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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: What Do We Know about the Character of the Witnesses Who Testified of the Risen Christ?

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What Do We Know about the Character of the Witnesses Who Testified of the Risen Christ?

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ – Question 7

It is important to consider the character of the witnesses who testified that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. There are a number of things we know about them from the New Testament. The following observations need to be made.

1. They Were in a Position to Testify to the Facts about Jesus

The ones who saw Jesus after His death were in a position to give testimony to whether or not Jesus had risen from the dead. First, they would have been able to testify if He had died. We are told that John and certain others were there at the cross when Jesus died—they observed His death.

John himself wrote of those who were standing at the cross. He records the words of Jesus to His mother Mary:

So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” (John 19:25, 26 RSV)

John, as well as a number of others, were present at the time Jesus died.

This became all the more obvious when we are told that John saw the actual moment of Jesus’ death. He recorded it in this manner:

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe. (John 19:34, 35 RSV)

He was an eyewitness to Jesus’ last moments. Others saw the place where Jesus was buried. Luke records this:

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55, 56 RSV)

Finally, the same Jesus they had seen dead and buried appeared to them alive. They saw the scars that were on His body from the cross. They recognized Jesus intimately. Indeed, some impostor would not have fooled them.

Therefore those who testified that Jesus had risen could certainly certify that Jesus had been dead, and that they saw Him alive again. John wrote,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (1 John 1:1 RSV)

They knew whom they saw.

2. There Was a Sufficient Number of Them

The number of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ was sufficient for us to believe their account. We are dealing with the twelve disciples of Jesus (minus Judas), other disciples apart from the twelve, and certain women who knew Him well. One appearance was before over five hundred people at one time. The different number of people who saw the risen Christ is sufficient to cause belief.

3. They Exhibited an Honest Character

Next, we consider the honesty of the witnesses. We are told they were not expecting Him to rise. In fact, they were all surprised by His appearance, and, in the case of Jesus’ disciples, and they were the first unbelievers of the resurrection story! Thus, there is no effort to make the disciples into some type of super believers. Their faults are listed for all to see—Peter denying knowing Jesus on the night of His betrayal as well as the other disciples fleeing the scene when Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

4. They Had No Motivation for Lying

When all the facts are considered, we find no motivation for these people to lie about what happened. There was no financial gain or greed that motivated the witnesses to tell the story that Jesus had risen. To the contrary, they suffered mightily from their fellow countrymen by proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. Their status in society was certainly not elevated for believing in Jesus—they were considered members of a sect, or cult. When everything is considered, testifying to Jesus’ resurrection caused them no direct benefit but rather only grief.

5. They Were of Normal Intelligence

The disciples of Jesus were men of normal intelligence—they were not ignoramuses. In addition, they were not the type to be easily fooled. For example, Matthew the tax collector, and Thomas the doubter, would need overwhelming evidence to be convinced that Jesus was raised. Indeed Jesus disciples were the first to be told of Jesus’ resurrection and the first unbelievers:

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

Consequently, they were not the gullible type.

6. Their Story Was Always Consistent

The ones who had seen Jesus Christ alive after His death consistently told their story. As we read through the sermons in the Book of Acts, we find these people always giving the same basic account. Their story was consistently told as long as they lived. While the minute details of each account differed, as we would expect, the main points were always the same.

7. They Did Not Embellish the Story with Excessive Details

The account surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection is told in a straightforward manner without excessive details. In fact, many things we would like to know are not told us. The account is sober and restrained—something we would not expect from a made-up story. Indeed, there are no elements in the account that are mythical.

For example, if the account of the resurrection were legendary, we would expect some explanation of what occurred the moment Jesus rose from the dead. Yet the New Testament gives us no such explanation of what happened the moment He left the tomb.

8. They Provide a Number of Minute Details

One of the strongest arguments for the authenticity of the accounts of the resurrection is the number of minute details that are recorded. These unintentional proofs testify to the truthfulness of the overall account. They are as follows.

A. Peter and John at Jesus’ Tomb

We are told that Peter and John ran to the tomb together when told of Jesus resurrection. John writes,

They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. (John 20:4-7 RSV)

John, the younger man, outruns the older Peter. John reverently stays outside of the tomb while the impetuous Peter immediately goes inside. These events are consistent with what we know about the character of both of these men.

B. Mary’s Desire to Carry Jesus Away

The account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus also has marks of authenticity. We read the following:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15 RSV)

Jesus then speaks her name. The Bible says,

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:16 RSV)

The fact that Jesus said her name in His own unique way was an unmistakable sign that He had risen.

C. They Were to Tell the Disciples and Peter

We have the account of the resurrected Jesus telling the women to tell the disciples and Peter that He had risen:

“Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he’s going ahead of them to Galilee. There they will see him, just as he told them.” (Mark 16:7 God’s Word)

Peter needed to be reassured because he had denied knowing Jesus just a few short days previous to the resurrection. We find that this statement is only recorded in Mark’s gospel—the gospel that derives its information from Peter.

D. Jesus Asking Peter Three Times If He Loved Him

John records a conversation between Jesus and Peter after Jesus had risen. It went as follows:

After they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the other disciples do?” Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked him again, a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus told him, “Take care of my sheep.” Jesus asked him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt sad because Jesus had asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” So Peter said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” (John 21:15-17 God’s Word)

The three times that Jesus asked Peter if He loved Him correspond to the three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus.

E. The Questioning of Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas natural questioning of Jesus’ resurrection is another mark of authenticity. He wanted evidence that Jesus had risen:

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25 RSV)

He would not believe until he saw Jesus with his own eyes.

F. Jesus Hid His Identity to Two Disciples

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus traveled and spoke with two of His disciples without revealing His identity. We read,

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24:15, 16 RSV)

There would be no point in making up such a story.

G. The Miracle of the Fish

The fact that Jesus repeated an earlier miracle in the miraculous catch of fish was a further testimony as to His identity. John wrote,

Jesus asked them, “Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” They answered him, “No, we haven’t.” He told them, “Throw the net out on the right side of the boat, and you’ll catch some.” So they threw the net out and were unable to pull it in because so many fish were in it. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put back on the clothes that he had taken off and jumped into the sea. (John 21:5-7 God’s Word)

This would be unmistakable proof that it was Jesus since He performed the same miracle during His public ministry (Luke 5:1-11).

These minute details give further testimony to the authenticity of the story that Jesus Christ had risen indeed.

In sum, those who testified they saw the risen Christ were indeed in a position to speak with authority on this issue.

Summary – Question 7
What Do We Know about the Character of the Witnesses Who Testified of the Risen Christ?

There are many reasons as to why we should believe that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. One of these is the character of the witnesses who testified to this fact. Indeed, the character of those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ is sufficient for us to believe their testimony.

For one thing, they were in a position to testify. They intimately knew Jesus. They also knew that He had been executed by crucifixion. They, therefore, could testify as to whether it was actually Him who had died and Him whom they had seen alive after His death.

In addition, there were a sufficient number of witnesses. One appearance of the resurrected Christ was to over five hundred people.

Furthermore, these people exhibited an honest character. Indeed, they reported their own faults, their own shortcomings. They certainly had no motivation for lying about Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, only persecution and martyrdom awaited them. Their story was always consistent—they all gave the same major details. Furthermore, they did not embellish their story with excessive details. They stayed with the basic facts. In addition, they provide a number of minute details that unintentionally verify their overall account.

Consequently, there is nothing in their behavior or their writings that would cause us to be suspicious of their account of what transpired after Jesus died. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to accept their report that Jesus had risen.

What Observations Can Be Made about Jesus' Resurrection Appearances? ← Prior Section
What Is the Indirect Evidence That Jesus Came Back from the Dead? Next Section →
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