- Consider the evidence concerning Jesus’ historical existence.
- Understanding of what Christians believe about Jesus’ identity.
- Consider key moments in the ministry of Jesus.
- Students will reflect upon how they judge people to be genuine historical figures, fictional characters or legends.
- Question whether there is any overlap between the mythical and the real.
- Reflect upon the role of personal experience in the formation of Christian faith.
- Analyse Bible passages to determine the importance of Old Testament prophecy in understanding Jesus’ identity and nature.
- Synthesise learning by writing a magazine interview with one of the gospel writers, focusing on their intentions when writing their gospel.
Supporting Values Education:
The value of respectful attitudes to faiths and worldviews is based on a belief that humans are capable of applying reason and intelligence to formulate their own beliefs about the great questions of existence. This lesson encourages students to understand the basis on which Christians come to their conclusions about Jesus’ identity.
Ask the students to stand up. Explain that you are going to read out a list of names, and that you want them to remain standing if they believe that the person you name is (or was) a real, historic person. If they think the person never really existed, they should sit down. As you work through the list, ask some of the students to explain their opinions, particularly in the case of individuals who divide opinion.
Use some or all of the following names:
- Julius Caesar
- Harry Potter
- William Shakespeare
- King Arthur
- Queen Victoria
- Simon Cowell
- Katniss Everdeen
- Robin Hood
- Jesus of Nazareth
Explain that in today’s lesson we are going to be looking more closely about the relationship between truth and myth.
Introduce the first clip from the film Star Wars: Episode VII – the Force Awakens (Lucasfilm 2015, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Ask the students to pay attention to what Rey (Daisy Ridley) says about Luke Skywalker towards the end of the clip.
- Start time: 0.25.41 (beginning of chapter 16)
- End time: 0.28.39
- Clip length: 2 minutes and 58 seconds
The clip starts with Finn (John Boyega) arriving in the encampment asking for water. It ends after Rey says, ‘Luke Skywalker? I thought he was a myth’, and BB-8 rolls away, bleeping.
Ask the students why Rey might think Luke Skywalker was ‘a myth’. Draw out from them how people in the Star Wars universe might come to doubt his reality, as a result of having not personally witnessed any of the things he did in Episodes IV-VI of the Star Wars saga. Remind the students of the list of names from the starter activity. Do the students think that myths can also have a factual, historic basis?
Explain that while some of the people on the list were easy to answer, others are more complicated. We all know that Simon Cowell is real because we’ve seen him on television; we all know that Harry Potter is a fictional character. The King Arthur of Round Table/Sword in the Stone legend is almost certainly a fictional creation, the work of several different authors in different times and places. However, most historians agree that those King Arthur myths grew up around a real, historical figure, albeit one about whom little is known with certainty. Jesus Christ is regarded by some as a mythical figure, but the historical evidence that he existed and made the claims (whether or not you think those claims to be true) to be God incarnate is very good – there are many who claim that these are on a par with the evidence for the existence of Julius Caesar.
If appropriate you could print out extracts of the following two articles, written by Christians, regarding the so-called ‘Jesus Myth’:
- 10 problems with the Jesus myth (and why it matters).
- Ancient evidence for Jesus from non-Christian sources.
Introduce a second clip from Star Wars: Episode VII – the Force Awakens. Explain that Rey and Finn have now met up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). They are carrying a map which they believe will reveal the location of long-disappeared Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. Ask the students to consider the basis Han has for his comments about the Force and the Jedi towards the end of the clip.
- Start time: 0.49.13 (beginning of chapter 26)
- End time: 0.51.49
- Clip length: 2 minutes and 36 seconds
The clip starts with the Millennium Falcon flying through hyperspace. The first line is Han saying, ‘Electrical overload.’ The clip ends after Han says, ‘The crazy thing is, it’s true; the Force, the Jedi, all of it: it’s all true.’
Ask the students why Han, in comparison to Rey in the earlier clip, has such confidence not only in the existence of Luke Skywalker, but also in the reality of the Force. Draw out that his personal experience (as detailed in the previous Star Wars films) has given him reasons to base his belief upon.
Explain that many people, from Jesus’ first followers to modern-day Christians will claim their own personal experience as one of the factors that lead them to believe in Jesus. However, the Bible has always supported the view that personal experience of Jesus is not the only basis for believing in him. Ask the students to read either or both of John 20.30-31 and Luke 1:1-4. Ask them how the writer(s) sought to provide a basis for people’s faith in Jesus with their writing.
Draw out the following points:
John 20:30-31: John states that there were many other things he could have written down about Jesus’ life, but that he chose the incidents that he did in order to help people to realise who Jesus really was (the Messiah), and to have life in his name through believing.
Luke 1:1-4: Luke was not an eye-witness to the things Jesus did (v2) but he has carefully investigated and recorded what those eye-witnesses reported (v3), collating their evidence into an ‘orderly account’ (v3). His purpose for this was so that people could know for certain that what they had been taught about Jesus was true (v4). By the standards of the ancient world, Luke is considered to be an excellent and reliable historian.
Give out sets of the Jesus cards to the students. Explain that each set of cards contains some Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah as well as some New Testament passages about Jesus. Working in pairs or small groups, the students have to decide which New Testament passages could be seen to fulfil the Old Testament prophecies. Where a New Testament passage does not appear to have an Old Testament counterpart, the students should summarise why the incident described might make Peter and the disciples come to the conclusion that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
There are five pairs of prophecy / fulfilment passages, plus five accounts of Jesus’ miracles:
- Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:19-20
- Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7; Matthew 4:12-17
- Isaiah 42:1-4; Matthew 12:15-21
- Isaiah 53:4-6; Colossians 1:19-22
- Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:16-21
- Luke 8:22-25 (Jesus calms the storm, showing his mastery over nature)
- Matthew 9:1-8 (Jesus heals a paralytic and forgives him his sins)
- Mark 1:21-27 (Jesus drives out an evil spirit)
- John 6:35-40 (Jesus claims to be the bread of life)
- John 14:1-6 (Jesus claims to be the way, the truth and the life)
Give the students enough time to complete the task (or as much time as you have available) before bringing them back together to share their answers with the whole class.
For Jesus’ first followers, his fulfilment of various prophecies about the Messiah was a central part of the basis for believing him to be who he claimed to be.
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Ask the students to write a magazine interview with either Luke or John, the gospel writers. The interview should focus on the desire of the subject to help people to truly determine who Jesus was and the significance of his identity. Students are free to make the interview as sympathetic or otherwise to the subject as they feel appropriate.
YOU WILL NEED:
- A copy of the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
- Jesus Cards.
- (Optional) print outs of the two articles on the ‘Jesus Myth’.