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The Resurrection: Conspiracy or Reality?
By David A. DePra
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)
Imagine a group of confused, exhausted, and fearful men and women, huddled together in a locked room, afraid for their lives. With each sound they hear, their hearts leap. With each voice they hear outside, they fear it may be the authorities coming for them. Only three days before, Jesus had been arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified. Everyone knew they had been with Him. Would they be next?
How had things come to this? The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. They had left businesses and in some cases, family. For three and one-half years they had seen Jesus do miracles, heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. They had heard teaching that had never been given before. God had become REAL to them. In fact, they, themselves, had gone out, two by two, and done miracles in Jesus name. Above all else, they had been eye-witnesses to a perfectly sinless man.
As John writes:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 John 1:1-2)
But now Jesus had been crucified. The unthinkable, the impossible had happened. How?They had been certain, and had confessed, that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The fact that He was now dead cast a doubt on whether anything they believed about Jesus was true. A dead Messiah? No such thing had ever been considered in Israel.
It was late in the day that first Sunday following the crucifixion. Three days had passed since the disciples’ world had come crashing down. They rehearsed the events of the last week, trying to make sense of them. But they could not. All they knew was that they were in grave danger. Everyone knew they had been associates of Jesus. Jesus was executed for His message. Where could they go from here?
Earlier that day the confusion of these disciples only seemed to become more compounded. The tomb of Jesus had been found empty. Mary Magdalene had found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Even Peter and John saw that Jesus’ body was gone. (see John 20:1-10) But even more amazingly, some of the women had claimed to have seen Jesus alive.
It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles." But the disciples did not believe. John continues, "And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. (Luke 24:10-12)
These disciples were still shaken from seeing Jesus brutally crucified. They had no frame of reference, or expectation, for a resurrected Messiah – for Jesus being raised. This, despite the fact that Jesus had continually predicted His resurrection. Indeed, they were so unprepared for the possibility that Jesus might be raised from the dead, that they did not even consider it upon seeing an empty tomb, and upon hearing that some of the women had seen Him alive.
So we find these disciples, perhaps a few dozen of them, hiding that Sunday night, in fear for their lives. How could they come out and show themselves? Would they ever be able to return to normal lives again?
A Big Change
In just a few moments, however, everything was going to change. Something would change these disciples from being confused, fearful, and in hiding, to those who were clear, bold, and willing to openly proclaim a risen Christ. What changed them?
One thing is for sure: The danger to them was not removed. That never changed. They were right to be afraid for their lives. Their Master and teacher, Jesus Christ, was executed for what He taught. And the probability existed that they also would be arrested for teaching His message. So what changed these disciples?
There is only one possible answer: They saw the risen Christ. Indeed, John writes, "Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." (John 20:19-22)
This would be the first of many appearances by Jesus after His resurrection. Paul would write:
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
These appearances of Christ to the disciples were what changed them. Once they saw that Jesus was risen, they were no longer afraid. They were no longer confused. They became the first who God had called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In only 50 days from that Sunday night, the day of Pentecost would, "fully come." (Acts 2:1) Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, and is not said to have even come out of hiding to be at the crucifixion, was among those hiding in fear that first Easter night. But on Pentecost, we find that Peter has changed. On that day, he boldly stood up and proclaimed to the crowds:
You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be held by it….Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:22-24, 36)
What changed Peter? Again -- only one thing could have changed him. He had seen the resurrected Christ. Nothing else can explain his willingness to risk his life to preach that Jesus had been raised from the dead – to many of the same people who had actually been responsible for crucifying Christ. Nothing else can explain why any of the disciples would take such a risk.
Fearing For Good Reason
The disciples’ fear, of course, that they would suffer death for being followers of Christ, was not without foundation. Their suspicions were confirmed right from the start. Everyone of the apostles is arrested at some point, either as a group, or separately, within weeks of that day of Pentecost. They suffered persecution, at great personal cost, from that point forward. Everyone of them wound up dying for their faith and their message -- except perhaps John. But even John suffered much persecution and even years of imprisonment.
Peter would be crucified at Rome in 67 A.D.. Thomas, who was the last of the apostles to believe Jesus had been raised, was lanced to death in India for his faith and message. Philip was executed in Turkey in about 90 A.D.. Andrew was crucified in Greece about 69 A.D.. James, the lesser, was stoned to death in Jerusalem. Bartholomew was whipped to death. Simeon was another one of the apostles who was crucified, in N. Africa, about 61 A.D.. Jude was put to death in Persia in 65 A.D.. Matthew was martyred in Egypt. James, the brother of John, was one of the first to be killed, in Jerusalem, about 44 A.D.. Luke, the author of the gospel and Acts, was hanged by priests. Mark, who wrote a gospel, was dragged through the streets of Alexandria. Steven was stoned to death within weeks of Pentecost. And of course, Paul, who was not yet converted to Christ, would be beheaded for his faith.
The disciples had good reason to be afraid before they saw that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But once they saw Jesus was raised, they had a better reason to put aside fear and preach the Truth. They had been eye-witnesses to the most important event in the history of the world: The Resurrection of the Son of God. And Jesus was sending them out to tell people about it.
You might be able to claim that the fact that the apostles all died for what they believed does not, of itself, prove that what they believed was true. You would be right about that. Lots of people have died for what they believed throughout history – and in many cases they were deceived. What they believed was not the Truth. It was a lie.
But with the apostles, however, there is something unique here which cannot be easily dismissed. The apostles were not handed a resurrection story. They did not buy into someone’s account of Jesus rising from the dead, and then die for it. No. They said they saw the risen Christ. This is much different – especially when you consider that everything they did from that point forward shows they believed they were telling the Truth.
It is one thing to die for lies you believe. But no one willingly dies for lies they invent. We have to remember that the death suffered by the apostles was not one which later came upon them unawares. That risk of death was there from the start. How likely is it that a group of people would conspire to invent a lie that they already knew, going in, could get them executed?
Not only that. But as soon as they started preaching the gospel, they WERE arrested. They were in danger. Continually. Still they did not back off. They did not abandon their supposed lie and get on with life. The deaths they suffered was not one which came upon them without warning. They walked right out into the very real probability of death with a message they would not compromise.
Now, do you see the issue here? These disciples had not been deceived by a false religion, and then died for their faith. No. They themselves were the ones who began preaching Jesus rose from the dead – in the face of knowing it was dangerous. They would never have done this unless they had actually seen Him.
We have to remember the context of what was happening at that time. Today, Jesus is big business. Then, He was big trouble. Today, you can earn lots of money selling religion. Then, you could earn death. The fact is, there is not one thing the disciples had to gain to preaching Jesus as risen from the dead. But they had everything to lose. There was no money in it. No popularity in it. Nothing but hardship, persecution, and for most of them, eventual death. You don’t take that course unless you know what you are preaching is the Truth, and unless you know that what you are preaching is so important that it is worth risking your life for it.
The suggestion that the disciples had conspired to invent the story of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t hold water. First of all, they did not stay together – and try to start a movement. They went in different directions to distant lands – lands where they had NOTHING to gain for their teaching. Lands where they had no protection in numbers. People who conspire to invent a lie don’t do that.
These apostles were not executed as a group. They were not hiding and then one night hauled off to their death. Rather, they were out opening preaching against all odds. And they all died alone for their teaching – most thirty to forty years after the resurrection. No one would do that if they had conspired to invent a resurrection story. If they thought inventing such a story was going to be gain to them, thirty or forty years later they would have learned otherwise.
Not only that, but why invent a risen Christ? Why that? Why not just make a martyr out of Jesus, and try to start a religion based on His teaching? Adding a resurrection which never happened, and which they would not be able to prove to anyone, certainly would not help their deception. Plenty of religions are built on martyrs. Why not this one?
With the martyrdom of Steven, Saul of Tarsus was wreaking havoc on believers. This was no game. The apostles were beginning to suffer the consequences of preaching Jesus risen from the dead. Had it been a conspiracy, it would have crumbled. Instead, it only grew.
Another theory which attempts to discredit the resurrection is the notion that the disciples were all so disappointed that Jesus had been killed that they sort of all "imagined" that He appeared. This is the "mass hallucination" theory. It is utter nonsense. Such self-deception could never be maintained in the face of possible martyrdom. Furthermore, Jesus had appeared a number of times, to many different people -- not to all of them all at once. Not only that, but He had taught them from the scripture over the course of forty days. He had even eaten with them. Thomas had felt his wounds. And what about the ascension? Was it imagined, too? By all 120 of the disciples?
If the disciples were having mass hallucinations about a risen Christ, at least some of them would have gone to the tomb to see if the body of Jesus were there. If the body of Jesus were there, this would have snapped them out of their delusion.
The Pharisees claimed that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. Some today agree with them. But wait. If there is one thing such a charge by the Pharisees proves, it is that the body was missing! Right? Sure. And it also proves that the tomb where Jesus was buried was a known and accessible tomb – a tomb the Pharisees had inspected, and saw was EMPTY.
The suggestion that the disciples stole the body from a guarded tomb is ridiculous. And it brings us right back to the unpalatable conspiracy theory. Who steals a body out of a tomb, and then preaches a message about it that they know will get them executed? And as mentioned, why invent the resurrection story at all? Just make Jesus a martyr. You can still have your little religious movement. You don’t need a risen Christ.
You cannot escape the conclusion: Either the story of Jesus’ resurrection was a deliberate lie invented by the disciples, or it really happened. There really is no middle ground. And the lie theory doesn’t work. There was nothing to gain in lying about this, and everything to lose. Indeed, they DID lose everything for the sake of the Truth that Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus Christ rose from the dead that Sunday. He walked out of the tomb and appeared to the apostles and disciples. And actually, things are pretty cut and dry. Just as Jesus was either lunatic, liar, or Son of God – with no other options – so these disciples ALL lunatics, ALL liars, or they were ALL telling the Truth. The overwhelming weight of historical evidence is that they were telling the Truth. This is the cornerstone of our Christian faith.
The Witness of God
Yet there is more. God does not tell us, as important as these historical and eye-witness accounts are, that our faith is to be based solely on the testimony of others. John writes:
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believes on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believes not God hath made him a liar; because he believes not the witness that God gave of his Son. And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:9-11)
God says that the greatest witness of all is within each of us – eternal life in Jesus Christ. In this one passage, we begin to get an idea of just what eternal life, indeed, just what Christianity really is. It is a living witness of God – Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27)
Somewhere along the line, people have gotten the idea that Christianity is a list of teachings to believe in – teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Or perhaps a list of rules to follow. But as important as sound doctrine and Biblical teaching is, Christianity is not faith in doctrines or rules. It is faith in a Person, Jesus Christ.
Christianity did not emerge from a list of teachings that Jesus handed his disciples. It did not emerge from a statement of faith some church council made. Rather, teachings, doctrines, and statements of faith – if these are Biblical – emerged from Christianity. Jesus Christ died on the Cross, and if we surrender to Him by faith, we are crucified in Him. Jesus also rose from the dead, and through the Holy Spirit, we are risen in Him. THAT is Christianity. THAT is eternal life. The doctrines and teachings are nothing more than statements to that effect, and admonitions as to how to walk in the reality of it.
Through Jesus, God does not merely give us things to do, doctrines to believe, or even a free ticket to heaven. Rather, God gives us HIMSELF. The rest of what we have is included in HIM. Thus, it is proper to say that the "witness of God" is CHRIST IN US.
Sort of sounds as if Christianity is supposed to be REAL, doesn’t it?
Salvation is LIFE
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
Jesus did not come to give us a new religion. He did not come to give us church. He came to give us LIFE. Salvation is LIFE.
This is important to know because many of us think that salvation is merely getting our sins forgiven. Well, that IS the first part – through the Cross. But that alone does not impart to us NEW LIFE.
The Bible says, "In Adam all die, but in Christ, all are made alive." (I Cor. 15:22) We are born into this natural creation IN ADAM. But as long as we are IN ADAM we are in death. Thus, we must "get out" of Adam and "into Christ." But how? The only way to get out of Adam is by embracing the Cross. On the Cross, Jesus bore all that Adam is, and died. That is the death of, "our Adam." But if we do that, we will also be raised to NEWNESS of life – a life which is delivered from Adam, and born again in Jesus Christ.
By faith, if it is real, we are made one with Christ in His death and resurrection. That means that our "old man of sin" dies in Christ. But it also means that we are raised new creations. As Paul writes:
For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor 5:14-17)
And if we needed any more proof that we both die and are raised IN Christ, we need only turn to Galatians:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
Paul says, "Christ lives in me." HE is the witness of God. The fact that we can be born again as new creations, with Christ in us, and us in Christ, is a testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
The only "Resurrection Conspiracy" that exists is the one between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They "conspired" to raise Jesus from the dead, so that we could walk in newness of life. The apostles were witnesses to these things. And even though we are not eye-witnesses to them, we have the witness Himself living in us. *
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