In honor of this week’s celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, I have compiled a list of my five favorite resurrection appearances. As one scholar points out, if Jesus’ resurrection was something that his disciples made up, they would have scripted the stories better, making themselves appear in a much better light. Instead the resurrection stories reveal a level of skepticism and unbelief in the disciples that could only have been overcome by actually seeing Jesus alive. So here’s my list.
1. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, John 20:11-18
After Mary and a group of other women discover the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene lingers at the tomb, which was located in a garden. Jesus appears but Mary does not recognize him. Thinking he is the gardener she asks him if he knows where Jesus is. When Jesus calls her name she realizes that her Savior is alive.
According to C Austin Miles, his well-known song “In the Garden,” is based on this resurrection appearance. In the first verse it says “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses.” Mary Magdalene was alone when she encountered Jesus and it was early in the day, when dew would still be on the roses.
And Mary Magdalene was the first one to see Jesus alive which relates to the words from the chorus of the song: “And the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
2. Jesus appears to Doubting Thomas, John 20:24-29
No matter what the disciples who had first seen Jesus alive told him, Thomas insisted that he would have to touch Jesus’ crucifixion wounds before he would believe that Jesus had risen. A week after the day of the resurrection, Jesus consented to Thomas’ demands. He appears to the disciples while Thomas is present and invites Thomas to touch him. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God.”
This appearance is a good one for those of us who were not privileged to witness the resurrection because after Thomas’ doubts were removed Jesus told him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
3. Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35
As two disciples walk to the town of Emmaus on the day of the resurrection, Jesus joins them but they do not recognize him. They strike up a conversation in which Jesus explains that everything that had just happened to him in Jerusalem was clearly taught in Scripture but they still don’t understand it.
When they get to Emmaus, the disciples invite Jesus to stay with them because it is evening. As they are eating, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. Their eyes are opened and they recognize him and he vanishes from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about their experience. Another beautiful Christian hymn, “Abide With Me,” is based on this resurrection appearance.
4. Jesus appears to the disciples beside the Sea of Tiberius, John 21:1-17
The disciples go back to fishing, a job that several of them had done before Jesus called them to follow him. After an unsuccessful night of fishing, Jesus appears on the shore of the sea, directs them where to cast their nets to catch some fish and then provides them with breakfast. After breakfast, Jesus has a very interesting talk with Peter, the disciple who had denied him three times.
5. Jesus appears to Saul on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:1-19
This is the only appearance on the list that took place after Jesus ascended into heaven. Saul, later named Paul, was on his way to Damascus to persecute those who believed in Christ. Along the way Jesus appears to Saul in a bright, blinding light from heaven and asks him why he is persecuting him. Saul is told to continue on to Damascus and wait for further instructions. After three days, a believer came and baptized Saul and he went on to become the greatest Christian missionary of all time and author of 13 books of the New Testament.
So these are my top five resurrection appearances of Jesus. It’s pretty convincing to believe Jesus’ resurrection actually happened when there are all these “unscripted” stories of people whose unbelief was transformed to belief when they saw the living Lord with their own eyes. What are your favorites?