"This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon. Without science and learning He shed more light on things human and things divine than all philosophers and scholars combined. Without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such Words of Life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet. Without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times."--Phillip Schaff, noted historian.
Yes!--To the unprejudiced historian, the historical facts regarding Jesus are as definite and evident as those of Julius Caesar. Not only do we find an accurate portrait of Him in the documents of the New Testament, but dozens of ancient non-Biblical manuscripts confirm that Jesus was a genuine historical figure who lived in Palestine in the early part of the first century.
Concerning the testimony of the many ancient secular accounts of Jesus, the Encyclopedia Britannica states: "These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the OPPONENTS of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time--and on inadequate grounds--by several authors during the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries."
If any adjective were to describe Jesus, it would be "UNIQUE"!--His MESSAGE was unique. The CLAIMS He made regarding Himself were unique. His MIRACLES were unique. And the INFLUENCE He has had on the World is unsurpassed by any other.
One very outstanding and undeniably unique aspect of Jesus' life is that literally hundreds of detailed PREDICTIONS and PROPHECIES were made by ancient prophets and seers, many centuries before He was born.--Specific details regarding His birth, life and death, that no mere mortal man could possibly have fulfilled!
In the first books of the Bible, known as the "Old Testament," over 300 such predictions about the "Messiah" or "Saviour" can be found. The discovery of hundreds of ancient Old Testament manuscripts by archaeologists during this century has proven without a doubt that these prophecies were indeed written CENTURIES BEFORE this man called Jesus was born.
Here is a small sampling of the kind of specific predictions we're talking about: In 750 B.C., the prophet Isaiah made the astounding prediction that:
"THE LORD HIMSELF SHALL GIVE YOU A SIGN; BEHOLD, A VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE AND BEAR A SON, AND SHALL CALL HIS NAME EMMANUEL."--ISAIAH 7:14.
7-1/2 centuries later, a young virgin girl in Israel named Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, who announced to her that she would bear a Son Who would be called Emmanuel, which means "God with us." The books of the Bible which were written after Jesus came to Earth, the "New Testament," tell us that, "Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, seeing I have not LAIN with any man?' And the angel answered, 'The Spirit of GOD shall come upon you, and the power of the ALMIGHTY shall overshadow you! Therefore that Holy One which shall be born of you shall be called the SON OF GOD!'"--Luke 1:26-35.
So even the very BEGINNING of His life on Earth--His conception and birth--were not only unique, but MIRACULOUS, in that the simple and humble young girl who became His mother had never slept with a man! In fact, the Bible tells us that the news of her pregnancy was so shocking to the young man to whom she was engaged to be married, Joseph, that when he learned about it he promptly decided to break off the engagement and call off the wedding!--Until the angel of the Lord appeared to him also, and instructed him to stay with her and rear and protect the very special child that she was carrying.
A full 800 YEARS before Jesus was born, the prophet Micah foretold the exact village where the Messiah would be born:
"YOU, BETHLEHEM, THOUGH YOU ARE SMALL AMONG THE CLANS OF JUDAH, YET OUT OF YOU SHALL HE COME FORTH UNTO ME WHO IS TO BE RULER OVER ISRAEL; WHOSE GOINGS FORTH HAVE BEEN OF OLD, FROM DAYS OF ETERNITY."--MICAH 5:2
Although His earthly parents lived in the town of Nazareth, 100 miles to the north of Bethlehem, a decree from Rome demanded that all families return to their ancestral homes to register for a worldwide census. The decree came just as Mary's child was due to be born.--Thus God used a Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, to help bring about the fulfillment of Micah's prophecy. Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, and upon their arrival, Mary went into labour, and as the Gospels inform us, "Jesus was born in BETHLEHEM of Judea" (Matthew 2:1), just as the prophet Micah predicted.
Micah's prophecy also tells us that the Messiah "Has been of old, from days of ETERNITY." Jesus Himself said, "Before ABRAHAM was (around 2000 B.C.), I AM."--John 8:58. Abraham was the forefather of the Jews and Arabs, who lived about 2,000 YEARS before Jesus was born to Mary. So Jesus was referring here to His pre-existence with God before His life on Earth in the form of a man.
Though born in Bethlehem, Jesus grew up in Nazareth. In His first recorded public address there, He openly declared that He indeed WAS the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. While attending the local house of worship, He stood up before the crowd and read a prophecy from the book of the prophet Isaiah. In the passage, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be anointed with the Spirit of God to "preach Good News to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to give freedom to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."--Isaiah 61:1,2. The New Testament tells us that after He read this prophecy aloud to the congregation, Jesus told them, "TODAY is this Scripture FULFILLED in your ears!"--Luke 4:18-21.
Another outstanding prophecy regarding the Messiah was made by Israel's King David around the year 1000 B.C., or over 10 CENTURIES before Jesus was born. In his prophecy, David gave details of a cruel and agonizing death which he himself never suffered:
"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, it has melted within me...Like a pack of dogs, they have surrounded me; a company of evil doers has encircled me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. They divide my clothing among them and cast lots for my garment."--Psalm 22:14-18.
King David died a peaceful, natural death, so we know he was not talking about himself in this passage of Scripture. But being a prophet, he predicted with unerring accuracy the circumstances surrounding the cruel death on the cross of the Messiah, the CHRIST that was to come. Let's examine some of the details outlined in the above prophecy:
"I am poured out like water...my heart is melted within me." Jesus not only poured out His life for us spiritually, but the New Testament tells us that shortly after He died, while He was still hanging on the cross, "one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately BLOOD AND WATER FLOWED OUT."--John 19:34. Modern medical authorities have affirmed that in the case of heart rupture--when a human heart literally bursts open under extreme stress and trauma--the blood collects in the pericardium, the membranous sac that encloses the heart and the roots of the main blood vessels. This blood then separates into a sort of bloody clot and a watery serum, thus when the soldier pierced His side, His life was LITERALLY, "poured forth like WATER." (Unwittingly, this Roman soldier fulfilled another prophecy, "They will look upon Me whom they have PIERCED," a prophecy given by the Prophet Zechariah around 500 B.C.--Zechariah 12:10.)
"All my bones are out of joint."--This is one of the horrors of death by crucifixion; the weight of the victim's body literally pulls his arms out of their sockets.
"Like a pack of dogs...a company of evil doers has encircled me." The New Testament tells us that Jesus' wicked and vengeful religious enemies, the Scribes and the Pharisees, gathered around Him as He was nailed on the cross, mocking and reviling Him.--Matthew 27:39-44.
"They have pierced my hands and my feet." This is probably the most astounding prediction within this prophecy. Crucifixion was not practiced by the Jews of David's time. Their religious laws demanded that criminals be executed by STONING. But God showed His Prophet, David, how the Messiah would die 10 CENTURIES LATER, executed at the hands of an empire that did not even exist in David's day, ROME, whose principal means of executing criminals was CRUCIFIXION!
"They divide my clothing among them and cast lots for my garment." In the Gospels of the New Testament we find the almost incredible fulfillment of this prophecy: "When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took His clothes, and DIVIDED them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment (a long robe-like tunic) remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. So they said one to another, 'Let us not tear it, but let us CAST LOTS to decide whose it shall be'".--John 19:23,24.
In 487 B.C., the Prophet Zechariah predicted: "And I said unto them, if you think well, give me my PRICE; and if not, keep it. So they paid me 30 PIECES OF SILVER."--Zechariah 11:12.
On the night that Jesus was arrested by His enemies, the New Testament tells us that, "One of the twelve Apostles, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said to them, 'What will you give me if I deliver Him to you'?, and they counted out for him 30 PIECES OF SILVER."--Matthew 26:14,15.
Imagine!--Over five hundred years before the event took place, God's Prophet, Zechariah, predicted the EXACT "PRICE" that Jesus' enemies would pay to His traitorous disciple, Judas! In the next verse of Zechariah's prophecy, he goes into even more astounding details:
"And the Lord said, 'Cast it unto the POTTER--the handsome price at which they priced Me'. So the 30 pieces of silver were taken and CAST TO THE POTTER IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD."--Zechariah 11:13.
The New Testament tells us that, "When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented, and RETURNED the 30 PIECES OF SILVER to the chief priests of the Jews, and he cast down the pieces of silver in the TEMPLE. Then the chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said, 'It is against our law to put it into our treasury because it is blood-money'. So they used the money to buy a POTTER'S FIELD, to bury foreigners in."--Matthew 27:3-6. The 30 pieces of silver were literally "CAST to the POTTER in the HOUSE of the LORD"!--Just as Zechariah predicted 500 years earlier!
In 712 B.C., the prophet Isaiah predicted that the Son of God would "be given a GRAVE WITH THE WICKED, and with the RICH in His DEATH."--Isaiah 53:9.
Jesus' bitter religious enemies condemned Him as a CRIMINAL, as a WICKED man, thus as He died, the Bible tells us "there were two ROBBERS crucified with Him."--Matthew 27:38. After His body was removed from the cross, "a RICH MAN named Joseph of Arimathaea went to Pilate and pleaded for the body of Jesus, and when Joseph had taken the body, he laid it IN HIS OWN NEW TOMB."--Matthew 27:57-60.--A "GRAVE WITH THE RICH!"
1,000 YEARS before Jesus was born, the Spirit of God prophesied through King David that the Saviour would be resurrected from the dead: "God will not leave His soul in the grave, neither will He suffer His Holy One to see corruption or decay."--Psa.16:10.
King David died and was buried in a grave, and HIS flesh saw corruption and decay. But JESUS was raised from the grave three days after His death!--As the Angel said to the mourners who came to Jesus' tomb, "He is not here, but is RISEN! Why do you seek the living among the dead?"--Lk.24:5,6.
What mere human can choose his own birthplace? Or what mortal man can--or WOULD--cause the officials of a foreign government to order his death by a terribly agonizing execution? How could anyone manipulate their bitter enemies to pay a specific price for their betrayal, mock and revile them as they are dying, much less cause a band of soldiers to gamble for their clothing and pierce their side AFTER they've died, and cause a rich man to bury their body in his own personal tomb? Yet Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled not only these, but OVER 300 MORE specific predictions regarding His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection!--Truly He was--and is--"UNIQUE" in every sense of the word!
Not one of the great recognized religious leaders--not Moses, not Buddha, not Confucius, not Mohammed--ever claimed to be God. True, some have been deified by their followers after they died, but none ever personally claimed to be Deity.--That is, with the exception of Jesus Christ. In fact, He not only CLAIMED to be the Son of God, God manifest in human flesh, but He CONVINCED a great portion of the World that He in fact IS God's Son.
This is probably THE greatest difference between Jesus and all of the other great philosophers, teachers, prophets and gurus throughout the ages. Although many of them spoke and taught ABOUT love and ABOUT God, Jesus claimed that He WAS Love, that He WAS God's Love for the World.--Thus He really knew what He was talking about! Either He was RIGHT, or He was terribly WRONG.--Either He was good, and spoke the truth, or He was evil, a deceiver and a liar!
The famous intellectual and former professor of Cambridge University, C.S. Lewis, expressed it this way:
"There is a really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God'.--That is one thing that we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be 'a great moral teacher'. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with a man who claims he is a poached egg--or else He would be the Devil of Hell! You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: Or else a mad man or something worse.
"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 His being a 'great human teacher'. He has not left that option open to us, He did not intend to."
Another unlikely authority on such matters, the emperor and conqueror of nations, Napoleon Bonaparte, also rightly recognized the absolute uniqueness of Jesus, and expressed it in these words:
"I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the World there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius?--Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon LOVE, and at this hour millions of men would die for Him."
God LOVES us and wanted us to know His Love. But He knows that He--the great Creator of the Universe--is simply too great a concept for us to comprehend or even imagine! He says, "As high as the heavens are above the Earth, so high are MY ways above YOUR ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts!"--Isaiah 55:9. He also tells us, "Even the Heaven of heavens cannot contain Me!"--1Kings 8:27. None of us can really grasp just how great God is, how marvelous and wonderful He is, far beyond the minds of men and the wildest stretch of our imaginations!
But because He loves us and wanted us to know His Love and Salvation, He sent His "only begotten SON"--Jesus--into the World to show us what He Himself is like.
Although He was literally the Ruler and King of the Universe, He chose not to be born in a fine palace with the elite and powerful members of the governments of Man in attendance. Instead, He was born in the humblest and most lowly of circumstances, on the dirty floor of a barn amidst the cattle and the asses, wrapped in rags and laid to rest in the animals' feed trough.
His earthly stepfather, Joseph, was a humble carpenter with whom He lived and labored, conforming to our own human ways of life, custom, language and living.--Thus He personally EXPERIENCED life as we know it, and learned to understand and love us better, to communicate with us on the lowly level of our own limited human understanding.--He learned to LOVE Mankind. He saw our suffering and had great compassion on us, longing not only to heal our sick and broken bodies, but also to save our souls and broken hearts!
When Jesus began His life's work, He went about everywhere doing good.--Helping people, loving children, healing heartaches, strengthening tired bodies, and bringing God's Love to all whom He could. He not only preached His message, but He LIVED it among us as one of us. He not only ministered to Man's spiritual needs, but He spent a great deal of time ministering to their physical and material needs, miraculously healing them when they were sick, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing lepers, raising the dead. He fed the crowds when they were hungry, and did all He could to share His life and His Love!
Jesus said, "I and my Father are ONE."--John 10:30. Before being born to Mary and living in a fleshly human body, He and His Heavenly Father were together in very close personal Heavenly fellowship, something He had to forsake while He was down here on Earth.
The Bible tells us, "In the BEGINNING was the WORD (Jesus) and the Word was WITH God and the Word WAS God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made...And the Word (Jesus) was made FLESH and lived AMONG us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the one and only Son of the Father."--John 1:1,2,14.
Just before He was arrested and crucified, knowing that He would soon be reunited with His Heavenly Father, Jesus prayed: "And now, Father, glorify Me along with Yourself and restore Me to such majesty and honour in Your presence as I had with You BEFORE THE WORLD WAS MADE...for You loved Me BEFORE the foundation of the World."--John 17:5,24.
He called Himself the Son of Man because He was HUMAN, He was born of a woman just like the rest of us. He had the same kind of body that we have, He had the same feelings that we have, the same human limitations we have, He felt the same kind of weariness and pain.
The Creator of all things willingly stripped Himself of His unlimited power and became a tiny helpless infant. The Source of all wisdom and knowledge had to study and learn to read and write. He left His throne in Heaven where innumerable angels worshipped Him, where all the forces of the Universe were at His command, and He took the place of a servant--scoffed at, ridiculed, persecuted and ultimately killed by the very ones He came to save.
The Bible tells us that Jesus is "a High Priest Who is touched with the feeling of our weaknesses, for He was in all points tempted the same way WE are, yet without sin."--Hebrews 4:15. Imagine!--The Son of God literally became a citizen of this World, a member of humanity, a man of flesh, in order to reach us with His Love, prove to us His compassion and concern, and help us to understand His Truth in simple childlike terms that we could grasp.
God has always spoken to people in many ways: Through the beauty and wonder of His Creation, through His prophets and messengers, and through His written Word. But the CLEAREST revelation of Himself--of His character, of His Love--is found in His SON, Jesus, Whom He calls "the Word."
Words are the means by which we EXPRESS ourselves, by which we reveal our thoughts, our feelings, our character.--And JESUS is the means by which GOD expresses Himself to us. God's most outstanding means of communication with us, the way that He chose to communicate His Love to the World, was by His Own Son, Jesus.
Yes.--But He not only gave us God's message and God's teachings, God's Love, but He IS God's message, He IS God's Love to us.
Jesus, the living Word, revealed God's feelings to us in a way that we could understand and relate to. For example, Isaiah 53:3 tells us, "He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." He wept over the grief of His friends, over the suffering of humanity, and even over Jerusalem, a city that rejected its Saviour and was therefore doomed to destruction.
Jesus was so merciful, so kind and kind-hearted. There were times when He was wearied, worn and virtually exhausted from constantly ministering to the crowds that thronged Him. On one occasion He tried to retire from the busy scene for a little rest and recuperation, but the Bible tells us that when He saw the multitudes who needed His help, He had COMPASSION upon them. He felt so SORRY for them that despite the weariness and pain He felt, He went out and healed ALL that came to Him, and taught them all the wonderful Words of God's Kingdom of Love.--Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:31-34. Click to read the continuation in Part II