Post-Ascension Appearances.

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Following the ascension there were very few appearances. Luke mentions only Paul’s own conversion; but Paul’s catalogue of Jesus’ appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 lists three others. As we have already noted, Paul is citing testimony that has been handed down from before both the gospels and his own letter. The list appears to be in chronological order, ending with Paul’s own experience. There is some debate as to whether the first three of the following events occurred before or after the ascension; but the balance of probability would seem to indicate the latter. Paul’s own encounter happened quite some time later.

1.  500 at Once!
Paul states that on one occasion Jesus appeared to over 500 men at once! He adds that the majority of these witnesses were still alive at the time of writing. This makes extremely difficult reading for the proponents of both hallucination and fable theories. As a ‘mass hallucination’ it would be unparalleled: and with so many witnesses still living Paul is clearly flinging down the gauntlet to any who claimed that the resurrection stories had just been made up.

Since the number of disciples who met in the upper room prior to the first Pentecost is given as 120, it seems unlikely there would have been 500 present at that time. It is possible that Jesus could have had a larger band of followers in Galilee than in Jerusalem: but the fact that Luke doesn’t mention it in his gospel makes a pre-ascension date less likely. Alternatively this could have happened sometime between Pentecost and Paul’s conversion.

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2.  James.
Paul also relates (in 1 Cor 15:7) that Jesus appeared to James, Jesus’ brother. Again, we do not know the precise timing or circumstances of this event. During Jesus’ ministry years his brothers were sceptical of his claims (Jn 7:5, Mk 3:21,31). However, Luke mentions that brothers of Jesus were with the disciples in Jerusalem in the days leading up to Pentecost (Acts 1:14), and James later became leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17, 15:13 & 21:18).
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3.  All the Apostles.
In the same verse Paul also says that after this, but prior to Paul’s own conversion, Jesus also appeared to ‘all the apostles’. This reference is of interest to church scholars as it shows, by contrast with 1 Cor 15:5, that the term ‘apostles’ was no longer limited to the original twelve. However, Paul does not specify who the additional apostles were, nor the circumstances of this appearance.
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4.  Paul.

Finally, Paul cites his own experience when, under his old name of Saul, he set out for Damascus to arrest the Christian ‘heretics’ and was intercepted en route by the living Christ. This event is described in Acts 9:1-8, and again in Paul’s own words when he relates his testimony in Acts 22:3-11 and 26:12-18. A sudden bright light shone around Paul’s party. This light was seen by all of them, and caused them to fall to the ground. Paul alone then heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” the reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” He was then told to wait in Damascus for further instructions. The experience left him blind for three days until a disciple called Ananias received a message from the Lord directing him to go and pray for Saul.

So here we have an implacable opponent of Christianity who had an experience so shattering that it left him physically blind and turned him into one of Christianity’s foremost exponents. Clearly, he found the evidence totally convincing!
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