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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Did Jesus Only Appear to Believers Who Were Expecting a Resurrection?

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Did Jesus Appear to Believers Only, Those Who Were Expecting a Resurrection?

Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus – Question 17

One of the objections to the New Testament account of Jesus’ resurrection is that He appeared only to believers—people who already had a desire to believe the marvelous stories about Him. Therefore, those who testified to the resurrection were not disinterested parties but rather those who had something to gain by it?

Does this negate the evidence for the resurrection? Again, the facts say otherwise.

1. The Disciples Were the First Unbelievers

We are told that the first unbelievers of the resurrection story of Jesus Christ were none other than the disciples themselves. Luke writes,

The apostles thought it was all nonsense, and they would not believe. (Luke 24:11 CEV)

At first, they rejected the idea that Jesus had risen. They thought the women were only speaking nonsense. There was no expectation whatsoever on their part that Jesus would come back from the dead. Even when told about it, they did not believe it.

2. Doubting Thomas Was an Unbeliever

One of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas, did not believe that Jesus had risen even when the other disciples told him that He had appeared to them. We read about this in John’s gospel:

They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” (John 20:25 NLT)

Thomas had to see for himself; he would not believe the first-hand testimony. Later, he did believe when Jesus appeared with him.

3. Others Disciples Also Doubted

We are even told that when Jesus met His disciples in Galilee there were some who still doubted. Matthew records the following:

When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:17 NRSV)

This is hardly in keeping with the idea that everyone readily believed.

4. Jesus’ Brothers Were Unbelievers

We are told that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him during His earthly ministry. John recorded this:

For not even his own brothers believed in him. (John 7:5 NET)

However, we find Jesus’ brothers gathered with Jesus’ disciples, after His resurrection, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit:

The apostles had a single purpose as they devoted themselves to prayer. They were joined by some women, including Mary (the mother of Jesus), and they were joined by his brothers. (Acts 1:14 God’s Word)

Something caused these half-brothers of Jesus to believe in Him after His resurrection from dead. Previously, during His public ministry, they had rejected His claims.

5. Saul of Tarsus Was a Non-Believer

Saul of Tarsus, who later became the Apostle Paul, was not a believer when the resurrected Christ appeared to Him. He had to be convinced from his position of unbelief. He is described in the following way before his conversion on the Damascus road:

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-3 NET)

Consequently, it was not merely to believers that Jesus Christ appeared.

Thus, the objection that people only appeared to people who were looking forward to seeing Him rise from the dead is totally contrary to the facts.

Summary – Question 17
Did Jesus Appear to Believers Only, Those Who Were Expecting a Resurrection?

Some object to the resurrection of Jesus Christ by saying that it was only to believers that He appeared; those expecting to see Him. Since they were anticipating, or at least hoping, to see Him again we should not believe their reports that He actually appeared to them.

However, the idea that Jesus Christ appeared only to those who believed, and were anticipating His appearance, does not fit the facts. Several points need to be made.

Jesus’ own disciples were not looking for Him to rise from the dead. Indeed, they did not believe the first reports which they heard of the resurrection!

Thomas was not present when Jesus later appeared to His disciples. He would not believe until he touched Him. Again, he was not expecting a resurrection and did not believe the story when it was first told to him.

On another occasion, when Jesus appeared to His disciples on a mountain in Galilee we are told that some still doubted.

James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe in Him during His earthly ministry. Yet, he, and at least one other of Jesus’ brothers, was with the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. Something caused them to believe.

Saul of Tarsus was an enemy of Christianity. Yet, he was converted on the road to Damascus. He certainly was not looking for a crucified person to appear to him.

Consequently, every one of Jesus’ disciples was an unbeliever of His resurrection at one time or another. None of them were expectantly waiting for His return from the dead. Indeed, none of them thought that He would come back to life.

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