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The Cover-up Conspiracy

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 28:9–15; Mark 16:9–11; John 20:11–19

The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is clear, powerful, and undeniable. And it is convincing to all who humbly trust God’s Word. It is denied and resisted by unbelievers only because they do not want to believe it.


A pastor wrote some time ago about his three‑year‑old daughter, Nicole, who was excited about Easter Sunday. She had helped her mother pick out her dress to wear that coming Lord’s Day. As they stopped by the store to pick out a new pair of shoes, he looked down at her and reminded her that Easter Sunday was not just about new shoes. He said, “Sweetheart, do you remember what this Sunday stands for?” And she looked up at him and smiled and said, “Oh yes, Daddy. It means surprise!”

I could not agree more. From a human perspective, that word sums up what is happening here: Surprise, death! Surprise, Satan! Surprise, sin! Surprise, fearful disciples! Jesus Christ is alive. 

Mary Magdalene had followed behind Peter and John as they ran to the tomb. Now, after they have evidently left, she arrives and stands outside the tomb, weeping.

John 20:11, records that as she weeps, she looks into the tomb and sees two angels, and they ask her why she is crying. She responds in verse 13, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Moments later, Jesus Himself appears and asks her, ‘Why are you weeping?” (verse 15). Mary thinks He is the gardener. But when Jesus calls her by name, she recognizes Him through her tears and apparently falls at His feet, clinging to Him with joy.

Mary is the first person to see the resurrected Lord. According to Matthew 28:9, other women soon see Him as well. The Lord now gives Mary an assignment here in John 20:17 to go and tell the disciples that she has seen Him alive. 

I find it interesting that the first witness here is a woman. According to Jewish customs, a woman was not allowed to present evidence in a court of law. Let me tell you, Jesus will give women dignity and honor. Even today, as I have traveled the world, I find that a nation that is under the influence of the gospel treats women with dignity and respect. But in a nation that despises the gospel, women are often mistreated and oppressed.

Sometime later that evening—this is still resurrection Sunday—Jesus suddenly appears to the disciples as a group. John records this appearance in verse 19:

The doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

I have to tell you, if I were the Lord, my first word would not have been “Peace.” I would have given them all a tongue-lashing they would never forget. After all, they had abandoned the Lord and denied the Lord. They had not believed the promise of the Lord that He would rise again. And now they are hiding behind closed doors.

But how gracious is the Lord. He says, “Peace be with you.”

While the Lord is meeting with them, Matthew informs us that the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb are meeting with the Jewish religious leaders, telling them “all that had taken place” (Matthew 28:11). They’re retelling the shocking events of an earthquake and of the angel descending from heaven and rolling away the stone.

Now what are the religious leaders going to do? These Roman guards are not lying. In fact, their failure to guard the tomb makes them liable to the death penalty. The religious leaders never discount their story; they just come up with a cover-up conspiracy:

They gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to [Pilate’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 has been spread among the Jews to this day. (verses 12-15)

Even as Matthew is writing this account, this is the cover-up conspiracy out on the street.

Over the years, other cover-up conspiracies will be circulated. I have found at least six of them that have gained a following.

Of course, this first one, which we have just read, is that the disciples faked Jesus’ resurrection by stealing His body. I would love to get one of those soldiers on the witness stand and ask him, “Now let’s start from the beginning again—when did the disciples steal the body? Oh, it happened when you were asleep? Well, if you were asleep, how do you know it was the disciples who stole the body? And by the way, how did they move that huge boulder without waking you up?”

This conspiracy is obviously untrue. In fact, these fearful disciples will turn into courageous apostles overnight, willing to die as martyrs. And it is not because they stole the Lord’s body and lied about it; it is because they had seen Jesus, alive.

Another cover-up is that the religious leaders stole Jesus’ body. Well, if they had, don’t you think they would have discredited the apostles and the early church by simply producing the body of Jesus? They never did, because they never could.

A third cover-up, of more recent origin, is called the Passover plot. This conspiracy proposes that Jesus was an impostor who wanted to convince people He was the Messiah. He even planned to fake His death and be taken down from the cross still alive. Then, once He was in the tomb, the disciples would take Him out, and He would present Himself to everyone as the resurrected Lord. Of course, this theory is refuted by that Roman soldier who decided to pierce the Lord’s side with His spear, proving that Jesus was already dead.

A fourth cover-up claims that everybody went to the wrong tomb. This was before GPS, so these women and the disciples got their directions mixed up, went to the wrong tomb, and found it empty. Despite the women having personally witnessed the burial in a clearly identified tomb, they supposedly were confused. And apparently, the angels were confused too because they were at the wrong tomb as well (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6)!

Now a fifth cover-up conspiracy, which I believe takes a great amount of faith to believe, is called the swoon theory. This says that Jesus did not die on the cross, and in the coolness of that tomb, He revived.

Never mind the brutal scourging, the blood loss, the crucifixion, and being wrapped and put in a tomb without food or water for three days. But somehow Jesus revives, and He is stronger than ever. He tosses aside that massive stone and sends the Roman soldiers running.

Finally, there is the hallucination theory. This one is bizarre, but believe it or not, books have been written proposing it. It claims the resurrection appearances were mass hallucinations. It has even been argued that Jesus was just a code name for an ancient mushroom that caused hallucinations. Jesus’ followers were people addicted to this type of mushroom. And that other stuff about a real person who arose from the dead was make-believe. Well, I don’t mean to be unkind, but you are probably going to need to eat one of those mushrooms to believe that theory.

The truth is, these Gospel accounts are consistent and sensible. These are divinely inspired accounts. In fact, these eyewitness accounts will literally change the lives of these disciples. Here they are, beloved, hiding behind locked doors in fear for their lives. And a few weeks later, they are standing publicly before the world declaring without fear or hesitation that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. And soon the New Testament church will be created upon the foundation of that reality.

What Jesus said He would do, He did. Who Jesus said He was, He is. And beloved, everything He said He will do, He will do one day as well.

He is alive, and He is coming back to rule and reign in His glorious kingdom.

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