What appearances of the risen Christ are recorded, and why are they significant?
The Gospel of Mark tells us that “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” The Gospel of John tells us that after finding the empty tomb, Mary ran to get Peter and John. Returning with them, Mary stayed after they left, and there she encountered two angels and then had an intimate exchange with Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew records that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. After an angel told them He was risen, the women left to tell the Disciples. “Suddenly, Jesus met them.”
The Gospel of Mark tells us that after meeting Mary, “Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.” The Gospel of Luke gives the full account of this encounter on the road to Emmaus.
(Because Mark says Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, and then to the two men on the road, does that mean that Matthew’s recording of Jesus appearing to the women is the same as Mary Magdalene’s encounter?)
The Gospel of John records that Jesus then appeared to His Disciples that night (Resurrection Sunday), but Thomas was not with them.
The Gospel of John then records that a week later, Jesus appeared to them again, but this time Thomas was there.
(Is it with or without Thomas where Luke records Jesus appeared to the Disciples, telling them He was hungry, and eating a broiled fish?)
The Gospel of John records that the third time the Disciples encountered the resurrected Christ was up in Galilee. They were fishing. Jesus helped them have a miraculous catch, 153 fish, and called them to shore to eat with Him. There Jesus reinstated Peter, asking him three times, “Do you love me?”
From the Sea of Galilee to the Mountain in Galilee where Jesus told them He would meet them, we then have Matthew’s record of the Great Commission. This was likely where the 500 witnesses Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians appeared, since this was an appearance Jesus told the Disciples about in advance.
Then the final recorded appearance comes from the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Jesus and the Disciples were back in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, where He commissioned them again as His witnesses and then ascended back to the Father in Heaven.
So here are the Risen Christ encounters recorded in the Gospels:
1a Mary Magdalene
1b Mary and Others
2 Two Men on the Road to Emmaus
3 The Disciples without Thomas
4 The Disciples with Thomas
5 Disciples Fishing, Peter’s Reinstatement
6 The Great Commission
7 The Ascension
A couple of thoughts…
Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. She had been forgiven much, freed from seven demons. An interesting choice for the first person to appear to. What an honor! Could Mary Magdalene also be the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Mary from Bethany, who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume and wiped His feet with her hair? He did say that what she had done would be remembered.
Also, I’m puzzled by why Jesus appeared to the Two BEFORE He appeared to the Twelve. First the women. Then the Two. They all told the Disciples, who struggled to believe. Was Jesus giving them the opportunity to exercise faith, to take Him at His word? He said He would rise. Would they believe it before seeing Him?
(1 Corinthians 15:5 tells us that Jesus appeared first to Peter, and then to the Twelve, but none of the Gospel writers tell us when this appearance took place.)
I’m encouraged that Jesus came back just for Thomas. The others believed. Thomas doubted. Jesus cared deeply for His doubting friend.
Before Jesus commissioned the Disciples in front of 500 witnesses, He first had an intimate encounter with Peter to reinstate Him. Peter needed to know Jesus had confidence in him. Peter was not only the leader among the Twelve. He would be the leader of these 500. And more than that, Peter would be the vocal leader of the early church.
How many times does Jesus repeat the Great Commission? Mark 16 might be the same account as Matthew 28, but before Matthew 28 it appears Jesus tells them “I am going to send you” while He’s with them eating in a home near Jerusalem. And then of course Jesus tells them in Acts 1:8 , “You will be my witnesses.” So Jesus told them at least three times to make disciples, preach the gospel, be witnesses, preach repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We need to be continually reminded to live “sent” lives. We get comfortable with staying.
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