Conspiracy Theory – noun
1. a theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group.
2. the idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.
People tend to become fascinated with conspiracy theories. A quick search in IMDb found 230 movie or show titles named or containing the words “conspiracy theory”. The idea that there may be covert groups or secret plots directing the larger picture seem to be irresistibly captivating. Perhaps the most famous contemporary conspiracy theory involves a place called Area 51 and the supposed extraterrestrial life secretly studied there by the US government. And there certainly is no shortage of other conspiracy theories floating around these days.
I would put forth the idea that the greatest conspiracy theory of all history surrounds the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an historic fact that Jesus Christ was a real person who lived, breathed, and walked the face of the Earth. While some may argue the details, few would argue the basic fact of his existence. The evidence is overwhelming and would stand up in any court of law. But when it comes to his resurrection from the dead, there have been conspiracy theories since day one. Let’s take a look at three of the most well-known:
The Swoon Theory
The swoon theory proposes that Jesus never really died on the cross. Rather, after being flogged by highly-trained Roman soldiers, having a crown of thorns twisted around his head, being beaten by the same soldiers, then nailed to the cross through both wrists and feet, and then stabbed in the side by a sword, Jesus merely swooned (fainted). In the subsequent cool dampness of the tomb he regained his energy, got up and out of his grave clothes, pushed the stone aside and walked away.
The problems with this theory are numerous, but let me point out, a few of the more obvious ones. If you have seen the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ, then you saw a decidedly graphic portrayal of the flogging Jesus endured. But what is shown in the film is not nearly as graphic as the actual thing. Roman soldiers used a metal tipped whip that tore at the flesh right down to the bone. Flogging, or scourging, tore flesh, ripped at muscle tissue, and resulted in almost intolerable pain and profuse bleeding. Many people didn’t survive.
But Jesus did survive, and then was beaten, nailed to a cross on which he was hung for hours, and finally stabbed in the side with a sword. Even if he had not died, no person with injuries so numerous and severe would have the strength to roll away a stone of the type used to seal graves in those days, overcome at least three trained Roman soldiers, and simply walk away to meet up with his disciples (a walk of about seven miles, by the way). I think we can all agree that the swoon theory is preposterous at best.
The Hallucination Theory
This theory, quite simply, proposes that all of Christ’s post crucifixion appearances were simple hallucinations and thus can be dismissed. The problem with this theory is that Jesus appeared to many people, in many places, over an extended period of time, and he appeared to multiple people at the same time. Reference the following passage:
Mark 16:11-14 – But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her. Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them. Still later he appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead.
Since so many people saw and interacted with Jesus in so many locations over such a period of time, we can be sure these were not hallucinations. And of further significance is the lack of recorded contradiction of the claims. With so many people claiming to have seen, conversed with, eaten with, and examined the risen Christ, there surely would be some documented contradictions. Simply put, the hallucination theory is only slightly less preposterous than the swoon theory.
The Impersonation Theory
This is the proposition that the appearances were not really Jesus at all, but someone impersonating him. Proponents of this theory say it is evident because in some cases they did not recognize him at first (or at all). But this theory ignores the fact that the disciples were reluctant to believe in the resurrection in the first place and would have been hard to convince unless it was really Jesus, as was the case with Thomas. Further, it would have been impossible to impersonate Christ’s wounds yet this was Jesus’ proof to Thomas that it was really Him:
John 20:24-28 – One of the twelve disciples, Thomas, was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”.
Lastly, the disciples had traveled with the Lord for three years, during that period they were intimately close to him, and it is incredible to think that anyone could have gotten away with a convincing impersonation (especially given their reluctance to believe). Only the real resurrected Jesus could have changed their hearts and caused them to become relentless in their evangelistic efforts. So, indeed, the impersonation theory is also preposterous.
In the just released movie, Risen, Joseph Fiennes’ character, Clavius, is charged by Pontius Pilate with the task of finding Jesus’ missing body and bringing it forth to disprove the rumors of the resurrected Messiah. Unable to find a body despite in-depth interrogations and thorough searches, Clavius is unsuccessful in his quest, becomes deeply influenced by the disciples’ faith, and eventually begins to believe. What about you?
Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29) The evidence strongly supports the truth of the Gospel accounts. Jesus was real, his bodily death was certain, and his resurrection is no conspiracy theory – he truly is our resurrected Lord and Savior. Will today be the day that you examine the facts and come to believe?
God bless you.
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