Jesus’ death has been recorded by many, but the resurrection of Jesus is ultimately founded in faith. Where does that leave us? It leaves us responding to a truth in an intangible way. That might be easier for some of us than others. The good news is, there are five examples in scripture of how early followers responded and we can learn from them. The question is: how will you respond to the resurrection of Jesus?
Five Resurrection Responses
1. Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene was healed from seven demons early in Jesus’ ministry. She, along with other women, simply followed him in return (Lk 8:1-3). After Jesus’ burial, Mary went to bring spices for the body only to find an empty tomb. Angels told her of what had happened and scripture records her emotional and passionate response.1
What’s of most significance is the account found in John’s gospel (Jn 20:11-18). While experiencing the empty tomb, she turns and speaks to (who she thinks is) a gardener. But once he spoke her name – “Mary,” she immediately knew his voice and her simple faith was solidified.
2. Guards and Jewish Leaders
The second response is very different. After Jesus’ body was put in the tomb, guards were ordered to seal the tomb and stand guard (Mt 27:66). Scripture tells us that the guards witnessed the angels; and, because of fear, acted like they were dead (Matthew 28:4). They knew there were major military consequences, so perhaps they avoided them by going to the chief priests first.2
The response of the Jewish leaders should grab our attention. Let’s be honest, the priests knew angels were real, they knew the supernatural was possible, and because of their previous action, they knew, more than ever before, they had to cover it up. So they made a deal with the guards, and paid them to tell everyone that “[Jesus’] disciples stole the body.” In return, the priests promised to keep them safe from military consequence.
To this day, Jews still believe that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, and scripture confirms that (Mt 28:15).
3. Two Followers
Two followers of Jesus (outside the eleven disciples) were walking and Jesus appeared with them but they didn’t know it was Jesus. They explained to him what had happened and why they were upset. Even after Jesus rebukes them with scripture, it wasn’t until they stopped for the day, and Jesus broke bread with them, that they realized it was Jesus. It took a “familiar experience” to believe it was actually Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).
4. The Disciples (the eleven)
It’s no secret that the disciples didn’t understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was. They were often confused, misunderstood what Jesus was saying, and probably thought His death was the end of their relationship.3 It makes sense. I would have probably felt the same way.
What’s interesting, is that the people who probably knew Jesus the most, required the most to believe in His resurrection. Jesus appeared before them through a locked door, but until they saw this scars and ate with him, they only perceived him as a “spirit” and were terrified (Luke 24:37). But after their physical encounter, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”4
Apparently Thomas wasn’t present when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples. While they shared their testimony, Thomas wouldn’t believe unless he too experienced such a physical encounter. After spending eight days in “belief limbo”, Jesus again appeared through a locked door and Thomas (known by many as “doubting Thomas”) had the opportunity to physically witness the scars of Jesus. He believed, but Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”5
It would be fair to ask: why are these responses recorded? Were there other responses? John explained it this way:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.6
The ultimate purpose is so that all would come to know and believe who Jesus is. And through that belief, realize that He is the son of God and Saviour of the world.
And we don’t just have one example. We read about men and women, close friends and those witnessing along the way, people who have doubt, and others who simply hear His voice and believe. The examples not only help us believe, but they show that the story is for everyone.
Proof of The Resurrection
Through these responses, we can also surmise proof of the resurrection and realize its authenticity. Let me briefly share four points that Gary Habermas shares in his book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus: 7
1. These are faithful eyewitnesses.
The Apostles (Jesus’ disciples) and early followers believed in the message so much that they died for their faith. While these responses include some doubt, their final understanding of the resurrection was so real they were willing to put their lives at risk to spread the message. These responses must be real to take on that kind of risk.
2. Skeptics drastically transformed.
Thomas (from doubter to believer), Paul (from persecutor to author), James (from unbeliever to leader), and Peter (from denier to preacher) — they all and experienced drastic transformation. If the resurrection wasn’t authentic, why would such drastic change take place?
3. Reaction of the enemy.
They realised the tomb was empty, so they quickly put the blame on the disciples. If the disciples did, in fact steal Jesus’ body, why would they let their friends, family and themselves die for a lie? They had to try and cover up the truth to save face.
The other rebuttal is that Jesus didn’t die in first place. This can’t be true, because the condition of his body (from the suffering and beating alone) would have made him immobile, to say the least. Many scholars believe he would have died from blood loss, let alone the suffocating on the cross.
You don’t have to defend the truth, but heavy and quick reaction of the Jewish leaders certainly tells us there was a truth with merit.
4. Women were the first witnesses.
I’m certainly not a sexist by any means; however, the first-century culture saw things differently. The social gap between men and women was wide and women were low on the social scale.8
The simple fact that women are seen as the first witnesses would have been embarrassing. Not to mention the risk associated with repeating that story. The fact that the story survived the first century gives the resurrection merit and thus speaks to the authentic and faithful account of the gospel.
Our Response to the Resurrection
So, how will we respond 2000 years later? How do we relate to these five biblical responses to the resurrection?
Do we have simple faith like Mary Magdalene?
Do we ignore faith like the priests and spread lies (cover up) like the guards in an effort to save our reputation?
Do we have blind faith like the two followers of Jesus who couldn’t see Him standing right next to them, but instead needed a “familiar experience?”
Do we have a physical faith like the disciples and need to see Jesus in action before we believe?
Do we have a doubting faith like Thomas who, even with the testimony of this close friends, still needed a physical encounter in order to believe?
Out of the five responses, who can you relate to the most? How will you chose respond today?
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|⇑1||Matthew 28:8f; Mark 16:5, 10; Luke 24:5f; John 20:11.|
|⇑2||Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992), 741.|
|⇑3||Mark 9:32, Luke 18:34, 22:31f, John 11:14-44; 13:28; 16:25-33.|
|⇑4||John 20:20, ESV.|
|⇑7||Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), Kindle Version.|
|⇑8||Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 839-840.|