Make sure to check out all the fun videos from our Rt. 66 series:
The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement, (Lev. 23:27)
Happy Yom Kippur! Over the last few weeks I have been teaching a series called “Route 66”. Using the old “Mother Road” as a mnemonic device, I teach through a corresponding book of the Bible with each stop. You can join us at www.highlinecc.org if you want to understand the Bible better than most do.
Two weeks ago, I taught through the book of Leviticus (not one a lot of non-Jews know well). The book contains the Law God gave Moses at Mt. Sinai. It is an extension of the book of Exodus. In the twenty-third chapter of the book, God gives Moses instructions on annual holy days the nation was to observe in the Promised Land. One of those days was called “Yom Kippur”. The words mean “Day of Atonement”. Today is roughly the 3,500th time the holy day has been observed by Jews around the world.
During the days of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, this was the day where once a year the High Priest of Israel was allowed into the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies. There he was to sprinkle the blood of one of two sacrificial goats to atone for the sins of the nation. The place where the blood was sprinkled was on a covering that sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant and was called the “kippuret” or “place of atonement”. Later it became known as the “Mercy Seat”.
The second sacrificial goat was called the “scapegoat”. The High Priest laid his hands on the head of this goat and confessed the sins of the people. The goat was then taken out into the wilderness and set free. It was an image of the mercy and grace of God to take our sins as far as the “east is from the west”. It all pointed to an event to take place fifteen hundred years later, and almost two thousand years ago.
The true Day of Atonement is Good Friday. The Bible says that the blood of bulls and goats never really took away sin. But when Jesus went to the cross, and gave his life, shedding his own blood, the ultimate sacrifice to forgive the sins of humanity was realized. The book of Hebrews says he entered the true tabernacle, heaven itself, and there presented his sacrifice at the real Mercy Seat. That sacrifice is available to all, and only needs to be received personally to atone for our sin.
For most of us, we stop and reflect upon the death of Jesus during the Easter season. But it makes sense that today, we stop on this central feast day in the Jewish world and remember the real Day of Atonement!
Do not be anxious about anything…. (Phil. 4:6)
A friend of mine once told me he was the “poster child” for anxiety. I feel that way myself on occasion. There are certainly plenty of reasons to be anxious in our world. Anxiety is a form of fear. It is a fear of what might come. Specifically, what might come that is bad. It is the opposite of hope, which is the expectation that something good is going to happen. I find myself fighting anxiety often these days.
In the original Greek text of this verse, Paul is actually saying, “Stop being anxious.” He is referring to a state the Philippians were already experiencing. It’s good to know that even in biblical times, anxiety was a problem, even among people of faith.
This message from Paul gives an antidote: “pray…and present”. Sometimes I find simply praying the Jesus Prayer (see the last post) repeatedly when anxious brings a calm that is “beyond comprehension”; i.e., it makes no sense. But I would rather have peace that makes no sense than anxiety that is totally rational.
In prayer we are to present our requests to God. There is a sense in the language of “presenting” of letting go and giving it to God. Often easier said than done. But when we pull it off, we can experience peace. Paul paints a word picture here where God’s peace, that is beyond comprehension, is like a sentinel that stands guard over our hearts (the seat of emotion) and minds (the seat of our intellect).
Are you experiencing anxiety today? Try praying and presenting.
Lord, have mercy on me… (Luke 18:13)
Jesus told a story about two men who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The first is what we might call a highly religious man. In the parable, this fellow stands in the front of the Temple and rehearses for God why God should be glad he has this fellow on his team because of all the religious stuff he has done. The other man is what we might think of as a normal human being. He falls on his knees, so conscious of his failure to be the man he knows God wants him to be, that all he can do is beat his breast in humility and pray, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus says the second man is the kind of spiritual “few good men (or women)” God is looking for.
The verse is sometimes called “The Jesus Prayer”, and repeatedly praying it during the day has been recognized for a thousand years as a healthy way to stay connected to God. For a number of years I have kept something in my pocket, that when I reach in and feel it triggers me to pray a similar prayer. (My current “reminder” is a poker chip with the logo of my local Harley dealer on it) I often change the original to reflect all that Jesus has done for us. My version simply goes, “Lord Jesus, thank you that you have mercy on me!” You might try the exercise today and let me know how it goes. It has been a good thing for me. I hope it might be for you, too!
We…would prefer to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, (II Cor. 5:8).
I just returned home from my second funeral in three days. Both were of good friends. Many of you know of Jim Dixon’s unexpected death that I wrote about in my last post. His funeral was Saturday. Ken and Jeanne Atkinson have been long-time friends. Jeanne was a college friend and in a strange twist of fate, I actually met Jim at Ken and Jeanne’s wedding. Most of you know Ken was shot and killed by his neighbor when Ken came to the aid of his neighbor’s wife who the neighbor had just shot. The wife lived, Ken didn’t.
In between the two funerals I gave a message on Sunday morning. After Jim’s death and before Ken’s I decided to answer the question, “What happens when we die?” At some point in all of our lives, it will be THE question. I pulled together a number of the classic passages that partially answer the question. I divided the experiences we will have when we die (We all will, you know. Except for the lucky generation of believers who are alive when Jesus returns) into three phases. Let me share them with you:
PHASE ONE: When a true Christian dies, they immediately enter into the presence of the Lord. Our bodies die, but the immaterial and immortal YOU continues to live. The classic passage that describes this experience is II Corinthians, chapter 5. It is here that Paul writes that to be physically alive (he refers to this as “at home in the body”) is to be absent from the Lord. But to be absent from the body (one way of referring to physical death) is to be present with the Lord. At both services, references were made to Jim and Ken being with Christ. You expect this at a funeral. But I felt like shouting “This is really true!” The Corinthian passage expands on what Jesus said to Martha at the death of Lazarus…”The one who believes in me will live even though they die…and whoever lives and believes in me will never really die,” (John 11:24-25). Your body dies, but you live! And immediately upon physical death, you will find yourself with Jesus.
I should point out that there is one requirement for this to happen. You have to have experienced spiritual rebirth through faith in Jesus Christ. Think of it this way. You have to be “equipped” to be with Christ, and the essential equipment is the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus could say to one of the most religious men in Israel, “unless a man is born again (or “from above”) he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven,” (John 3:8). This obviously has significant implications for those who die and do not belong to Jesus. They aren’t equipped to be “present with the Lord.” I don’t think this is punitive on God’s part. I think it is a statement of fact. But, even for the believer, this is only phase one. It is not the end of the story.
PHASE TWO: There is a day coming when YOU, the immaterial and immortal YOU, is going to experience what Jesus experienced: resurrection. This is one of the big messages of Easter: because Jesus had a resurrection, you get one too! When Jesus returns, your immaterial soul/spirit will receive a new body. The one you have is not designed to last. For most of us it is only good for seventy or eighty years. Moses points this out in Psalm 90. Some will live longer, but none will exceed the hundred and twenty year mark that God set after the Flood, (see Genesis 6:3).
One of the classic texts on this phase of life after earthly death is found in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. They were expecting an imminent return of Christ. Some had quit working and were waiting for it to happen. Then some of the Thessalonians died and Jesus had not yet returned. They were worried that maybe those who had died had missed the boat. Paul responded by writing what has come to be known as the “Rapture” passage. It is loaded. He writes that those who have “fallen asleep” (the expression Christians began to use to refer to physical death) would not get left behind. As a matter of fact, the “dead in Christ” will rise first. Then the generation of believers who are still alive will be caught up to be with them and Jesus. Both the resurrected, and the raptured will get a resurrection body that is designed to last forever, (I Thess. 4:13-18).
Another classic text dealing with this phase is found in I Corinthians, chapter fifteen. Paul is facing an audience, some of whom do not believe there will be a resurrection. Paul describes the body that will be ours using five words. He says it will be “heavenly”, (I Cor. 15:40). The word literally means “fit for the heavens”. He goes on to reiterate what Jesus said to Nicodemus, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” (I Cor. 15:50). In other words, the body you have now is not designed to live forever, but your new one will be! He goes on to say this new body will be incorruptible. Your body is subject to decay. The older you get, the more you realize this. I’m currently falling apart myself!
Paul says your resurrection body will be both powerful and glorious. Your current one he says is weak and without glory, (I Cor. 15:42-44). And finally it will be “spiritual” not “natural”. Your current body is driven by physical desires. As a Christian, we learn to be “filled with the Spirit”, which means the Holy Spirit is allowed to be the dominant influence in our lives in order to overcome the influence of the old nature. Your new body will be dominated by the influence of the Holy Spirit, and without the pull of what Paul calls the “flesh”. When all this happens, you will be “equipped” for the Age to Come. That brings us to phase three.
PHASE THREE: If you are of the opinion that the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation, chapter 4, is symbolic, then phase three would begin immediately upon your resurrection. But if this refers to a literal thousand-year period, then you will reign with Christ during this period. It would appear that there will be both mortals and immortals living during this time. But at the end of the thousand-years the really good stuff begins.
A new universe is on its way. In an instant, the present heavens and earth are going to figuratively go up in smoke, (II Pet. 3:10). Then in a nano-second, there will be a new heavens and a new earth. The old order will pass and there will be no more death, pain, suffering, and illness, (Rev. 21:1-4). The new heavens and earth will be characterized by a city. The Bible calls it the New Jerusalem. It is a place where God will live forever with his people, (Rev. 21:3). I have a hunch that what will happen in Phase Three is so far beyond our ability to comprehend that not even the Bible gives us the whole picture.
What happens when we die? For the man or woman who is “equipped” by giving their lives to Christ and receiving him via his Spirit, it is really good news. Immediately we get to be with Jesus. When Christ returns, we come with him and when the trumpet sounds, we experience resurrection and the merging of our soul/spirit with a new body designed to last forever. And when the present heavens and earth are eliminated, and a new heavens and a new earth are created, we get to live forever with the Lord. This was such a reality to Paul (after seeing the other side – see II Corinthians 12) that he could write that he preferred to be “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord”. To depart and be with Christ, he says, will be “better by far”, (Philippians 1:23). Death will be vanquished and God’s ultimate plans and purposes will be achieved.
If you want to hear more teaching on this subject, go to: http://highlinecc.org/?page_id=196.
As we prepare to celebrate Easter this coming Sunday, I thought I would send out a small article I was asked to write for a local newspaper. I had to limit it to 800 words, so it is a “bulletpoint” version of a more extensive examination of the resurrection of Jesus. Here you go:
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is either the greatest event in human history…or the greatest fraud. If it is true, life has meaning and purpose. If not, “eat, drink, and be merry” because you’re going to die and that’s it! The crux of whether Christianity is true or false rests on the truth or falsehood of the resurrection. Let me point to three reasons why I believe Christ rose from the dead:
REASON #1: An empty tomb. It is possible to build a case for both the historic existence of Jesus and his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate from ancient histories, without even invoking the Bible. But when it comes to the details surrounding his burial, the gospel accounts are critical. They tell us that the body of Jesus was released to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and secret believer in Jesus.
Joseph had a new tomb that had never been used before. If you travel to Israel you can still see what such a tomb looked like. They were carved out of solid stone. Inside, a place was created to lay the body of the one who had died. The body was wrapped in linen strips, with each layer of the shroud being laced with aromatic spices. Some scholars believe that as the gummy spices dried, they not only helped preserve the body, but would form something like a cocoon around the body.
The tomb would then be sealed with a carved stone. The normal stone would weigh between one and two tons. The tombs were built with a graded trough in front where the stone was placed and rolled down to cover the tomb opening. Under normal circumstances, the tomb of Jesus would have been sealed and the burial would be complete. But the burial of Jesus was not performed under normal circumstances.
The Jewish leaders remembered that Jesus proclaimed he would rise on the third day. They went to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and asked him to secure the tomb so that the followers of Jesus would not come and steal the body to fake his resurrection. Pilate responded by sending a Roman guard and having the tomb “sealed” with a Roman seal. Getting past a Roman guard was virtually impossible, and breaking a Roman seal without authority was punishable by death.
Consider the above scenario compared to what Mary Magdelene and her friend found when they came to the tomb that first Easter Sunday:
The seal was broken. The stone was moved. The guard had fled (an offense punishable by death!) The tomb was empty. Mary rushed back to tell the other disciples that the body was gone. Peter and John rushed to the tomb. Looking in they discovered the tomb was NOT empty. The GRAVECLOTHES were empty! John writes that when he went in the tomb and saw the empty graveclothes “he believed”!
REASON #2: Eyewitness Testimony. Add to the empty tomb the fact that Jesus began to show up! He first appeared to Mary Magdelene. Then to two men on the road to the nearby village of Emmaus. Then to ten of the eleven disciples in the Upper Room – without Thomas. Then to the eleven again with Thomas. Then to his brother James. Then to a group of 500 in Galilee. Finally, he appeared to the hostile Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Luke records that these appearances took place over a 40-day period and that they were “convincing”. Many of those who were eyewitnesses became leaders in the early church.
REASON #3 – Transformed lives. It was these eyewitness encounters that led to the radical change that we see in the lives of the disciples and multitudes of others. Before the resurrection, Peter was so terrified of the Roman and Jewish authorities that he denied Jesus three times. The other disciples fled when Jesus was arrested. They all were hiding in the Upper Room after the crucifixion. But something happened to transform them. On the day of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, Peter stood in the middle of Jerusalem and proclaimed fearlessly that “You killed him (Jesus), but God raised him from the dead…and we are witnesses!”
Eventually, ten of the twelve, plus the Apostle Paul, would die martyr’s deaths for this proclamation. These men were willing to die horrendous deaths: crucifixion, flaying (skinned alive), stoning, and torture, for claiming that they saw Jesus risen and alive.
You don’t have to take your brain out to believe in Jesus. You don’t have to be stupid to believe in the resurrection. All you really have to do is examine the evidence. Christ is risen.
(To hear more about this subject, come join us Easter, 10:30 a.m., Highline Community Church, 6160 S. Wabash Way, Greenwood Village, CO 80111)
Christ, shield me today…(St. Patrick’s Lorica)
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Since I have had my DNA analyzed through Ancestry.com I now know that I am 7% Irish! Not much, but I’ll take it.
St. Patrick’s Day has a special place in my heart. As a clueless college student I wandered into a Pizza place/ Pub in Kansas City to have a green beer. At the time I had no interest in what St. Patrick’s Day was really about. I ran into my old friend Bob Fulton who was working for Young Life at the time. I had no clue what that was all about either. Over a pitcher of green beer, Bob talked to me about Jesus. When I finally gave in to God, I fondly looked back on that encounter as the first time anyone told me you could have a real relationship with Christ. Thanks Bob!
Originally, St. Patrick’s Day was a Holy Day. After my own conversion I began to read about St. Patrick and adopted him as my “patron saint”. (A practice frowned upon by most Protestants). Patrick was not Irish by descent. Not even 7%. He was British. And since I’m 65% British, I am really connected to the Saint. As a young man he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped and returned to Britain. He also had come to a deep commitment to Jesus during his time in Ireland and went on to gain a theological education and become a priest. (If you want a great resource on Patrick, read Thomas Cahill’s “How the Irish Saved Civilization”. It is excellent.)
Then an amazing thing happened. God called him to go back to Ireland! And he did. He went as an evangelist and led multitudes of pagan Irishmen and women to Jesus. He also established monasteries across Ireland to teach believers how to follow Christ. He was fearless and powerful. One of my favorite writings of Patrick’s is called his “lorica” or “shield”. Here is a little piece of it:
I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
He goes on in the prayer to give us a great truth to cling to in times of trouble and times of blessing:
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
So however you decide to celebrate today, don’t forget what the day is really all about!
(Traditional site of Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus)
Zacchaeus…come down. I must stay at your house today, ( Luke 19:5).
I can only imagine that no one was more surprised than Zacchaeus when Jesus made this statement. It took place in Jericho as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the Passion Week. If you grew up going to Sunday School (I didn’t), you probably learned some cute little song about Zacchaeus and his adventure up in the sycamore tree.
But for those of you who are not familiar with the incident, let me tell you about it. Zacchaeus was a Roman tax collector in the region of Jericho. He had two distinguishing characteristics that are pointed out in Luke’s gospel. He was short…and he was rich! Since he was the “chief” tax collector, and since Jericho could have been the richest city in Judea, he was probably very rich. The other thing we also know was that he was hated!
The Romans had devised a nifty system for collecting taxes from regions they had conquered and occupied. Instead of the Romans themselves acting as tax collectors, they sold franchises to “businessmen” from the conquered territory. These men then had the freedom to extort as much as they could from their fellow countrymen. As a result, many became rich, and all were viewed as traitors. (Just an aside: in the King James translation of the Bible, King James did not want to make his tax collectors be viewed the same way, so he had all references to tax collectors changed to “publicans”. A publican was someone who owned a pub. Check it out.)
So here comes Jesus through Jericho. And Zacchaeus wants desperately to see him. I imagine the word had spread that this was a Rabbi who was a friend to “tax collectors and sinners.” Unable to see over the crowd, Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a look. He could not have imagined that Jesus would stop under the tree, call him by name, and invite himself over for dinner! The response of the crowd was predictable: “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
We are not told what Jesus and Zacchaeus talked about over the meal, but my hunch is that Jesus told him that God loved him, could forgive him, and he could become a follower of Jesus. I doubt Jesus revealed to him what was about to happen in Jerusalem that would make all that possible. But we see a changed Zacchaeus when he stands up at the table and makes a monumental commitment.
“Lord, here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will repay them four times the amount.” It was the response of a man whose life had been radically impacted by Jesus. And Jesus was pleased. He proclaimed, “Today, salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” The entire episode was scandalous by any first century Jewish standard!
Then Jesus topped it all off by informing those at the dinner, “For the Son of Man (Messianic Title) came to seek and save the lost!” Ironically, everyone in the crowd was lost, not just Zacchaeus. But as was often the case, many suffered from delusional self-righteousness.
We aren’t told in the text what happened to Zacchaeus after Jesus left, but credible second and third century sources say his name was changed to Matthias, and he was picked in the Upper Room to replace Judas. Another early source goes on to say he became the first leader of the church in the Roman capital of Judea, Caesarea by the Sea.
Having lived a somewhat depraved life prior to understanding who Jesus was (and is) and what he did (and continues to do), I had the good fortune to know I was lost. And even better, when I understood all this, and responded with faith and acceptance, salvation came to my “house”. How about you?
For more on this great encounter, go to http://highlinecc.org/?page_id=196 for the audio and video of the message I gave on the subject.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple…? (I Cor. 3:16).
Congratulations Denver Broncos, and especially Peyton Manning. All of us in Denver are happy campers today. What could be more exciting than winning the Super Bowl? How about being God’s temple and having God’s Spirit living in you? That was the truth Paul had to remind the men and women in the church in Corinth about. Maybe they got as excited about winning the Isthmian Games as we get about things like the Super Bowl.
The above text is one of three statements Paul makes about being a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is worth reflecting on how mind-boggling this truth is. It is at the core of why God created humanity and what his plans and purposes are for our lives. And, it is my hunch, we often forget this incredible fact.
Why did God create people? In Genesis we are give two big hints. First, we are told that God created us in his image. We were intended to be image bearers of the living God. This is really a lot cooler than starting at linebacker for the Broncos.(You will have to trust me on that!) An integral part of being an image bearer was the fact that when God carried out this intention, he breathed his Spirit into the man he had created. That would enable Adam to manifest God’s presence and glory through his life. I would suggest that this was humanity’s primary purpose; to reflect the image of God and manifest his presence and glory. But something went wrong (not taking God by surprise, by the way). In order to fulfill this purpose, man had to choose to let God be God.
We call the incidents of Genesis, chapter 3, the Fall. Tempted to be like God, Adam and Eve chose to violate the one commandment they were given. When that happened, the Spirit of God vacated the human heart. We call it spiritual death. The result was that the entire human race came forth from Adam and Eve alive physically, but dead spiritually. Humanity no longer possessed the ability to manifest God’s presence and glory. As Paul would later write, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
At this point, God already had a plan in place to fix this problem. But in the meantime, he launched an alternative, temporary program. In around 1,500 BC, God led the Israelites out of Egypt and brought them to Mt. Sinai. There he gave them his law. He also gave plans for them to construct a special tent that was called the Tabernacle. Along with all the religious practices that were performed at the Tabernacle, the primary purpose of the “tent” was to be a place where God could manifest his presence and his glory. That took place in a small 18-foot-by -18-foot part of the tent called the Holy of Holies. In that small room, the Israelites were to place the Ark of the Covenant that contained the tablets of the Law, and was covered by the place of atonement (we all it the Mercy Seat) and the figures of the golden angels of the presence. Between these angels, and over the Mercy Seat, God manifested his presence and his glory. It was called the “shekinah”. Unfortunately, this manifestation of his presence could only be seen by one person (the High Priest), one day a year (the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur).
Five hundred years later, around 1,000 BC, King David decided to replace the moving “tent” with a permanent structure; the Temple. Modeled on the Tabernacle, the Temple was much larger. But along with all the religious activities that took place at the Temple, its primary purpose was again to be the place where God manifested his presence and his glory. Like the Tabernacle, the Temple contained a special room called the Holy of Holies. In in this first Temple, the Ark of the Covenant again was placed, now containing Aaron’s rod, and a jar of manna, along with the tablets of the law. And God graciously showed up and again manifested his presence over the Mercy Seat.
But all this was only a temporary “fix” on God’s real plans and purposes. A thousand years after David, Jesus Christ came. He was the living manifestation of the presence and glory of God. He was the real Temple. And it should be noted that the physical temple of Herod, referred to as the Second Temple, lacked the Ark of the Covenant, and the manifestation of the presence and glory of God. It still functioned as a religious focal point of the nation, but it no longer fulfilled its primary purpose!
But even the coming of Jesus was not the final part of the plan to fix God’s original purposes. With the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the stage was set to get back to the original plan. Ten days after the ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. Suddenly, all men and women who opened their hearts to Jesus would be invaded by the Holy Spirit who left Adam and Eve at the time of the Fall. Men and women would once again have the ability to manifest the presence and glory of God in and through their lives! People, both individually, and corporately (what we call the church) became once again the Temple of God. Apparently, the Corinthians had forgotten that this was their primary purpose. Thus Paul’s reminder here in chapter three, and again in chapter six, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s Temple?”
Like the Corinthians, most of us need repeated reminders that this is our highest purpose. With Christ in our lives via the Holy Spirit, our purpose is to manifest the presence and glory of God in and through our lives. Our daily prayer can now be, “Lord Jesus, live your life in and through me today!” And I would suggest, that is even cooler than winning the Super Bowl!
To hear more on this subject, check out the audio of the teaching at:http://highlinecc.org/?page_id=196.
The Word became flesh and lived among us, (John 1:14).
A number of weeks ago I was making a reference to the passage in Acts 18 where we first meet two friends of Paul’s; Aquila and Priscilla. Paul first meets them on his first trip to Corinth. The text tells us that they were believing Jews who came to Corinth when Claudius forced all the Jews to leave Rome. That event took place in 52 A.D. and is regarded as a sound historical fact. The best explanation of this event occurs in a book written by the Roman Historian Suetonius shortly after the end of the first century. In his biography of twelve Roman emperors, he writes that Claudius expelled the Jews because of disturbances regarding one “Chrestus”. At this point in time, the Romans would not have distinguished between Jews and Christians, and in all probability the disturbances were between the two parties and “Chrestus” is a reference to Christ.
Suetonius is one of a number of early Roman historians and political figures who make reference to Jesus and the Christians during the first century and early second century. Along with Suetonius, we have references from Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and Origin’s references to Celsus. I point this out because as a new believer I was often confronted with a statement something to the effect that apart from the New Testament we have no evidence that Jesus existed. Nothing could be further from the truth. I decided that I needed to have a t-shirt made that said, “What about Suetonius?”
If we include the writings of the early church fathers, we have even more evidence. Several men were mentored by the Apostle John and write extensively about Jesus, quoting major sections of documents we now include in the New Testament. Clement was appointed the leader of the church in Syrian Antioch by Peter, Polycarp and Ignatius were taught by John, Papias knew John and was friends with Polycarp, and if the earliest sources are to be trusted, the Epistle of Barnabas was written by the Barnabas who traveled with the Apostle Paul. All these men authored documents written within years of the New Testament writings. Someone has observed, that even though the books contained in the New Testament were not officially designated until the fourth century, they were in circulation and considered authoritative within years of the first century. I only point this out because another of the claims I periodically encounter is that the Bible has been “rigged” by the fourth century church leaders to fit their own objectives. My conviction, after studying the events surrounding the decisions of the early councils is that the leaders of the church at that time did not decide “what” was Scripture…but merely affirmed what had “always” been recognized by the early church as inspired and apostolic. They did this primarily in response to documents claiming to have apostolic authorship but were spurious.
All this to point out that when you hear people make statements that sound academic and authoritative, and that cast doubt on the authenticity of the life and teachings of Jesus, and the corpus of the Bible, it is often the case that those making the statements are simply parroting ideas they have been exposed to but have not verified, made by others who are simply parroting what they have heard from someone who also hasn’t verified what they are saying.
So next time someone throws one of these arguments your way, remember to respond, “What about Suetonius?”