When Jesus’ disciples went to his burial place, they found an empty tomb. Through the message the angel gave to them at the tomb, and through Jesus’ appearances to various disciples, God revealed that Christ was risen. Two Scripture stories played an especially significant role in the faith of the early Christians: the account of Thomas demanding proof that it was Jesus who had appeared to them and the story of Paul’s transformation from persecutor to apostle through an encounter with the risen Jesus.
The New Testament makes it clear that new life in Christ is based on the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. It is the risen Jesus who is Lord, and when Christians are baptized, they enter the experience of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
The Resurrection of Jesus was a resurrection into divine life. This is different from a renewal of human life as had been experienced by Lazarus when Jesus brought him back from the dead. The fact that several Jesus’ closest disciples had difficulty recognizing him demonstrates that Jesus’ Resurrection was more than just a return to life; it was an entry into the full glory of divine life. The disciples on the way to Emmaus realize who he is only when he breaks bread with them. Jesus’ Resurrection is the beginning of a new creation, the promise of new life for all humanity. The focus is not on the events but on the encounters with the risen Christ.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only that he might steal and might kill and might destroy. I came that they may have life and may have it abundantly. John 10:10 (KJV)
It is clearly that Jesus came to give us eternal life. A new beginning. That we will live with Him forever.
28:1-10 Late on the Sabbath, when the first day of the week was beginning to dawn, Mary from Magdala and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And look you, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his garment was as white as snow. Those who were watching were shaken with fear and became as dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said he would. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He is risen from among the dead. And, look you, he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him.’ Look you, I have told you.” So, they quickly went away from the tomb with fear and with great joy, and they ran to tell the news to his disciples. And look you, Jesus met them. “Greetings!” he said. And they came and held him by the feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Fear not! Go tell my brothers to go away into Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Here we have Matthew’s story of the empty tomb. And there is something peculiarly fitting in that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary should be the first to receive the news of the Risen Lord and to encounter him. They had been there at the Cross; they had been there when he was laid in the tomb; and now they were receiving love’s reward; they were the first to know the joy of the Resurrection.
As we read this story of the first two people in the world to be confronted with the fact of the empty tomb and the Risen Christ, three imperatives seem to spring out of it.
Three things they were urged to do:
They are urged to believe. The thing is so staggering that it might seem beyond belief, too good to be true. The angel reminds them of the promise of Jesus and confronts them with the empty tomb; his every word is a summons to believe. It is still a fact that there are many who feel that the promises of Christ are too good to be true. That hesitation can be dispelled only by taking him as his word.
They are urged to share. When they themselves have discovered the fact of the Risen Christ, their first duty is to proclaim it to and to share it with others. “Go, tell!” is the first command which comes to the man who has himself discovered the wonder of Jesus Christ.
They are urged to rejoice. The word with which the Risen Christ meets them is Chairete; that is the normal word of greeting; but its literal meaning is “Rejoice!” The man who has met the Risen Lord must live forever in the joy of his presence from which nothing can part him anymore.
28:11-15 While they were on their way, certain of the guard came to the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. When they had met with the ciders, they formed a plan. It was a plan of deception. They gave a considerable amount of money to the soldiers. “Say,” they said, “‘His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.’ The deception was absurd. If the guards were asleep, how did they know what had happened? And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will use our influence, and we will see to it that you have nothing to worry about. “It is manifest that the opponents are not concerned with the truth of the event, but with the effects of a rumor upon the people. They took the money and followed their instructions. And this is the story which is repeated amongst the Jews to this day.
When some of the guard came to the chief priests and told them the story of the empty tomb, the Jewish authorities were desperately worried men. Was it possible that all their planning had come to nothing? So, they formed a simple plan; they bribed the members of the guard to say that Jesus’ disciples had come while they slept and had stolen his body.
It is interesting to note the means that the Jewish authorities used in their desperate attempts to eliminate Jesus. They used treachery to lay hold on him. They used illegality to try him. They used slander to charge him to Pilate. And now they were using bribery to silence the truth about him. And they failed. It is the fact of history that not all men’s evil machinations can in the end stop the truth. The gospel of goodness is greater than the plots of wickedness.
HE GLORY OF THE FINAL PROMISE
So, the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had instructed them to go. And they saw him and worshipped him; but some were not sure. Jesus came and spoke to them. “All power,” he said, “is given to me in heaven and upon earth. Go, therefore, and make all nations my disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to keep all the commandments I have given you. And look you, I am with you throughout all days until the end of the world.”
Here we come to the end of the gospel story; here we listen to the final words of Jesus to his disciples; and in this last meeting Jesus did three things.
He assured them of his power. Surely nothing was outside the power of him who had died and conquered death. Now they were the servants of a Master whose authority upon earth and in heaven was beyond all question.
MATTHEW 28:18-20 (KJV and NRSV) And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
He gave them a commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples. It may well be that the instruction to baptize is something which is a development of the actual words of Jesus. That may be argued about; the salient fact remains that the commission of Jesus is to win all men for himself.
And Jesus said to His disciple’s, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:15-18
He promised them a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But no sooner was the command given, than the promise followed. They were sent out–as we are–on the greatest task in history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.
I Will Be with You Always Even unto the End of the World. (Matthew 28:20)
Christ clearly prophesied his resurrection (Matthew 20:19; Mark 9:9; 14:28; Luke 18:33; John 2:19-22). Thus, we can preach that Jesus is alive; that He has risen as He said He would and that He is the Son of God as He claimed to be. Christ is alive! He is living today.
The Bible informs us that Jesus did appear many times after his death and resurrection:
- The empty tomb – Resurrection Sunday – Matthew 28: 1-10, Mark 16: 1-8, Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-9. To Mary Magdalene at the garden – Resurrection Sunday – Mark 16: 9-11, John 20: 11-18.
- To other women, “the other Mary,” Salome, Joanna, and others, as they returned from the tomb – Resurrection Sunday – Matthew 28: 9-10.
- To Simon Peter alone – Resurrection Sunday – Luke 24: 34, 1 Corinthians 15: 5.
- To the two disciples going to Emmaus – Resurrection Sunday – Mark 16: 12-13, Luke 24: 13-32.
- To the ten disciples (Thomas being absent) in the upper room – Resurrection Sunday – Luke 24: 36-43, John 20: 19-25.
- To the disciples again (Thomas being present) – Following Sunday – Mark 16: 14, John 20: 26-31, 1 Corinthians 15: 5.
- To seven disciples when fishing at the Sea of Galilee – sometime later – John 21: 1-23.
- To the eleven at an appointed place in Galilee – sometime later – Matthew 28: 16-20, Mark 16: 15-18.
- More than 500 brethren – sometime later – 1 Corinthians 15: 6.
- To James, but under unknown circumstances – sometime later – 1 Corinthians 15: 7.
- To the apostles immediately before the ascension. They accompanied him from Jerusalem to Mount Olivet and there they saw him ascend “till a cloud received him out of their sight” – Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection – Luke 24: 44-49, Acts 1: 3-8.
In addition to the above appearances, Christ will return by way of vision and appear to Stephen, several times to Paul, and finally to John to give him the final Revelation:
- Paul at Damascus speaks of it as an appearance of the risen Savior – several years later – Acts 9: 1-19, 22: 3-16, 26: 9-18, 1 Corinthians 9: 1, 15: 8.
- Paul tells us in Galatians 1:17 that he went immediately into Arabia and then returned to Damascus and three years after his transforming vision of Jesus, he went up to Jerusalem to see the Apostles. During Paul’s 3 years in Arabia, he received the Gospel from the Lord (Galatians 1:11-17). He made a visit to the Throne of God (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) where he saw things he was not permitted to reveal. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, when Paul recounted all the Lord’s post resurrection appearances, he included himself as one who had seen Him. So, at some point, he apparently did have a physical meeting with the Lord.
- Stephen in his dying vision saw “Jesus standing on the right hand of God” – sometime later – Acts 7: 55-56.
- John of Patmos experienced a vision of the resurrected Christ described in Revelation – many years later – Revelation 1: 12-20.
It is implied in the words of Luke (Acts 1:3) that there may have been other appearances of which we have no record.
2 Corinthians 13 cites that, “in the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses every word shall be established.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ has been established as fact. The scriptures tell us of the many appearances of Christ and the witnesses who experienced the events encompassing the resurrection. In Christ we can be confident of our salvation and in Christ we can be confident of our own resurrection.
The apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We should find the assurance of our salvation in the truth of God’s Word. We should have trust that we are saved based on the promises God has declared.
A final note: Ephesians 5:13-15
We are children of Light
13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.