pliny wondered if he should execute only certain ones. Explaining his actions, Pliny wrote that he had found some people falsely accused of being Christian. Upon investigation, they summarily “cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do.” However, the real Christians were simply “guilty” of the following:

“They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.”

Of what were the Christians “guilty”? Promising not to lie, steal, or commit adultery, and worshipping Jesus as the Son of God early in the morning through songs. When Jesus Himself was on trial, He admitted that He was the Son of God in Mark 14:61-62. “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” That’s why these early Christians could sing to Jesus as the Son of God; He confessed to it under oath! In another case, the Apostle Thomas also worshipped Jesus in John 20:28-29. “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

Obviously, not all people in the first and second centuries believed that Jesus was the Son of God and rose from the dead. But they knew of His life and teaching and made reference to it. A final example comes from Mara Bar-Serapion, a first century Syrian philosopher who wrote a letter encouraging his son to pursue wisdom. Among other wise, notable figures in history like Socrates and Pythagoras, Mara Bar-Serapion cites Jesus as an example. “But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.” Jesus’ teaching did live on in the Great Commission that He gave to His Apostles after His resurrection in Matthew 28:18-20. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Miami University history professor Edwin Yamauchi summarizes these non-Christian sources from the first and second centuries, recording that Jesus was a teacher from Nazareth and lived a wise and virtuous life. He had enemies who admitted that he did unusual feats they called “sorcery.” He was crucified in Palestine under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at Passover time, being considered the Jewish King. He was believed by his disciples to have been resurrected three days later. He had a small band of disciples that multiplied rapidly, spreading as far as Rome. These disciples denied polytheism, lived moral lives, and worshiped Him as God. There are consistent biblical and historical records of the same basic facts about Jesus that are undeniable.

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April 10, 2018

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