Question: "Is Jesus real?"
Answer: Jesus is a real person. He is one of the most complicated, discussed, and revered of historical figures. Most scholars, Christian, non-Christian, and secular alike, believe that there was a historical Jesus. The evidence is overwhelming. Jesus was written about by ancient historians, including Josephus and Tacitus. From an historical standpoint, there is hardly any question: there really was a man named Jesus who lived in first-century Israel.
The Old Testament predicted the Messiah, a real person who would deliver Israel from their enemies. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), of the tribe of David (Genesis 49:10). He was to be a prophet akin to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18), a herald of good news (Isaiah 61:1), and a healer of maladies (Isaiah 35:5–6). The Messiah would be a godly Servant who suffered before entering His glory (Isaiah 53). Jesus is the real person who really fulfilled these prophecies.
The New Testament contains hundreds of references to Jesus Christ as a real person. The earliest gospel may have been written within 10 years of Jesus’ death, and the earliest of Paul’s epistles was written about 25 years after Jesus’ death. This is important because it means that, as the gospels were circulating, there were plenty of eyewitnesses still alive who could verify the truth of the gospel accounts (see 1 Corinthians 15:6).
The manuscript evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament is overwhelming: there are about 25,000 early manuscripts of the New Testament. In comparison, the Gallic Wars written by Caesar in the first century BC, only has 10 early manuscripts existing—and the earliest one of those was written 1,000 years after the original. Similarly, Aristotle’s Poetics only has five early manuscripts in existence, dating to 1,400 years after the original. Those who doubt that Jesus is real must also question the existence of Julius Caesar and Aristotle.
Outside of the Bible, Jesus is mentioned in the Quran and in the writings of Judaism, Gnosticism, and Hinduism. Early historians considered Jesus to be real. The first-century Roman historian Tacitus mentioned the followers of Christ. Flavius Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, refers to Christ in his Antiquities of the Jews. Other references to Jesus exist in the writings of Suetonius, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian; Julius Africanus, quoting the historian Thallus; Lucian of Samosata, a second-century Greek writer; Pliny the Younger; and Mara Bar-Serapion.
No other historical figure has had as much impact on the world as Jesus Christ. Whether one uses BC (Before Christ) or BCE (Before Common Era), the whole Western dating system is measured from one event: the birth of Jesus, a real person. In the name of Jesus have been founded countless orphanages, hospitals, clinics, schools, universities, homeless shelters, emergency relief agencies, and other charitable organizations. Millions of people can give personal testimonies of Jesus’ continuing work in their own lives.
There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus is real, both in secular and biblical history. Perhaps the greatest evidence that Jesus existed and that He did what the Bible says He did is the testimony of the early church. Literally thousands of Christians in the first century, including the twelve apostles, were willing to give their lives as martyrs for the gospel of Jesus Christ. People will die for what they believe to be true, but no one will die for what they know to be a lie.
We are called to have faith—not a blind faith in a make-believe story—but genuine faith in a real Person who lived in a real place in a real time in history. This Man, who proved His divine origin through the signs He performed and the prophecies He fulfilled, died on a Roman cross, was buried in a Jewish tomb, and rose again for our justification. Jesus is real. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).