Jesus’ Post-Resurrection Appearances
The Bible says that Jesus appeared to many different individuals and groups of individuals after his resurrection. For Christians, these appearances prove that Jesus is God the Son. He defeated death, crushing Satan's head, as God promised Adam and Eve before banishing them from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). However, some critics attribute the testimony of those who saw the resurrected Jesus as the result of wishful thinking or mass hysteria. In response to this theory, Christians argue that Jesus’ followers, with the exception of John, weren't even brave enough to go to the cross. To them, it seems unlikely that these frightened men made up the resurrection appearances, and later died for that lie. (All of the apostles, except the traitor Judas and the beloved apostle John, died martyr's deaths.)
The Bible states that several people actually saw the risen Jesus. These include Mary Magdalene, a group of women, two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and several of the apostles.
To Mary Magdalene
After Mary Magdalene told Peter and John her news, she returned to the tomb. By the time she got there, the two apostles had already come and gone again. Standing at the tomb by herself, Mary wept (John 20:11). Peering inside, she “saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don't know where they have put him’“ (John 20:12–13).
Dr. Simon Greenleaf, renowned nineteenth-century Harvard law professor, believed that if the evidence regarding Jesus’ resurrection was examined by an unbiased jury, their verdict would be that Jesus did, indeed, rise from the grave. He thought the eyewitness testimony of Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the disciples could withstand any cross-examination.
Turning from the tomb, Mary noticed someone standing in front of her. Still crying, she mistakenly thought Jesus was the gardener. When Jesus asked her who she was looking for, she begged him to tell her where Jesus’ body had been taken. At this point, Jesus called her by name and Mary recognized him, calling him Rabboni, the word for “exalted teacher” (John 20:14–16). She also grabbed Jesus’ feet and he told her not to hold onto him because he had “not yet returned to the Father” (John 20:17). He sent her to the disciples to share with them the good news that she had seen the risen Lord (John 20:18).
The other women who had gone to the tomb with Mary Magdalene early that Sunday morning also went back to the tomb. Once there, they saw Jesus, “clasped his feet,” and worshiped him. Jesus instructed them to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee (Matthew 28:9–10).
To Two Disciples on the Road to Emmaus
Two men set out from Jerusalem on the seven-mile journey to Emmaus that Sunday afternoon. While walking, they discussed all the strange things that had happened that morning—Peter and John's race to the tomb, the folded head cloth but no body on the burial platform, and how Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene believed that their crucified Savior had risen from the dead. A stranger approached and wanted to know what the two travelers were talking about. They told him all about what had happened during the Passover season, how a prophet of God and the redeemer of Israel was crucified, and the reports of the open tomb (Luke 24:13–28).
Carsten Thiede, professor of papyrology at the Academy of Theology in Basel, Switzerland, discovered the city of Emmaus. By retracing the steps of Jesus and the two disciples (Mark 16:12–13; Luke 24:13–32), he and his students identified Motza-Kolonia as the ancient Emmaus. It's located about seven miles west of Jerusalem.
As they continued to Emmaus, the stranger taught them what Moses and the Old Testament prophets said about the Messiah. When the travelers asked the stranger to eat with them, he acted as the host instead of the guest. Giving thanks for the unleavened bread, he passed it to them. When they took it, a miracle happened—their eyes were opened. They realized the stranger was Jesus and why their hearts burned within them when he talked about the Scriptures (Luke 24:31–32). Though it was dark (and traveling was dangerous), the travelers immediately returned to Jerusalem and told the eleven apostles, “It is true! The Lord has risen” (Luke 24:29–33).