As far as conspiracies go, the plot to kill Jesus is as deep as they go, wrought with implications of intrigue, blame, and consequence. The death of Christ is a testimony, not only to himself, but also to human nature. Human beings conspire to do very evil things in this world. But the problem with conspiracies, however, is that sometimes theories about them are wrong. Proof of that is the circulating theory after his resurrection that his own followers had somehow…stolen the body.
All I have to do is mention the phrase “conspiracy theory” and you might immediately begin thinking about JFK, the Illuminati, the X-Files and shapeshifting lizard people. Neil Armstrong in a studio and never on the moon. George Bush giving bin Laden the green light for demolition. Unfortunately, legitimate claims about true collusions are eclipsed by outrageous theories such as these. Often our theories about how an evil thing happened miss the point entirely about how evil things happen.
I believe the plot against Jesus gives us a key for understanding the truth about conspiracies:
The “Grand” Conspiracy was Actually Multiple Conspiracies
Rather than one long, over-arching plan by a secret group of men, there were multiple attempts to discuss, plan, and carry out an assassination on Jesus. Most of the time it was Pharisees, but it’s not known how often the same individuals were involved. For example, Matthew 12 and Matthew 26 indicate two separate times Pharisees plotted to kill him, as do John 7 and 11.
The Conspiracy Wasn’t Really a Secret
Pharisees in multiple places were labeling Jesus a threat, and crowds tried to stone him (as early as Luke 4). By John 11 the Pharisees had issued a bounty on Jesus. If you had asked anyone in the streets whether Pharisees wanted Jesus dead, there’s a strong likelihood they would have answered, “well duh.” Jesus and his followers were aware, and it informed his itinerary on multiple occasions.
The Conspirators Spread False Evidence On Purpose
As part of the plot, the Chief Priests and Sanhedrin manufactured fake reports and plotted to have false witnesses give testimony against Christ (Matt 26). The strategy continues in Acts 6 with his followers, and continues to this day. While the spread of false reports does not always necessitate a conspiracy, those who knowingly spread false reports are of the same nature as the Christ-killers.
It Was Not a Collaboration of Powers Sharing the Same Interest
In John 19:6 we see that Pilate had no interest in crucifying Jesus. His somewhat reluctant, somewhat ambivalent motives for handing him over were merely about keeping the peace. Pilate had no plan to kill Christ and could not have given it any thought until the day of. Herod had clearly forgotten his very recent ancestor’s own plot to kill the Christ as a babe, and his interest in Jesus was strongly tied to John the Baptist. The Pharisees only cared about Jesus once he grew popular. Roman soldiers were just following orders, and getting a thrill out of it. It’s as if all the humans involved were really manipulated by another force…
The Whole Thing was a Chaotic Mess Carried Under the Guise of Legality
Seriously. The man was not just stolen away and stabbed in a minute. An elaborately convoluted kangaroo court brought him to death as an innocent sacrifice. Jesus was examined by the high priest in a night proceeding that violated the Talmud. False charges were laid against the defendant. The Sanhedrin convened right before Sabbath. The trial took place at a priest’s house, changed the charges from blasphemy to treason, and was rushed to be done in a day. But everybody in power was in on it or allowed it because of what they could get out of it, not a tiny cabal with a well defined agenda.
The Conspirators Feared the One They Conspired Against
Often it was the crowd that “saved” Jesus, for the ones who hated him feared his power over his followers (Mark 11:18;Mark 12:12). Often, the ones who conspire to gain or maintain power are just as afraid as the ones they manipulate or seek to destroy.
The Conspirators Didn’t Think Themselves Anti-God
The Pharisees thought they were serving God. Herod and Pilate were serving themselves and probably thought God/their gods had rewarded them. The Romans were serving Empire. No identified human or group of humans considered themselves out to thwart the plans of God. They all looked like your average good-deed-doing, God-praising, law-abiding, rule-enforcing power brokers. They conspired against a rebel, called him the blasphemer. So if you were a faithful Jew living in Israel, that didn’t mean figuring out the “good guys from the bad” was easy.
They Had Their Own False Conspiracy
After Jesus rose, the Pharisees spread word that his body had been stolen. That’s a conspiracy theory if I’ve ever heard one. One sign that you’re a conspirator is that you probably believe or peddle a conspiracy theory of your own. They had to account for the one fatal lack of evidence that their plan worked, or was even good at all.
The Conspirator Behind It All Was The Devil
While men are responsible for their own actions, the Adversary tempts us. Luke tells us that the devil “entered into” Judas (22:3). Regardless of how much influence Satan had over the will of Judas and other players in the drama, the ultimate conspiring force was not some secret man or group of men, but a spiritual force against the Lord from the beginning of time. Genesis told us the Devil would “bruise” Jesus. Our King never saw the ultimate enemy as the Pharisees, Herod, or even Rome, but the twisted host of Hell that he met in the wilderness.
The Conspiracy Was Accomplished, But Thwarted
As Paul preached with great conviction, a conspiracy made up of Herod, Pilate, Gentiles and Israelites killed the servant King (Acts 4:27).
But he rose!
Have no fear! They succeeded in killing Jesus, but not in keeping him dead. Little did they know, death was part of this plan. The plot to kill Christ was reckless, chaotic, and divided. This was not some clandestine group of lizard men behind masks and curtains in secret vaults with maps of the globe. It was more like buzzards who thought they found a carcass.
What we often think are special, grand conspiracy plots are actually just exertions of the way things are under the Evil One. The world is upside down of what it should be. Currently, the Adversary reigns on earth, but not forever.
Remember, the plot to kill Jesus began when he was a baby, (Matt. 2:13) ironically because a paranoid Herod feared a plot against himself—proof that sometimes our conspiracies move us to conspire.
Jesus said that the world hates him (John 7:7), because he testifies that its works are evil. The conspiracy to murder him was nothing new. The resurrection was the new part. “Behold I do a new thing” (Isa. 43:19). Evil conspiring against good is never what we commonly think it is, some monolithic plot of hive minds to topple all good in the world unless a lone hero or two (or a group) form a resistance. It’s often not even a secret. It’s just the way things are. Bay of Pigs. High Fructose Corn Syrup. Area 51—what we often think are secrets are obvious plights staring us in the face that we are often more or less complicit in.
The world is just messed up, man, and people hide things and come up with things and believe things and just when you think one group is in full control, turns out even they don’t have it together.
What I learn from the conspiracy to kill Jesus is that Satan is the real overarching enemy, that I can be easily duped by false testimonies if I am fearful of earthly powers, and—most of all—that the good guy wins in the end.