WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

Is There Historical Evidence that Jesus Was a Real Person?

by Ernest O'Neill

Program 40

Is there anyone that has ever lived on our world, or our planet, who has been able to tell us why the planet was created in the first place, therefore, why we were created, and therefore, what the meaning of life is?

What we have been sharing on this broadcast at this time is that there is such a Being and He did come to this earth, and did appear to come from outer space and did have the ability to leave this earth and to come back again. That's something, of course, that none of the great religious leaders like Mohammed and Buddha and Zoroaster and Confucius have ever done. All of them have been ordinary human beings like you and me. They died like dogs, were buried, and were forgotten, at least as far as their grave was concerned.

But, this Being that came to earth and had the ability to leave it and come back again, seemed to have a connection with the Supreme Being behind the universe that is different qualitatively from any relationship that any of the other religious leaders talk about as having to that Supreme Being. This of course, is that man that is probably known to all of us as Jesus. He lived, actually, in the first century of our era.

If you're like me, your attitude to it is great skepticism. You think to yourself, "Aw, now, wait a minute! Don't give me that stuff that I threw out when I left Sunday school, that I threw out when I gave up church. Don't give me that about Jesus of Nazareth, as if He's some real person. I know He's just a mythological person that we used to have a good time at Christmas about. That's not sensible!

I want to know about the meaning of life in a realistic way that will help me, that will be of some relevance and some use to my life. So, don't talk to me about this Jesus of Nazreth. He's just a mythological figure." Far from being a mythological figure ... He is one whose historicity is more reliable than any other human being that we have records of at that time.

If you say, "Well, why? Why do you say that?" I say it because the men that wrote about Him, in the book that we have, of course, come to regard just as a religious book, but is actually a very reliable history book, (it's the BIBLE and the last quarter of it particularly, The New Testament, is the one that talks about the first century when He lived), the BIBLE talks about Him as a real, historical figure.

Of course, many of us say, "Oh well, now, the men that wrote that book, they weren't reliable. I mean they just made it up years and years after the event!" No, they didn't! They were eye-witnesses of the event. They said that.

Peter, in a letter that he wrote to some of his friends, said, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, because we were eye-witnesses of His majesty. We were actually with Him when the voice came on the mountain and said, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased."

That's what Peter said in his second letter. It's called the Second Epistle of Peter, chapter one and verse sixteen. Now, some of us, of course, say, "Well, that's just him saying it. Is there evidence that he actually was alive at that time?" Yes! There are many references to Peter in other history books that were written outside the Bible.

Indeed, what we quoted yesterday was some of the Roman historians like Tacitus and Tertullian who made reference to Jesus of Nazareth in their own history books. But, you may say, "Well, yes, but the main evidence we have about this man, Jesus of Nazareth is from these so-called eye-witnesses, who you say, wrote this account in the New Testament that is reliable history. Now, really, why should you believe these men?"

Well, there are several very good reasons. One, of course, is the very obvious fact that they circulated their accounts all around the then-known world, while hundreds of people were alive who had actually had observed the very events that they recorded.

In other words, there is a letter that one of them, called Paul, wrote to a place called Galatia, where there was a little group of people who believed that this man, Jesus, was really connected with the Supreme Being behind the universe. In that book that was written in 48 A.D., this man called Paul referred to the crucifixion of this man, Jesus, and to him rising from the dead.

Now do you see that there were many people alive in 48 A.D. (because after all, Jesus was crucified in 29 A.D., so this is only a matter of nineteen years later). There were many people alive at that time who, when they saw Paul's account being circulated, all they had to do was contradict it. All they had to do was say, "That wasn't so at all! I was in Jerusalem at that time. It didn't happen at all that way. He didn't rise from the dead!"

But in fact, there was no outcry like that. There was just no outcry of contradiction in the ancient world of the first century, when all these accounts were circulating. So, between 48 A.D. and probably 90 to 100 A.D., all the books that make up our New Testament were circulating and being read by eye-witnesses, people who believed and people who didn't believe, but many of whom were in Jerusalem.

For instance, if a young man was twenty years of age when Jesus was crucified in 29, then twenty years later, he was only 49. So, he was a relatively young man, certainly a man in middle age. There must have been many such alive at that time. All they had to say was, "No, it didn't happen this way." That would have immediately destroyed the popularity of the accounts that were circulating that eventually became our New Testament.

So, one of the big, in fact, unanswerable reasons for believing that what we have in what we call the New Testament is reliable history, is that the accounts of that history were circulating at a time when many, many hundreds of people were still alive who had been eye-witnesses of the actual crucifixion and the resurrection.

All they had to do was contradict it, and that would have sunk any continued existence of those books. It would be a bit like somebody trying to write a book today about John F. Kennedy, and trying to suggest that he had been shot by Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Well, there are plenty of us who were alive at that time. That's l963. That's exactly thirty years ago. It's longer ago than the crucifixion of Jesus was compared with the book of Galatians. All we have to do is say, "No, it wasn't so at all. I saw it. I was there! There was friend of mine in Dallas. It didn't happen that way at all."

That would immediately kill that account, as far as being a historical record is concerned. So it is with the records of this man's life in the first century. There were many people alive who read the accounts, and far from contradicting them, they actually reinforced them.

In fact, the only records we have is of the lies that people like the Romans and the Jewish people created in order to explain away the apparently miraculous resurrection of this man, Jesus. But there are other reasons, too. I mean, those men who wrote these books that are known as the New Testament have not made an impression on subsequent history as being pirates, criminals, or con men. They haven't!

Wherever their influence has been felt, there has been a respect for honesty, a respect for integrity. It has had an elevating effect on mankind. So, these men do not come across as pirates and liars. They come across as true and honest men. Of course, the last and the greatest reason is, they died for the things they wrote.

They died for the very things that they wrote. Now, men may die for something that they think is true, but they will not die for something that they know is untrue. So, there is an ethical and logical and philosophical impossibility in believing that these men invented what they wrote.

These men, of all men, must have really observed this man that came from outer space and lived in the first century of our era, and said that He had a unique relationship to the Supreme Being behind the universe.

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