Bible Basics
a Bible Study Course published by the Churches of God


The person, words, character of Jesus, founder of the Christian faith, is increasingly under siege. Enemies of Jesus, atheists, agnostics - even theologians - have sought to undermine his work. In this lesson we examine the evidence for his life, death and for that strangest of claims made by the Scriptures - that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead.

This last is important. For no matter how much evidence there may be for his existence, yet all his claims, all the claims of the Scriptures, all the claims of Christians for nearly two thousand years are simply rubbish - if Jesus was not raised from the dead. A good man? Not enough - though certainly a man whose teachings are an example for all men. But raised from the dead? The idea has been sneered at for its impossibility.

But - assume he was resurrected. What does that mean for you? If, as the Scriptures claim, he was "...openly designated as the Son of God with power when he was raised from the dead" (Romans 1:3), then clearly we all have to sit up and take note! If the resurrection of Jesus Christ undoubtedly took place then it was unique in all mankind's history. The Bible reports several instances where the dead were restored to life - physical life. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ was different.

So different, in fact, that when his skeptical disciples saw the evidence they were transformed from whimpering stowaways behind locked doors into men and women who put their lives on the line for what they saw in that tomb. So different that the authorities had to concoct a pack of lies to explain.

In this Lesson we will examine the evidence both for the life of Jesus and for what can only be seen as undisputed - his resurrection from the dead.

Was Jesus who you think he was?

No-one in all of history has been more exhaustively written about than the one we know as Jesus of Nazareth. A few have even sought to deny his very existence. The vast majority, however, accept that he was a historical figure. Indeed there's more evidence for Jesus than for Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great or a host of other ancient luminaries.

Yet to this day scholars seek to reject the image of Jesus recorded for us in history and in the Scriptures. The so-called Jesus Seminar - mostly "Christians" - even deride the very words he spoke, reducing them to a bland philosophy, and denying the resurrection.

On the other hand, literally millions of Christians have a distorted view of Jesus - of who he was, what he taught, even how he looked. What emerges from an attentive study of the Bible records paints a vastly different picture to what most think!

Was the real Jesus "lost"?

  • even in the mid first-century the apostle Paul had to strenuously warn his readers of belief in "another Jesus"...II Corinthians 11:4
  • the aged apostle John, too, had to contend with strange notions about the very person of Jesus...I John 4:1-3
  • and Jesus himself prophesied such a deceit would happen...Matthew 24:4-5

    - within fifty years, what has been described as "a century of darkness"     settled over the church of God. After this, evidenced by literature and     the monuments, a different Jesus emerged, with a different message -     and even looking different

    - instead of the virile man seasoned by hard work and extensive travel,     Jesus was presented as a pale weakling with long hair and a sad,
      pained expression. Most Christians to this day hold this false image     of him.

What of his teachings?

  • more serious than his appearance, the message Jesus brought was twisted into what the apostle Paul dubs "another gospel"...Galatians 1:6-9

    - from its beginnings, the church of God was beset and deceived by
      false prophets and teachers...Matthew 24:11, Acts 20:29-30

    - is this serious?...II Thessalonians 2:9-11

       - if we refuse to accept the true Bible representation of Jesus and his
         message - "a love of the truth" - God warns that He will send
         "strong delusion" upon us if we refuse to love the truth. Surely a
         frightening thought!...Matthew 13:10-16, Luke 8:18

What do we know of the early life of Jesus?

  • Paul tells us that Jesus became a man, and was tempted to sin like every human...Philippians 2:5-8, I Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 4:15
  • note that early heresy attempted to dehumanize Jesus, making him a "phantom" or something not fully human...I John 1:1, 4:1-6
  • he was a "genius", acquiring knowledge and wisdom as he grew, yet displaying great spiritual perception and the favor of God even as a young lad of twelve when he is described as being subject, obedient, to his parents in Nazareth, where he was "brought up"...Luke 2:40-47, 52 4:16, Isaiah 11:1-2
  • there he learned a trade, becoming - in his step-father's footsteps - a tekton: variously described as a carpenter, a builder, a stone-mason, a farmer, and undoubtedly the best in the trade...Mark 7:37, Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55
  • we ought not to read too much into the notion that Jesus was poverty stricken in his youth. He certainly was nomadic for much of the three and a half years of his ministry. But even here he was supported by his followers, at times retired to "the house", had the services of a "treasurer"...Luke 8:3, Mark 2:1, John 12:6

Do we know what race Jesus belonged to?

There's surprising ignorance about this even among those who read the Scriptures. Yet the truth is that God's purpose demanded that Jesus be born into a specific family line and in a specific place

  • God's design for the salvation of mankind was initiated in Eden...Genesis 3:15, the implementation of a plan "made in heaven" before man's creation...I Peter 1:18-20. As the centuries rolled by, the choice narrowed to the family of Abraham, then of Isaac, then of his son Jacob. Finally the Savior (Messiah) was promised to a descendant of King David of the House (family) of Judah - a son of Jacob...Genesis 49:9-10, Isaiah 9:6-7, Micah 5:2, Hebrews 7:14. This latter text sums it up!
  • but Jesus was no ordinary Jew. He was, on his mother's side, directly descended in his flesh from the royal line of David...Luke 3:23-31. His step-father, Joseph, was also descended from David through the kings of Judah...Matthew 1:1-16.
  • was Jesus, then, the true king of the Jews?...John 1:45-49, 12:14-15, 18:36-37, 19:19

Who was the father of Jesus?

Jesus was born into a legally intact family. His mother Mary was "betrothed" to Joseph - a legally-binding pre-marital agreement which would need divorce proceedings to dissolve. In one account Joseph is called Mary's husband, Mary his wife...Matthew 1:18-24

  • but Joseph was not the literal father of Jesus! For Jesus, in fulfillment of one of the three hundred or so prophecies he fulfilled, was Emmanuel - God with us...Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14
  • the true father of Jesus, in other words, is God. As Matthew points out, Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born - also prophesied in Isaiah. The Gospel writer explains that Mary - before she had a sexual relationship with Joseph - was "found with child of the Holy Spirit"...Matthew 1:18,20
  • note that God is the Father of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit the means by which the divine was transmuted into a human sperm to fertilize a human ovum. As the apostle John wrote "The Word was made flesh"...John 1:14

What do you mean - Messiah?

The New Testament gives Jesus the title of Christ - the Greek form for the Hebrew Messiah which signifies anointed. The term was applied to those called by God to a specific office

  • the term was applied to Israel's kings - who were anointed with oil at their investiture...Judges 9:8-15, II Samuel 5:3, I Kings 1:39
  • the gentile King Cyrus was so-called...Isaiah 45:1
  • also to priests...Exodus 29:7, Leviticus 4:3, 5, 16
  • by the first century the term came to be applied to the future ruler of the Jews, prophesied in the Scriptures...Matthew 2:4, Luke 2:26, John 4:25

Did Jesus fulfill the role of Messiah?

Prophecy is usually employed as an expression of vanity - "I know better than you". The trouble is you can't tell a prophecy is false until it doesn't happen!

However, on the matter of the life of Jesus Christ the evidence is at hand. Today's "prophets" can barely get tomorrow's weather right, never mind accurately forecast events hundreds, even thousands, of years in the future. But God can, and did...Isaiah 41:21-23, 46: 9-11

There are three hundred plus predictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Many refer to his physical lineage, the circumstances of his birth, his character, his mission, the manner of his death, his rejection by his own people. Compare the following groups of text for a mere sample of these fulfillments.

Messiah to be human: Genesis 3:15 * Galatians, 4:4, John 1:14
Descent from Abraham: Genesis 18:18 * Matthew 1:1, Acts 3:25
Descent from Isaac: Genesis 17:19 * Matthew 1:2
Descent from David: Psalm 132:11 * Matthew 1:1, 12:23
Where he was born: Micah 5:2 * Matthew 2:1
His virgin birth: Isaiah 7:14 * Matthew 1:18
His ministry in Galilee: Isaiah 9:1, 2 * Matthew 4:12-16
Foreseen as a prophet: Deuteronomy 18:15 * John 6:14
Foreseen as a priest: Psalm 110:4 * Hebrews 6:20
Rejected by his own: Isaiah 53:3 * John 1:11
Executed with criminals: Isaiah 53:12 * Matthew 27:38
To be resurrected: Psalm 16:10 * Mark 16:6
... and on and on!

"Probably" True?

Probability Theory tells us that if there's one chance in five of an event happening, and one chance in ten of another - then there's a one in fifty chance of both happening in a related way. The probability of over three hundred related events taking place focused on one individual's lifetime is beyond imagination

  • why Bethlehem for the birth of Messiah, when there were over two thousand other villages?
  • how was crucifixion prophesied (Psalm 22) when it was an unknown in Israel when prophesied?
  • and what odds that it was foreseen someone would die, rise from the dead - never to die again?

Was Jesus really dead?

Detractors claim that Jesus didn't die, but went into a coma on the cross reviving in the cool of the tomb. Others admit his death, but said his body was stolen by the disciples

  • the barbaric torture inflicted on Jesus by means of scourging coupled with the torment of crucifixion ensured his death...Mark 25:39
  • scourging was carried out with whips in the tips of which were imbedded bone and metal. It laid the flesh bare to the bone and often killed
  • Jesus was killed, finally, by a spear thrust into his side, puncturing his arteries and bladder...John 19:33-35
  • the Roman Governor Pilate demanded assurances that Jesus was dead before releasing the body for burial...Mark 15:43-46
  • the one hundred pounds of highly aromatic spices wrapped around the body of Jesus would, in the confines of the tomb, smother him (if yet alive) rather than help him recover consciousness...Matthew 27:59, John 19:38-40

Did Jesus the Messiah rise from the dead?

Scholars scoff at the notion that someone could rise from the dead. Even theologians scoff- and succeed in turning multitudes away from God. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most authenticated and momentous events in all history.

Indeed, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead then Christianity is a sham and built on a house of cards...I Corinthians 15:13-20

Jesus himself also foretold his own death - and resurrection...e.g. Matthew 16:21, Luke 9: 22-27, John 2:18-22 etc

He even foretold the length of time he would be in the tomb...Matthew 12:38-40, Jonah 1:17. How long was this?

  • Jesus made this time span the only sign that he was who he claimed to be; the vast majority of Christians today reject this. Do you?
  • a proper understanding of the texts supports the fact that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday afternoon, and raised at the end of the Sabbath (Saturday). There was no "Sunday resurrection"!
  • there were two Sabbaths that week, the first (Thursday) was a "high day" or annual Sabbath during which work - except food preparation - was forbidden...John 19:14 & 31, Leviticus 23:6-7
  • Jesus was placed in the tomb before that first Sabbath began...Luke 23:54
  • after (the annual) Sabbath the women bought (not brought) spices, but rested on the (weekly) Sabbath after preparing them to place around the body of Jesus...Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56
  • the tomb was empty when Mary arrived before day-break on Sunday morning...John 20:1 (She and the others - knew the tomb would be sealed by the authorities until the third day...Matthew 27:64, Mark 15:44-47)
  • that is, Jesus was, as he predicted, three days and three nights in the "heart of the earth" - in the rock-hewn sepulchre. No twisting of words can fit this into his crucifixion late on a Friday, and his resurrection before daybreak on Sunday!
  • up to about a century ago this was commonly understood by many theologians! Noted evangelist R A Torrey is an example: "everything in Scripture is harmonized by a Wednesday crucifixion", he wrote (1907). See also the Companion Bible, Appendix 156 for a fuller appraisal of the evidence

What is the evidence for the resurrection?

Jesus, as we have seen, predicted his own death and resurrection. Within six weeks of those momentous events the apostle Peter asserted it had taken place, and quoted one of the Old Testament predictions relating to it...Acts 1:3, 2:23-27, Psalm 16:8-10

  • "it was the common Jewish idea that corruption began on the fourth day" [Alfred Edersheim Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah]...John 11:39

Was there any possibility that the disciples could steal the body of Jesus from the tomb?...Matthew 27:62-66

Were the authorities able to explain the disappearance of the body of Jesus?...Matthew 28: 11-15

  • the guards would be under penalty of death if their charges escaped. There had been a "great earthquake" and whatever the guards saw caused them to swoon, and to become unconscious ...Matthew 28:1-4
  • on recovery they went to the Jewish authorities who bribed them to say the disciples had stolen the body...vv.l2-15. It was a fable repeated many years later (v.15) - and even in our day!
  • contemporary authorities, then, could not explain the resurrection by natural means. They were as convinced as Peter and John (see next section) that Jesus rose from the dead, and by the same indisputable evidence

What convinced the disciples?

Note the attitude of the disciples following the crucifixion. Were they loyal, and confident that Jesus would return from the grave as he promised?...Mark 14:50, John 20:19

Contrast this with their attitude about six weeks later...Acts chs 2-3; 4:13, 20, 33; 5:27-32. Were they now willing to be imprisoned and even to die for their belief that Jesus was risen?...v.32, 7:54-60, 8:1-3, 12:1-2 What caused such a transformation?

Clearly the evidence available to them that Jesus rose from the dead was so overwhelming their entire lives became permanently changed. Yet such had been their skepticism that they disbelieved first reports of his resurrection ...Mark 16:9-14, Luke 24:10-11

What convinced Peter and John that Jesus was alive three days and nights after his death?...John 20:1-10

John, who arrived at the sepulchre first, gave a cursory glance through the entrance into the eerie darkness at the gleam of the white grave-clothes. Bold Peter ventured inside to examine the situation more closely. John then followed - and what he saw on close examination caused him to believe -

  • unbelievably, the body of Jesus had disappeared! From outside it had looked intact. Now he could see that the wrappings - still molded in the shape of Jesus' body - were empty. Recall that the spices served to 'glue' the strips of cloth together and to the body, forming an almost solid "cocoon"
  • more, the head-wrapping was also there, molded to the shape of his head, but lying apart from the other wrappings...John 20:7
  • in burials, the head was wrapped separately. Unlike the famed Turin Shroud, the graveclothes were not all in one piece!
  • quite astonishingly, the body of Jesus had miraculously passed through the wrappings. His physical body had taken on a new form...Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19, 26

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most incontrovertible facts of history. It is totally unique. No mere recovery from a deep coma or "permanent vegetative state" nor a miraculous restoration to physical life, but a glorious return from death by the power of Almighty God to a life that will never end.

Given the reality of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, each of us is challenged to examine what he taught. And if we want to live after death - to obey him!

A contemporary chronicler of Jesus wrote: "There are many other activities in which Jesus engaged, but if they were all described in detail I suppose the world itself would not have room for the written volumes"
[the apostle John]

a future lesson will discuss the concept of resurrection in detail

a future lesson will examine in detail the birth of Jesus, and the strange circumstances which surround it

don't forget to look up all the Bible texts quoted!

What is "truth"? Literally the Gk. means "not hidden". God's Word is totally transparent and without deception. Jesus said "[the Father's] word is truth"..John 17:17. The opposite to truth is fable - a matter generally meant to hide the truth and deceive...I Timothy 1:4, II Timothy 4:4. Too many seekers after truth are turned aside to human traditions based on fables. The Bible expresses truth - the mind of God - in a manner that we can absorb and use in our daily walk.

In Bible terms a "prophet" is one who foretells the Word of God. He or she doesn't just foretell the future

Jesus Christ presents a different challenge to each of us. If we, like the "rich young ruler" (Luke 18:18-30), don't accept the challenge but turn aside from it we throw away the key to deeper understanding of God's design for our life.

"Jesus" is the way the Greeks expressed the Hebrew Joshua which means "Saviour"...Matthew 1:21, 25. In the Gk. Septuagint version of the Bible - in use by the Jews long before the birth of Jesus - Joshua is written as Iesoun. The Aramaic contraction is Yesu. Contrary to some, Jesus is not derived from the heathen god Zeus!

These two passages in Matthew 13 and Mark 6 sum up a principle for properly interpreting the Scriptures. They are describing the same incident, but one adds to what the other states. Another example is the inscription placed over the cross by Pilate.

a better translation of Mk 2:1 is at home - see RSV

The Scriptures tell us nothing more about Jesus' life from the age of twelve until he became about thirty. However, there are many non-Biblical references to extensive travel even as far as the British Isles. Such is not unlikely and should not be lightly dismissed.

As we will see in detail later, the Jews became a separate kingdom from Israel after Solomon died. Indeed Judah and Israel were mortal enemies on occasion...II Kings 14:12

The term Jew denotes strictly a descendant of the patriarch Judah, but also any who embraced fully the religion of the Jews. Individuals and nations converted to Judaism...Esther 8:17. The Khazars - the Ashkenazi Jews in the 8th Cent. AD - are an example. Josephus refers to many Edomites who became Jews

Luke 3:23: note that this verse signifies "Jesus...(being legally the son of Joseph)..of Heli". This is the genealogy of Mary

The evidence concerning the pre-existence of Jesus will be discussed in a later lesson

Christ (Greek) and Messiah (Hebrew) signify anointed one. The term is used in the Bible of kings - both of Israel and of Gentiles. It signifies someone appointed by God to an office

The monarchs of the United Kingdom are still anointed with oil (chrism) during the coronation ceremony

As well as the Jews, the semi-gentile Samaritans and the Magi from the east during the first century BC were expecting the arrival of the Messiah among the Jews...Matthew 2:1, John 4:25

"Nor at the present day does any objective historian deny the historical fact of Christ. It is not historians who toy with the fantasy of a Christ-myth" [New Bible Commentary: art. Life of Jesus Christ]

Colossal Odds!                 
There are over 300 Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Dr. Peter W Stoner...calculates that the chance of Jesus fulfilling just 48 of these 300 prophecies as 1 in 10 to the power of 157. He calculates that if you were to count at 250/min it would take 190 million years to count a line of electrons one inch long. A cubic inch would take 190m x 190m x 190m years to count. Stoner says that if we took one electron, marked it and stirred it into that one cubic inch, then ask a blind person to find it - his chance of success would be the same as any one man fulfilling even 48 of the 300 Old Testament Messianic prophecies!

The fact of Jesus' Messiahship is "proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world" he says [Science Speaks, 1958]

Greek aorist tense: used in John 19:34 - pierced; literally, had pierced. "Denotes that an action happened before some other previous action referred to". Jesus was slain "like a lamb to the slaughter" by a spear wound before the soldiers confirmed his death.

"Aromatic spices, often of a gummy consistency, were placed between the wrappings or folds. They served partially as a preservative and partially as a cement to glue the cloth wrappings into a solid covering" [Merrill Tenney: The Reality of the Resurrection]

"There exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection is true" [Lord Darling, former Lord Chief Justice]

"[Early] the Tuesday Passover dating and the subsequent arrest of Jesus in the morning hours of Wednesday [J. of Biblical Lit: June 1958]

At that time in history each "day" began, and ended, at sunset

The notion of a resurrection of a god is widespread throughout pagan mythology. Osiris, Tammuz are examples. It stems from the universal understanding imparted to mankind by divine revelation, but degraded by human tradition and demonic manipulation

The Psalmist was inspired to predict that the future "David" - the Messiah - would die and be placed in the grave (Heb sheol, KJV hell) But he would not be there long enough to begin to decay. Peter points out that the reference was not to David himself, who did die

A watch usually consisted of four men, each of whom watched in turn

"The fear [by the Roman soldiers] of punishments produced faultless attention to duty" [Polybius]

"The fact of the empty tomb deals a mortal blow to all the hypotheses which are set up against the Christian testimony" [Ernest Kevan]

The disciples were eyewitnesses, and proclaimed the resurrection boldly to those who could have refuted it - but never did - by producing the body of Jesus

Recommended reading:
Who Moved the Stone?
[Frank Morison]
Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?
[John Blanchard]
Evidence That Demands a Verdict
[Josh McDowell]
Name of Jesus in the Old Testament
[Yacov Rambsel]

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