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Why Resurrection Cover-ups Failed

Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, ‘Noli me tangere’ , Rembrandt (1651) Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Germany

Cover-ups have a bad historical track record for one reason:  people talk!  While that might be disastrous to a conspiracy being hatched, it was ideal for Christianity.  Isn’t that one of many reasons 2.2 billion Christians continue to celebrate an event that rocked the world 21 centuries ago?  And there are more.

Check out Paul’s account in I Corinthians 15.  The letter was written sometime in the mid-50’s, about 15 years after Jesus’ resurrection but before a Gospel account recorded it.

…That he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died (I Cor. 15:4-6, NRSV).

Those 1st century Jews who believed in resurrection, having poured over Daniel 12, knew it wasn’t some amorphous event but “the literal reanimation of a dead corpse”, as the New Living Translation explains.  But huge effort was made to disguise its actuality when it happened to Jesus.  The arguments ranged from: ‘he never really died but was just unconscious’, to ‘the disciples only dreamed it’.

But my favorite ‘it never really happened’ explanation was the one Matthew’s Gospel records in chapter 28.  Matthew gives us the back story of the Jewish religious leaders asking Pilate to order soldiers to guard the tomb so Jesus’ followers wouldn’t steal the body.   When the guards found it empty on the third day, they told the priests who called an emergency meeting then bribed the guards with this response:

  You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed (Matt. 28:13,14). 

So with all the efforts of an attempted cover-up that makes Watergate pale by comparison, how did the truth emerge?  Here are six reasons and would love to hear others you think made a difference.

  1. The simplest:  the tomb was empty. Something happened to the body that had been placed there.
  2. Women were witnesses. Why would anyone conceive such a bizarre account and then use women to confirm it when it was culturally assumed they would be less reliable?!
  3. The consistency of the several accounts of those who saw him: the disciples in the upper room; then when Thomas joined them and Jesus appeared again in the same place; the witness of Cleopas and his friend from Emmaus; the morning meal prepared for the disciples by the risen Jesus Christ;
  4. The significant shift in the disciples – from fearful followers to bold apostles.
  5. Jesus’ followers’ ability to prevail over the disgrace and dishonor embedded in Deut.21:23 (anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse). Similar to having women as eyewitnesses, why would you conceive of a Jewish leader with such a resume?!
  6. The healing ability of his followers, accounts which fill the book of Acts, indicating what he did was not confined to him personally but could be replicated by those who followed his teachings.

It leaves us with the question for today:  how do people know by my life that ‘He is risen’?  Only you can answer that one!  Happy post-Easter everyone.

If you’re interested in learning more about “The Week that Changed the World”, listen to a free video talk given by me on Good Friday (3/30/18) for Third Church of Christ, Scientist, New York  (thirdchurchnyc.org) and download the free handout.

3 Responses to Why Resurrection Cover-ups Failed

  1. Glenna April 6, 2018 at 9:44 am #

    In addition to the inferred evidence of his disciples’ behavior as well as the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ reappearance after the resurrection, the shroud of Turin is a very convincing piece of evidence. Though no one can say for certain that the images left on the shroud were left by Jesus, the human blood stains and the image of his face are all consistent with what we know of Jesus experience: stains indicating having borne a heavy weight across the shoulders, blood stains consistent with what a Roman scourge would have inflicted, stains running from his side, and around his head, etc. I have imagined that at the moment of resurrection a tremendous light might have flashed and perhaps that is what left the image of his face on the cloth like a photocopy. Having just visited the Holy Land, Jesus and his story are more real to me than ever before. Great blog, Madelon.

    • Madelon April 6, 2018 at 10:21 am #

      I’m so glad you shared Glenna. There has been so much discussion about the Shroud. I don’t know enough to comment but I love your sense of the light that no doubt shone. And how special you could be in Israel. We never read the Bible the same after such a journey. Blessings…

  2. Robbie April 6, 2018 at 12:34 pm #

    A few years ago I studied John’s Gospel and was intrigued with this concept that came to me that I compiled in a paper…

    Who is Barabbas?
    All four gospels relate the crowd’s choice of Barrabas and his release in lieu of Jesus. Barrabas is described by John as a robber, but may be better understood as a revolutionary or guerilla fighter.
    According to early Greek texts, Barabbas’ full name was Jesus Barabbas that would translate from Aramaic to Jesus, son of the father in contrast with Jesus, Son of the Father.

    This story has troubled scholars for many years. The release of a prisoner by Pilate bears little resemblance to the Pilate of history as described by Josephus. Roman provincial governors dispatched people with little concern for justice…control and maintenance of Pax Romana was of utmost import.

    This paper surmises that the basis of this event is to force an inner struggle…

    It is us that have the choice.

    Choose the King of the Jews [Christ: the Son of the heavenly Father], or
    Choose Barabbas [Adam: the son of the matter-based father].

    This play on names typifies the choice before us…

    spiritual sense —the dictates of Life, Truth, Love
    —the command to love God with all the soul, the heart, the strength
    —to love one another with the love of total humility, obedience, honesty, awareness, selflessness, and compassion, or…

    material sense —ignore our coexistence and coincidence with the divine and instead rely on a mortal concept of life, substance, and intelligence residing in matter
    —accept the suggestions of mortal thought and conventions; let the physical realm misguidingly govern
    —choose self-will, self-justification, self-centeredness

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