Updated: Aug 20, 2021
I recently ran across a quote from Chuck Colson regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ that made me think about the disciples and their unswerving dedication to Jesus. Not only does Colson’s quote (I will share it in this post) remind me of the devotion of the disciples, but it also reminds me of my experience with federal conspiracy trial defendants. These items demonstrate to me that the Bible accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are reliable.
One of the core missions of the U.S. Marshals Service is the protection of the federal judicial court process. If there were no provisions made to protect the integrity of the federal judiciary system, then the system would be open to corruption from an external entity. For instance, if mechanisms, procedures, and manpower allocations were not provided for its protection, then the court facilities could be damaged or destroyed, court officials could be harmed, and those in–custody defendants going to trial could be broken out of custody if the requisite security arrangements were not provided. The U.S. Marshals Service is mandated to provide these protective services to the federal judiciary and specifically for my discussion here, provide for the safekeeping of in-custody witnesses and in-custody defendants as they go through their legal proceedings in federal court.
A particular example of an external entity attempting to thwart the federal judicial system occurred on March 9, 1988 in Roanoke, Virginia and was reported by the The Free Lance Star in its article entitled, Trial set for prisoner who attempted escape.
Two deputy U.S. marshals were transporting an in-custody defendant to a medical clinic after he had been charged and arrested for bank robbery. The medical escort had been arranged by the USMS because this defendant had complained of chest pain to the jail staff where he was being housed during his legal proceedings. Unbeknownst to the transporting deputies, accomplices (co-conspirators) of the defendant were laying in wait for the prisoner escort detail to depart the medical clinic. When the defendant departed from the clinic, an ambush occurred. As the ambush unfolded, two armed assailants attempted to free the defendant and confronted the deputies, the two accomplices were shot and killed by one of the deputies, and the defendant remained in-custody to face additional charges related to this escape attempt. This is just one example of how our justice system could have been damaged by external forces.
I mention these facts as a foundation for what I have noticed regarding those charged with federal conspiracy crimes. In these criminal conspiracy proceedings, there are often many defendants charged under one criminal conspiracy. For example, investigators will gather evidence on an entire drug ring to include the leaders, the mules, those who manufacture the illegal drugs, the street sellers, etc. and then bring the entire organization into the federal system for prosecution. Oftentimes, I have observed where many of these in-custody defendants, whose custody status is maintained by the USMS, will plead guilty and testify against the remaining co-conspirators in the trial proceedings. In some instances, all of the conspirators will plead guilty. During the process of pleading guilty, the defendants normally will give an account of their illegal activities as well as the illegal activities of the other co-defendants. The motivation for pleading guilty and testifying against their other co-conspirators is a reduced sentence. In certain cases, some co-conspirators will not serve any time in prison because of their cooperation with the prosecution. So there is great motivation to be truthful about one’s illegal activities and the crimes of other co-conspirators when facing federal prosecution.
In relation to the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I think that it is telling that after these events occur, none of the disciples who witnessed these events come forward and reveal, in particular, that the post-resurrection experiences of the risen Jesus Christ were actually a fraud. In fact, there are New Testament accounts of several who were imprisoned for being leaders of the Christian movement. In particular, Peter and John were jailed for their testimony about the risen Jesus Christ and the religious authorities of that day directed them to stop speaking about Jesus to include his resurrection (Acts 4:1-4). But Peter and John kept on proclaiming the message of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life through the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Moreover as you may be aware, it is known that Peter eventually was martyred in Rome in the A.D. 60 timeframe while he led the church there. Paul is also martyred in this same era in Rome even while he proclaims the truth of the risen Jesus Christ, whom he had experienced decades earlier, even as he worked to persecute Christians. In fact, these accounts of the martyrdom of early Christian leaders are great circumstantial evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts; that all of the disciples who witnessed the resurrection, with the exception of John who was exiled, never recanted their faith in the risen Jesus Christ even under pain of torture and death. Chuck Colson, one of the infamous Watergate burglars of the Nixon era who later converted to Christianity said of the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible (Colson. Date of Access: 3 November 2014).
In further corroboration of Paul’s martyrdom, Paul himself writes about his impending death as he says good-bye to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he describes his current state and that the time for his departure was near (v. 6). The accounts of the martyrdom of the disciples are also noted in the writings of the early church fathers who wrote about this martyrdom of not only Peter but also Paul. Clement of Rome wrote of both the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
Consider the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy, the greatest and most righteous pillars were persecuted even to death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles: Peter, who through unwarranted jealousy not one or two but many toils, and having thus given testimony went to the place of glory that was his due. Through jealousy and strife Paul showed the way to the prize for endurance. Seven times he was in chains, he was exiled, he was stoned (Clement, 1970:7-8)
To further corroborate the existence of Clement and his relationship to Paul, he is mentioned by name by Paul in Philippians 4:3 as one who “has contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel.” So, not only does Paul testify about his own coming martyrdom, but Clement who was one of Paul’s associates during Paul’s ministry, testifies of Paul’s death for the cause of Christ. Another early church witness to the resurrected Christ was James, the brother of Jesus. His martyrdom by stoning and his relationship to Jesus are mentioned by the Roman historian Josephus (Josephus, 1987:538) who wrote contemporaneously about these events.
As I consider my experience with maintaining in-custody federal co-conspirators, it makes sense to me that if the circumstances surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were fraudulent, then one of the disciples would have surely “spilled the beans.” My experience with federal co-conspirators is that they often plead guilty, will admit their criminal activity, and will testify regarding the crimes of their criminal partners in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence. Chuck Colson was right; twelve men would not have gone to their deaths hiding the secret that the resurrection was a fraud. Rather, they would have admitted their fraudulent scheme, and would have testified against the other disciples in order to avoid the sentence of death. This topic also makes me thankful for the great sacrifices of these early church leaders. Without their writings we would have never known about the sacrifice of Jesus, once and for all, for humanity. However, because of their willingness to tell and to write what they had witnessed regarding Jesus, those in later eras would know about the “lamb of God,” who sacrificed himself not only to atone for my sins but also for the sins of any other person who begins a relationship with him.
Clement. 1970. The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1 (W. Jurgens trans.). Colledgeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
Goodreads. Charles W. Colson>quotes. http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/27694.Charles_W_Colson. Date of access: 3 Nov. 2014.
Josephus F. 1987. The works of Josephus: New Updated Version, Complete and Unabridged in one volume (W. Whiston trans.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing Co.
Mead, E. 10 Aug. 1988. Trial set for prisoner who attempted escape (in The Free Lance-Star:35). http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19880810&id=7P5NAAAAIBAJ&sjid=04sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5033,4212185 Date of access: 3 Nov. 2014.