“Pass the wine, would you?” asked James without lifting his eyes from the table.
They all wished they had something to celebrate that night, but it was an occasion for mourning. Their friend and guide, Jesus of Nazareth, was dead. Just a few days prior, he had been beaten and crucified by the Romans at the demand of Jewish leaders. They were all thinking the same thing but it was Peter who finally gave voice to it.
“I can’t believe we trusted him! We believed him!” Peter pronounced as he repeatedly slammed his fist down on the table.
John tried to offer some consolation, “Listen, no one loved him more than me but–”
“Oh, so we’re going to have that debate again, huh?” Peter interrupted.
“I told you, didn’t I? I told you we shouldn’t trust a guy from Nazareth,” Nathanael was proud to say.
“It doesn’t matter now,” said John as he attempted to finish his statement. “We can’t change the past. All we can do is prepare for the future. We need a plan. We can’t stay here forever. It’s only a matter of time before they find us.”
“There’s nowhere to go. They’ll find us no matter what,” said Matthew. “We all foolishly gave up our jobs. We have no money. We have no friends. The Jewish rulers have the Romans after us. What can we possibly do?”
A wave of terror and silence swept the room. Matthew’s fatalistic words rang true in everyone’s ears. Their fate, it seemed, was sealed. They had believed a lie and it was bound to cost them their lives. Jesus was not the Son of God. By assisting him in spreading his propaganda over the last three years, they would each be put to death once captured. Not to mention, the public humiliation as the body of Jesus laid in a grave though he promised to rise again.
“Matthew’s right,” Peter confirmed. “The question is, do we run or fight?”
“Neither,” said John as he was struck with an idea. “What if we built such support for our cause, it would no longer be safe for the Roman authorities to harm us? What if we became a majority?”
“Come on. Be serious.”
“No, just listen to me,” John continued. “I mean, we’ll have a lot of details to work out, but if we give enough people enough reason to believe we’re right?”
“Well, we could start by stealing the body,” John calmly explained.
“Stealing the body? Jesus’ body?!” Simon excitedly asked. “You want to fake a resurrection? His body is buried in the center of solid stone and guarded by the Roman army. There’s no way to get that body out without somebody noticing.”
John rose from his chair and paced the floor as he considered their dilemma.
“Could we pay off the guards?” Andrew asked.
“We have no money. Plus, the tomb bears Caesar’s seal. They’d never put their own lives at risk to break it.”
“What difference does it make? Stealing his body is not enough,” asserted Peter. “Even if you get a few superstitious fools on board that aren’t smart to realize the body was just moved, we’d still need something more. Our lives will still be in jeopardy.”
Idea after idea was offered–each one as impossible as the next. It seemed there was no way for them to save themselves.
“Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way,” suggested John. “Maybe we should just admit, we’ve turned everyone’s world upside and those with power are not going to let us get away with it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go down swinging.”
“Do you mean we should fight?”
“Not exactly. At least, not with weapons.”
Over the next few hours, John unveiled a systematic conspiracy unrivaled by any other in human history. It was daring and intricate. It was designed in such a way that even when the persecution came, they would die, not as blasphemers, but as martyrs for God in the sight of the people. As unconventional as it seemed, John believed the persecution would actually help their cause.
John insisted that his plan had to start by faking the resurrection. Though it seemed impossible to do, he suggested slipping a hallucinogenic into the guards’ drinking water and compelling them to think they had seen an angel of God.
As they waited for rumors of the resurrected Christ to circulate, they would plan a meeting on the day of Pentecost and invite thousands from around the world to attend. There might be a few suspicious people in the crowd, but they would serve the best wine and encourage heavy drinking until most of them were so drunk they believed they were speaking in tongues.
The multitude would instantly join their cause, giving them the momentum they needed. From there, they would simply preach and persuade more and more to join them. Occasionally, John believed they should poison a “sinner” and cause them to die for their transgression. Fear would only encourage the doubters to believe.
As they hammered out the logistics of John’s scheme well into the early hours of the morning, additions to the plan were proposed. One suggested they travel from synagogue to synagogue, twisting scriptures to fit what they were then calling the gospel.
Matthew provided them perhaps the most ingenious idea of all. He thought no less than four of them should write Jesus’ biography, but do so in separate locations and release them to the public decades apart to disguise the conspiracy.
Of course, embellishment would be necessary. They would write of Jesus performing great miracles and, by the time these stories were read, people would overlook how they never happened. Matthew believed their cause would gain so much traction by then people would believe it even if they knew it wasn’t true. At the very least, they’d assume someone saw the miracles happen.
While a few of them would go to work on Jesus’ biography, the others would preach and write letters. The biggest difficulty, they knew, was going to be in making sure everything each one of them said and wrote was in perfect harmony with the others. Not only that, it all had to be in perfect harmony with the scriptures–from Genesis to Malachi.
They were all well-acquanted with the scriptures, but none of them were especially educated. They hoped that these writings would be circulated throughout the world for generations to come. They would forever be a thorn in their enemies’ side. But it would only work if they got it all exactly right. That’s when Peter made a radical suggestion.
“Do you guys know the Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus?”
“What if we brought him on? He knows the scriptures better than anyone. He’s a great writer. Plus, if we converted him, there’s no telling how many would follow his lead. He’d be our greatest asset.”
“Saul? Are you serious? He may be all of those things, but he also hates us more than anyone else.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Peter. “But there has got to be a way. Every man has his price.”
“But Saul? What could we possibly offer to make him give up his standing in the community or his authority? Jail time? Death?”
“It’s not any crazier than the rest of your plan,” said Thomas. He had sat quietly most of the night. “Come on, guys. Stealing a body guarded by the Roman army? Tricking them into believing they saw an angel? Fooling thousands of people at once? Making people believe they saw miracles they never saw? Convincing men to follow a life which they know will only get them killed?”
Despite Thomas’ doubts, the group carried out their conspiracy as planned. The rest is history.
I used a shorter version of this story in a recent sermon to express the unlikelihood that a conspiracy of this magnitude could ever be accomplished. It is our nature to doubt the authenticity of the Bible, but I pray we always return to a sound and confident belief in God’s precious Word. History, science, and other fields are still trying to catch up to the realities contained in it.