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

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Don Stewart

We also need to consider the character of the witnesses who testified that Christ had risen. The following observations need to be made concerning them.

1. They Were In A Position To Testify

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. Others saw where He was buried. 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 knew Jesus intimately and they would not have been fooled by some impostor. 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.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1)

2. There Was A Sufficient Number Of Them

The number of witnesses to the resurrection 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, they were all surprised by His appearance, and, in the case of Jesus' disciples, they were the first unbelievers of the resurrection story. There is no effort to make the disciples into some type of super believers. Their faults are listed - Peter denying knowing Jesus on the night of His betrayal as well as the other disciples fleeing the scene.

4. They Had No Motivation For Lying

When all the facts are considered, we find no motivation for them 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. 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, lying about 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. 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 risen. Indeed Jesus disciples were the first to be told of Jesus' resurrection and the first unbelievers.

But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them (Luke 24:11).

6. Their Story Was Consistent

The story that Jesus had risen from the dead was consistently told by the ones who had seen Him alive. As we read through the sermons in the book of Acts, we find them always telling the same 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. 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. 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.

Peter And John At Jesus Tomb

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

Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen (John 20:4-7).

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.

Mary's Desire To Carry Jesus Away

The account of Mary at the tomb of Jesus also has marks of authenticity.

"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him (John 20:15).

Jesus then speaks her name.

Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher) (John 20:16).

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

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.

But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you' (Mark 16:7).

This statement is only recorded in Mark's gospel - the gospel that derives its information from Peter.

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 the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it (John 20:25).

Jesus Asking Peter Three Times If He Loved Him

John records a conversation between Jesus and Peter.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "You know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17)

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

Jesus Hid His Identity

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

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:16).

There would be no point in making up a story about them telling the story in this way.

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.

He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish (John 21:5-7).

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


The character of those who saw the resurrected Christ is sufficient for us to believe their testimony. 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 risen. In addition, there were a sufficient number of them. One appearance consisted of over five hundred people. Furthermore, they exhibited an honest character. They certainly had no motivation for lying. Only persecution and martyrdom awaited them. They were of normal intelligence. Their story was consistent - they all gave the same major details. 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. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to accept their report that Jesus had risen.

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