First Appearances

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Easter Sunday" from the book God So Loved the World.)

The first person to actually see and touch the risen Lord was Mary Magdalene. First introduced in Luke 8:2, she was one of the company of Galilean women who, healed or otherwise helped by Jesus, joined his following and actively supported the ministry with her own resources. Despite tradition, there is no reason to connect her with the sinful woman of Luke 7:36–50 or the adulterous woman of John 8:3–11. Nor should she be confused with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. In fact, no other information is given of her until she is seen with the small group of Jesus’ closest family and friends at the foot of the cross in John 19:25. She is then mentioned by Mark and Matthew as being with the women who first went to the empty tomb, but whereas they did not return to it after bearing the news to the disciples, she apparently followed Peter and the other disciple back to the tomb. There, in a touching and beautiful scene, she became the first to see the risen Lord and then to share her direct witness with others (John 20:11–18; Mark 16:9–11).

Matthew notes that the Lord then appeared to the other women (Matthew 28:9–10), after which the next people to see Jesus Christ after his resurrection were two disciples—Cleopas and an unnamed believer—who, on their way home to nearby Emmaus, encountered the risen Lord on the road but did not recognize him. Consistent with Luke’s interest in people of all ranks and status, he records this appearance to typical believers rather than apostles, perhaps emphasizing that all witnesses, and not just special ones, can gain a testimony that Christ lives. Only upon Jesus’ expounding the scriptures and then breaking and blessing bread with the two disciples at dinner were their eyes opened, after which he was taken from their view (Luke 24:13–35; Mark 16:12–13).

But while other disciples were granted actual witnesses of Jesus Christ, the surest witness was reserved for the eleven of his apostles who remained. When he appeared miraculously that evening to ten of them in a closed room where they had retired, Jesus gave them proofs positive that he had indeed risen physically from the dead. Not only did the apostles see, hear, and touch the risen Lord (Luke 24:39–40; John 20:19; 1 John 1:1), according to Luke, he even ate in front of them before, in turn, feeding them spiritually by unfolding the scriptures to them (Luke 24:41–43). Crucially, he then showed them his hands and side; the later instance of Thomas’s touching the wounds in Jesus’ hands and sides suggests that at the earlier encounter the ten apostles who were present had felt the wounds as well (John 20:27; compare 3 Nephi 11:14–15). These acts may have been some of the “many infallible proofs” (Greek, tekmĈriois, meaning “sure signs or tokens”) by which he showed himself alive after his Passion (Acts 1:3).

This special witness was then sealed with a direct endowment of the Holy Ghost, when “he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). Although not the typical way of receiving the Holy Ghost—and we can assume they had already been confirmed and given the gift of the Holy Ghost by the typical laying on of hands—Jesus’ breathing upon the ten apostles present is parallel with Adam’s receiving the breath of life in Genesis 2:7. This scene can thus suggest that just as God had quickened the newly created Adam with his spirit, the resurrected Lord was now “re-creating,” or spiritually enlivening, his apostles.

Much later the apostle John, referring both to the reality of the incarnation and Jesus’ continuing physical reality wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1–3).

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