Imagine Christianity Spreading from Your Small Town

Imagine that you lived in a relatively small town.  According to this article the population in Jerusalem during Jesus’ time was about 30,000, which by today’s standard is somewhere between the population of Kingman, AZ (28,279) and Marana, AZ (35,232).  So, a relatively small town by today’s standards…

In that town, imagine there was a man (let’s say his name was Ralph) who was kind of a counter-cultural figure – very controversial – but very charismatic and had a large following among the people.  This town was a very corrupt town and Ralph was upsetting the practices of those in political power and starting to turn the people against them.  Although Ralph believed in the form of government that was established, he realized that the politicians in this government were corrupt and that change was needed.  These powerful politicians were able to use the media to spin Ralph’s story and sway public opinion against him by charging him with an unsolved murder – a murder that he didn’t commit – to get him to be condemned to die.  They claimed to have physical evidence that Ralph committed the murder.  Although he was innocent, those in power had  control over the police department and judicial process through corrupt officers and judges who could plant evidence and offer “justice” to the highest bidder (picture Operation Greylord-style corruption in Cook County Court system in Chicago in the 1980’s)…

While Ralph is still alive, his followers gave a press conference and told the media that even if they execute him, Ralph had told them that he would not stay dead, but rise again in 3 days.  So, the time comes and he is given lethal injection and is pronounced dead.   His followers are discouraged and when interviewed say that they had hoped that he was for real, but now they know that they were wrong, since he has in fact died, so they’re ready to just move on with their lives.  They feel like they had believed in a lie. His family buries Ralph.  But the corrupt politicians, having seen the previous press conference by Ralph’s followers and the prediction, post an armed guard at the grave and make sure that it was secure and there would be no “grave robbery” going on.

Three days later after Ralph’s funeral, there is a local TV news alert saying that one of the friends of Ralph has seen him alive walking around in the neighborhoods of his town.  More and more reports start flooding  in that Ralph is seen around – in fact, he was seen at the house of a few of his followers and there is a report of him having a rally with over 500 people present (most of whom are still living, though some have died).  People are writing in to the opinion column of the local paper about their encounters with Ralph and even some of the “non-corrupt” members of the police force have documented witnesses coming forward and giving eyewitness testimony that corroborates the reports of appearances of Ralph.  The politicians that had him sentenced to death confirm that the grave is in-fact empty and the body of Ralph is nowhere to be found.  So, the politicians know that their problems with Ralph are not over yet and they have to do something.  The politicians give a press conference and say that Ralph’s body is indeed missing from the grave, but that his followers had stolen his body.  But the media reports that in prior interviews with the followers, they seemed to have given up on Ralph and it seems unlikely that they would’ve gone to the trouble of stealing the body to make it look as if he had risen from the dead, when they knew for sure that was a lie.

In light of the allegations that the followers of Ralph stole the body, the media sought them out to interview them.  By this time, these followers had already seen Ralph alive and were really fired up!  In fact sometime after seeing Ralph, the spokesman for the followers had reportedly been in the city center square – only about a mile from where the execution had taken place – proclaiming to a crowd of several thousand that Ralph had risen from the dead and was seen alive.  This spokesman, let’s call him Peter, said that he and the other followers were eyewitnesses to Ralph being alive.  When interviewed by the media, Peter strongly defended Ralph, knowing that there would be consequences when the corrupt politicians saw this interview on TV, but Peter was fearless.  He and the other followers of Ralph were absolutely transformed – not like the discouraged followers having a pity party that were interviewed immediately following Ralph’s execution.  Rather they had a certain confidence – even boldness – in the face of mockery and persecution for their belief that Ralph had risen from the dead.  And as a result of talking to those thousands of people in the town square, a large majority of them believed the eyewitnesses and now were followers of Ralph as well.

By this time, the corrupt politicians were furious and knew they had to do something immediately before these followers “turn the world upside down”.  They had the police go pick them up and throw them in jail overnight to give them a scare.  Then before releasing them, gave them a stern warning not to continue trying to convince everyone that Ralph rose from the dead.  But never-the-less, these guys were so convinced about what they’d seen, that they went right back to the town square and kept telling anyone who would listen about the facts of this case and that the corrupt politicians are just trying to cover this up.

Needless to say, the politicians by now had had it up to their heads with this non-sense.  It was time to put a stop to it once and for all.  So they brought the guys in now for a real scare.  They told them that if they didn’t stop what they were doing, they would end up like Ralph – dead.  They said they had plenty more unsolved murders that could be pinned on them as well.  But to their surprise, the followers of Ralph were not fazed by their threats.  In fact they said that it would be an honor to die for Ralph in the service of his cause.

By this time, the followers themselves had become quite famous and had gained a following of their own.  Although they always pointed people to Ralph and did not accept any praise or glory for themselves, the people continually followed them, listened to them and considered them leaders of a new movement.  They even had been called “the Way” and Ralphians.  Unfortunately, the fame of the followers did not result in any personal gain or benefit to them.  As had just been communicated to them by the politicians, if they continued to spread this information about Ralph, they would in-fact pay the ultimate sacrifice for it.  Yet they continued to spread the message both by speaking and the written word.

Finally the politicians decided to act.  One by one, they rounded up the followers, charged them with false charges and had them executed.  Before execution, they were all given a chance to recant the story about Ralph, but none of them did.  They proclaimed that as truth until they were executed.  Because of their bold witness about Ralph, the followers continued to increase and the facts about Ralph which were circulating around in writings from the followers were collected into a single book.  No one, to this day has been able to debunk the facts about Ralph and his being dead and rising again…

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