|RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST |
The bodily, living appearance of Jesus of Nazareth after He died and was buried, providing certain hope for resurrection of believers. The Greek term for resurrection, anastasis, literally means, “to stand again.” In the pagan world it was associated with the cycle of nature and the nature gods, or the survival of a “spiritual part” of a person after death. Because of Jesus Christ and His standing up again from the dead, resurrection has come to mean the restoration of the whole self by God who gave life and creates it anew in the heavenly kingdom. New Testament accounts of the resurrection fall into three categories: the empty tomb, appearances of Jesus before His ascension, and appearances of Jesus after His ascension.
The earliest written account of the resurrection of Jesus is
1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Paul emphasized the appearances of the resurrected Christ to His followers. Paul mentioned an appearance to Cephas (compare
Luke 24:34). Then Jesus appeared to the twelve (compare
Luke 24:36-43). The appearance to the five hundred, some of whom had died by the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, is supposed by some to refer to the ascension (Acts 1:9-11). The appearance of James is nowhere else recorded. Tradition asserts that this was James the brother of Jesus, the author of the Book of James (see
Acts 15:13). The second appearance to the disciples may be equated with Jesus' presentation of Himself to Thomas a week after the first appearance to the apostles (John 20:24-29). Paul mentioned last the appearance of the ascended Christ to Paul himself, an obvious reference to Saul's conversion experience (Acts 9:1-9).
Matthew reported that two Marys, Magdalene and the mother of James and Joses (Matthew 28:1-2; see
Matthew 27:56,Matthew 27:61) came to the tomb and witnessed a violent earthquake. The angel who rolled away the stone covering the tomb entrance told the women that Jesus was risen. They were invited to view the empty tomb, then to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was risen and was going to Galilee. Immediately, the resurrected Christ greeted them, urged them not to be afraid, to go and tell the “brothers” that He would meet them in Galilee. The soldiers posted at the tomb reported to their employers, the chief priests, “everything that happened”; and the entire guard was bribed to keep silent. It is not clear whether the soldiers actually saw the resurrected Christ Himself. It is assumed because of the other New Testament accounts that the resurrected Christ appeared only to believers. Matthew's final report of Jesus' resurrection is on a mountain in Galilee to His eleven disciples where He gave them the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
Mark's account of the resurrection (Matthew 16:1) reports that three women came to the tomb wondering how they would have access to the body in order to use the spices applied to the dead. They discovered the stone rolled away and a young man in white in the tomb. He calmed their fears, told them that Jesus was risen, and that Jesus would meet the disciples in Galilee. The women left bewildered and frightened. The most ancient and reliable manuscripts of Mark end with
Matthew 16:8. The long ending of Mark records several other appearances of Jesus: to Mary Magdalene (see
John 20:11-18); to two walking in the country (see
Luke 24:13-32); to the eleven as they were eating (see
Luke 24:1 records the visit of three women to the tomb where two angels said that He was risen. The angels reminded the women of Jesus' teachings about His death and resurrection. The women told the unbelieving disciples about the empty tomb, and Peter investigated the empty tomb. Jesus appeared to Cleopas and another disciple on the way to Emmaus and gave them a prophetic overview concerning the Messiah. At supper He was revealed as the risen Christ and disappeared. The two returned to Jerusalem to tell the disciples and heard that Simon had seen the risen Lord. After the report of the two, Jesus appeared to the apostles and assured them He was not a ghost. He showed His hands and feet, and in the most physical act of the resurrection He ate a piece of fish (Luke 24:43). He then reminded them of prophecies of the Messiah and commissioned them on the mission task. Luke's closing paragraph is the account of the ascension. The Lukan narrative is taken up in Acts (Luke 1:6-11). Jesus taught for forty days. He told the disciples to await the Spirit in Jerusalem. When the disciples asked questions about the kingdom, He said it was a question beyond their comprehension, repeated His missionary commission, and ascended as they watched and were assured by angels of His return.
John's Gospel adds remarkable details to the other three. In the fourth Gospel another disciple (John?) accompanied Peter to the tomb. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her not to detain him—a better translation than “do not touch me.” Jesus appeared twice to the disciples in the upper room, the second time a week after the first for the sake of the unbelieving Thomas. His classic confession “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28) became the appropriate response of all believing hearts. In
John 21:1 Jesus appeared to seven disciples in Galilee and prepared their breakfast. The occasion was the commissioning of Peter to his special ministry after Peter's three-time confession of his love for Christ, paralleling his earlier three-time denial of Christ.
The risen Christ appeared to Stephen (Acts 7:55-56), to Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-6), and to John the Seer (Revelation 1:1). All of these accounts are not easy to correlate, but a composite picture reveals the following facts. The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to many believing disciples, women and men, on numerous occasions. Jesus instructed the earliest believers about the prophetic and theological meaning of His death and resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus involved His physical body; but His resurrected life was a new kind of life called into being by God, the Effector of the resurrection (Acts 2:24). Paul, who gave the first account of the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), provided the full meaning and importance of the resurrection of Christ. Because of the resurrection of Christ, we have assurance of the resurrection of all persons—some to salvation; some to perdition—vouchsafed in the resurrection of Christ. That is God's ultimate answer to the problem of death (1 Corinthians 15:12-58). See Ascension; Christ; Jesus; Resurrection.
William L. Hendricks