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The Easter Conspiracy

This piece was originally posted on Dr. Chris Zoccali's website in 2021.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus [of Nazareth] by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip” (Acts 2:22–24 NLT).

The term “conspiracy theory” generally refers to a grand explanation for an event of some significance, according to which powerful agents working behind the scenes are proposed as the event’s orchestrators. The conspiracy is typically offered as an alternative to the “official” explanation of said event. For such theorists, the official explanation usually serves as a deliberate attempt to suppress the truth by the authorities who perceive it, for one reason or another, as a threat.

Labeling an explanation a “conspiracy theory” is often done to discount it as representing nothing more than a fanciful—or outright delusional—speculation made by those who insist that there must be “more to the story.” It is suggested that conspiracy theorists are unable to accept the reality of a chaotic and complex world, and thus that most occurrences, including quite significant ones, are simply not the product of a carefully designed master plan by prominent actors with a hidden agenda.

What could reasonably be understood as history’s biggest conspiracy theory was launched some 2,000 years ago, around the year 30 CE in the land of Israel.

What could reasonably be understood as history’s biggest conspiracy theory was launched some 2,000 years ago, around the year 30 CE in the land of Israel. The official explanation of the event in question concerned a Jewish rabble-rouser who, like others before him, claimed to be Israel’s promised Messiah.

According to the authorities, this would-be messiah was either a liar or lunatic. He was certainly an attention seeker. His provocative speech and actions, which many times included slanderous remarks towards Israel’s leadership, were garnering him a large group of followers, all too easily deceived by his outrageous claims and charismatic persona.

Some of his opponents even concluded that if he were left unchecked, he might jeopardize Israel’s fate as a vassal state of the Roman Empire.  

According to the authorities, this would-be messiah was either a liar or a lunatic.

So as a result of his incendiary rhetoric and other provocations, a consensus was reached by Israel’s leadership in cooperation with the proper Roman authorities. This man, Jesus of Nazareth, was to be arrested and put to death on the charge of sedition.

As an executed criminal, the threat he posed to the people of Israel would thankfully be over. Hopefully, in light of his death, his blinded followers would come to realize the truth about him. They would, God willing, “cease and desist” from promoting his dangerous ideas before they caused even more trouble for themselves and everyone else.

But, to the chagrin of those in charge, Jesus’ followers didn’t concede to the official assessment of him and the events leading to his death. In fact, they “double downed.” They began to make the fantastic claim that not only was Jesus Israel’s promised Messiah, but that God had proven it by raising him from the dead.       

Moreover, Jesus followers asserted that while the Jewish and Roman authorities appeared to have orchestrated the end to Jesus’ career, his execution was actually part of a preconceived plan by none other than God himself. That is, the attempt to put a stop to Jesus and his messianic mission was the very thing that God used to fulfill it!

The authorities believed that Jesus was a charlatan. His followers were convinced instead that he was lord and savior—alive and coming again to finish the job he started.

A mere conspiracy theory perhaps. Or maybe not.

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About the author

Christopher Zoccali, PhD

Dr. Zoccali holds the following degrees: Ph.D., New Testament Studies, University of Wales, Trinity St. David, 2009; M.A., Religious Studies, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, 2002; B.S., Biblical and Pastoral Studies, Baptist Bible College, 2000. Dr. Zoccali is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian-American Theological Review and has taught Biblical and Religious Studies at several institutions, including Roberts Wesleyan, Nazareth, and Empire State Colleges. He is the author of two books, including Reading Philippians After Supersessionism: Jews, Gentiles, and Covenant Identity (2017), as well as a number of other publications on the New Testament.