WHY ARE THE POST–RESURRECTION APPEARANCES SO IMPORTANT TO CHRISTIANITY?
“THE WITNESSES TO THE RESURRECTION”
There will always be people who say that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Yet in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, the Holy Spirit gives a list of actual witnesses to this event, and there was much more than a few. Even though Paul starts with Peter (15:5), Peter is not the first one to see Jesus rise from the dead, and neither does Paul say that Peter is the very first one to see Him. “He gives no complete catalog of these appearances, not because he does not know about those which he omits, but because he follows a selective principle. Paul presents those witnesses that are most important to the Corinthians” (Lenski, p. 633). “In the course of discussions… over the years, I have not infrequently been faced with the observation that, since no-one has ever come back from the other side of death to tell us, we can never really know what lies there. But the Resurrection happening demonstrates that this is precisely the truth of it – someone has come back! The resurrection of Jesus is much more than a conclusive argument for life after death, but it is also that” (The Message of Heaven and Hell, Bruce Milne, p. 191).
“Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9). This appearance is described in further detail in John 20:14-18 “She turned around, and beheld Jesus standing there, and did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away’. Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God”. Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’, and that He had said these things to her”.
I find it noteworthy that Jesus first appears to Mary – something the text may not have said if written by first century men. A purely human account would probably have Jesus appearing to Pilate, Herod, the chief priests or some other prominent individual. Also note that the Jesus after the resurrection is clearly the same person He was before His death. In John, “Jesus talks to Mary (20:10-18), Thomas (20:24-29) and Peter (21:15-22) and in each case draws upon His previous knowledge of them, in Mary’s case with the deeply moving recitation of her name. In Thomas’ case Jesus recites back to him his very conditions for belief. We can therefore conclude with conviction that life in the heavenly world will preserve personal identity. There will be continuity of our personhood. We can banish all fear of being absorbed into the ‘All’ which Buddhism holds before us, or reincarnated in some other life form… The self which we were endowed by the Creator in His gift of life to us, the self whose worth was secured for ever in Jesus dying on the cross for us, that self will endure into eternity. We ourselves, and not another, are destined to behold the face of God and share the life of heaven. Death cannot destroy us” (Milne, pp. 194-195).
The Other Women
Other women had come with Mary Magdalene to the tomb (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55; 24:1,10), including Joanna and Mary the mother of James (Luke 24:10). Though Mary Magdalene came with the other women, once she saw the empty tomb she departed at once to inform Peter (John 20:2). Matthew, Mark and Luke record what the angels said to the women. Matthew refers to an angel at the tomb (28:5) and John refers to two angels (John 20:12). Matthew does not say there was only one angel, and obviously where there are two angels, there is also always one. Matthew probably focuses on the one angel who spoke (28:5), and John refers to how many angels the women actually saw (20:12). When Mark adds, “He first appeared to Mary Magdalene” (16:9), he is informing us that the women did become separated shortly after they came to the tomb and is agreeing with John, that Mary had returned to inform Peter (John 20:1). It is then evident that she returned with Peter and John, stayed after they left, Jesus appeared to her, and then He appeared to the other women at some point before they returned to the disciples (Matthew 28:8-9). “Although He forbade Mary Magdalene to cling to Him, Jesus permitted these women to take hold of His feet and worship Him. It appears that the difference is in the attitude of the women. Mary gripped Jesus with a determination driven by desperation not to lose Him again. They, however, worshipped Him, letting Him be God, autonomous of their wishes, desires or will for Him” (Fowler, p. 917).
It is interesting to observe what the angel said to the women:
“Do not be afraid” (Matt. 28:5). The reality of the resurrection should bring joy and not fear.
“He is not here” (28:6). Jesus is not dead; don’t be looking for Him among the dead.
“Come and see” (28:6). Freely examine the evidence; there is nothing hidden – check it out. The tomb was empty then, it is empty today, and is a historical event.
“Go quickly and tell” (28:7). Get the word out, spread the message! This is good news! “This story is so well-founded that they themselves may join in telling it too. Now the Lord’s angel commissions a woman to be the first to announce death’s defeat to man. Let no man or woman consider themselves too lowly to be a humble link in God’s chain to proclaim the gospel to others” (Matthew, Fowler, p. 911).
“Remember” (Luke 24:6-9). Remember that Jesus had clearly and precisely predicted His own death, burial and resurrection in three days.
Peter: 1 Corinthians 15:5; Luke 24:34
Before Jesus appeared to him, Peter had examined the empty tomb (John 20:6-9). What he saw was that the grave clothes and the headpiece which was still rolled up. None of this looked like the work of grave robbers, the tomb was simply too orderly. Notice that the disciples are not fabricating the resurrection, but rather, are slow to believe the Old Testament Scriptures which predicted it (20:9), Jesus’ own predictions (Luke 24:6), and the testimony of the women (Mark 16:14). They had not been expecting this event; “They were no visionary enthusiasts, prepared to welcome and credit any story that might be told them” (Fourfold Gospel, McGarvey, p. 746).
Two Disciples: Luke 24:13-25
They heard Jesus speak, He walked with them, opened their minds to understand the Old Testament Scriptures, and ate in their presence (24:15, 17-31).
Ten Apostles: Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23
They saw Him – to their surprise (Luke 24:36-37). Jesus showed them the nail marks in His hand and feet (24:38). He told them to touch Him (24:39), and He actually ate in their presence (24:41-43).
Eleven Apostles: John 20:24-31
This appearance happens one week later (John 20:26 “after eight days”). On this occasion Jesus challenged Thomas to believe the evidence that Thomas himself had demanded (20:27). “Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted, then doubt has done a good work. It is when doubt becomes stubbornness and stubbornness becomes a prideful lifestyle that doubt harms faith” (Life Application Study Bible, Zondervan, p. 1788).
Seven Apostles: John 21
The disciples were firmly convinced that this was Jesus (21:12), the Jesus they knew. They did not even think about questioning Him. “The main point to get from this section is exactly the point the disciples got and one Jesus intended: a dramatic and awe-inspiring demonstration of the omnipotence and omniscience of Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord of heaven and earth” (Gospel of John, Butler, p. 451). “The interaction of John 21:15-17 draws directly on Peter’s earlier pledge of loyalty, and hence is only coherent in terms of the continuity in Jesus’ person” (Milne, p. 194). On this occasion Jesus not only appeared to them, but like other occasions had a long running conversation with them – and cooked them breakfast! I have seen some of these “reality ghost shows” where people are scared by a bump, noise or shadowy movement, yet I have yet to see a “ghost” cook anyone breakfast.
All the Apostles: Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18
Jesus again appears to the eleven in Galilee, on the mountain which He had designated and gives them the Great Commission. Here He rebukes them and gives them specific instructions.
500 Brethren: 1 Corinthians 15:6
Some thirty years later in the Corinthian letter, Paul said that most of these witnesses were still alive, and if you doubted—you could check it out yourself. I am equally impressed that many of the witnesses are named in the gospels.
James: 1 Corinthians 15:7
This would be James, the Lord’s physical brother. This appearance explains how James went from unbeliever to believer in a short-time (John 7:5).
All the Apostles: Acts 1:4-8
This is an appearance to all the eleven in Jerusalem (1:4), yet after 40 days of instruction (1:3), and thus is not the appearance recorded in John 20:26-31; 21:1ff; or the Great Commission appearance of Matthew 28:16 in Galilee.
Paul: Acts 9:1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:8
This appearance explains how a zealous Pharisee who was not dissatisfied with Judaism and who was persecuting Christians converts in a matter of days to the Christian faith!
Jesus’ resurrection proves His power over death, wherein lies our hope. Do today what will ensure your resurrection to eternal life.