"Who do you say that I am?" With that brief question (Matt 16:15), Jesus Christ confronted His followers with the most important issue that they would ever face. He had spent much time with them and made some bold claims about His identity and authority. Now the time had come for them to either believe or deny His teachings.

Who do you say Jesus is? Is He a great teacher or maybe a prophet? Did He even exist at all? The answers to these questions are just as important to you as they were for Jesus' followers.

If the person of Jesus can be shown to be an actual historical figure, how would this change your perspective on the Bible? If the Bible were shown to be accurate and historically reliable, how would this impact your life? If it can be shown to you that Jesus was more than a great teacher or a prophet, would this challenge what you currently believe? If proof can be demonstrated that Jesus was resurrected, shouldn't this change your life?

Most people who do not believe in such things ask for evidence. While Christianity is based on historical facts, the question that carries more importance is "would this change your life if evidence can be given?"

The following is a brief defense of the Christian faith that deals specifically with Jesus' existence, the Bible's reliability historically and textually, and the historical fact of the resurrection. If you are searching for truth or are involved in a religion, or just don't believe at all, the evidence that follows is important to you.

His undeniable, historical existence

It is interesting to note that many years ago the majority of skeptical and atheistic scholars said that Jesus was not a real person but rather a myth, similar to the “gods” within Greek mythology. His existence as a historical person was laughed at and Christianity was seen as based upon nothing more than a myth, not really worthy of any serious consideration. Today things are different: the skeptical and atheistic scholars now admit to the existence of Jesus as a historical person that lived about two thousand years ago. The whole debate about who Jesus was does not center around the question of His existence anymore, but rather His actions and claims to Deity. This drastic change in position resulted largely from the discoveries of numerous references to Jesus, His actions, teachings, claims, and followers recorded by historians and rulers that lived during Jesus' time. The references below are brief, but show such evidence.

Non-Christian historians write about Jesus

  • Josephus, who was a first century Jewish historian, wrote several things concerning Jesus in his book The Antiquities. In summary, we learn from Josephus that he knew Jesus was the brother of James and was a wise teacher who had established a lasting following, despite the fact that He had been crucified under Pilate at the instigation of some of the Jewish leaders.
  • The Talmud was an important collection of writings by Jewish rabbis. These writings reference Jesus and some of his actions. These passages in the Talmud do not deny that Jesus performed miracles, but calls them “magic.” These references support the Biblical claims that Jesus was a healer and a miracle-worker but, again, calls them either sorcery or magic.
  • Tacitus, a Roman historian, despised Christians, but understood that Christians received their name from Christ who by Tacitus' own writings had been crucified.
  • Pliny the Younger, also a Roman, who was governor of Bithynia in second century Turkey, references Christ and His followers. He also refers to their “oaths” to avoid all criminal activity.

These ancient non-Christian sources show us the historicity of the person Jesus. In short, we learn from these and other sources that Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Despite His death His followers worshipped Him as God, His followers believed that He was raised from the dead, Christians became exceedingly numerous in Rome (AD 60), and by the end of the first century were widespread throughout the region.

The reliability and historical accuracy of the Bible

We've established that there are numerous references to Jesus and His activities in writings outside the Bible. This is helpful as it lends further solid support to the Biblical record of Jesus and who He really was. Now we turn to the Bible itself. Is it historically reliable? Can we trust its claims?

To do this we will look into two areas: manuscript evidence and archaeology…

Manuscript Evidence

A manuscript is essentially a preserved copy of the Bible or any other ancient writing. For the New Testament alone there are well over 5,000 manuscripts in existence today. These manuscripts can vary in type and in the amount of the New Testament that they contain. Some have portions of certain books while others have a whole book or the entire New Testament. As far as accuracy, these copies resemble other copies far removed by time and location in an incredible manner. Since the copies mirror each other so closely and have few, if any variances between them, it is easy to trust that what we have today is what was written originally, long ago.

For a point of comparison, let's look at just a few examples of the more well known ancient writings and their number of remaining copies: Homer's Iliad was written in 800 BC and has only 643 copies remaining. Plato's writings which are from about 400 BC have only 7 copies left. Caesar's Gallic Wars written about 100-44 BC have only 10 copies remaining.

Apart from the number of copies that remain, the gap of time from which the original was written compared to the earliest manuscript copy is also important. The ancient authors above have existing copies ranging from a 400-1400 gap of years from when the original was penned. The Bible, however, has copies that date only 50 years or less from the original. With the added benefit of a much larger distribution and an incredibly higher number of existing copies (well over 5,000), the Bible's original wording is easily attainable and credible.

Historical Accuracy

Along with Manuscript evidence supporting the accuracy of the writings of the Bible, the next thing to look at is if the people and places within the Bible are actually historical. Archaeology is what we would naturally look to in this area. While there is so much that can be used as an example, we will only offer a brief list of discoveries that confirm the reliability of the Bible as a trustworthy historical source.

  • The proof of the existence of the person of Jesus (as seen above).
  • In 1945 a receptacle for bones (called ossuaries) were found with four crosses on them along with a prayer to Jesus and a second inscription which was a prayer for resurrection of the person within this receptacle.
  • The “Pavement” was the place where Jesus was tried by Pilate (also called “Gabbatha”) in John 19:13. This was discovered recently in Jerusalem.
  • The “Pool of Bethesda” was a big point of criticism for Atheists for a long time until it was uncovered in 1888!
  • The man who tried Jesus, Pilate, was thought (along with Jesus) to be a creation of the Bible. However in 1961 an important stone slab was discovered. Archeologists working at the Herodian theater found a plaque inscribed with the Latin words, Tiberium . . . (Pon)tius Pilatus . . .(prae)fectus Juda(ea)e. According to experts, the complete inscription would have read, “Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.”

There are three things that have been established so far. For one, we have seen that Jesus was once regarded as a mythical creation, but now His existence is never debated. Secondly, we have found that the manuscript evidence for the Bible allows us to be confident that we have the original writings before us today. Further, there is no other ancient writing that is in existence today which has anything close to the number of manuscripts attesting to its authenticity as does the Bible. And since we accept these other ancient writings as being “credible,” we would be foolish to say that the Bible is less, or not at all, accurate or credible. Thirdly, we also have established the fact that apart from knowing what the Bible actually says its writings are historically accurate and verifiable - with real persons, places and events proven by non-Christian sources as well as Archaeology.

What about the resurrection?

The central miracle of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. It is this teaching that is the cornerstone of the historic Christian faith, if it falls, then so does Christianity. So, what evidence do we have to prove it really happened?

Essentially, there are two areas that we need to examine and prove in order to demonstrate the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. First, the tomb of Jesus Christ was found empty on the third day after His death by both His doubting followers and His enemies. Second, after weighing the evidence, the empty tomb overwhelmingly demonstrates that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

Jesus' tomb was found to be empty on the third day.

  • There are those who suggest that the resurrection is only a legend developed by Jesus' followers. This assertion is absurd because a legend of this magnitude would have been impossible to create. Consider the following: the number of people that saw Jesus after His resurrection (over 500), the hostile response that such a belief would receive and the fact that those who once doubted and disregarded Jesus are now risking their lives by proclaiming His resurrection. Furthermore, the books of the New Testament were written early enough that eyewitnesses could have contradicted them.
  • Even those who were opponents of Christianity believed the tomb was empty. The proof of the resurrection is in the empty tomb. All the opponents had to do was produce the body of Christ to end Christianity, but no body was "found". The tomb was also sealed and guarded by the Romans to prevent the followers of Jesus from stealing the body. It would have been near impossible for the disciples to overcome the guards. Even if they did, it would have obviously been a well-publicized event. No such account exists.

The empty tomb demonstrates that Jesus was resurrected from the dead

  • Any thinking person should be minimally asking what happened to the body of Jesus? Did the disciples steal the body? For the disciples to steal the body, they would have had to overcome guards who were stationed there specifically to prevent its theft. They would also have needed a great amount of courage, which is something they apparently lacked as they fled the night that Jesus was arrested. The fact that following the resurrection these men suffered rejection and persecution in life and were then killed for their faith in Jesus strongly suggests that they believed it really happened. Why would they give their lives for what they knew was a lie?
  • Were the disciples deceived by hallucinations or religious hysteria? This would be possible if only one or two persons were involved, but Jesus was seen alive after His death by groups of people who touched, ate, and conversed with Him. These people also risked death for holding to this belief, but they remained certain and steadfast, not typical of people who suffer from hysteria or hallucinations.
  • Did the Jewish leaders take it? If the Jewish leaders had taken the body of Jesus, they would have certainly produced it in order to refute the idea that He had been raised from the dead. They never did, because they didn't have the body.
  • Did Jesus really die? Even skeptics disregard this theory called the "swoon" theory, which suggests that Jesus was only unconscious and awoke later. First, if we understand the severity of the beatings that Christ received before His crucifixion and the horror of crucifixion itself, it becomes impossible to expect that any man could survive this kind of punishment. Second, if He simply “swooned” His followers would have known that He did not really "resurrect" (as Jesus continually said He would) from the dead and conquer death, but that it was simply deception. They certainly wouldn't have given their lives for what they knew was a deception and lie.

Jesus actually rose from the dead

Since the other explanations do not adequately explain the fact of the empty tomb, we have reason to consider more seriously the testimony of those who claimed to be eyewitnesses. The followers of Jesus said that the tomb was empty because Jesus had been raised from the dead, and many people claimed to have seen Him after the resurrection. The Bible (1 Corinthians 15 - an early Christian creed written some 3-5 years after Jesus' death) identifies a number of individuals who witnessed the resurrected Christ, noting also that Christ had appeared to over five hundred persons at one time (v. 6). The Bible tells us that most of those people were still alive, essentially challenging them to check out the story with those who claimed to be eyewitnesses. The presence of such eyewitnesses prevented Christians from turning history into legend.

Alternative explanations are inadequate and eyewitnesses were put to death because they continued to maintain that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Christianity exists because these people truly believed in the resurrection. Their testimony and integrity continues to affirm the resurrection as being the reason for the empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

Jesus: Lord, liar, or lunatic?

We first looked at the facts supporting the existence of Jesus then we looked at the manuscript evidence supporting the reliability of the current day Bible as faithful to the originals. We also have seen that the Bible is a historically reliable book and that the resurrection is more than a deception or myth, but fact. We now look at Jesus and who He really was.

Jesus is God

While Jesus was on earth, there was much confusion about who He was. Some thought that He was a wise man or a great prophet, others thought He was a madman, still others couldn't decide or didn't care. But Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) that means He claimed to be nothing less than God in human flesh.

Many people today don't understand that Jesus claimed to be God. They're content to think (or believe what others say) of Him as little more than a great moral teacher, but even His enemies understood His claims to deity. That's why they tried to stone Him to death for blasphemy (John 5:18; 10:33) and eventually had Him crucified (John 19:7).

C.S. Lewis observed, “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity {New York: Macmillan, 1952}, pp. 40-41).

The many religions that acknowledge Jesus as a prophet or a great teacher cannot be correct. The Bible has shown to be accurate (historically and textually) which means that Jesus' exact words are found within it. We have seen that Jesus claims to be God (see John 1:1-3, 14, 8:24, 8:58, 20:28). If Jesus is not who He said He was, then He is either a cruel liar (because He intentionally mislead thousands of people), or He is a lunatic, a simple man suffering delusions of grandeur. Jesus being only a "good teacher" or "prophet" is unfounded and avoids His true claims. A good teacher or a prophet would not lie about something like this to his people, nor would an obviously crazed man be called by such authoritative titles.

Jesus is the only Savior

Our failure to obey God – to be holy – places us in danger of eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). The truth is, we cannot obey Him because we have neither the desire nor the ability to do so. We are by nature rebellious towards God (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Bible calls our rebellion sin.

According to Scripture, everyone is guilty of sin; “There is no man who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And we are incapable of changing our sinful condition. Jeremiah 13:23 says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to evil.”

That doesn't mean we're incapable of performing acts of human kindness. We might even be involved in various religious or humanitarian activities, but we're utterly incapable of understanding, loving, or pleasing God on our own. The Bible says, "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." (Romans 3:10-12)

God's holiness and justice demand that all sin be punished by death: “The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). That's hard for us to understand, because we tend to evaluate sin on a relative scale, assuming some sins are less serious than others are. However, the Bible teaches that all acts of sin are the result of sinful thinking and evil desires. That's why simply changing our patterns of behavior can't solve our sin problem or eliminate its consequences. We need to be changed inwardly so our thinking and desires are holy.

Jesus is the only One who can forgive us and transform us. The only One who can deliver us from the power and penalty of sin: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Even though God's justice demands death for sin, His love has provided a Savior, who paid the penalty and died for sinners: “Christ…died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18).

Christ's death satisfied the demands of God's justice, thereby enabling Him to forgive and save those who place their faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He alone is “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). Excerpt from Grace To You article “Who Do You Think That I Am?”

If you are ready to meet the One True God, here is what you need to do. Believe on Jesus (belief is more than intellectual agreement but is TRUST)… “if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord (Master)," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9). Repent (or turn away) from your sin and turn to God through Jesus Christ: In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). Receive Jesus into your life by prayer, as your personal Savior and Lord:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (John 1:12). Don't put it off, do it today, … “behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Suggested Prayer: Lord Jesus come into my life. I know that I am a sinner, but I thank you for dying for me and rising again from the dead. I now receive the free gift of salvation through your finished work on the cross. I repent of my sins and trust You as my personal Savior and Lord. Oh God, Please forgive me of my sins, wash me clean and renew me by your Holy Spirit. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

"Why the truth should matter to YOU"

Dear Friend,

Truth is so obscure today. Many are spreading the lie that truth is relative, but it is not. God's word is truth and it answers among other things questions regarding human origin, what standards we are to live by, what will happen to us when we die and how we can be saved. Knowing the God who made us gives us meaning and hope. God's word (the Bible) tells us all we need to know about God's plan, His character, His righteousness and His awesome love. The Bible foretold the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ who fulfilled scores of prophecies, many of them written hundreds of years before He was ever born. Our hope is that you will read this message, read the Bible daily, pray to God daily and walk with Him daily and in so doing find true life.

We have all broken God's law and therefore stand guilty before Him:

The Ten Commandments clearly show us that we all fall short. If we've told one lie, hated someone, put a possession, relationship, or activity before God, lusted in our heart, taken God's name in vain, stolen anything we are guilty. Let's face it, when we look at the Law it shows every human being walking the face of the earth that we have violated God's standards.

James 2:10
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (NIV)

Isaiah 53:6
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all. (NIV)

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV)

Men and women are separated from God by sin:

Romans 3:10
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (NIV)

Romans 3:23
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (NIV)

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Isaiah 59:1-2
Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (NIV)

The good news is that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life in our place that we could never live. He fulfilled the law. He then died on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for our sin with His own blood. He died in our place:

1 Pet 3:18
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, (NIV)

Jesus is the only way to be saved and avoid eternal judgment:

John 14:6
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (NIV)

*We must believe (trust in The Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross) in order to be saved:

John 3:16-18
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” (NIV)

We must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord:

Romans 10:9
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (NIV)

Matthew 10:32-33
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (KJV)

Repent (or turn away) from your sin and turn to God through Jesus Christ:

Acts 17:30-31
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (NIV)

Receive Jesus into your life by prayer as your personal Savior and Lord:

John 1:12
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (KJV)

Prayer: Lord Jesus come into my life. I know that I am a sinner, but I thank you for dying for me and rising again from the dead. I now receive the gift of salvation through the finished work of Jesus, who spilled His own blood so that I could live. I repent of my sins and trust You as my personal Savior and Lord. Please forgive me of my sins, wash me clean and renew me by your Holy Spirit. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer and meant what you said, God has saved your soul:

Ephesians 2:8-9
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--
not by works, so that no one can boast.” (NIV)

I John 5:11-13
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”(NIV)

If you come to Jesus, He will never let you go:

John 6:37-40
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (NIV)

John 10:27-30
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (NIV)

Finally, one of the wise decisions we MUST make after receiving Jesus Christ into our lives is to plug into a local church fellowship where we can be loved, nurtured, trained, serve and be accountable.

We would like to invite you to our fellowship Sunday Morning Worship Services is at 9:00 & 10:45 AM. If you live out of our area we encourage you to call or e-mail us so we can recommend a good church near your home.

We are excited about what God has in store for you and we encourage you to develop four important new habits so that you can continue to grow in the Spirit.

  • Read your Bible daily. God's word is our source of spiritual food and provides strength and direction for us in all matters of life.
  • Pray. Let your prayers be a two-way communication wherein you bring your requests to God and where He can speak to your heart.
  • Find a church where the Bible is taught faithfully. Where you fellowship will have a tremendous impact on your spiritual growth and maturity.
  • Share your faith with others. In doing so, you will be strengthened as a believer and others will hear the “good news” of Jesus Christ.

May God richly bless you,
Pastor Michael Lantz

Romans 5:1-5
1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (NAS)