Our story begins in the year 135 A.D. The Roman emperor Hadrian had just subjugated Judea after the Second Jewish Revolt. Hadrian was determined to impose Roman religion upon the Judeans. After destroying the Jewish synagogues in Jerusalem, he then turned his attention to the Christians.
What better way to squelch this upstart religion than to obliterate its holy places? The site of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection was known and venerated by Christians at the time. So Hadrian concealed the site under a massive concrete platform and built a temple to the pagan god Zeus on top of it. Like Watergate, this was a cover-up.
Nearly two centuries later the tables turned: The emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. He decided to build a magnificent church in Jerusalem to commemorate Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, and he insisted that the church be built upon the actual site. When Constantine's architects arrived in Palestine, Christians pointed them to Hadrian's temple, which marked the very spot.
The builders set to work demolishing the pagan temple. Sure enough, underneath they found the ancient quarry called Golgotha, and nearby, the remains of the tomb of Christ. Today, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City still marks the actual site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
You see, the early Christians knew their faith was rooted in historical events. So they built churches throughout the Holy Land for precisely that reason—to mark the actual historic locations.
And the Church of the Holy Sepulchre isn't the only example. The Gospels say that Jesus was tried before the high priest Caiaphas, and then was taken to the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. The tomb of the Caiaphas family was recently discovered in Jerusalem. Inside were the very bones of the infamous high priest mentioned in the Gospels. As for Pontius Pilate, a first-century inscription discovered at Caesarea confirms that he was indeed procurator of Judea from 26-36 A.D.
In addition, the second-century Roman historian Tacitus confirms that Christianity was founded by a man named Christus, whom he said was "put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius."
Well, what does all this mean for us? Simply this: It demonstrates that our faith is based squarely upon the acts of God in human history, and the contemporaneous evidence testifies to these acts. The God of the Bible is a personal, yet infinite God who became a man to walk among us and to redeem us. That's why Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer refers to "the God who is there" who "acts in history, answers prayers, and gives men reality in their lives."
I hope you'll share the story of "the great cover-up" with those who question the historicity of the Gospels. Tell them of the botched attempt to hide the site of Christ's crucifixion. For like the resurrected Christ Himself, the truth could not remain buried for long.
This commentary originally aired January 25,1996.
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Publication date: March 28, 2016