It was Easter this past Sunday, so I thought it would be a good idea to review the post-mortem appearances of Jesus.
As some of you know from following Wintery Knight who posts a lot on apologetics, the strongest [logical] case of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is not based on the gospels but out of 1 Corinthians 15.
1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast [a]the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you [b]as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to [c]James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as [d]to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, [e]and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
This creed here in 1 Corinthians 15 was received by Paul in a range of dates between 32-36 AD after returning to Jerusalem from Damascus after his conversion. Comparatively, Jesus’ death by crucifixion was by all estimates between 30-33 AD. This means that this creed — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus — originated within 6 months to 5 years after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. 1 Corinthians is traditionally dated as 53-57 AD, but Paul is referencing this creed which he had delivered earlier when he first visited them on his second missionary journey in 50-52 AD.
Hence, the timeline looks like this:
- 30-33 AD — Jesus death, burial and resurrection (Matt 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 23-34, John 18-21, Acts 1).
- 32-36 AD — Saul, prior to conversion, persecutes the Church. Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7-8).
- 32-36 AD — Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).
- 32-36 AD — Paul visits the Jerusalem Church (Acts 9:26-31). At this time, he receives the creed that he recites in 1 Corinthians 15.
- 50-52 AD — Paul’s second missionary journey, including Corinth where he stays 1.5 years.
- 53-57 AD — Paul sends 1 Corinthians to the Church at Corinth reminding them in 1 Corinthians 15 of the creed which was of first importance that he had received from the disciples detailing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and transmitted to them.
This creed is important because it details numerous post-mortem appearance of Jesus Christ which is the standard for testimony.
Deuteronomy 19:15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins[k], go and [l]show him his fault [m]in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every [n]fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as [o]a Gentile and [p]a tax collector.
John 6:31 “If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not [g]true. 32 There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.
Witness of John — 33 You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for [h]a while in his light.
Witness of Works — 36 But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.
Witness of the Father — 37 And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. 38 You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.
Witness of the Scripture — 39 [i]You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from men; 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive [j]glory from one another and you do not seek the [k]glory that is from the one and only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
Let’s move on to the good stuff.
Jesus and the post-mortem experiences
- Peter — “5 and that He appeared to Cephas,”
- The 12 disciples — “then to the twelve.”
- 500 brethren — “6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;”
- James — “7 then He appeared to [c]James,”
- All of the apostles — “then to all the apostles;”
- Paul — “8 and last of all, as [d]to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Note that the appearances of Jesus to the Mary and the other women such as in Matthew 28 are not counted. Similarly, other appearances such as the two on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 are not recorded as well. This tells us that the creed is only noting the main appearances that occurred, especially to those in leadership positions in the Church. It’s a possibility that Jesus appeared other times as well to others, but they are simply not recorded.
The diversity and reach of the witnesses is compelling:
- To followers who doubted then believed — Peter, the disciples, the apostles
- To a large group — 500 brethren
- To detractors — Paul
- To a detractor and relative — James
- To women — Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James (Matt 28, Luke 24)
- Other small groups — two on the road to Emmaus
The large group and appearances to the disciples and apostles rules out delusions and hallucinations. Delusions and hallucinations are primarily found in individuals not groups. Paul notes that he knows many of the large group of 500 brethren due to their status of most being alive but some being dead. It is probable for Jesus to have appeared to his disciples, but he appeared not half dead but with a resurrection body which rules out the disciples astonished responses.
The two that are the most convincing to me are Paul and James, and of those two James is the most convincing example. Paul was radically converted. It’s one thing for people who were for you — disciples and followers — to be convinced (which they were also doubtful!). However, it’s one thing for the opposition to be convinced of death, burial, and bodily resurrection.
Yet, even more compelling is James. By all accounts, Jesus’ family — mainly His brothers — were unconvinced of his divinity during His life. However, Jesus appeared post-mortem to James His brother which radically converted him. James eventually becomes the leader of the Jerusalem Church (see: Acts 15), wrote the book of James, and is eventually martyred in Jerusalem for his witness for Jesus. Likewise, Jesus brother Judas was converted as well and wrote the book of Jude.
Personally, if my brother tried to convince me that He was God I wouldn’t believe. I don’t believe anyone else would either. You grew up with your brothers. You know them. But from what we know both James (or Jacob) and Judas became followers of Jesus after His death, burial, and resurrection with appearances to at least one of them. Quite compelling.
This is simply a basic historical analysis of early Christianity which presents a compelling case for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Wintery Knight is an excellent resource for more information on the various apologetic arguments for the historicity of the resurrection if you want to learn more.
As Paul goes on to note:
1 Corinthians 15:2 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified [f]against God that He raised [g]Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
If Christ is not risen then our faith is in vain, and we are the most pitied of all men for we have sacrificed it all for nothing. Fortunately, there is a good case for the death, burial, and resurrection being a historical fact. It is worth it if it strengthens the faith of even one.