John 20:11-31: Eyewitness News

Read: John 20:11-31

John states that his purpose in writing his gospel was so that some might believe in Jesus. His intent from the beginning of the Gospel was to teach about the truth claims of Jesus and show how that there were a number of witnesses that attest to the veracity of what Jesus said about himself. One of the ultimate proofs of Jesus’ claims was the resurrection, because the entire hope of Christianity hangs on this single event. John notes that the followers of Jesus did not understand that Jesus was rise again from the dead, but after it happened they realized what Jesus was talking about. For this reason, Jesus’ resurrection became a central part of the message that the Christians preached all over the world. Paul says that without the resurrection one’s faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). But to ensure the Corinthians believers that the resurrection did indeed happen, Paul mentions the post-mortem appearances to the disciples and followers of Jesus who were eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus.

John records Jesus first appearing to Mary, who does not realize who Jesus is. She first sees two angels sitting in the tomb where Jesus had been laid. They ask her why she was weeping, and she turns to meet Jesus face to face, but does not recognize him at first. She later does recognize him and clings to him. Jesus tells her to go tell her to go tell the others that he was going to ascend to the Father. She runs to them and tells them that she has seen the Lord. The next appearance Jesus makes that John records is in a room where they are shut up for fear of the Jews. Jesus appears among them saying “peace” three times. They were probably scared witless because they thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus cleared their doubts by showing them his wounds from the crucifixion – he was real live flesh and blood. A week later at his second appearance, Thomas would not believe it either, but he saw Jesus wounds and declares that Jesus is his lord and God.

Jesus then says that the ones who believe without seeing are the ones who are blessed. The ones who believe without seeing are all the Christians who have believed since the time Jesus ascended to be with the Father, save the exception of a few such as Paul who saw the Lord after the ascension (Acts 9:4-5). But Christians are not left empty-handed. In fact, Christians have plenty of historical documentation to prove that Jesus did indeed exist, and did indeed rise from the dead. Often times, Christians are asked to prove Jesus without using the Bible. Most want to exclude the Bible because they think it altogether unreliable and historically inaccurate. But if the Bible is such as this, then they should have no reason to fear it. Rather the truth of the matter is that the Bible is historically accurate and the evidence powerful such that one cannot deny it.

Gary Habermas, a leading expert in the historicity of the resurrection devised a “basic facts” approach for apologetic purposes.  By asserting some basic facts that most scholars would concede, one can conclude with a high level of certainty that the best explanation for the facts is that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. Other scholars have expanded and revised this list, but here are a few of the facts:

  • Jesus was crucified and died on a cross.
  • Jesus was buried in a tomb
  • The tomb was found empty
  • The disciples and followers of Jesus experienced what they believed to be the risen Jesus on numerous occasions
  • The disciples were radically transformed by this and boldly proclaimed a risen Jesus
  • Resurrection was central to message

The best explanation for these facts would be that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. Other theories have been proposed to explain away the missing body such as the disciples stole it, Jesus did not really die, the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus, the disciples found the wrong tomb, among other such theories. The problem with these theories is either they are highly improbable (that is it would take more faith to believe them than Jesus actually rose from the dead) or there is no evidence to support them such that they are hardly more than conspiracy theories.

The eyewitness accounts of the followers are recorded in the Bible, which has been faithfully preserved through the ages and has been shown to be historically reliable. Christians have every good reason to believe that Jesus did indeed raise from the dead and for this reason among others good reason to believe that the truth claims of Jesus are true too. John wrote his gospel so that some might believe, and blessed are those who believe without seeing the Lord. The resurrected Lord though is alive and well. The hope of the gospel is real such that one can take it to the bank.

Lord, I do believe. When I doubt, remind me that I have no good reason to doubt!