Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ongoing Earthly Ministry of Jesus

As believers in Jesus Christ, our hope and faith depend on the resurrection. If the resurrection did not happen and is just a myth, then our faith is in vain.  So that’s why I think it’s so important to examine the biblical evidence that proves it did occur.  My goal is not to prove the sequence of the post-resurrection appearances or the exact number of appearances, since these are not important.  Scholars do not agree on those minute details.  But I simply want to encourage your faith in Jesus Christ.

At the very end of this post, I will share with you about some exciting appearances of Jesus that have occurred in our own day, so don't miss those!  But first, let's begin with the biblical accounts.

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1Co 15:3-8)

In this passage, Paul speaks of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And to prove that he rose from the dead, Paul cites numerous occasions when Jesus appeared to people after his resurrection.

Peter and the Twelve
First Paul states, “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Co 15:5). Cephas was the name for Peter.  Was it actually Peter who saw the Lord first? 

This differs from the account of the gospels, which record that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.  Matthew’s gospel states that the angel at the empty tomb told the ladies, “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you." (Mat 28:7).  Since the angel told the ladies to go tell Jesus disciples that He had risen from the dead, we know that the disciples had not yet seen Him. 

According to Mark’s account, the “other Mary” was the mother of James (Mk 16:1).  According to Luke, there was also a third woman named Joanna.  Mark states that the angel specifically mentioned Peter to the women, when he said, "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'" (Mar 16:7).  Notice how Peter was called out separately from the disciples, since he had removed himself from being a disciple when he denied the Lord.  That’s why the angel said, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter…”

Matthew’s account continues, “And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.’” (Mat 28:8-10).  Jesus appeared to them after they left the tomb and told them the same thing the angel had just said.  He instructed them to go tell his disciples, calling them his brothers.  Just as the angel had told the women, Jesus also said He would appear to His brothers in Galilee.

Mark states: “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping.” (Mar 16:9-10). So Mark and Matthew’s gospels agree that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, not Peter.

She was obedient to tell the disciples and Peter.  In turn, Peter and John did run to the tomb to verify her report, and later the disciples did go to Galilee, as the Lord said to do.  But they did not go to Galilee right away.  At first they refused to believe it.

Mark states: She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.” (Mar 16:10-13)

Luke’s account agrees with this Mark that the disciples refused to believe when they first heard the report from the women who had seen Jesus.  Luke states: “But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.” (Luk 24:11-12)

So after Mary Magdalene, Mark states that Jesus appeared to the two men walking on the road in the country, which was evidently the Road to Emmaus appearance described by Luke.  Note that Luke also placed the Emmaus Road appearance right after the women told the disciples.  He wrote: “And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.” (Luk 24:13-15)

Interestingly Luke also recorded that when the two who saw Jesus on the Emmaus Road immediately reported their experience to the eleven gathered in Jerusalem, the eleven (including Peter) told them that the Lord had already appeared to Simon Peter.  “And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, ‘The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.’” (Luk 24:33-34).  So Luke’s record of the statement by the eleven that the Lord appeared to Simon seems to place that appearance prior to the Road to Emmaus one.  Could it be that Jesus appeared to Simon shortly after he went to the tomb, and that it was not recorded explicitly, but rather mentioned indirectly here?  I don’t think so.

John’s record does not allow for that possibility.  He wrote: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’ So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that He had said these things to her.” (Joh 20:1-18).

In this account from John, after Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and reported it to the eleven.  She did not yet know the Lord had risen, but she thought they had taken the Lord’s body.  Peter and John ran to the tomb to see.  When John saw it He believed.  The he states: “So the disciples went away again to their own homes.”  And the very next thing John records is the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, who saw Him first. 

John records how the Lord appeared to the eleven that same day in the evening.  He states: “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’ But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” (Joh 20:19-24).

That evening on the same day He appeared to Mary, Jesus appeared to the eleven in the locked room.  Thomas was not there, and he doubted the others when they told him. John writes: “So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’ Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;” (Joh 20:25-30). So there were two appearances to the eleven on that first day of the week.

John goes on to record that “After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.” (Joh 21:1).  This was the occasion when the disciples had been fishing unsuccessfully all night, and Jesus appeared on the shore in the morning, cooking fish.  He gave them instructions that resulted in a great catch, and they all enjoyed breakfast with him on the shore.  It was then that he walked with Peter and reinstated him as a disciple.

I mentioned earlier that after Mary saw Him alive again, she was obedient to tell the disciples, and the disciples did go to Galilee, as the Lord said to do.  But not right away.  At first some of them refused to believe it.  However, when they did finally do what the Lord said and they went to the mountain in Galilee, they all saw the Lord.

Matthew records their encounter with Jesus: “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain, which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.” (Mat 28:16-17).  At this point, there were only eleven disciples, since Judas had committed suicide and they had not yet appointed Matthias to replace him.  So Peter was there on the mountain among the Eleven.  Together they saw Jesus, but some doubted in their hearts.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mat 28:18-20).  This was the famous event known as the “Great Commission.”

This is the same event that Luke recorded.  Luke placed the timing of it on the day when the two men were telling the eleven they had seen him on the Emmaus Road.  “While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be to you.’ But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them. Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luk 24:36-51)

Now Luke indicates that the Lord led them out as far as Bethany and was carried up to heaven, which is known as Jesus’ ascension.  Unless there were two ascensions, this could not have occurred until forty days after his resurrection, which is when the ascension occurred.  Luke explicitly states this time frame in his second account, known as Acts.

In Acts 1, he records the exact same appearance of Jesus (also see Lk 24:36-51 cited above) with these words, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Act 1:1-9)

Allow me to recap.  Luke stated it all in his first account as though Jesus led them out to Bethany and ascended the same day he Lord appeared to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road.  That would have been on the same day he was resurrected, since that was the day the disciples saw Him on the Emmaus Road.  In Luke’s second account (Acts) he later stated that it was not until forty days after his resurrection that the Lord gathered them in Bethany for the Great Commission and ascended to heaven!  During that forty-day period, Jesus made many appearances, and spoke about the kingdom. Luke explicitly stated that Jesus was “appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” (Ac 1:3).  He does not tell us how many times Jesus appeared or in what order those appearances occurred.

So it’s unclear from the gospel accounts and Acts whether Jesus appeared first to Peter, which Paul recorded in his Corinthian epistle.  It’s possible that Jesus appeared to him at the tomb after he ran there and looked in.  But that’s unlikely, since the angel that had spoken to Mary Magdalene earlier told her to “Go, tell His disciples and Peter…”  If she saw the Lord right after that, then this seems to indicate that Peter had not seen the Lord before she did.  However, John’s account gives the following sequence: Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, she runs and tells the eleven disciples, Peter and John run to the tomb and find it empty, and then AFTER that Jesus appears to Mary in the garden near the tomb (Jn 20:1-15).  Whether or not Peter saw Jesus when he went to the empty tomb, we do find evidence that He made a separate appearance to Peter prior to His appearance to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  This was what the eleven told the two who reported that they saw the Lord on the Emmaus Road.

Probable Sequence of Jesus' Appearance to Peter and the Twelve
What we can surmise up to this point is the following sequence of events:

1.    Mary Magdalene and the other ladies visit the tomb and find the stone rolled away. (Mt 28:1-8; Mk 16:1-7; Lk 24:1-9; Jn 20:1)
2.    The angel speaks to them. Matthew placed this event before the women tell anyone (Mt 28:5-8).  John places this even after Peter and John look inside the tomb (Jn 20:11-13).   
3.    They report this to the eleven (Mt 28:8; Mk 16:10-11; Lk 24:9; Jn 20:2)
4.    Peter and John run to the tomb and find it empty (Lk 24:12; Jn 20:2-8).  The disciples return to their own homes. John believes (Jn 20:8), and Peter goes away to his home marveling to himself (Lk 24:12)
5.    Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the other women in the garden (Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:14-16).  He does not allow Mary to cling to Him, stating that He has not yet ascended to the Father (Jn 20:17).  The way Matthew records this makes it seem like Jesus appeared to her before she reported to the disciples, but there was a gap here according to the other gospels.  She first reported the empty tomb to the eleven disciples, and then went back to the tomb, where Jesus appeared to her.  Some disciples headed for Emmaus once they heard Mary’s report of the empty tomb and the angel’s appearance, and they did not yet know about Jesus’ appearance to Mary, or they would have told Jesus (Lk 24:22-24)
6.    Mary tells the eleven that she saw the Lord alive, and that He will meet them in Galilee. By now the two disciples are already walking along the Road to Emmaus, and do not yet know that anyone has seen the Lord alive (Jn 20:18).
7.    Some of those who hear Mary’s report that she has seen the Lord alive refuse to believe (Lk 24:11).
8.    The Lord appears to Simon Peter on Resurrection Day, before He appears to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus that afternoon, or to the eleven later that evening.  The eleven indirectly mentioned this personal appearance of Jesus to Peter, and so did Paul in his account. (Lk 24:34; 1 Co 15:5).
9.    The Lord appears to the two on the Road to Emmaus on Resurrection Day (Lk 24:13-32; Mk 16:12-13).
10.    While the two men who saw him on the Emmaus Road are telling the eleven about it, the Lord appears to the eleven altogether for the first time in the locked room the evening of the same day He appeared to Mary (Lk 24:36; Mk 16:14; Jn 20:19-21).  Thomas was absent (Jn 20:24). (This places the Road to Emmaus appearance earlier that afternoon.)  After Thomas later hears of it, he has doubts in his heart (Jn 20:25).
11.    The Lord appears again eight days later to the eleven in the locked room, and Thomas is there this time (Jn 20:26). The Lord tells Thomas to touch his wounds in his hands and his side (Jn 20:27).
12.    Over the coming weeks, the disciples go to Galilee. (Mt 28:16a).  If we understand that Matthew was recounting the events in broad strokes, not fine detail, we realize that there was a space between this first part of verse 16 and the second half of it.  He covered a large span of time in few words.
13.    Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in the Bible (Jn 20:30). 
14.    While they were in Galilee, they went fishing.  Seven of the disciples saw him on the shore while they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1).
15.    The eleven disciples proceed to the mountain in Galilee (Mt 28:16b) and while they are there, Jesus comes up the mountain, where they see Him again, and He speaks to them.  He leads them out to Bethany and commissions them to take the gospel to the whole world (Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:16-19; Lk 24:50-51).

(Note: In Matthew’s account, the Great Commission appears to happen very soon after Mary Magdalene gave Jesus’ instructions to the eleven to go to Galilee, where they would see Him.  In Matthew’s account, it seems as though it is the first time they see Him after His resurrection, but the Great Commission is recorded there, which Jesus did not give until forty days later, right before his ascension.  There was obviously a gap of time that occurred between verses 16 and 17 in Matthew 28, or between verse 17 and 18.  This is the way Matthew writes. In other words, even though it runs together in Matthew’s concise telling of it, the Great Commission occurred a few weeks after they first saw Him on the mountain in Galilee. For more about this, I suggest "Understanding the Gaps in Scripture.")

(Note about Bethany and Mount Olivet: Bethany is near Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs, according to Jn 11:18.  It only takes about a half hour to walk there from Jerusalem.  You have to walk over Mount Olivet to get to Bethany.  Mount Olivet is near Jerusalem, and Bethany is near the Mount of Olives according to Mk 11:1.  Jesus instructed them to go to a mountain in Galilee where they would see Him, and that is where they saw Him AFTER they had seen Him in the locked room in Jerusalem.  Galilee is not close to Jerusalem. It is unlikely that on the day of his resurrection they saw Him on a mountain, since they were still in the locked room in Jerusalem for fear of the Jews, in the evening on the day of His resurrection.  It is also not possible that the mountain in Galilee where Jesus appeared to his disciples was Mount Olivet, since that is located near Jerusalem, not in Galilee.  According to Luke, Jesus finally led them out as far as Bethany, and there he was carried up to heaven – he ascended -- before their eyes.  This was not a private ascension.  This event occurred forty days after His resurrection.  And Luke added in his second account in Acts 1:12 that after Jesus' ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  When we put this together with Luke's first account in Lk 24:50, we can surmise that the ascension occurred in Bethany, and they had to walk over the Mount of Olives on their return trip to Jerusalem.  This means that his appearance to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee occurred during the forty days after his resurrection, not the day he ascended.  To summarize the appearances of Jesus to the eleven, His appearances in Jerusalem occurred first, then His appearances to them in Galilee, and finally came His appearance in Bethany immediately before His ascension. So there was a progression from Jerusalem to Galilee, and then back toward Jerusalem, with the ascension occurring in nearby Bethany, with the disciples returning to Jerusalem afterward.)

(Note about Jesus’ ascension: When Jesus appeared to Mary the morning of His resurrection, she wanted to cling to Him.  But He told her not to do so, explaining that He had not yet ascended to the Father.  Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" 

This is the only recorded instance where Jesus told anyone not to cling to Him.  Only a few hours later, he specifically told His disciples in the locked room to touch Him.  Luke states: “But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’"  (Luk 24:37-39). Some believe that Jesus ascended privately to the Father shortly after he rose on that first day, in order to be glorified, and a change occurred in His body.  This, they believe, was prior to the public ascension seen by his disciples forty days later, and explains why He allowed no one to touch Him until later during the day of His resurrection.

If it were true that Jesus ascended privately on resurrection day, then it would also explain why Jesus said to Mary that first morning that she was to tell His disciples that He was ascending to His Father and God.  If He did not ascend twice, the first time being soon after his resurrection, then we need to explain why He said on resurrection day that He was ascending to the Father.  Was He referring to the public event that would occur forty days hence?  It’s an interesting matter to consider, but certainly not an essential belief for our salvation.)

So the gospel record essentially agrees with Paul’s record that Jesus appeared first to Simon and then to the eleven altogether.  That sequence is correct.  Paul simply left out the fact that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene before He appeared to Peter.  Whether this was intentional or not makes no difference.  He had the sequence right, and did not explicitly deny the fact that Mary had seen the Lord before Peter did.

More than Five Hundred
Paul went on to describe what happened after Peter and the eleven saw Jesus.  He states, “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.” (1 Co 15:6)

So again, Paul does not mention that the Lord appeared to the two on the Emmaus Road, choosing instead to highlight Peter and the eleven.  And after that came His appearance to more than five hundred people at once time.  This rules out any possibility that these people could have been hallucinating.  It is impossible for hundreds of people to experience the same hallucination simultaneously. 

At the time that Paul wrote this to the Corinthians, around 54 or 56 AD, most of these folks were still alive.  So several hundred of these witnesses were still available to be contacted, if the Corinthians wanted to verify Paul’s account of the resurrection. 

It is very likely that this appearance to more than five hundred occurred in Galilee during the weeks following his resurrection, prior to his ascension.

After Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, Peter, the men on the Emmaus Road, the eleven and the more than five hundred at one time, Paul states, “Then He appeared to James…”  (1 Co 15:7)

Since there were two disciples named James, we need to clarify which one Paul was referring to here.  There was the apostle James the son of Zebedee, who was the brother of the apostle John.  And then there was James the brother of Jesus, who wrote the book of the Bible called James.  I don’t think Paul meant the apostle James, because he was one of the eleven who saw the Lord after Peter did.  Paul had just mentioned that the eleven saw Jesus. So it would not make sense to mention James again.  I think rather that Paul was referring to James the brother of Jesus. 

James was one of the elders in Jerusalem who rendered important decisions for the church, such as the one made in Acts 15.  Did you ever wonder how he got to be an elder in the Jerusalem church, even though he was not one of the original apostles?  Well, Paul says the Lord appeared to him, and it is likely that this also occurred in Galilee, since James lived there.

What an amazing experience that must have been!  James had not believed in the Lord during His earthly ministry.  But he came to believe in the Lord later, probably after His resurrection.  And he was blessed to see the Lord, who had been his earthly brother, after His resurrection.  After that, James simply referred to himself as the bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

All the apostles
Paul stated that after Jesus appeared to James, “Then to all the apostles…”  (1 Co 15:7).  This is also a noteworthy statement.  We usually think of the apostles as synonymous with the Twelve, which later became the eleven after Judas “quit.”  But Paul had already mentioned Jesus’ appearance to the eleven.  Now he indicates that Jesus appeared to “all the apostles.” This makes it clear that there were in the early church more apostles than just the eleven.  In fact, in his epistles, Paul mentions other apostles, so this is well established.  And there are still apostles today, since this gift has never ceased to exist since that time.

This event when Jesus appeared to all the apostles was most likely on ascension day when he commissioned them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  But there were others who also saw Jesus after that event, like Stephen, on the day he was stoned to death (Ac 7:55).

Finally Paul comes to the end of his list of those who saw the Lord alive after His resurrection. He states, “And last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Co 15:8). Here he refers to his own experience seeing the Lord on the Road to Damascus (Ac 9:3; 26:13). 

On that day, Paul’s travel plans were changed abruptly. He was headed to Damascus for one purpose – to persecute Christians – and when he got there, he had a completely opposite purpose – to preach the gospel.  This itself is proof the Lord appeared to him. Why else would anyone go from being a hater of Christians, imprisoning them and approving their deaths, to being a die-hard gospel preacher, suffering persecution and imprisonment himself for the Lord’s sake? 

Putting it All Together
So what Paul covered concisely in two or three sentences just took me ten pages to cover.  He highlighted only six of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.  But we know there were many more. 

Jesus made many appearances during the forty days between His resurrection and His public ascension to heaven, where He was seated at the right hand of the Father.  These include His appearance to Mary Magdalene with Joanna and Mary the mother of James, as well as His appearances to Peter, the two on the Emmaus Road, the eleven, James, and all the apostles.

When we speak of Jesus’ earthly ministry, this was a part of it we often forget.  His earthly ministry did not end after his death on the cross, but continued for forty days afterward until his public ascension.  In fact, His earthly ministry continued after His ascension. 

Jesus appeared to Stephen while He was being stoned to death with Saul’s consent.  Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Ac 7:55).  Jesus appeared to the apostle Paul himself, on the Road to Damascus.  And He appeared to the apostle John on the isle of Patmos (Rev 1:12-20).

In fact, the earthly ministry of Jesus continues to this day. The gospel of Mark ends with the statement that, “They went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.” (Mk 16:20).  This is a concise summary of the entire book of Acts, and all that the Lord continues to do today to confirm His Word by signs and wonders.

Jesus continues to appear to people on earth today, whether or not anyone wants to believe it or report on it.  For example, many say a supernatural dimension is at work throughout the Islamic world. There is an unseen revolution in Iran, in which many Muslims are coming to know Christ.  Jesus has appeared to many of these Muslims.

If you would like to see some amazing, true testimonies of Muslims who gave their lives to Jesus Christ after seeing Him in a dream or vision, then I want to encourage you to visit "More Than Dreams: From Dreams to Reality." There you will find video dramatizations of five Muslims from the nations of Turkey, Iran, Nigeria, Egypt, and Indonesia, who each had such a supernatural encounter with Christ.  I also highly recommend a book by Korean brother Yong-Doo Kim, called Baptize by Blazing Fire.  It documents how Jesus appeared to him and the members of his church in January 2005, during an all-night prayer rally that lasted for thirty days.  These are just examples, but there is much more happening than I could possibly cover here in this one blog.

Why should we doubt that He is doing this, when it is consistent with His character and past behavior?  He’s alive, He’s wonderfully personal, and loves to reveal Himself to us. He remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note: You may also access the Main Directory for this blog, or my complete blog directory at Writing for the Master.  

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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