Resurrection of Jesus

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Angel opening Christ's Tomb

Resurrection refers to the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead three days after his Crucifixion, or death on a cross. Christians believe Jesus rose from dead after he was buried as he told his followers he would. This event is remembered with the religious day of Easter. According to the most widely accepted account of the Resurrection, on Sunday after Jesus’s death, he rose, terrifying the guards. Later he appeared in the flesh to Mary Magdalene, the Apostle Peter and his disciples. To show them it was really him, Jesus showed them the wounds on his feet, hands and side.

Jesus had suffered a painful death by crucifixion and was placed in a tomb. Three days after that it was discovered that the heavy stone that sealed the entrance to his tomb was moved and that his body was gone. According to the Bible Jesus later appeared to his disciples. He had risen from the dead. It was word of this miracle, known as the Resurrection, that the disciples spread.In his death and Resurrection, Jesus proved to be an even more powerful figure than in life. Jesus became known by the Greek title christos, or "anointed one," a meaning similar to "messiah." The form was shortened to Jesus Christ. [Source:]

The details of the Resurrection vary in the Gospels. According to Matthew, Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene and the women. According Matthew, he appeared first to Peter. Luke said the appearance of the Jesus to the Apostles occurred in Jerusalem. Matthew wrote it occurred in Galilee. In Luke the Resurrection and Ascension took place side by side. In Acts they took place 40 days apart. Mark originally contained no Resurrection story at all.

According to Matthew the Resurrection was accompanied by a huge earthquake, which split open he earth. There is a traditional belief that this allowed Jesus to descend into Hell to inform all the people that had died before him they too could be saved if they had faith in God.

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Sacred Texts website ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Resurrection in the Gospels

Burial of Jesus

The story of the miracle of Jesus' resurrection is told in all four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “Of course the story doesn't end on the cross. The story ends, at least in Mark, the earliest gospel, with the mysteriously empty tomb. We get followers of Jesus who rested on the Sabbath ... again, one of those little inconspicuous details, if had been preaching against the Sabbath, why would they have rested on the Sabbath? They could have gone and visited the body on Saturday. But they don't. They wait until Sunday morning. And the tomb is empty. The Gospel of Mark ends with women being told by a mysterious young man that Jesus is waiting for them and for the disciples in Galilee. And... they don't say anything because they're terrified. That's where the gospel ends. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“In Matthew and then in Luke, there are elaborate post-resurrection appearances. Jesus appears to his disciples in the Galilee, in Matthew, and in Jerusalem, in Luke. And gives instructions in some detail about what the disciples are supposed to do now.... The resurrection is packaged in a sense, in the gospels; the reader has been prepared for it because Jesus has been predicting his own resurrection clearly, consistently throughout all these gospels. What's interesting, if you can hear the disharmony behind the very smooth presentation, is that Jesus' death was extremely traumatic. Even though the disciples have gotten quite detailed predictions of what's going to happen, they're terrified, and they run and they abandon him. He dies alone. And then you get this moment of resolution where nonetheless, they're all brought back together around the triumph of the risen Lord. But, it's hard, on the basis of the story that we get in the gospels, [to] peel back behind that and understand what these initial resurrection appearances would have been like to the Apostles.

“The stories about the Resurrection in the gospels make two very clear points. First of all, that Jesus really, really was dead. And secondly, that his disciples really and with absolute conviction saw him again afterwards. The gospels are equally clear that it's not a ghost. I mean, even though, the raised Jesus walks through a shop door in one of the gospels, there he suddenly materializes in the middle of a conference his disciples are having, he's at pains to assure them, "Touch me, feel me, it's bones and flesh." In Luke he eats a piece of fish. Ghosts can't eat fish. So what these traditions are emphasizing again and again is that it wasn't a vision. It wasn't a waking dream. It was Jesus raised.

“Now, as an historian, this doesn't tell me anything about whether Jesus himself was actually raised. But what it does give me an amazing insight into, is his followers, and therefore, indirectly, into the leader who had forged these people into such a committed community. The idea of resurrection, the idea of the vindication of a righteous person, is something that again, is an element [in] a known catalog of elements that we can construct for Jewish apocalyptic hope. If Jesus hadn't been talking about a Kingdom of God, if he hadn't said anything about God triumphing over evil, it would really be miraculous to have his disciples suddenly be convinced that he himself had been raised. But they are convinced of that. In other words, the commitment to the belief that Jesus had been raised is the index of the apocalyptic commitment on the part of his followers. And in that sense, like looking in a rear view mirror, I think the resurrection stories, which are at the core of the proclamation of Christianity, the resurrection stories, give us an indirect view of what the historical Jesus would have been saying.

Christ Leaving the Tomb in Oberammergau Passion Play

Different Gospels, Different Ending

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “The story of the empty tomb is found, as best as I can discern, only in Mark. The last chapter of Mark's gospel, Mark 16, tells the story of Easter Sunday morning [when] the women come to the tomb. They find it open and empty. It's a tomb with a huge rolled stone in front of it. It's open and it's empty. And there is a young man, a transcendental being of some kind, let's say an angel, in the tomb who says, "Jesus is risen. He is not here." That's the story. He also says, however, "Go tell the disciples." And... the women flee and tell nobody what happened. Now, that's an extraordinary ending. Not extraordinary because of the empty tomb, but because the women tell nobody. So, you might well wonder how, then, Mark even knows the story. [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“That's where Mark ends his gospel. It ends there. There are no apparitions. There are no visions. There is simply that scene. Where does it come from? I cannot find it in any source earlier than Mark, or in any source that is not dependent on Mark, in my judgment. But it makes eminent sense to me as the conclusion of Mark's gospel. He is writing in the 70's for a persecuted church.... He ends almost with an absent Jesus, because that's what his community has experienced in persecution, an absent Jesus. Now, nobody after Mark is going to accept that. Matthew will change it. Luke will change it. John will change it. The scribes will even change the Gospel of Mark to put other endings there. Mark creates the empty tomb, as far as I can see, as his way of ending the story.

“As I interpret Mark, Mark himself is the creator of the story of the empty tomb. And everyone else - let's take an example, Matthew - Matthew is reading Mark. There's a massive consensus of scholarship on that. He finds that Mark ends with the women fleeing and telling nobody. Is that the way Matthew tells it? No. He has Jesus meet the women. And now the women, then, go and tell.... And the last scene in Matthew, of course, is Jesus, who meets the disciples on a mountain in Galilee where the story began ... that's the Sermon on the Mount, and they're told to go out and preach to the world. That's Matthew's changing of Mark. And it's quite sensible. It's almost what you would guess Matthew would have to do...

“I don't invoke oral tradition where I have no evidence for it. Oral tradition is the cunning and marvelous explanation of anything we don't understand. As far as I can see, Matthew is creating the appropriate ending, the almost predictable ending for Matthew's gospel. So does Luke. So does John. They had to be conscious of exactly what they were doing ... that Matthew was saying to himself, "I have to conclude this gospel. I'm talking about something that happens, say in the year 30, but I have to bring my gospel up to the year 85. Now, what's the last climactic statement of Jesus? Where do I locate it and what does he say and to whom?" And all of that, each gospel writer does differently and they had to be conscious that they were creating. Now, they do not create it simply as a pure fiction. They create it as an appropriate summary climax to their gospel....

Empty Tomb by Giovanni Bellini

Empty Tomb of Jesus

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The story of the miracle of Jesus' resurrection is told in all four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. According to these accounts, some of his female followers - in Mark's account it's Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, but it's 'Mary Magdalene and the other Mary' in Matthew - made their way to Jesus's tomb to cover his body in oils, herbs and spices. This was a traditional way of honouring the dead. But as they stepped inside the tomb they found a heap of clothes where the body should have been. The grave clothes in which Jesus was laid to rest had been shrugged off, and the body was gone. As the women try to make sense of what they have seen, a mysterious figure shrouded in white appears to them. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]

John 20:1-18 reads: 20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.” [Source: New International Version (NIV), Bible Gateway]

It is perfectly plausible that Jesus' body was placed in a tomb after his death, and that the women came to it on the third day, just as the gospels describe. But the gospel writers claim much more than that. They suggest that the tomb was empty because a miracle had taken place, because Jesus had risen from the dead. How can that claim be examined?

Matthew’s and Luke’s Account of the Resurrection

Describing the scene Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome lay eyes on the resurrected Jesus, Matthew writes:“ His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. — Matthew 28:3-8 |::|

Rafael's Resurrection

The women's experience was followed by a series of appearances by Jesus to those who had known and loved him. Matthew's Gospel tells how, on the way to see the disciples, the women saw Jesus himself coming to meet them.“Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." — Matthew 28:9-10 |::|

Luke's Gospel reports how Jesus also appears to a follower called Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus: “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them: but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people." — Luke 24:13-19

Jesus continues in conversation with the men all the way to Emmaus, and they tell Jesus - as yet unrecognized - the story of his own life and death. Jesus, in return tells them that all they have described was foretold in the scriptures. In Luke's account, it is only when they reach the village that they realize the identity of this talkative stranger. |::|

“As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going no further. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" — Luke 24:28-32 |::|

Appearances of Jesus After the Resurrection

20120507-appearint to mary as gerdner John_20_14 Rembrandt.jpg
Appearing to Mary by Rembrandt
After his Resurrection, in some accounts in the New Testament, Jesus appeared to "more than 500 followers" on numerous occasions during in the 40 days he hung around earth before he departed to heaven. While on earth he possessed qualities of both a spirit and a living person. He could move and alter objects but also disappear and pass through doors.

According to Luke 24: 30-34: "Now while he was with them at the table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then broke it up and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but he had vanished from their sight...They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, 'The Lord has indeed risen.”"

According to the “Gospel of Hebrews” (a religious text not in the Bible): “Now the Lord....went to James and appeared to him. For James had taken an oath that he would not eat bread....till that hour when he saw him risen from the dead...The Lord said, “Bring a table and bread”...He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to James the Just and said to him, “My brother, eat your bread, for the Son of Man is risen from those who sleep.”

John 20:24-27 describes the doubting Thomas episode: "Thomas...who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came...'Unless I can see the holes that the nails have made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made...I refuse to believe.' Eight days later the disciples were in the house again. The doors were close, but Jesus came in and stood among them...he spoke to Thomas. 'Put your finger here...give me your hand; put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving any more but believe.”"

Peter and the Resurrection

John's Gospel finds Peter and the fishermen working through the night on the Sea of Galilee, but to no avail. They are preparing to come back in with empty nets, when in the half-light of dawn they catch sight of Jesus standing on the shore. |::|

20120507-Peter Caravaggio_denial.jpg
Peter's Denial by Caravaggio
“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" |::|

“As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed him in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from the shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. |::|

“Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. — John 21:4-14

Jesus First Appears to “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”

James Martin wrote in the Washington Post: “Peter figures so heavily in the earlier Passion narratives that it’s natural to believe that Jesus would first appear to the fisherman from Galilee. But Jesus first appears not to Peter, nor to any of the other male disciples, but to women. [Source: James Martin, Washington Post, April 18, 2014. Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of “Jesus: A Pilgrimage”]

“In Matthew’s Gospel, He appears first to “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” In Mark, he appears first to Mary Magdalene. And in John’s Gospel, the distinction of Mary Magdalene is even more pronounced: Early on Easter Sunday, she comes to the tomb, finds it empty and then races to Peter and the person known as the “beloved Disciple.” The two return with her, peer into the tomb, enter briefly and then leave. After they have gone, as Mary is weeping by the tomb, Jesus appears to her. He addresses her by her Aramaic name, which is preserved in the Greek manuscripts, tenderly calling her “Mariam.” |~|

“At the end of the story in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells Mary to announce the news of the Resurrection to the disciples. Thus my favorite title for her: “Apostle to the Apostles.” This is a needed reminder of the central place of women in the story of Jesus, as well as in the early church. |~|

Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection

Christ and Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, according to Matthew, was the first to see that Jesus’s tomb was empty and the first to see his resurrected body. After Jesus died, she and other women refused to leave Jesus’s tomb and remained there long after the men had left. On the third after his death she returned to the tomb (either by herself or with some other women depending on the Gospel account) ready to embalm the body with spices.

According to Matthew 28: 1-6: "After the Sabbath, and towards dawn of the first day of the week, Mary of Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit the sepulcher. And suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it...The angel said to the women, “There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus...He is not here, for he has risen.”"

In John she encounters an empty tomb and then tells Peter and an unmamed disciple. Only the latter seem to comprehended the significance of the find and then they leave. According to John, while Mary Magdalene was weeping and looking for the body of Jesus in a garden near the tomb, Jesus said to her, “Why are you weeping?” She looked at him and mistook him for a gardener, and said, “Sir, if you have taken him away tell me where have put him.” Jesus then said, “Mary,” and suddenly she realized she was talking to the risen Lord. She tried to touch him but Jesus told her not to. He said he had not yet ascended to heaven and to tell the disciples that he was going to the Father.”

Even though Jesus said while he was alive that he would resurrected his disciples clearly did not believe him. In Luke and Mark, Magdalene and other women try to alert the men but “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

See Mary Magdalene

Ascension and the Arrival of the Holy Spirit

The Ascension is when Christ rose to heaven. According to Acts 1: 9-10, "He was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when he went...He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end.” According to Acts 1:3 before that Christ had appeared to his disciples for 40 days during which time he would “tell them about the kingdom of God.” Ascension Day, is observed 40 days after Easter.

Pentecost, or Whitsunday, 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Ascension Day, honors the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church with the Apostles and marks the end of the Easter period.

The Acts of the Apostles describes the arrival of Holy Spirit at a meeting of the disciples: “Suddenly there came from heaven a sound as if it where a violent wind...and there appeared to them tongues as of fire, these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.” The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak a number of different languages, allowing them to spread the words of God and Jesus, and thus ushering in the Christian era. This is regarded as the day of the inception of the Christian church.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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