“While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” -Matthew 28:11-15
Could the resurrection of Jesus Christ have been staged?
Yes, it most certainly could have.
The question of Christ’s resurrection has been debated for centuries. In fact, the most reasonable and historically accurate response to the story of Jesus is to conclude that he was a gifted and charismatic revolutionary who gathered a following because of his authoritative teachings. End of story. Yes, of course, some would believe that he was divine—that he was raised from the dead. But, modern, enlightened minds know that this is a stretch.
Increasingly, Christians are less and less sure that Jesus experienced a bodily resurrection. A poll of Christians in Britain this year revealed that 25% of self-proclaiming believers do not believe in Jesus’s resurrection. Was Jesus simply a brilliant peasant from a backwater community in an occupied land some 21 centuries ago?
I find Chuck Colson’s response to this question to be compelling. Chuck Colson came to know Christ when he was an adult. Before his conversion, Colson was Special Counsel to President Nixon from 1969 until 1973. Pleading guilty for his role in the Watergate scandal, Colson would later serve time in prison. Until his death in 2012, Colson was a leader in prison ministry and a passionate defender of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is what Colson had to say about the resurrection:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
No, this argument will not win plaudits from the Academy or the most learned among us. And yet, in light of what he read in Matthew about the priests’ instructions to the guards that they must say that, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep,’ Colson’s observation from his own experience sounds persuasive.
This Sunday, we will look anew at arguably the most significant moment of Matthew’s account of Jesus. It’s the moment where Jesus asks his followers who they think that he is.
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” –Matthew 16:13-15
How we respond to Jesus’s question will ultimately impact the trajectory and content of our lives.
Consider the evidence. Pray about it.
And like the travelers who had not spotted the Christ who was traveling beside them on the way to Emmaus, allow for the fact that Jesus may reveal himself to you at any moment.