Friday, April 25, 2014

The Appearances of the Risen Jesus

by Fr Steven Kostoff, Orthodox Christian Meditations
Originally published April 20, 2012.


On this Bright Friday, I would again like to turn to and draw from a current book I am reading – Believing in the Resurrection – by the biblical scholar Gerald O’Collins, renowned for his tireless commitment over the years of studying the resurrection of Christ in a nearly exhaustive manner.

 The third chapter of this most recent and admirable study is entitled “The Appearances of the Risen Jesus.” This chapter is meant to explore the reliability and meaning of the many appearances of the Risen Christ to various of His disciples. O’Collins also lists and critiques the usual objections to these appearances of Christ.

 For the moment, I would simply like to share his carefully constructed list of these appearances “to groups and individuals:”

  • To “the twelve” (I COR. 15:3)
  • To “the eleven and those with them” (LK. 24:33-49)
  • To “those who came up with him [Jesus] from Galilee” (ACTS 13:31)
  • To “the disciples” (JN. 20:19-23; MK. 16:7)
  • To “all the apostles” (I COR. 15:7; obviously in Paul’s list a distinct and larger group than the Twelve)
  • To Simon Peter and six others (JN. 21:1-14)
  • To “more than five hundred brothers and sisters” (I COR. 15:6)
  • To Cleopas and his companion (LK. 24:13-35)
  • To Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (MATT. 28:9-10)
  • To Mary Magdalene (JN. 20:11-18; MK. 16:9-11)
  • To Cephas/Peter (I COR. 15:5; MK. 16:7; LK. 24:34)
  • To James (I COR. 15:7)
  • To Saul/Paul (for example, I COR. 9:1; 15:8; ACTS 9:1-9) (p. 61)

What is quite interesting, is that when O’Collins addresses the skeptical counter-theories that attempt to discredit the testimony of these appearance of the Risen Lord, he makes the telling point that these skeptical theories invariably do not address the multiplicity and variety of these appearances. In other words, the “hallucinations” theory hardly takes into account the various persons involved; the various settings; and even the chronological factor (Paul comes a few years later than the Twelve).

I would simply propose that each of us can turn this into an effective and illuminating “home Bible Study” – alone or with other family members. In other words, find these various scriptural passages and read them carefully so as to discover the wider context of each of the Lord’s appearances – in Galilee, Jerusalem, indoors, outdoors, etc. What seems to be purpose of each appearance? Is it to convey a commission, to call to mission, to reveal something of the mysterious nature of the resurrection, to re-establish a profound sense of fellowship and communion, to convince others that it is Jesus Himself, to overcome any doubts, etc. This kind of careful and prayerful study can be deeply rewarding. It will lead us to ask questions of our own relationship with Christ. What do these passages convey to us today, in the daily setting of my life “here and now?”

Just as the paschal season is not an “appendix” or afterthought to Great Lent and Holy Week; so the resurrection of Christ is not the “happy ending” to the pathos and drama of the Cross. The Resurrection is the fulfillment of the entire economy of the Son; for the Son of God came to overcome the “last enemy” – death – on our behalf. The resurrection narratives have a different quality to them – they are without precedent! – and yet it is the reality and life that permeates these accounts and the entire New Testament that are the very basis of our Faith. Without the resurrection there would be no New Testament to even speak about – just as there would be no Church or even no memory of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is something worthy of those precious commodities of ours – time and energy.