LAST WEEK I SPOKE AT OUR ALPHA MINISTRY answering the critical question: Who is Jesus? I shared some of the key biblical, historical, and scientific evidence that I have gleaned from over 39 years of academic, professional, and personal study.
I begin with the short version of how I came to know Jesus. The degree in which God intervened in my life is a bit unusual. Nevertheless, as powerful as a personal experience with God can be, experiences must always agree, in whole and in part, with the truth that God has revealed in Scripture. And Scriptural truth, if it is True, will be enjoy biblical and non-biblical support. We will see that it does:
- Who do I say He is?
- Who did Jesus say He was?
- When did the Old Testament say the Messiah would live, and did Jesus live at that time?
1. Who do I say He is?
On Friday, December 7, 1979, I was a college senior two-weeks away from graduation. For the previous six months, I had been working at my dream job for the sales executives at a financial software company in Massachusetts. I worked with them. I ate with them. I joined their bull sessions. I got to know them. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted the cars, the boats, the planes.
What I discovered, however, was that while their professional lives were successful, their personal lives were a wreck from drugs, alcohol, adultery, etc.
Now, I knew I wasn’t better than they were. I knew that, if I continued to follow in their footsteps, I would become just like them. They were me in 20 years. My wife and I were only dating at the time, but at risk was the love we had for each other. Our love was most precious to me. I didn’t want to lose it then, nor at any time in the future.
Just before 1:00 PM on that Friday, I was walking back to work from lunch and still, after many weeks, desperately trying to resolve the issue of pursuing wealth without risking what was dearest to my heart.
I pondered the superficiality of the American Dream; a dream that had defined my life. My family owned a manufacturing company. It’s an over simplification, but all I really needed to do to achieve the American Dream was to work hard, in the family business, and age. Yet, that wasn’t good enough for me. I didn’t want success handed to me. I wanted to succeed on my own, and it was by my own ingenuity that I had gotten this job at the software company.
The very thing I had devoted my life toward, and the very thing my family had devoted its life toward, risked the very thing I valued most: the love I had for my wife.
The more intense my thinking that day, the slower I walked. I had run out of ideas, so I decided to look elsewhere for a resolution.
I stopped walking. I lifted my eyes to whomever might be up in the clouds and asked, “If this isn’t what life is all about, what is life all about?” It was a rhetorical question. I was hoping for maybe a little insight, but the last thing I expected was a reply, not in my scientifically, closed cosmic existence.
God, however, responded with His own question, “Okay, you’ve asked the big question. You know enough about Me to choose for or against Me. What are you going to do?”
Oh great, I’m losing my mind! Now I’m hearing voices! And to make matters worse, I felt immersed in God’s presence. It was as though I had been dropped into the depths of the sea and surrounded by water, except I was surrounded by God’s presence.
For three days His presence was my constant, unwelcomed companion. He was everywhere, all the time. I could neither escape nor ignore Him; although I tried. The reality of His presence was so distinct that I could almost see Him. He didn’t say anything for the rest of the day on Friday or on Saturday. Instead, He was simply present in my world, waiting for my answer. It was nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to do.
On Saturday, I just had to tell someone what was happening. I needed help. I needed advice. My mother was home that afternoon, so I told her, “I think God wants me to do something for Him.”
“Oh, that’s just a bunch of gobbledygook,” she derided, and hurriedly walked out of the room. Her response didn’t provide the wisdom I needed to navigate these deep spiritual waters.
When I awoke on Sunday, the manifestation of God’s presence had changed. It was more specific. His presence was a definable, nearly visible, Person. He was alongside me, gently tugging my elbow, saying, “Come, follow Me.”
He warmly repeated His invitation every few minutes and I kept pulling my elbow away. After about an hour, I knew this Person was Jesus gently, patiently, and persistently inviting me to follow Him. I didn’t know how to respond, so I ignored Him. I tried to go about my day as normally as possible. I was hoping no one else could see or hear this Person at my side. Why? Because I wanted to avoid someone asking me the obvious question, “You idiot, don’t you realize how blessed you are? Jesus is standing right next to you asking you to follow Him!”
Early that afternoon, Jesus said, “Rob, tonight, you will follow Me.”
“Fine! Fine! Just leave me alone!” I demanded, pulling my elbow away from Him, again.
The repeated invitation stopped, but He never left my side.
Unrelated to the spiritual events of that weekend, Mary Grace and I had plans to visit her brother, Russell, on Sunday night.
Russell answered the door with his characteristically warm greeting, a big hug and bigger smile. I don’t remember saying “Hi.” I was just compelled to get answers from the religious books I had seen in his study on previous visits. What I do remember, however, is making a beeline from the door to the books. When I got into his study, I randomly selected one off a shelf. I believe it was a commentary on Ezekiel, of all things. I sat down, opened it, and started reading. Jesus’ invisible presence was still there, and I was still looking for answers to explain what was happening. A few minutes later, Russell appeared in the doorway saying. “Rob, what are you doing? This isn’t like you!”
The Good News:
I was desperate for answers. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Russell, this is dumb, this is stupid, this is pathetic! Why did Christ have to die?”
I was as surprised by my question as Russell was, maybe more so. I didn’t know that question was stirring in me. It came out of nowhere.
Russell explained. “In the Old Testament, God first established animal sacrifices as the mechanism by which sin could be forgiven. God is holy. He desires a close relationship with us, but there is a significant problem. It is impossible for unholy people to be in relationship with a holy God. Our sin makes us unholy and its effect must be removed; our guilt must be paid for. Out of His grace, God provided the solution.”
He said, “In the Old Testament, God instructed the people to select one of their animals without blemish and bring it to the temple altar. Then they were to place their hands on its head, confess their sin, and sacrifice the animal as a substitute in their place. The animal’s life was in the blood. The blood was an acceptable payment for the person’s sin — life for life.”
“However,” Russell continued, “animal sacrifices were imperfect. They were temporary. They pointed to when God would provide the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Son took upon Himself a human nature, in the virgin womb of Mary, and became Jesus of Nazareth.
“Jesus is fully God and fully human. He is the only acceptable sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. He is the only Person to be without sin, so He is the only Person who can pay the price of sin for others — His life for our life. By confessing our sin and accepting Jesus’ payment for it, we are forgiven and our relationship with God is reconciled.”
I was raised Roman Catholic. I knew the Apostle’s Creed. I knew about Christ’s passion, suffering, and death on the cross. I knew about His resurrection from the dead. As God said, “You know enough to choose for or against Me. What are you going to do?”
I was overwhelmed by God’s tangible, immeasurable love, and by the great lengths He had gone, in Christ, to forgive me of my sins. I was overwhelmed that He had intentionally pursued me as a father untiringly searches for a lost child. He wanted my relationship with Him, separated as it had been by my sin and ignorance, to be reconciled. He wanted to give me life, real life, not the empty decoy of a life that Satan sets out to keep us from knowing God. I did not want one of those lives anymore.
I made my choice: I chose to live for God.
Immediately the external divine presence that I had been resisting for three days filled my heart. He went from being in my world, to being in me. Just as He had promised two millennia ago, to all who believe in Him, Jesus filled me with His Holy Spirit. His Spirit brought life to the emptiness of my soul just as suddenly and distinctly as a blackout ends when electricity is restored. One moment it’s off; the next, Bang! it is on.
Who is Jesus, to me? He is the ultimate expression of God’s love. He is the One from whom I receive forgiveness and eternal life.
It’s a wonderful and powerful story, but is there a factual basis for my personal faith? Is it based in evidence and truth, or was my mom right after all? Is it just a bunch of gobbledygook?
2. Who Did Jesus Claim to Be?
According to the New Testament Jesus publicly preached and performed many miracles. He raised three people from the dead.
Lepers were healed, the blind received sight, the lame walked, the deaf heard, and the mute spoke.
Yet, as important as all His actions and teachings were, the most relevant question is “Who did He claim to be?”
Strangely, Jesus was not put on trial for anything He did. He was crucified because of who He claimed to be:
- Son of God
- Son of Man
- King of Israel
In Mark 14:61–65, we read:
Again, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.
The religious leaders understood that Jesus claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God. And under oath, Jesus accepts these charges. However, the high priest left out a title that Jesus frequently applied to Himself. Jesus added the Son of Man title to His claims. Apparently, He wanted to make sure they got all the charges against Him right.
Today, these titles don’t get us all excited because we don’t fully appreciate their significance. But to the people at that trial, His claims were outrageous.
The Christ: Means the “Anointed One” or “Messiah.” Since the Garden of Eden, He was the One God had promised to send. In the Old Testament, the Christ is referred to as “The Holy One of Israel,” “The Redeemer of Israel,” “Savior,” “The Righteous One”, the “King of Israel” and many other exalted titles.
The Son of God: This title refers to the divine nature of the Christ. The Son of God is: “God in human flesh.” It is an unconditional claim of full deity, of being God. In the Old Testament God Himself says that He is the Savior, the Redeemer, and the King of Israel. The Christ, by definition, would literally be the Son of God.
Son of Man: The Son of Man is a two-fold reference. It indicates the human nature of Christ and the one who the prophet Daniel, in 7:13–14, predicted would be given authority, glory and sovereignty over God’s kingdom. His dominion would be everlasting, and His kingdom would never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13–14:
And I saw One like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him.
He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.
Standing before the Sanhedrin, Jesus applied Daniel’s prophecy to Himself claiming to be King of that kingdom.
The high priest, and those with Him, understood the significance of these titles. They condemned Jesus to death and handed Him over to Pilate, the Roman governor. As we read in Mark 15:1–2
Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders…reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led Him away and handed him over to Pilate.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
Pilate then ordered Him crucified for being the King of the Jews because anyone claiming to be a king is a threat to Caesar and the Roman Empire. He had a sign fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head, stating the charges against Him, John 19:19–22:
It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be King of the Jews.”
It is perfectly clear. Under oath, Jesus said He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Son of Man. The religious leaders understood His claims and condemned Him to death for them. And the Roman authorities crucified Him for claiming to be the King of the Jews.
Then, on the third day after His crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead. He appeared to more than 500 people over a forty-day period. Finally, He ascended into heaven in the view of many.
People say a lot of things about Jesus today, but 2,000 years ago His followers, His enemies, and the Roman government all understood Him to claim to be the Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man; God in human flesh. He is the One who makes it possible for us to know God through the forgiveness of our sin. And He proved it by His miracles, His teaching, and His rising from the dead.
But is that enough evidence? Did Jesus live at the predicted time? Is there Old Testament evidence indicating when the Messiah was to arrive, and did He live then?
3. Did Jesus live when the Old Testament said the Messiah would live?
The Old Testament contains 360 prophecies about the Messiah, most of which Jesus has already fulfilled. He will fulfill the remaining ones when He returns in great glory and power. Let’s consider three prophecies that predicted when the Messiah would arrive to see if that’s when Jesus lived.
In approximately 1850 BC, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, gathered his sons together and prophesied over each of them.
To his son Judah, he gave a prophecy concerning the Messiah in Genesis 49:10 (NIV).
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he, to whom it belongs, shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
This verse was understood by the Jews to be a prophecy of the Messiah’s arrival. Let’s look at the specifics:
Scepter: A scepter is a staff held by a sovereign as an emblem of authority. It represents a sovereign’s right to apply and enforce law; including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.
Until He comes to whom it belongs: This is an idiom for the Messiah. It’s a reference to the Messiah.
So, according to this prophecy, the Messiah would come before the right to impose Jewish law was rescinded.
Nearly 2,000 years later, in the first quarter of the first century, the Jews came under Roman dominion. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that in AD 6–9, the son and successor to King Herod was replaced by a Roman governor named Caponius. By this act, the Roman Empire reduced the nation of Israel to a Roman province. The scepter had left Judah. Josephus records this transfer of power:
“Judea, was reduced into a province, and Caponius…was sent as procurator, having the power of life and death put into his hands by Caesar!”
The reaction of the Jewish leaders to these monumental events is recorded in the Talmud. The book Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and also The American Catholic Quarterly, vol. 32, quote the following statement by Rabbi Rachmon: 
“When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death…they covered their heads with ashes, and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: ‘Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come.’”
Yet, the Messiah had come. He was born of the Virgin Mary shortly before the first century. He was a boy when Judah’s scepter was transferred to Rome. This is why each Gospel emphasizes that Jesus was handed over to Pilate to be killed. Only the Romans could kill Jesus.
Daniel dates the arrival of the Messiah. There is a somewhat complex, yet incredibly specific prophecy in Daniel 9:24-26, concerning the date of the Messiah’s arrival. Writing over 550 years before the events he prophesied, Daniel narrows the year of the Messiah’s official arrival in Jerusalem to AD 32–33.
Joel’s Prophecy fulfilled. Hundreds of years before Christ’s death, the OT prophet Joel said 2:31-32:
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
In his impassioned message on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter declared that Joel’s prophecy had been fulfilled and they had all seen these events. Acts 2:19–39 (NIV):
19 ‘I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Peter’s audience had seen Jesus’ miracles, they heard His teaching, they knew He was crucified, and they knew Jesus’ tomb was empty. If they doubted that fact, they could walk a few hundred yards and take a peek. They were eyewitnesses, and thousands of them believed.
Did Peter’s audience see the sun turn dark and the Moon turn blood red on the same day?
The gospel of Mark in 15:33 states that, on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion:
“When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”
Those who question the trustworthiness of the Bible will say it was just a solar eclipse. Well, just like us, people of antiquity were familiar with solar eclipses. And just like us, they knew that solar eclipses lasted for a few minutes, not for three hours. This was an unnatural darkness.
What most of us don’t know, is that the Jewish Passover is only celebrated on a Full Moon. This is why, in keeping with phases of the Moon, the date of Easter varies each year.
What’s critical is that a solar eclipse can never occur during a Full Moon because it is 180 degrees opposite of where it must be for it to block the sun. Therefore, the Moon was full when Jesus was crucified. A solar eclipse could not have caused the darkness.
Is there historical evidence? Yes, writing during the reign of Hadrian (117-138), the ancient Greek historian Phlegon Trallianus recorded in his book Olympiades that a great darkness occurred in the year AD 32–33:
In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, a failure of the Sun [Greek = ekleipsis] took place greater than any previously known, and night came on at the sixth hour of the day [noon], so that stars actually appeared in the sky; and a great earthquake took place in Bithynia and overthrew the greater part of Niceaea.
In the third book of his History (50-100), the Greek writer Thallus recorded this same event calling it a “fearful darkness” accompanied by a great earthquake. Seven ancient historians quote both of these sources.
Did the moon turn to blood on the same day as the sun turned dark?
According to my astronomical research, the answer is, Yes. A Blood Moon is the visual reddening phenomena that occurs when a Full Moon travels through the shadow of the Earth. It is a lunar eclipse because the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon. Using the astronomy simulation program Starry Night Pro 7, available from Simulation Curriculum, I recorded the Blood Moon that occurred, as seen from Jerusalem, on Friday, April 3, AD 33. Note that the Full Moon returned at 7:15 PM.
If Jesus isn’t the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the King of Israel then someone else born immediately prior to the transfer of Judah’s scepter to Rome, had to be. And that person, in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy, would have to have:
- Been born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem
- Healed lepers, given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, made the lame walk, the mute speak, and the dead live again.
- He also would have been rejected by Israel and crucified by Pontius Pilate under the authority of the Roman Empire on Friday, April 3, AD 33.
What is my personal position? I’m on God’s side. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and I believe He is working in your life right now. Maybe He’s asking you to choose for or against Him.
I started this post with my personal experience from the heart. Then I supported it with a bit of the evidence I have learned from my academic and professional study, as well as 39 years of personal devotional study. If I were to allow my heart to chime back in at the end of this post it would say something like this:
May the peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!
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Rob Oberto, D.Min., is the award-winning author of “Intimacy With God” available from Amazon. ©2018 Rob Oberto, All Rights Reserved.
 Flavius, Josephus, The Jewish War, Book 2, Chapter 8. 75 a.d.
 The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Volume 32, The Trial of Jesus Christ. October 4, 2015, p. 253
 Lémann, Augustin. Jesus Before the Sanhedrim (Kindle Locations 152-155). Kindle Edition.
 https://www.bethlehemstar.net/the-day-of-the-cross/peters-argument/. I have extensively researched The Bethlehem Star evidence for six years. I have found it to be reliable and trustworthy.