It is remarkable how much evidence the Scriptures give us of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, in the appearances that He made. We can look at His appearances from a number of different angles, all of which give us complete confidence that He rose again.
The Period During Which He Appeared
The Lord did not just make a brief, momentary appearance to His disciples, and then disappear to heaven immediately. Paul says, “But God raised Him from the dead: And He was seen many days of them which came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses unto the people” (Acts 13:30-31, KJV).
In Acts 1:3 Luke records that “He shewed Himself alive after His passion … being seen of them 40 days.” In Scripture, 40 is the number associated with testing; proving. This extended period of time gave ample opportunity for the claim of His resurrection to be put to the test, and for the fact of it to be verified beyond all doubt.
The People to Whom He Appeared
A consideration of the variety of people who saw Him is striking. Even if we were to read no more than 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, this would be evident: three individuals, who are recorded by name: family (James), friend (Cephas) and foe (Saul of Tarsus – this was not during the 40-day period, but was just as real as the other appearances, Acts 9:17); and three groups, of differing sizes: “the twelve,” “all the apostles” and “above five hundred brethren.” Two amplifications of the last group are very instructive. Paul adds that they saw Him “at once,” which rules out any idea that it was a matter of a few people imagining a sighting (500 people do not all imagine the same thing at the same time!); and that “the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep,” which indicated that those reading Paul’s words could, if they doubted what he was writing, obtain first-hand evidence from the great majority of those witnesses. He had confidence that they would vouch for the reality of his assertion. As well as the named men to whom He appeared, He appeared first to a named woman (Mary Magdalene, John 20:14-18; Mark 16:9).
The Places Where He Appeared
The variety of places in which He manifested Himself is also impressive. There was no one “special” spot, in which He appeared, and which would invite accusations of imagination or collusion. Not only was He seen near his burial place (John 20:14), but other places where He was seen included the open road (Luke 24:15), a room (John 20:19), a mountain in Galilee (Matt 28:16-17), the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1), and the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12).
The Purposes for Which He Appeared
Of course, in every appearance there was the purpose of proving the reality of His resurrection, but there were other reasons too. He appeared to Mary Magdalene to comfort her (John 20:15). He appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus to dispel their doubts – and how wonderful the transformation was (Luke 24:31-35)! He appeared to give peace to His fearful disciples (John 20:19). He appeared to some disciples by the lake to publicly demonstrate the restoration of Peter, after he had denied Him (John 21:15-19). He appeared many times in order to teach His disciples (“speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” Acts 1:3, KJV), and this teaching continued until His ascension (Acts 1:3-9). He appeared to commission His apostles to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18-20).
The Proofs When He Appeared
The Lord gave ample proof that these appearances were not “visions,” but that He had risen in a real, physical, body. To quote Acts 1:3 again: “He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs.”
When the Lord appeared to the disciples on the day of His resurrection, they were afraid, thinking they were seeing a spirit (Luke 24:37). However, He directly confronted this mistake, and stated that He really had risen, bodily: “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have. And when He had thus spoken, He shewed them His hands and His feet” (vv39-40, KJV). Not only could the disciples observe that He was in a body of flesh and bones; but they did not have to depend only on their eyes – they were free to physically “handle” Him. The following week, Thomas (who had stated that he would not believe unless he could touch the Lord’s body where it had been pierced by the nails and the spear) was invited by the Lord to do just that: “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.” For Thomas, all unbelief was immediately removed (John 20:24-28).
Not only did He appear bodily; He ate food. “And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:41-43, KJV). It was not that He needed to eat, but He made the request for food to provide further evidence to them that He really had risen. Clearly Peter saw His eating as strong evidence for His resurrection: “Him God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41, KJV).These, and many other proofs, convinced those to whom He appeared that He had risen. We are also convinced, and join with Thomas in acknowledging Him: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28, KJV).