It was early in the year AD 36, and a group of armed men on horseback were travelling along the Roman road from Jerusalem to Damascus in Syria. Their armour rattled as they spurred their horses through the ravines. They were in a hurry - they had important work ahead of them.
Their leader, one Saul of Tarsus, was a man of some standing. He had dual citizenship - born in Tarsus in Turkey, he was both a Hebrew and a Roman citizen. He was an intellectual with a strong passion for his Hebrew faith. He had impeccable qualifications in the study of the Law, having been tutored by Gamaliel, one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism. Saul's friends and acquaintances were the leaders of the Hebrew Church in Jerusalem, where at his own request the High Priest had issued him with a vital commission.
The truth of the matter was that Saul's faith was under threat. A few years previously, a man had come out of Galilee claiming to be the Messiah. The Jews had long hoped for the coming of this ruler who had been promised to lead them to a new nationhood.
But this man Jesus didn't fit with the Church elders' concept of what the Messiah was supposed to be and do. Instead of being a high-born man of the Church with the stance of a warrior, he came from the lower class. He didn't do things the right way, either. He spent his time with the poor people, the workers, the tax-gatherers and sinners. It certainly appeared that he had healing powers, and an uncanny knowledge of scripture but - horror of horrors, he attacked the hierarchy of the Church, condemned the Pharisees and the Saduccees, and had the absolute gall to take a stockwhip to the traders and moneychangers who plied their trade in the courtyard of the great temple in Jerusalem.
Worse than that, the elders of the Hebrew faith found the quiet, confident conviction of this man unbearable. He preached in the temples, and to the people on the streets and roads of Israel, Judah and Syria, drawing crowds of followers. Without a doubt, his reputation was spreading fast.
The Orthodox Church Retaliates
The Church elders took action, trying to confound him in his knowledge of Hebrew scripture. But the man was unshakable. Whenever they tried to trip him, he got the better of them, and the authority and wisdom of his answers to the tricky legal questions they threw at him were unnerving.
Clearly the man could become altogether too much of a problem, and the elders finally got him brought up before the Roman governor on trumped-up charges that carried the death penalty. Even then it was touch and go, because the governor said he couldn't find anything to convict him for. Thank goodness the elders had some paid rabble in the crowd, and enough cunning to push the governor into a situation where he had to convict, to save his own position...
So Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Roman supervision, his followers melted away, and that should have been the end of the matter.
The Threat Intensifies
But it wasn't. His body, entombed and set under a Roman military guard, disappeared within 3 days and very soon rumors were circulating that he'd been seen alive. His followers reappeared, full of confidence, and started preaching resurrection and healing people. Instead of dying down, the threat began to get worse...