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Jesus kept appearing, over and over
Beginning with just to one person Jesus eventually appeared to 500
In today’s short Gospel from Mark, Jesus appears three times in his resurrected body. We know the number climbs much higher from there. He eventually becomes physically present for varied periods to lots of different folks. Along with our history of doctrines, tradition, and biblical scholarship, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ risen appearances are indisputable evidence if we believe the testimonies.
Those numerous appearances have individual significance for the people involved and offer timeless records of God’s risen Son as proof for the rest of us.
Image by Chil Vera
The first three listed appearances by the risen Jesus firmly establish his resurrection, stamp approval upon the biblical prophecy of what his conquering death was for, and stress the importance of having witnesses and creating an unbreakable presence of human cooperation with the divine through the Church.
When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). Mary is chosen to identify his resurrection on the third day.
After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country (Mark 16:12). On the Emmaus journey, two of Jesus’ disciples hear biblical evidence that Jesus is both Son of Man and Son of God. He is the author of the Passover, its necessary sacrifice, and the cosmic connection of God to his creation through human kinship. Each of the men’s memories of this journey substantiates the other.
Later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised (Mark 16:14). With remarkable clarity, the resurrection of Jesus is witnessed by the eleven apostles, cognizant now of their role to imbed Jesus Christ as the Lord for all time. First, one person (a woman) witnesses to them, and then two of Jesus’ trusted disciples. This tracking of witness accounts, inter-twined for everyone to assess, would hold up in any court.
Mark doesn’t single out Thomas’ missed opportunity when Jesus appeared to just ten of the apostles, identified in Matthew and Luke. He skips it. That makes these three witness events a total of four so far. Events we have on report that is. Deductions from traditional accounts hint that Jesus likely met his mother separately. Who knows how many others he met?
Many of the New Testament letters do reference further appearances by Jesus. They occur over the 40 days between his first appearance to Mary Magdalene and his Ascension into Heaven. The book of Acts opens in Chapter One by presenting great detail about the Ascension's appearance as Jesus’ last. “He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3)
What happened over the six weeks before Jesus’ Ascension? Nothing is said about Jesus getting an apartment, sleeping at one of the disciple’s homes, or traveling from city to city. We can assume that his method of appearance follows the same pattern as earlier. He continued unabated and with continued purpose, showing up every day or so. Perhaps, many times a day. Each shocking return to friends, family, and disciples sealed more witness accounts. In 1 Corinthians, a reference describes Jesus meeting with Peter and then James in Chapter 15:7, for instance. Paul writes that Jesus kept appearing, once to over 500 men.
“ . . . he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that, he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.”
(1 Corinthians 15:4-8)
Paul wrote about the 500 witness account in his letter to the Corinthians. That was written thirty years after Jesus’ Ascension. Somebody likely had kept count. Over the decades, many of those to whom Jesus had appeared had died. The effect of those years, and the next thirty, further cemented the evidence of Jesus’ rising from the dead. How many came to believe from those many hundreds of witnesses? By the end of the 1st Century, first-witness Christians had migrated to Rome, Armenia, Greece, Syria, and likely far into Asia and modern Europe.
Jesus’ appearances, though, didn’t end after the Ascension. Paul writes that Jesus appeared to him also. This was post-Ascension, so it holds a specific importance. Paul lines out Jesus’ reason for appearing to him as, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1)
We can be certain that each of these appearances provides a variety of detail about Jesus’ plans because they are a holy sampling. They are not complete but telling accounts. In John 21:25, the apostle writes, "Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written."
Many commentators say John’s notes above on the limits of scripture's reports refer to all the New Testament books and letters. Another interpretation is that John was referring only to Jesus’ last 40 days. In any case, five hundred individuals addressed directly by Jesus is a significant, unprecedented proof of God’s direct attention to his followers. And an incredible testimony of first-witness saints for us.