When we read liberal theologians, we often run into the phrase “the historical Jesus.” What they mean is that the Jesus we read about in the NT is not the Person who really existed. The people who wrote the Bible changed the things He said in some cases, then embellished His actions. For example, He didn’t really perform all those miracles, and the authors of the Bible invented those events to make a religious point.
We who believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures reject such fallacies. There are strong reasons for doing so.
But some people take the search for the historical Jesus a step further. They maintain that the Man Jesus, who is the subject of the four Gospels, never existed at all. All His teachings and actions are fiction.
When I hear or read such claims, I am amazed that somebody could come to that conclusion. I was reminded of that recently when I was reading Luke 3:1-2. Luke wrote his Gospel to a man named Theophilus who was evidently some kind of government official. He would have known how the Roman government worked.
In these verses, Luke describes the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry. John, of course, was the man who presented Jesus to the Nation of Israel as its long-awaited King. The Gospel of Luke was written about thirty years after these facts. John had been a famous preacher in Judea, and his name would have still been known in that region of the world.
But Luke does not mention only John. In these two verses, he mentions eight famous and powerful men. In addition to John, Luke says that John’s ministry began during the reign of Tiberias Caesar. Tiberias was the most powerful man in the world and was the supreme ruler of the Roman Empire. This empire was controlled by what we would call governors. Luke names the governors of Judea and the regions around it. They were Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, Philip, and Lysanias. Luke even gives the names of the areas over which these men ruled.
Luke does not stop with political figures. He also names two important religious leaders among the people in Judea. The internal affairs of the country were the responsibility of the high priest. Luke accurately states that when John began his ministry, Caiaphas was the high priest. His father-in-law, Annas, was a kind of co-high priest with him since a high priest was considered one for life. Luke was aware of such historical and cultural nuances
Theophilus would have known the names of these men. It would be like somebody today referring to President Clinton or Billy Graham. Theophilus was very well aware that Luke was describing a real time in history. He was referring to historical figures.
Of course, Luke mentions a ninth Person a few verses after listing these men. Jesus presents Himself to the Nation of Israel. As a person in the Roman government, Theophilus would have been very familiar with that name as well. Theophilus knew that Jesus was a historical figure, just like the other eight mentioned in these verses. All of them lived during Theophilus’ lifetime.
It’s clear to me that Luke lists all these men to show that he is an accurate historian. Theophilus is a believer, and Luke is reminding him that his faith is based upon facts rooted in history. It is impossible to even consider that Luke invented an imaginary Person when he wrote to Theophilus. Theophilus knew the history of which Luke writes. He had no doubt that all nine men Luke mentions existed. Theophilus would have personally known people who had met many of these men. It is even possible that Theophilus knew people who had known Jesus.
The search for the historical Jesus springs from a mind that rejects the truth of the Scriptures. The idea that Jesus never existed springs from an illogical, unbelieving, heart. If you are looking for Him, you can find Him in the pages of the NT.