Yesterday was Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from death. Today, let’s take one more look at that event with the question: ‘Did Jesus really appear to his followers after his resurrection?’
I say Yes!
The Women Visit the Tomb
Mark 16 tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection:
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body…they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”
All four gospels report this event: Matthew 28 adds a violent earthquake and the young man becomes an angel whose appearance is like lightning. Luke 24 has two men and, as in Matthew, their clothes gleamed like lightning. Finally, John 20 has only Mary visiting the tomb but, like Mark and Matthew, he mentions someone dressed in white; and, as in Luke, John says there were two of them; and again with Matthew John calls them angels.
The four stories seem fairly consistent—even about the ‘angels’, though the word ‘angel’ simply means a messenger. We need not visualize some majestic creature with wings.
Jesus Appears to His Followers
After his resurrection, we read that Jesus appeared to a number of his followers. Matthew 28 reports his appeared to the women leaving the tomb:
Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Luke 24 states that Jesus met two followers on the road to Emmaus but they didn’t recognize him at first:
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
When they told the disciples, the disciples responded:
“It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”
And then Jesus appeared to them:
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
John 20 likely describes that same visit:
[W]hen the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Later, Jesus appeared to some of his followers again as they were fishing. John 21 says, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”’ Again, Jesus ate with them.
Matthew 28 tells us:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
It was there that Jesus gave them the great commission. And finally, according to Luke 24, Jesus met them one last time and departed. There are a few additional references to Jesus’ appearances in 1 Corinthians 15 and Acts 1.
Can We Trust These Resurrection Accounts?
As we examine these reports, some potentially troubling items stand out. On some of these occasions Jesus’ followers did not recognize him. Was Jesus’ resurrected body different in some way so that he did not look like himself?
Perhaps because of that some of them doubted—even in his presence. Why were they so doubtful about Jesus’ resurrection? Well, he WAS a dead person now ALIVE! That is a bit much to take in! They were not expecting that. But we know they became convinced because they were hiding out in fear from the Jewish leaders but then emerged, became public, and the church was born—all because of Jesus’ resurrection.
Jesus was a great leader, but he was killed. Jesus and his movement failed. His followers were disoriented and demoralized—a group of disappointed dupes with dashed hopes and vaporized dreams. No rousing purpose remained for the movement to continue. But then came Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus’ followers were energized—even in the face of death.
People will fight and die for many things: money, power, freedom, an idea, a leader—but they will not follow a dead leader who failed in his mission. Jesus had provided his followers nothing but himself; he offered no prospect of money or power, and his promises were bound up in him personally. Without Jesus among them his followers had nothing.
But his resurrection changed the whole story!
Jesus’ Resurrection Continues to Inspire Us Today
Jesus’ resurrection is the strangest and most wonderful event of all! First, Jesus is with us and, secondly, Jesus’ resurrection assures our own eventual resurrection. We have just come through the Easter season; let us not allow that experience to slip away from us. Let us live in the light of the resurrection!