Home > Uncategorized > “So What About…the Disciples” (Part 2)

“So What About…the Disciples” (Part 2)

You probably are aware by now, but I love to discuss philosophy, religion, and cultural issues (among other things)…but what you may not know is that I really enjoy watching movies. My wife and I have a habit of having a movie night every week, which is a wonderful opportunity to just relax with each other and be entertained.

And so, with plans for a fun date night in mind, we decided to pick up a copy of Alexander to watch last night. Generally speaking, the two of us are really easy on movies and can enjoy just about anything…and then there was Alexander. It was awful friends, the worst movie I have ever seen, bar none. I don’t know why we suffered through the entire thing, but at the end of the movie I discovered a single, solitary pearl that provides an insightful illustration to our look at the disciples of Jesus Christ.

The action in the movie is framed around Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, recording the history of Alexander’s life, dictating the glorious tale to his scribes after the warrior king’s death. In the last scene, the aged general tells of Alexander’s death, revealing the shocking truth that the generals did conspire to poison Alexander at a great celebration banquet. Just as Ptolemy finishes revealing the truth about Alexander’s murder, he ceases to tell the story and commands his scribe to destroy what he has just written. Once the scroll is discarded, Ptolemy changes the end of the story, suppressing the truth of Alexander the Great’s death to save face for himself and his bands of conspirators.

As I flipped channels, trying to find something to effectively wash the aftertaste of Alexander from my mouth, I thought how appropriate the final scene was in helping us to better understand the disciples of Jesus.

You see, Alexander’s generals had much to lose had the truth been revealed that they had murdered the great king. They would have risked sacrificing the great wealth they amassed over the course of their conquest, their authority to govern the territories they acquired following the death of Alexander, and their great quest to be remembered and glorified as heroes would have been spoiled, leaving a legacy of betrayal rather than glorious conquest. The generals were certainly not lacking a motive to suppress the truth.

As we look at this group of Macedonian conspirators, can we see a glimpse of the disciples of Jesus Christ? Are there any motivations for deceiving people about their leader’s deaths that the two groups of “disciples” might have held in common? What did the apostles stand to gain by adding to the teachings of Jesus and proclaiming His resurrection from the dead? Let us see what we can discover by taking a look at Jesus of Nazareth’s disciples.

Unlike the generals in Alexander, the disciples did not grow wealthy as they followed Jesus in his ministry throughout Israel. In fact, when sent to preach to the Gentiles, He instructed them to “take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics” (Luke 9:3). They lived a sparse life, reaping no financial benefit from their allegiance to Jesus.

As for power, the disciples did become the leaders of the church following the crucifixion of Jesus. They held the authority of governing the young church and, as apostles, were in charge of administrating the care of widows and orphans (Acts 6:1-6), sitting in judgment over doctrinal disputes (Acts 11:1-18), and working to continue the spread of the gospel throughout the world. Is it possible that their leadership in the spread of Christianity was enough for them to create a conspiracy?

What about the quest for glory? The disciples are venerated by the Catholic Church as Vatican appointed saints and they are deeply respected by Protestant Christians as the founders of the church, but were they really out on a quest for their own glory? Again, the fact that they were leaders and respected greatly could be used to support such accusations, but it is not likely in light of the great weight of scripture in which Christ is exalted and the disciples are described, by their own hand, as almost a group of bumbling fools who just cannot seem to get anything right.

Would glory hungry men be so willing to deface themselves in narratives and letters written to spread Christianity? One would think men with an alleged propensity for fudging the truth to their own advantage would do a little more to save face.

(By my way of thinking, there does not appear to be much evidence that would indicate the disciples had compelling motives to conspire together about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth; but, in the eyes of many a conspiracy theorists it is a viable hypothesis, so why don’t we continue to see how it plays out?)

For more insight, let us attempt to uncover if there really was something to gain by upholding the conspiracy? You see, the generals would have lost everything if they had revealed the truth of Alexander’s death and so it is logical for them to suppress the truth. Could the same be true for the disciples? Is it really logical to think they would have suppressed the truth throughout their lifetimes? What did they stand to lose?

Unlike the generals, who gained everything from their deception, it was the disciple’s so-called deception that cost them so much in the end. “How so?” you ask; let us investigate further.

Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish leaders in Israel began a massive persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ. Their efforts were spearheaded by Saul, a zealous man who “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Saul, later known as Paul after a miraculous conversion (Acts 9:1-19), was but the first of many leaders of many peoples and nations who persecuted the Christians. Throughout the history of Christianity, even to this day, in many parts of the world, believing in Christ and seeking to make him known is equivalent to signing your death warrant (see www.persecution.com for more info).

While the disciples did serve as the leaders of the young persecuted church, their “power and glory” were nothing compared to that of Alexander’s generals, who lived in the lap of luxury, leading vast portions of the known world, revered as heroes throughout all of the Greek Empire.

For the disciples, it was a totally different story.
They served as the leaders of a church numbering maybe 4,000 people after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The church was immediately persecuted by the Jews and Christians were driven out of the region, away from their homes and many of their friends and families. As sojourners and exiles in foreign lands, Christians were subjected to more persecution and suffered greatly (see most of 1 Peter). Rather than life in the lap of luxury, the disciples were living under the constant threat of violence, with no army to protect them. They were constantly faced with imprisonment, beatings, verbal abuse, and death. So far, it would seem, this whole conspiracy thing has not worked out in favor of the disciples.

And it gets worse, much worse.

As the leaders of the church the disciples were missionaries and, as the church grew older, spread across the Middle East (even returning to the dangers of Jerusalem), Africa, Asia, and Europe to be on the front lines of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. They were surrounded by people who were not Christians, were not in the church, and who were hostile to the disciple’s message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the need for repentance and salvation.

(Sounds like an uncomfortable life to subject yourself to…especially for an elaborate conspiracy they would have known to be false.)

I doubt if any sane men would go that far for a lie, but these disciples went much further than that…torture and death. Ten of the eleven original disciples died as martyrs; they died because they preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ and they refused to recant.

So, they died horrific deaths as martyrs for a cause, as the theory goes, they conspired to create. James, for example, was thrown headlong from the top of the spire of the temple in Jerusalem while preaching the gospel to those gathered below. He landed, legs broken, and was finally beaten to death with a club. All he had to do was recant; all he had to do was reveal the “conspiracy.” He would have lived; they would have probably let him go free; he chose to die, but for what? For a lie? An elaborate conspiracy? Or did he, and the others, die because they could not lie about the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

What do you think? I will let you be the judge, having heard the facts. Did the disciples have motive to endure what they did for the sake of the gospel? Would you be willing to die such a death for anything? For your wife? Husband? Children? Grandchildren? Girlfriend? What about for a conspiracy? Would you go to your grave in the arms of a torturer for something you knew to be false?

The resurrection demands a response…do you know what those demands are? Have you ever read the Bible to find out? Have you ever read the Bible knowing that the teachings of the disciples are supported by their own gruesome deaths? If not, I would strongly recommend that you do…it is the most important thing you will ever do.

Not convinced yet? Still think that the generals and disciples could have been cut from the same cloth? Let me know what you think. Tell me what I am not seeing. I look forward to hearing your feedback and addressing whatever is on your mind. Drop a comment or shoot me and email at focalelement@gmail.com.

Recommended Resources:

New to the Gospel and Christianity?
John Piper. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. (Link to e-book) http://www.desiringgod.org/library/onlinebooks_index.html#seeingandsavoring

Want to know more about what the resurrection means to God and to us?
John Piper. The Passion of Jesus Christ. (Link to e-book)
http://www.desiringgodstore.org/store/index.cgi?cmd=view_item&parent=&id=422

Modern persecution of Christians?
www.persecution.com and www.gfa.org

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Rufus
    August 10, 2005 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting comments on my blog. I’ve posted a response there.
    Best wishes,
    -CH

  2. Rufus
    August 11, 2005 at 4:56 am

    Okay, well you asked for someone to raise questions…

    I personally have no problem believing what you say here. I can accept that there was a Jesus and that he was resurrected. What do I know? I wasn’t there. Sure the apostles believed he was resurrected and they died for that belief.

    I can agree that this would seem to disprove some conspiracy on the part of the apostles. However, your argument also seems to be that nobody in their right mind would die for a belief that was clearly false. Perhaps. But, the real obvious problem is that we see plenty of people on the news every day who are willing to blow themselves up for beliefs that are not only false, but frankly illogical. Dying for a belief doesn’t make it any more true. Of course, nobody would argue that suicide bombers are in their right minds, but that fact doesn’t seem to cut down on their numbers. People can convince themselves of anything. One thing about humans- there is always plenty of psychopathology to go around.

    But, provided that the apostles were sane, if they had already invested their entire lives in the divinity of Christ, how hard would it be to convince them that he had been resurrected? Or for them to convince themselves, for that matter? Would they really need hard proof? I agree that they were not likely involved in some conspiracy. However, their belief in something that justifies their existence at that point would seem to be a given, and would not necessarily make that something true.

    Again, I’m raising these points to get the discussion going, and certainly not to prove or disprove the divinity of Christ. That’s pretty much the last thing I consider myself to be capable of!

  3. focalelement
    August 11, 2005 at 7:43 pm

    Hey Carlton,

    Thank you tremendously for checking out my blog, it is much appreciated. On the issue of modern Islamic terrorists, I would refer you to my previous post for a look at that specific issue..but, in summary, the difference is not zealous belief, it is knowledge of the truth. Many people will die for what they believe, the difference is that the disciples would have unequivocally known better.

    As far as a theory of the disciples being so entrenched in their devotion to the deity of Christ that they convinced theirself of the resurrection…that is a pretty week argument and, it seems to me, doesn’t fit logically. Maybe you have the 11 after Judas falling into a snare like that (I say this for the sake of the argument, I think it highly unlikely), but what about all the people who would not deny the resurrection and were driven from Israel? Who would have deceived the disciples into believing Jesus was resurrected? The Jews? The Gentiles? The Samaritans? Did they say, “hey guys hiding in fear, I saw your leader the other day, he said tell them ‘hey'”? What else could logically motivate the disciples to live the life they led and die the deaths they died?

    Thanks for throwing in some logs to stir up the fire…I appreciate your comments and I hope that the issue of the resurrection is more than an intellectual activity for you and everyone else reading. A Man, claiming to be God incarnate, died for the forgiveness of sins for all who believe, and there are trustworthy men telling us He was resurrected…and they died as martyrs for that message. We all have to do something about the claims…there is no such thing as indifference with claims like that.

    Lee

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