The Hope We Have in Christ’s Resurrection

August 8th, 2023 Paul Cooke

Dear Friends, I was reading of a patient in the hospital who was dying. A chaplain visited to talk with this woman who told him she wasn’t interested in going to heaven because it would be too boring. The chaplain asked her, “What was the happiest moment of your life?” She said, “The best and happiest times of my life came when I was with someone I really loved.” The chaplain replied, “That is what makes heaven so very special. Jesus is my very best friend. And the great thing about heaven is being there forever with your best and truest friend.”1

Of course this conversation implicitly relies on the physical reality of there being life after death—on the historicity of Jesus’ rising. I recently gave a Gospel tract to a cashier at a grocery store, saying, “This is about Jesus—I hope you’ll read it.” She replied, “You know, He’s alive.” Now there was a wonderful reply—here was someone whose hope was in a living savior! What a great answer! But as we know, we are living in an increasingly secular age and hope in the resurrection from the dead—and Christ being the first to so rise—has been undermined greatly in the West. But the truth is, ancient people were also skeptical about the resurrection from the dead. Among the Jews of Jesus’ day there was hope in a resurrection at the end of time, but the idea that such a thing could happen in the middle of history just wasn’t there—no one expected it at all. This is why even Jesus’ disciples were astounded at his resurrection. But merely believing it happened doesn’t automatically turn it into a living hope for us. It’s vital to understand that it can apply to us—that, like Jesus, the Father will raise all who trust in him from the dead one day. Those who believe it is this way do so because the Scriptures tell us that this is what God and His Son have promised. And why did God promise this? Because He loves us and wishes to share Himself forever with those who love Him. But accepting the resurrection and all the promise that it stands for—well, the disciples had trouble accepting it at first, too. When we read the Gospels we see evidence of the astonishment of the disciples—and then we read of their joy in seeing it was, finally, really true—he really was alive from the dead! Jesus Christ came to conquer death for all who look to him, so that his resurrection means we can have a hope that nothing can quell, even as had those first followers of Jesus.

Will you join me in looking at passages from the New Testament which testify of this hope in the resurrection—and of what it meant to those who realized it really happened? We know that the Apostles all believed it and gave their lives to testify of it, though at first some doubted. We know that one doesn’t give one’s life for something imagined or dreamed—no, they saw the Lord after he had risen from the dead and they rejoiced in that their dearest friend was now alive forever and that he would be their friend forever in the world to come—and it would be never boring. The Apostle Paul wrote, quoting Isaiah the prophet (who lived 700 years before Christ’s coming, but who looked forward to it), “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Corinthians 2:9 and Isaiah 64:4). Jesus’ resurrection—and the promise that those who believe him will be raised one day, too—stands as assurance to believers that their Lord conquered death not only for himself, but for all who believe in him. But let’s look at some of the ways he was seen, according to the Scriptures, after he rose from the grave.2

Jesus, after he had risen, was seen by women first, and this was in Judea: (Matthew 28:5-10)

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 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.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Notice that the women were afraid—and yet filled with joy, because they loved Jesus. And what was the first thing Jesus said to them, in awe as they were that he was alive again? “Greetings” and “Do not be afraid.” It is an awesome thing—in the truest sense of the word—but in contemplating it, we are not to fear—though we will be tempted to, as they were. Note, too, that this took place in the south of the Holy Land, in Judea.

Then Jesus was seen in Galilee by the Eleven disciples: (Matthew 28:16-20)

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The scene has moved perhaps 50 miles to the north. The resurrected Christ was not some freak appearance, some illusion seen just once in one place. And notice that Matthew tells us in verse 17, above, “but some doubted.” We’re talking here of some of his closest friends. Why did they doubt? Because the very fact of his being alive was just too hard, at least at first, to absorb. These men and women were not somehow less skeptical than people are today. Seeing someone alive from the dead was no less shocking to them than it would be to you and me. The Bible is honest about this—it tells us frankly how human beings are. But notice how Jesus reassures them—this loving savior has been given all power in heaven and earth by his Father—and now he gives those who love him something to do—go tell the world this Good News, that that Jesus is alive from the dead, and all that means!

Jesus was seen in town and indoors—in Jerusalem (Luke 24:33-37)

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.

Again, this wasn’t some isolated, unique set of circumstances where there could have been a “group hallucination.” No, he was seen in multiple places by a wide variety of people and all were astonished and realized he really was alive. Here we see their astonishment inasmuch as they tell two disciples who had just arrived in their gathering, “It is true!” This is a scene recording how Peter has seen Jesus, and the two disciples who had met him on the road to Emmaus had seen him, but the others had not seen him yet. But even as they are recounting what Peter had told them —and doing so in the most surprised way—all the sudden, there was Jesus, simply appearing in their midst, even though, as the rest of the text says, they were in a locked room! But let’s notice their reaction. Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” but that wasn’t enough to assure them—not at first—for we read that they were “startled and frightened.” And he’d told them at least three times before he was crucified that he would die and rise from the dead three days later, but that just didn’t “compute”—it was as though they didn’t even hear him, for the notion was so beyond them. And now they thought he was a ghost. So we see it was not easy for them to believe it! They had to deal with the same profound doubt we all would tend to feel. But these writings of the Apostles are given to us that we might have an imperishable hope by believing their wonderful testimonies.

And He was seen in the countryside (Luke 24:13-16)

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

The Road to Emmaus,” Robert Zünd, 1877. (Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland). Luke 24. Jesus after the Resurrection, walks and talks with two of his disciples, but they don’t yet realize it’s Jesus.

Later, when they break bread with him, they finally realize who he is, but first they spent a long time with him without knowing him at all. I think God kept them from recognizing Jesus so that Jesus could explain the reality of his resurrection from the Scriptures, which this passage tells us he “opened to them” as they walked along. If they’d recognized him right away, they’d have been too distracted to appreciate this most wonderful of Bible studies, the purpose of which was to show them the entire Old Testament testified of the reality of the Messiah coming, dying, and rising again—as for example we can see if we read Isaiah 53. This was all to assure them—and us—that long before the historical fact of the resurrection, the prophets had predicted this very thing. They were thus being shown the absolute reliability of the Scriptures so that they might trust in God’s Word even after Jesus was taken up from them, not to be seen again until the Second Coming.

Jesus was seen in the morning (John 21:3-4)

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Seeing Jesus wasn’t something reported just once by one individual, so that later on people might doubt the testimony of just one person. No, he was seen up close and at a distance not by one, not by two, but by many, at all sorts of times and places—and in this case by some seven of the disciples, men who later gave their lives to tell the world that he’d really and truly risen from the grave and then spent time with them. These men would all be martyred—with the exception of John—for their conviction that Christ was God’s Son who rose from the dead. They didn’t give their lives for a story they made up. The things they testified of regarding Jesus and his resurrection were not some conspiracy they hatched in order to feed themselves to lions!

And Jesus was seen in the evening (John 20:19-20)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Whenever the Lord saw them, he brought them his peace saying, “Peace be with you.” But it wasn’t the sort of peace the world gives. Now he speaks even as he did on the night before he died on the cross—in his last address to them before he suffered: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world gives, give I to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). But now look what Jesus did for his followers after his resurrection: he showed them the touchable, seeable proofs that it was really him—the marks of his crucifixion were there. He was raised to eternal life, never to die again, but through all eternity the marks he bore in dying in our place, in dying for our sins, will forever mark him—marks given in loving sacrifice for us. And in seeing this proof—that it was the man they’d seen killed only three days before—made them rejoice: “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

Jesus was seen by the leader of the apostles, by his closest followers and by large groups of men and women (I Corinthians 15:5-7)

and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles…

The Old Testament teaches not to accept the testimony of just one man—there must be at least two witnesses to prove a fact. But the Scriptures tell us that Peter, the undeclared leader of the Apostles, and the entire complement of the chosen men (including the man chosen to replace Judas, for the text speaks of “the Twelve”), and then five hundred “of the brothers and sisters” each in turn saw him alive from the dead. The Bible tells us he was seen for forty days after his resurrection before he ascended to his Father, and during that time there were five hundred people Paul could say were his “the brothers and sisters,” that is, believers in Jesus Christ, who testified they’d seen him. This was the very beginning of what would be called the “church,” which is the English word for the Greek term, ecclesia, which means “called out ones.” Paul wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians around 57 or 58 A.D, just under three decades after the resurrection. He says most of those 500 who saw Jesus, even this many years later, were still living, though some had “fallen asleep,” the term used among the early Christians for having died and gone to be with the Lord. Could that many have conspired to make up what they’d seen? Had they seen a mass hallucination? Not likely, to say the least.

And Jesus was seen by groups of women alone (Matthew 28:8-9)

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.

In the days of Christ among the Jewish people, a woman’s testimony wasn’t accepted in a court of law, and yet the New Testament tells us that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. If the authors of the Gospels wanted to make up proofs that were persuasive, they’d never have chosen women to be the first witnesses, and yet the Gospels all tell us this was what had happened. We must conclude that the only reason it is reported this way is because it was so!

Jesus was seen eating (Luke 24:43 and John 21:15)

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Here we have a remarkable thing—and a picture of the capabilities of the bodies all who trust in Christ will receive in the world to come: these bodies can still eat and enjoy food. Jesus took food and ate in their presence, underscoring it was no illusion—it was truly him!

Jesus was seen by prior appointment (Matthew 28:16)

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.

Jesus, after his resurrection, made appointments, and kept them. He was fully rational and fully human—if some were making up this story of a man raised from the dead, they might make him pale and ghost-like, or super-human. But instead Jesus is in this sense shown to be quite like all of us want to be—someone who makes dates and keeps them. And yet he doesn’t have the sort of human body we all now have. Jesus’ body is very much like ours in a way, and yet very changed, though the nail marks and spear mark are still there. Indeed, what Jesus is like after the resurrection is something utterly novel in human history—his body does things that are unique. No Greek or Roman mythical tradition has been drawn upon for this—nor is it something spoken of earlier in the Jewish tradition. It’s entirely new. How then, could the Apostles have invented the things his body does? They “were wholly new conceptual categories, major departures from anything any religion or culture had ever imagined before. It was an entirely new way to think of body and spirit.”3 But this is the future for all who trust in Christ—he’s the first to have such a body, but those who are his will all have one like it in the future!


The Doubting Thomas by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1881

And Jesus was seen without prior appointment (John 20:24-28)

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said unto them, “Unless I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 And after eight days the disciples were again within, and Thomas was with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be unto you.”

The other disciples had seen the Lord and told Thomas so, and he’d known them for three years and yet he wasn’t ready to believe them—not at all. Notice how dramatically he demonstrates his skepticism. Are we so different? And then, when he wasn’t expecting Jesus—no appointment had been made, that’s for sure—Jesus again appears when the disciples, for fear of those who’d put Jesus to death, were behind closed and locked doors. Jesus appears and speaks directly to Thomas and chides him, “Don’t be faithless, but believing.” Thomas now responds in amazing conviction, “My Lord and my God!” No fingers or hands were stretched out to Jesus—Thomas just sees and believes. Jesus understands his doubt and says: “Blessed are they that have not seen and believed”—and in Jesus saying so he speaks of you and me, who believe the testimony of those who saw him and heard him and gave their lives to help others meet their best friend, wishing they would be with him in heaven along with them!

And Jesus was always talking with those he met and doing so in love (John 20:15-17)

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Jesus always talks to us, loves us, cares for us. Our savior wasn’t silent before his crucifixion, helping and guiding those who trusted in him, and he wasn’t silent after his resurrection—and he won’t be silent in the world to come (Hebrews 13:8). In the world to come his disciples will touch him and be touched by him. He is our Brother, for all believers are adopted children of our Heavenly Father (Galatians 4:6). Mary was startled to see it was the Lord, but her love for him instantly was manifested in her reaching out to embrace him who loved her.

Paul writes in one place, “The Lord Jesus Christ shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:20). And in another place it is written, “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). These things were written that we might have hope in Christ’s resurrection. Finally, it’s written:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:51-54)

I am encouraged when I dwell on, brood on, and think about this mystery of the eternal Son of God coming into human history to die for our sins and rise again. All this is laid out for us in the Bible in prophecies going back to Genesis. I confess I am too easily pulled into this world’s obliviousness about Christ’s rising from the dead—I am not as alive to it as I should be.

I liked how that grocery store cashier told me, “You know, He’s alive!” Amen to that! I pray that we will walk about knowing Jesus Christ is alive from the dead—that he is risen, indeed! May we remember and meditate on this more, that his resurrection may truly affect our lives here and now. As Paul the Apostle wrote, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:19-20).

Lord, help us think about this wondrous fact more, beginning even in the week to come, and may our faith in Christ and his Word grow as we do so. Amen!

God bless you! Remember, the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble! (Nahum 1:7).

This was written for the May 21st devotional hour in the Halo House chapel, a residence for patients who’ve come for treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas. The hour is held weekly on Sunday afternoons.

1 C. John Miller, Evangelism and Your Church (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterians and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980), p. 101.

2 These categories, in bold, were taken from Timothy Keller’s Hope in Times of Fear (New York: Viking, 2021) p. 10, and he found them in Peter Williams’ work, Can We Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), pp. 134-35.

3 Tim Keller, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (New York: Viking, 2021), pp. 12-13