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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6 thoughts on “Post-Ascension Appearances.

  1. Please I have question, I want know how long after Jesus ascension did it take for Him to appear to Saul on his way to Damascus, is it after a year, some months or how long. Do you please have any knowledge about that?please email if possible, thank you for the good work.

    • Most estimates put Saul’s conversion somewhere between 33 and 36AD; though I have seen dates as late as 40AD. Reading forward from Jesus’ own death, it is difficult to discern exactly how much time elapsed until the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58) and how long Saul’s persecution of the church lasted. The latter could have been quite some time, as Saul would presumably have waged his campaign against the Christians in Judaea and Galilee first, before extending it northwards as far as Damascus.

      If we look at Paul’s account of his visits to Jerusalem in Galatians 1:15-19 and 2:1-10, he uses the expressions ‘after 3 years’ and ‘after 14 years’ to describe the timing of these visits. From his description of the visit in 2:1-10 it appears that this is the Council of Jerusalem, convened to discuss the issue of circumcision (see Acts 15). This is generally dated c.50AD; so subtracting 14 years from this brings us to 36AD. At this point, 2 interpretations are possible: do we treat ‘after 14 years’ as meaning 14 years after the previously-mentioned visit, or as 14 years after his conversion? The latter seems more plausible for 2 reasons. Firstly, a date of 33AD only really works if we adopt the earlier, non-traditional, dating of Jesus’ death at 30AD. But, more importantly, because adding the two times together overlooks the fact that the Jerusalem Council was actually Paul’s third visit to Jerusalem since his conversion (See Acts 9:26-30 and Acts 11:27-30).

      Paul probably doesn’t mention his second visit simply because it is completely irrelevant to the issues he is discussing. It was solely concerned with taking famine relief to Jerusalem; and Acts 12 tells us that it coincided with a time of severe persecution specifically aimed at the apostles. The apostle James was dead; Peter was Herod’s next planned victim and the others were probably in hiding. There is no mention of Paul actually meeting any of them. Even the only mention of Jesus’ brother James (Acts 12:17) suggests that Peter himself could not readily get to meet him.

      The dating of the Council of Jerusalem isn’t precise (48AD is also often quoted): but it is estimated from two events mentioned in Acts whose dates can be independently confirmed. These are the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius in 50AD (see Acts 18:2) and Gallio’s proconsulship of Achaia in 52-53AD (Acts 18:12). So 34-36AD for Paul’s conversion looks like a reasonable assumption. Consequently, taking the traditional date of 33AD for Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, we’re probably looking at an interval of 1-3 years.

  2. With the exception of Paul’s encounter, all these appearance of Jesus were after His resurrection, and before His ascension. And, as for Paul, and his traveling companions, none actually saw Jesus.

    • Hello, Elizabeth. I explained above that the question of whether the first three of the above appearances occurred before or after Jesus’ ascension is a matter of some debate. I have heard and read bible teachers expressing both opinions: but I am not aware of any New Testament evidence that categorically answers this question. I have given my reasons above, and in response to Ivan’s question, ‘If it happened later, why doesn’t Luke mention it in Acts?’ as to why, on balance, I think a post-ascension date is more probable. If you do know of any definite evidence for an earlier date, I would be interested to hear it.

      As far as Paul’s experience is concerned, you are correct that Paul could not see Jesus directly. He ‘saw a blinding light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me… .’ It was the voice he heard that identified the speaker as Jesus (Acts 26:13-15).

    • Fair point! Yes, this could certainly be counted as a post-ascension appearance; so why was it not listed in the article above?

      Mainly because this article was focused on the historical evidence, for the benefit of those who are inclined to question its objective reliability. In the case of John’s vision it is too easy to dismiss this as being ‘all in the mind;’ since even John himself describes it as taking place when he was ‘in the spirit’ (Rev 1:10 & 4:2). The instances above are all listed by Paul as objective proofs, citing specific eyewitnesses who were probably still alive at the time of writing. Apart from James’ experience, the ‘all in the mind’ interpretation is explicitly ruled out by the fact that the above appearances were witnessed by more than one person.

      John’s vision counts among the first of many occasions when Jesus has appeared ‘in the spirit’ to both disciples and sceptics. Paul mentions what is probably a similar experience in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Such appearances continue to the present day. In recent years, for example, many Muslims are known to have been dramatically converted through unexpected visions and dreams of the risen Jesus.


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