Accounts of the appearances of the resurrected Christ can be found in the four Gospels, the Book of Acts and 1 Corinthians, and not one of these even come anywhere near to suggest that the Lord did not literally and physically rise from the dead. Those who teach otherwise have to do a great deal of twisting of the text. Only Satan, and those who listen to his lies, do not want the world to know that Christ is risen indeed. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the major foundation stones of the Christian church. It is the seal of His great work for sinners and is the crowning proof that He is the “Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). Without it we have no justification, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25) and have no hope of eternal life, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Mark offers three distinct occasions when the Lord was seen after His resurrection.
“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not” (Mark 16:9-11).
Mary Magdalene had the wonderful privilege of being the first person to see the risen Lord, though other women were with her that morning. Why not Mary His mother or John the beloved disciple? Here was a woman who once was bound to Satan, but now she saw the fact that the Messiah was truly victorious over him. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:12-15). Mary Magdalene faithfully and lovingly, though obviously not fully understanding that Christ should rise from the dead, came to anoint His body, so it should not surprise us to find that she saw the Lord and became the first preacher of the resurrection. “And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me” (Matthew 28:9-10). John 20:11-18 gives us the fullest account of Mary’s experience at the sepulchre, “But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her” It is sad to think that those who had part of His ministry for three years chose not to believe when they heard that the Lord was risen from the tomb and even accused her of lying, “It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:10-11).
“After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them” (Mark 16:12-13).
The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, found in Luke 24:13-35, is the complete account of what Mark is referring to here. Once again we find that the eleven disciples refused to accept this second testimony of Christ’s resurrection. It is of some interest that the Lord appeared to them “in another form.” This statement highlights the vanity of the images of Christ in Catholicism and other idolatrous churches. Even Mary Magdalene failed to recognise Him at first, “She, supposing him to be the gardener” (John 20:15). The Lord is not limited to the body He lived in while on earth, but we will know Him when we see Him, “For we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
“Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14).
The greatest weakness of all is the failure to believe what God has said. The disciples’ hearts were hardened by unbelief. They had seen the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-45), but rejected any idea that He who raised him could Himself rise from the dead. What Jesus had spoken to the two men going to Emmaus could be applied here, “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). There was another element in their situation, for they were in hiding because they feared being arrested by the religious leaders, “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). Was He a phantom as some make out or did Jesus literally rise again? “And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 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 showed them his hands and his feet. 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 24:36-43).
Jesus had told them repeatedly that He would rise again, but it never sunk in, “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:44-46). The story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ reveals both the unbelief of man and the mercy of God. “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, 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. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29). Even when He came to ascend into Heaven, after all that had happened, some still refused to believe, “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16-17).
The unbelief of the followers of Christ has a very practical lesson for us today. Doubt, troubled thoughts and unbelief will arise in our hearts too, but we must resist them by believing what God has said in His word. We need to watch and pray so that we do not fall into the same pit created by unbelief, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Instead we must continue “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).