We’ve all seen stories about people who have gone viral. You know, some odd story gets published on social media and overnight a little known person sprints into instant fame with millions of clicks on their story or video.
Mashable compiled some of 2019’s most viral videos here. My personal favorite is the hilarious video of a dad having a completely normal-ish conversation with his babbling baby on the sofa.
But today, going viral or insta-famous isn’t all that difficult (said somewhat tongue-in-cheek). We have technology that makes it possible to communicate instantly with a friend on the other side of the globe, and if there is a major geopolitical event in any location on planet earth, the major news agencies will be publishing it within 24 hours or less for all to see.
We have social platforms that allow us to send completely random tidbits about our day to thousands of friends by simply the clicking of a button. (Judging by many in my social circle, this is not actually a good thing.)
But think about what it would have taken for a seemingly random, poor, middle eastern Jewish baby to go from complete obscurity – aka, birth in a manger in Bethlehem – to worldwide sensation at the time that he did.
Jesus didn’t have a smartphone, the internet or an automobile for travel. He didn’t have the advantage of being born wealthy or in a palace. He wasn’t sea-faring explorer or a military conqueror. Many of the well-known ancient figures are those who had power or had some major military campaign for those in power or had enough wealth to purchase power.
But Jesus on the other hand was born without any of the appurtenances of wealth or power. He had no military. In fact, he told Peter that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
Jesus couldn’t travel very far very quickly. He couldn’t go insta-famous with a cute little video. Except for a brief trip to Egypt as a baby, Jesus’s entire life, ministry and death occurred within a one hundred mile radius of his birth place.
So how in the world did this humble, no-name baby in a manger become a household name even two thousand years later, one who many believe was the Son of God?
It would require a perfect crescendo of world politics, OT prophecies, a miraculous life, and the testimony of many witnesses to pull off such a feat.
World Politics Prepared the Way
Alexander the Great
Between the Old and New Testaments there is a dark period of about 400 years. Many Christians know little about this time because there was apparently very little communication from God to his people. The prophets of Israel went silent. Where was God? What was he doing while his people waited for him to come to earth and make all the wrongs right?
Well, just after the final book of the OT, Malachi, was written, which was around 445 BC, a world power came to the scene, known as Greece, and known namely for Alexander the Great’s incredible domination.
During this 400 year dark period, Alexander the Great’s father unified the states of Greece, preparing a great nation for his son, Alexander, to rule.
Many historians consider Alexander the Great (356 BC to 323 BC) to be the best military conqueror of all time. He was undefeated in battle. He conquered from Egypt all the way to Asia. And he did it all before his death at the age of 33. There is a famous story about Alexander who, after conquering the world, looked at the breadth of his empire and wept because there was not more world to conquer.
At any rate, one of the primary influences on the world, even impacting us today, was the spread of Greek culture throughout the empire that Alexander built. The spread of Greek philosophy occurred during this time – we’re talking about Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and all those guys.
One of Alexander’s primary means of enforcing his rule was by building Greek cities in the new lands that he conquered. Alexandria, still a great city today, was built and named for Alexander the Great after he conquered Egypt. These cities and the Greek influence brought a massive cultural shift to one common language now spoken throughout much of the known world – Koine Greek – the language of the soon-to-be-written New Testament.
In other words, without Jesus even having been born. The world’s table was already being set so that the stories of Jesus could be spread quickly and easily through one known language.
Readers of the New Testament would likely be familiar with the Roman empire as it was the world power at the time of Jesus and, albeit, the human force that invented crucifixion – Jesus’s ultimate end.
The Romans essentially defeated the Greek empire in 146 BC. From there the Roman empire spread to the far reaches of the earth as far as England and Wales!
The Romans are known for many of their technological advances that made the empire possible, and one of them was their huge network of roads. The Romans built incredible highway systems to connect lands that had otherwise been completely disjointed. You can read more about the impressive feats of the Romans’ road network here.
So by the birth of Christ around 3-4 BC, there was a common language spoken throughout the world and a network of roads to travel by and spread the word faster than ever before to lands, perhaps, previously unreachable.
While God might have been silent during these dark years between the testaments, he was certainly not sleeping.
OT Prophecies and Signs
Surely, the world was changing during these times to make it easier and faster for the word to spread, but what was it about Jesus that was different from any other newsworthy event of that time?
To begin with, there was an entire nation waiting for a special Savior, a Messiah. The OT Scriptures included, according to Alfred Edershiem, around 450 Messianic passages that promised a coming Messiah who would deliver Israel, currently ruled by Roman tetrarchs. Israel was an entire nation of millions of people, awaiting a promised Savior, who they believed would deliver them from the oppression of earthly foreign rule. While many Israelites may have been lulled to sleep by the apparent inaction on God’s part, there would have been many Israelites waiting eagerly and watchfully for the promised Messiah.
To find promises regarding a Messiah, one need look no further than Gen. 3:15 immediately after the fall, God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
We see another promise of the Messiah to Abraham in Genesis 17 where God promises to Abraham to make his name great and bless all nations through him and even “kings shall come from you.”
Micah 5:2 promises that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.”
Isaiah 7:4 says, “Therefore, The LORD himself will give you a sign. A virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and his name shall be called Immanuel.”
Isaiah 53:4-5 proclaims that: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Many other OT prophecies could be recounted to show how the Messiah was promised and that Jesus fulfilled those prophecies perfectly.
At the time of Jesus’s arrival, there were supernatural signs that indicated this was no ordinary baby, beginning with the special messages directly from heavenly messengers.
There are at least four separate angelic visions recorded in the Gospels, proclaiming Jesus’s birth. Mary received an angelic visitor, telling her she would be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:26). Joseph received an angelic vision, explaining not to divorce Mary although she had already conceived a son before consummating their marriage (Matthew 1:18-25).
An angel also appeared to Zechariah in Luke 1:5-24. John the Baptist himself proclaims he is part of fulfilled prophecy (Isaiah 40:3) as he prepares the way by his preaching. And when the people in his audience begin to mistake John as the Messiah, he clearly refutes that idea, saying “one who is more powerful than I is coming . . . I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals.”
The fourth angelic vision may be the best known. It is to the shepherds abiding with their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8-11). The angels proclaim with all the glory of the Lord, “Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you who is the Messiah.”
After 400 years of silence, suddenly there was an explosion of divine activity, proclaiming the Messiah’s arrival.
One Miraculous Life
It takes little to see that the birth of Jesus was miraculous. But his life was all the more incredible and controversial. The Gospel accounts all begin by showing Jesus’s power over nature, sickness and demons and that his teaching was authoritative like no other they had heard. His teaching and miraculous works were present to affirm his Messiahship.
1. Divine Power Over Disease
Early in Jesus’s ministry, we see his healing of a paralyzed man to prove not only his ability to heal but his divine ability to forgive sins. In Luke 5:24 when Jesus tells the paralyzed man his sins are forgiven, the Pharisees rightly perceived in their hearts that forgiveness of sins is divine, but they failed to recognize Jesus as such. They said, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
‘But perceiving their thoughts, Jesus replied to them, ‘Why are you thinking this in your hearts? Which is easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ or to say ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’— he told the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you: Get up, take your stretcher, and go home.”
2. Divine Power Over Demons
Something else significant that should strike the reader is Jesus’s encounter with demons. In Luke 4:34, There was a demon possessed man who was apparently behaving pretty normal to have been worshipping alongside other Jews in the temple. But when Jesus arrived the demon immediately cowered at his presence. “Leave us alone! What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!”
We can be reminded of James words that “even the demons believe and shudder.” In this account with the demons, not only does Jesus rebuke the demon and cast him out, the demon himself recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.
3. Divine and Authoritative Teaching
Just prior to this scene, Jesus proved his divine authority through is powerful teaching. A few verses prior in Luke 4:32 says, “They were astonished at his teaching because his message had authority.”
4. Divine Power Over Nature
After Jesus had been ministering and healing, crowds began following him. His fame spread, and we are told many came to be healed by him. Jesus’s fame was localized but growing rapidly throughout Judea.
In Matthew 8:24-27 Jesus had already called his disciples, those who would be appointed as his apostles or messengers to testify about all they had witnessed (Matthew 28:18-20). But here we see that Jesus was sleeping in a boat, noticeably worn down by the crowds and constant demands from his ministry. Matthew’s account records that while Jesus slept a violent storm arose on the sea. But Jesus kept sleeping.
“So the disciples came and woke him saying, ‘Lord save us! We’re going to die!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”
“The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!”
5. Divine Power Over Death
Jesus’s fame did not go over well with the Religious powers of the time. They perceived Jesus as a blasphemer and violator of the laws and traditions of the forefathers. Consequently, they sought to destroy him. Because Roman law governed Israel at the time, the religious elite could not carry out their punishment for blasphemers, which was death by stoning, according to the OT.
So after their religious elite, the Great Sanhedrin, condemned him to death (Matthew 26:57-67), they had to seek the permission of the Roman governor, Pilate. Pilate examined him and found nothing wrong with him. He even sought to have Jesus released. Famously, the people choose to have a robber released among them and rejected Jesus.
After Jesus’s crucifixion and death, one that is clearly more significant than any other, given that darkness blotted out the sun for three hours, the earth quaked and the veil of the temple tore, a soldier who saw these things even confessed, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”
All four Gospels tell of Jesus’s miraculous resurrection, and his appearance to many people. The resurrected Christ was not some speculative event. In I Cor. 15:6 Paul records that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at one time, and that some of them were still alive! In other words, if you doubt that Jesus rose, go ask the people who saw him! There were over 500 people to testify about him!
Luke wrote at the beginning of his Gospel that he was writing an orderly account so that Theophilus would know the things he had been taught about Jesus were true (Luke 1:1-4).
John the Apostle wrote that we have seen Jesus with our eyes and have touched him with our hands, and we testify to you about him! (I John 1:1-3)
Peter recalls in his letter 2 Peter 1:18 “We ourselves heard this voice when we were with him on the holy mountain.”
Paul says in I Cor. 15:8 “Last of all as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.”
Paul goes on to say in the well known verse 55 of that same chapter, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Oh, death where is you victory? Oh death, where is your sting?”
Before Jesus ascended, he said to the apostles in Luke 24:44 “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled. . . This is what is written. The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations.”
Corroborated by Contemporary Accounts
The apostles’ witness and testimony about all they had heard and seen carried the message of Jesus to the far reaches of known civilization. Early church traditions hold that the apostles reached India and Russia as well as many other nations in between.
Even contemporary accounts outside the Bible corroborate all these events. The ancient historian Josephus writes about ‘Jesus, called the Messiah, crucified by Pilate,’ and mentions John the Baptist’s imprisonment and death – all as the Gospels record them.
Tacitus, a historian and non-Christian, writes in the second century that Jesus was crucified by Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, which is complete corroboration with the details recorded in Luke.
There are a number of interesting ancient sources one can read up on here that authenticate the witness we read about in Scripture as a clearly historical reliable event.
The story of Jesus spread like wild fire and transformed ancient European society despite fierce persecution. The Roman emperors were powerless to stop the viral spread of the testimony of Jesus. The written accounts and testimonies of the life of Jesus have been changing lives for 2000 years.
I, myself, am further spreading the viral testimony of Jesus with this post.
The only question remaining is: will you be counted amongst those who believe? As Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20-29)