How Many Times Did Jesus Appear after His Resurrection?

The accounts of Jesus’ appearances cannot be reasonably explained away. Jesus’ empty tomb by itself would be merely a mystery. However, the Gospels report that the day it was found empty, people started seeing Jesus alive. Such appearances by themselves might be dismissed as hallucinations, but the accounts in the New Testament show that this is extremely unlikely.

Updated Mar 26, 2024
How Many Times Did Jesus Appear after His Resurrection?

The accounts of Jesus’ appearances cannot be reasonably explained away. Jesus’ empty tomb by itself would be merely a mystery. However, the Gospels report that the day it was found empty, people started seeing Jesus alive. Such appearances by themselves might be dismissed as hallucinations, but the accounts in the New Testament show that this is extremely unlikely.

Jesus’ Appearances to Women

The Gospels report that women's friends were not only the first people to find the tomb to be empty, but they were also the first to see him alive. Male disciples would surely not have made up a story about Jesus rising from the dead and made women the first witnesses since women’s testimony was seen as unreliable in the culture. Indeed, the first witness to the risen Jesus would have been viewed as unreliable for reasons that went beyond her being female. Mary Magdalene, whom all four Gospels name as having seen Jesus first, had been delivered by Jesus during his Galilean ministry from seven demons (Luke 8:2). No one would have reported that she was the first witness to the resurrection—unless that’s what happened.

The conclusion seems unavoidable: The Gospels report women as having been the first to see Jesus alive from the dead because they were the first people to have such an experience. Almost all biblical scholars today, even those who are highly skeptical of the resurrection, agree that the women had an experience that they at least thought was the resurrected Jesus.

Jesus’ Appearances to His Male Disciples

The story of Jesus’ resurrection would have gotten no traction if the resurrection appearances had been limited to a small group of women. According to both the Gospels and Paul’s epistles, Jesus appeared to his male disciples, both individually and in groups, over a forty-day period following the first report of his resurrection.

The confessional material that Paul rehearses at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 apparently derived from the Jerusalem apostles and was handed on to Paul during his first visit with them. The list of resurrection appearances almost certainly came directly from Peter and James and dated from just a few years after those appearances would have taken place. That makes his list about as reliable as one could reasonably ask.

What about the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his male disciples?

First, the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ appearances to women followers lend considerable credibility to their accounts of his appearances to the men. And given that much of what they say shows real condor with regard to facts embarrassing to their cause, it is clear that the Gospel writers were trying in good faith to tell what really happened.

Second, the lack of consistency in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances suggests their independence and, therefore, the reliability of those facts on which they agree. Most of the alleged contradictions among the accounts can be resolved, though some only with difficulty. But this difficulty is consistent with the context of the events: Jesus’ disciples would still have been feeling shock and grief, and the appearances occurred without warning and were totally surprising.

Further, Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 15 provides independent confirmation of the appearances recounted in narrative detail by the writers of the Gospels and Acts. His wording is quite different from theirs and includes one major appearance that is not reported in any Gospel, showing that neither can be regarded as based on the other (see the table below).

1 Corinthians 15


“Cephas,” i.e., Peter (v. 5a)

Simon, i.e., Simon Peter (Luke 24:34)

“The twelve,” i.e., the body of twelve apostles, which at the time was missing one (v. 5b)

The “eleven” disciples (Luke 24:33, 36-49; John 20:19-23)

“More than five hundred brethren at one time” (v. 6)


“James” (v. 7a), i.e., James the brother of Jesus (cf. Galatians 1:19)

A resurrection appearance is implied for James, the brother of Jesus, by his position as an apostle (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18)

“All the apostles” (v. 7b)

Probably refers to the last appearance to all the apostles, as in Acts 1:4-11 (note Acts 1:15)

“And last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me” (v. 8)

Paul’s experience is recounted in detail three times (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 26:12-18)

Luke was dependent on Paul for the details of his own encounters with the risen Jesus, but it is clear that he did not base the resurrection narrative in his Gospel on Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 15. In other respects, the resurrection narratives of the other three Gospels appear completely independent of Paul as well. We may confidently conclude, then, that Peter was the first of the men to experience the appearance of Jesus and that the Apostles also shared such an experience. James, the Lord’s brother, also had this experience as an individual. We also have good evidence of one or more appearances to a wider group of people. Finally, in Paul himself, we have an indisputable firsthand testimony of a man who says that he saw the risen Christ.

It’s almost impossible to find anyone who argues that Paul was lying about having seen the risen Jesus for two very good reasons. First, Paul was an arch-opponent of the Christian message, actively persecuting Christians until his encounter with Christ. Second, for the rest of his life, Paul suffered tremendously, experiencing numerous imprisonments, beatings, and other forms of mistreatment in various cities from non-Christians and opposition from many Christians, suspicious of his claims to apostleship, to boot. We’re not aware of any biblical scholar or historian who claims that Paul was making the whole thing up.

Description of Jesus' Appearances 

Only Luke and John give us any details about what Jesus looked like and how he acted, and skeptics almost uniformly reject these details as later legendary accretions. However, it should be noted that Luke and John give two completely independent accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, and they agree on some important details not found in Matthew or Mark:

  1. Peter and at least one other apostle ran to the tomb after hearing the women’s report and saw the burial wrappings lying by themselves, after which Peter went home (Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:3-10).
  2. Jesus’ disciples, on occasion, did not immediately recognize him (Luke 24:16, 31; John 21:4-7).
  3. Jesus was able to appear and disappear suddenly, even within a locked room (Luke 24:31, 36; John 20:19, 26).
  4. Jesus greeted the disciples with the words, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 21, 26).
  5. Jesus invited his disciples to inspect his hands and even to touch him (Luke 24:39-40; John 20:20, 27).
  6. Jesus ate fish with his disciples (Luke 24:41-43; John 21:9-15).

Evidence for Jesus' Physical Body Post-Resurrection

Skeptics usually dismiss the indications that Jesus had a physical body (points 5 and 6 above) as later legendary additions. However, this seems unlikely for a number of reasons.

  1. Luke and John present independent accounts that testify to these same indications of Jesus’ materiality.
  2. Some skeptics seize on the statements indicating that the disciples did not always recognize Jesus immediately and that he was able to appear and disappear suddenly as evidence that his body had not been reanimated. Yet these statements (which don’t really contradict those statements indicating that Jesus’ physical body was alive) also are unique to Luke and John. Thus, these skeptics must pick and choose from the same source material that they will accept as authentic. Ironically, skeptics who reject the mundane, physical characteristics reported of the risen Jesus will sometimes appeal to his reported heavenly, supernatural characteristics! The only reason for these conclusions is the skeptics’ preconceived notion of what is possible.
  3. The notion that Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection developed from a purely spiritual concept to a more materialistic view after the fall of Jerusalem does not fit the cultural settings of first-century Christianity. This would work much better if the shift in early Christianity had been the other way around, from material to spiritual, given the transition from Christians being predominantly Jewish to predominantly Gentile. Although Jews entertained various conceptions of the afterlife, the dominant view of resurrection in first-century Jewish thought was the reanimation or reconstruction of the human body and its endowment with immortality. On the other hand, the concept of the resurrection of the human body—the flesh—was commonly regarded in Hellenistic culture as absurd; Greeks tended to favor the view that the person continued existing after death in a shadowy spiritual state from which there was no return to physical life. The problem, then, is that skeptical scholars often attribute to the earliest Christians, all of whom were Jewish, a view of resurrection that actually corresponds more closely to the Gentile, Greek concept of spiritual immortality—and they then attribute the belief in a physical resurrection, which was at the time essentially an exclusively Jewish concept, to the growing Gentile presence toward the end of the New Testament period. Something’s definitely wrong with this picture!

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances, then, provide independent testimonies to the belief, rooted in the experiences of the earliest, Jewish followers of Jesus, that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Alternative Resurrection Theories

If you don’t want to believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead to immortal life, you have a cafeteria of alternative explanations for the evidence from which to choose.

Some theories admit the empty tomb but deny the appearance. For example, the theory that the women went to the wrong tomb (one that happened to be unoccupied) “explains” the empty tomb but does nothing to account for the appearances. The theory that the disciples stole the body admits the empty tomb but implies that the accounts of Jesus appearing to both women and men are all lies—which makes no sense in terms of Jewish beliefs of the period and argues that the disciples went to gruesome deaths for something they knew was a lie without any of them ever recanting. People just don’t behave that way.

Other theories admit the appearances but deny the empty tomb. For example, the idea that the Romans crucified the wrong man can explain the appearances (at least to some extent) but leaves the tomb occupied (albeit with the wrong body). The theory that the appearances were hallucinations doesn’t explain the appearances all that well (did the disciples have group hallucinations?) and cannot explain the empty tomb at all.

Of the naturalistic theories that attempt to account for both the empty tomb and the appearances, by far the most popular is the view that Jesus was not really dead when his body was laid in the tomb and that somehow he revived (or was revived), left the tomb, and convinced his followers that he had conquered death. Yet the evidence that Jesus actually died is very strong, and the notion that a barely alive man could have convinced his followers that he had risen to immortal life is extremely weak.

By far, the best explanation for all of the evidence is the consistent claim of the New Testament that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Resurrection not only makes sense of the evidence of the empty tomb and the appearances, but it also makes sense of Jesus’ claims to be the unique, eternal Son of God. For those who are willing to believe, the resurrection of Jesus may be one of the most compelling evidence that God exists and that he has made himself known in Jesus Christ. As N. T. Wright observed, “Once you allow that something remarkable happened to the body that morning, all the other data fall into place with ease. Once you insist that nothing so outlandish happened, you are driven to ever more complex and fantastic hypotheses.”

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Kenneth Boa

Kenneth Boa equips people to love well (being), learn well (knowing), and live well (doing). He is a writer, teacher, speaker, and mentor and is the President of Reflections Ministries, The Museum of Created Beauty, and Trinity House Publishers.

Publications by Dr. Boa include Conformed to His Image, Handbook to Prayer, Handbook to Leadership, Faith Has Its Reasons, Rewriting Your Broken Story, Life in the Presence of God, Leverage, and Recalibrate Your Life.

Dr. Boa holds a B.S. from Case Institute of Technology, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from New York University, and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in England. 


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