I find myself at odds with a number of my fellow skeptics on the question of Jesus’ existence. Perhaps it’s a cop-out, but at the top of my list of my reasons for believing he existed is that almost all the experts (historians and scholars of the period) agree he existed.
Since I’m not an expert, the chances of my having some important inside information or consideration not known to the experts are vanishingly small, so I defer to their expertise.
It’s the same reason I accept the finding of 97% of climate scientists on global warming, virtually all geologists and biologists on the age of the earth and evolution, and almost every doctor on the efficacy and safety of vaccinations.
I don’t mean to suggest that expert consensus can never be mistaken, but historically it’s very rare indeed for laypeople to be right when they oppose the experts.
Nor am I suggesting we blindly accept expert opinion; we owe it to ourselves to study and understand to some extent the reasons why the experts have adopted their position, along with reasons why a minority opposes them.
A couple of reasons I’m convinced Jesus existed:
1) The Jews did not expect a Messiah who would suffer. Without any known exception, they expected him to be an earthly, triumphant king who would save them from their physical oppressors. There’s no known record of Jews interpreting Isaiah 53 (the suffering servant) as pertaining to the Messiah prior to the time of Jesus. It’s hard to believe they would have made up his crucifixion if it hadn’t actually happened. And if he was crucified, he existed.
2) If Jesus hadn’t existed, it’s likely that those who invented him would have had him grow up in Bethlehem (to fulfill OT prophecy) rather than in the obscure, virtually unknown town Nazareth in the backwaters of Galilee. Matthew and Luke were no doubt aware he was from Nazareth and sought to explain how he could have been born in Bethlehem (in fulfillment of OT prophecy) while ending up in Nazareth. Matthew narrates Jesus’ family as originating from Bethlehem and fleeing to Nazareth under duress from Herod, while Luke has Jesus’ family originating in Nazareth and temporarily relocating to Bethlehem for a census. In both cases, the effect was the same: Jesus ended up in Nazareth, an unlikely and awkward place for a messiah who was supposed to originate from Bethlehem.
I’m aware that mythicists (the minority who believe Jesus didn’t exist) have objections to these arguments (one of them being the disputed claim that Nazareth didn’t even exist at the time), but without the training to evaluate every nuance, I defer to the experts.