Jesus Christ was a real person who lived in Palestine about 2,000 years ago. His life, death and rising from the dead are documented in the Bible books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These books are known as the Gospels. His final days on earth and ascension back to heaven are in the Bible book, Acts.
All the gospels are based on the eye-witness testimony of the apostles, who knew Jesus extremely well. They were his 12 closest followers and spent three years on the road with him, listening to his teaching, watching him miraculously heal people and meeting with him when he was raised from the dead. There are other sources of information about Jesus too. He is mentioned in texts written by non-Christian historians from that era: Josephus, a Jewish man, Tacitus, a Roman senator, and Suetonius. Thousands of people heard Jesus teach during his lifetime and the Bible has stories of many who were healed by him. A number of others saw him die, including a Roman centurion. So there were many eyewitnesses who were able to give personal accounts to the Bible writers.
But Jesus was, and is, much more than just a man. In the Bible, Jesus often refers to God as his Father. But in the Bible book, John, he goes further, suggesting the uniqueness and closeness of their relationship saying, ‘I and the Father are one…’, and ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’. Such statements of apparent blasphemy infuriated some of the Jewishl eaders who heard them. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – but he is also God himself. Christianity teaches that God exists in three forms at the same time: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (It is rather like how water can exist as steam, water and ice – each has the same chemical formula, but looks different). An excerpt from the Bible book, Colossians, tries to capture the awesomeness of Jesus, ‘he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…by him, all things were created on heaven and earth, visible and invisible… he is before all things and in him all things hold together’.
‘he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation'
Jesus is also an intermediary – he is humanity’s route to God. Also in the Bible book, John, Jesus says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’. The implication was that this offer was not just for a lifetime, but for eternity.
Jesus’ birth in around 4BC was foretold by ancient Hebrew writers, known as prophets, hundreds of years beforehand. Devout Jewish believers were waiting for the arrival of a Messiah – a great man who would lead the Jewish people to freedom and greatness again. The story of Jesus’ conception is miraculous – his mother, Mary, a virgin, fell pregnant by the influence of the Holy Spirit. But his birth was very humble - surrounded by animals in a stable. Little is known of his life before the age of 30 when he began travelling around teaching in synagogues and outdoors. But the Bible tells us that as a 12-year-old boy he went to the temple in Jerusalem and amazed the religious teachers with his knowledge and understanding. And the Bible book, Mark, suggests that as a young man in the town of Nazareth Jesus was a carpenter, like his human father, Joseph. It also tells us he had four brothers and some sisters too.
Can we trust the Bible accounts of Jesus’ life?
Christians believe that the Bible was inspired by God. It was God who influenced the writers and editors to produce what we now read. There is variation in the four Gospels. But that is understandable: for example, four witnesses of a car crash will usually give slightly different interpretations on what they saw, depending on their particular perspectives and interests.
Since Bible times, scholars have copied manuscripts and passed them down the generations. None of the original manuscripts about Jesus’ life have survived. The earliest handwritten fragments date from about 130AD and the first full manuscripts to 350AD. But scholars have great confidence in the accuracy and authenticity of the Bible stories about Jesus because of a science called textual criticism, which looks at the age and number of documents. Put simply, the smaller the gap between the date of the original documents and the date of copies we have, the more likely they are to be accurate. Another factor is the number of copies – more copies increases the likelihood of authenticity. There are more than 24,000 copies of earliest full manuscript – which is seen as a staggeringly high number.
Knowing Jesus changes lives
The Bible tells the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection from the dead. It documents his teachings, his miraculous healings, his family, his friends, how he antagonised the religious authorities and how he challenged their hypocrisy. He provoked people to think about how they lived and thought. He called for loyalty and sacrifice. He offered perfect peace but told his followers they would be persecuted. He pointed people towards God. The Bible explains how he was betrayed, arrested, put on trial and executed. It reports how he was seen after his resurrection by more than 500 people, how he ate with them and how one follower, Thomas, touched Jesus’ hands and side, which had been wounded during his crucifixion.
Many Christians have written inspirational accounts of their faith and how they have come to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even though they have not met him physically. Some Christians have even seen visions of Jesus. One key figure in the birth of the Christian church, Paul, experienced a vision of Jesus which totally changed his life, turning him from a persecutor of Christians to a devout and passionate believer, evangelist and establisher of new churches. Jesus continues to transform the lives of thousands of people around the world every day.