Q. How can we know that Jesus was a historical figure? Couldn’t he be made up?
A. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was the spouse of St. Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth. He lived in Egypt, Nazareth, and Capernum. He was baptized by John the Baptist. He engaged in a public ministry of preaching, healing, and charity in the region of Judea, and was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem. He was buried, resurrected and ascended into heaven.
These are the facts of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. After the Ascension, Christ returned to the throne of Heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the Father. He is present in the life of the Church, in the Holy Sacraments, and in the lives of believers. Christ is a living person—Jesus of Nazareth was the Word of God, the Son of the Father, who died and rose again, who we can know intimately, and with whom we can share eternity.
Our faith teaches us the reality of Jesus’ life, and of his humanity. His life is recorded in the Gospels, which are inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that, “The Church holds firmly that the four Gospels, whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up.”
But even without faith, we can know that Jesus Christ was a real, living, historical person, who did and said the things which Scripture tells us. During his life, and shortly thereafter, Jewish historians like Josephus, and Roman historians like Tacitus, recorded the life of Jesus, and noted his influence on the Jewish people. These historians had no interest in promoting Christ—they were not Christians, nor did they wish to help the Church advance her cause. Instead, they recorded Jesus’ life because he existed. Similarly, Jewish scholars of Scripture noted the life of Jesus at the time he lived, some even calling him a “magician,” and some attempting to discredit him.
At the time of his life and ministry, a host of eyewitnesses saw Jesus preach, and witnessed the miracles he undertook. They came together in agreement about what he said and did, and they were referenced in the Gospels. The Apostle Paul’s preaching and writing was not refuted by the witnesses of Jesus’ life. Nor were the authors of the Gospels. Instead, those who saw Christ knew what they had seen, and many were converted by the extraordinary magnificence of his miraculous ministry. Christ lived, died, and was resurrected as the Scriptures record. We can be confident of that fact.
It can be tempting to doubt the story of Christ’s life. Satan wishes to make Christianity seem implausible, and to make the stories of Christ’s life seem more like fantasy than reality. Satan tempts us to doubt that miracles could exist, or that a man could be raised from the dead. Satan tempts to doubt that Christ was the Son of God. These temptations are a part of the life of every believer—the evil one would like to discredit the reality in which we believe. But the Gospel is true. We know it by history, and we know it by its fruit. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ has done more to transform the world for holiness than any other thing in human history. A world without the light of Christian revelation would be darker, colder, and more hopeless than the real world, in which God became man, in order to draw us into the light of everlasting life.
Christ lived in Israel, 2000 years ago, and he lives today. He knows our doubts, and he gives us the grace to trust in Him—to trust with humility, with the assurance of truth, and with hope in the Resurrection. Christ has worked in our lives—we all can thing of the ways in which his grace his transformed us. If we doubt that he is real, or that he lived, we need only ask him to reveal his face to us—he is the face of mercy, of love, and of everlasting hope.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.