How Many People Saw Jesus Alive Again?

Sea-of-Galilee

Christians base their faith on the belief Jesus physically and litearily rose from the dead. But who were the people who saw Jesus alive again? How many people saw Him?

To answer, we can look at the biblical passages that mention His resurrection appearances. As we do, we can then count the number of people in each account, subtract the people who saw Jesus more than once, and see what we discover.

The list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances in the Bible include:

  1. The women at the tomb (Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-10)
  2. Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:10-18)
  3. Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5)
  4. Two men on the road to Emmaus (Cleopas and one unnamed man; Luke 24:13-35)
  5. 10 disciples (excluding Thomas, John 20:19-23)
  6. 11 disciples (Mark 6:14018; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:26-28)
  7. 7 disciples (John 21:1-14)
  8. Disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18)
  9. James, half-brother of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7)
  10. Disciples at Mount of Olives (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:4-9)
  11. 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
  12. Saul/Paul (not during the 40 days following the resurrection, Acts 9:1-6)

Appearances 1 and 2 include Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary (Matthew 28:1). Other women may have been included (Luke 24:10), but only these two women were specifically named as seeing Jesus.

Appearances 3, 5, 7, 8, and 10 all included the 11 disciples (excluding Judas Iscariot).

Appearance 4 includes two men. Cleopas is named, while the other man is not. However, it is clear he was not one of the 11 disciples, as these two men returned to tell the 11 disciples Jesus had appeared to them.

James (appearance 9) is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians 15:7. However, he appears as the leader of the Jerusalem church in Acts 15 and wrote the New Testament book of James.

Excluding Paul, this leaves appearance 11, which included “more than five hundred people” at one time.

In total, we have two women, 11 disciples, two men walking to Emmaus, James, and more than 500 people. Assuming the 500 are not duplicates of other events, this gives us a list of at least 516 people who saw Jesus alive again.

Further, their testimonies were recorded within the lifetimes of the eyewitness. These were not legends from later centuries. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:6 notes that of the 500, “most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians was written about 55 A.D., only 20-25 years after this event (the resurrection took place in either 33 or 30).

The letter of James was written even earlier, giving evidence of an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus writing about his belief by 49 A.D., only about 16 years after the event.

The four Gospels began appearing by the 60s A.D., with two Gospels (Matthew and John) written by people noted as seeing Jesus alive again. Mark is traditionally based on the eyewitness account of the disciple Peter, while Luke recorded testimonies from a variety of sources (Luke 1:1-4).

Ultimately, believing Jesus physically rose from death on the third day is a matter of faith. However, the facts strongly support this belief. Within the generation of the resurrection, at least three eyewitnesses wrote accounts of their experiences (Matthew, John, James), while 27 different books of the New Testament were produced based on this belief.

In addition, at least 516 people saw Jesus alive again and were alive to testify of the event more than 20 years later. This was not a hallucination, a “ghostly” appearance, or a legend. This was a belief that launched the movement we know as Christianity.

Today, the belief that Jesus is alive has led to the largest religion in the world. The accounts of the resurrection are the most published and translated writings in world history. The evidence is available and substantial. We are each compelled to decide whether we believe Jesus is truly alive and to live our lives accordingly.

4 Comments

  1. Bart Lievaart on January 31, 2021 at 2:45 pm

    “In addition, at least 516 people saw Jesus alive again and were alive to testify of the event more than 20 years later. This was not a hallucination, a “ghostly” appearance, or a legend. This was a belief that launched the movement we know as Christianity.”

    Without further detail, how would we know if the disappointed followers of a minor cult leader, one of many who claimed to be descended from a god at the time, simply invented the claim that over 500 people saw a resurrected Jesus? If you leave out that claim, it’s a very small number of witnesses for something fundamentally at odds with all observation of nature, dead animals coming back to life.

    • The John Ankerberg Show Staff on February 4, 2021 at 10:07 am

      Thank you for your comment. Even non-Christians skeptics accept 1 Corinthians was written by Paul in the 50s A.D. This means it was composed when many were alive to dispute his claim about the 500 witnesses. It is highly unlikely this book would have been so highly regarded and copied in the early church if this was a fabricated claim.

      Regardless, there would still be numerous eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus, PLUS the empty tomb, and no better alternative story regarding what happened to his body. Yes, this belief does require faith, but it is a faith based on the known facts of history rather than simply feelings or fables.

      • Make it make sense on August 13, 2021 at 3:39 am

        Why you keep regarding this event as “fact”, but in turn say that you’ll have to have faith, is contradictory in itself, and I don’t understand why you’d say that….this is absolutely NOT history! There is no body, because it simply didn’t happen! Pure mythology that overshadowed the previous mythological figures. More importantly, those 500 possible people weren’t mentioned in the gospels, which would have been more of a reason to put them there instead of Corinthians, which the name itself is Roman, In which their own God figure like Jupiter the planet, was a man as well before becoming a god and currently a planet…this is another form of Greek mythology

        • John Ankerberg Show Staff on August 23, 2021 at 9:57 am

          Thanks for taking the time to write this post! Let me offer some comments to the questions and objections you raise.

          Facts and Faith
          It may be helpful to clarify what we mean by “facts” and “faith.” “Facts” refer to the consensus of historical scholarship on things that can be known about the past (this pertains not simply to Christian scholars, but all historical scholars – including atheists, agnostics, and those who hold other religious beliefs). There are several details surrounding Jesus’ resurrection that are widely accepted by historical scholarship (e.g., Jesus died by crucifixion; the disciples genuinely believed they had experiences of the risen Christ; Christianity grew out of the very city in which Jesus was crucified and buried). Even when scholars do not believe in the resurrection, they do not doubt these surrounding historical details. In the past, many tried offer an alternative explanation to account for them apart from the resurrection (e.g., the swoon theory, stolen body, hallucinations). However, none of these theories have stood the test of time among these critical scholars. They quickly ripped apart each other’s theories due to their limited explanatory scope. Although they may address one or two surrounding details, they have not been able to account for all the historically accepted data. If you would like to explore this further, I would recommend reading or listening to Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig. They are two of the leading scholars in this area. Both have been on our show multiple times. In short, by using the term “facts” we are referring data that has been widely agreed upon by historical scholarship that surrounds and supports Jesus’ resurrection.

          So, what do we mean by “faith”? Faith is trusting in the one to whom these facts point. It is the culmination of reason, not the absence of it. It is trusting in and committing oneself to what has been found to be true. It is like saying “I do” at a wedding to someone you have found to be trustworthy and come to love. Even though trust is needed for things unseen or unknown, our trust is not in the unknown. Rather, we trust in what is known regarding the unknown or unseen. As we examine the facts and evidence surrounding the resurrection, we find great reason to trust in Jesus as the one who did not only claim to be God but proved it by rising from the dead. And since He overcame death itself, we have great reason to trust in His offer of eternal life.

          Merely Borrowed Mythology?
          You also bring up the objection that Jesus’ resurrection is simply a myth borrowed from previous mythological figures. Although many continue to propose this on the popular level, the argument has been largely rejected by historical scholars (including non-Christians). There are many reasons for this. One being that none of the documents containing these “previous myths” with resurrection accounts predate the second century. In other words, they come centuries after Jesus’ resurrection. If any account borrowed from another, it appears these borrowed from Christianity. Furthermore, a number of other parallels have also been noted between Jesus and ancient mythological accounts. However, when examined, one finds they are superficial at best don’t actually have much similarity. Lastly, I think Timothy Paul Jones add a helpful comment to this discussion as well:

          “The crucial question is, Did the events described in the New Testament actually occur? The answer doesn’t depend on parallels in pagan practices.

          Parallels in other ancient religions neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the New Testament documents. They simply demonstrate the common expectations of people in the first century AD. Even if some clear parallel did exist between the story of Jesus and previous religious expectations, this wouldn’t warrant the belief that the apostle Paul or the Gospel authors ‘borrowed’ the tenets from other faiths.
          It would mean that, when God dropped in on the human race, he chose to reveal himself in ways the people in that particular culture could comprehend. If that’s indeed the case, it would merely mean that the myths of dying gods and miraculous births are rooted in longings that run deeper than human imagination; although the pagan religions twisted and distorted these motifs, they’re rooted in a God-given yearning for redemption through sacrifice that makes the world right and new” (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/gospels-borrow-pagan-myths/).

          Appearing to the 500 not in the Gospels?
          Lastly, you suggest that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the group of 500 should have been recorded in the Gospels, rather than by Paul to a Roman audience. I am not sure I follow all of your reasoning on this, but let me respond with a few points to consider.
          First, Paul is not the originator of this statement in 1 Corinthians 15. He mentions it is something he “received” from Peter and James while in Jerusalem less than 5 years after Jesus’ resurrection. Scholarship across the board (even scholars who discredit the majority of the Gospel accounts) acknowledge that 1 Corinthians 15 contains a creedal statement which proceeded Paul. They all agree that it originated in Jerusalem very shortly after the resurrection (some suggest only months after, but everyone affirms it was no more than 5 years after the resurrection). Thus, the mention of Jesus appearing to the group of 500 is a report which originated in Jerusalem (not Corinth) by Jewish followers (not Romans) only a few years after the event.
          Jerusalem is significant because this was the central location for these events and where most of the people who experienced them lived. This, along with how early it was, made the report verifiable. Furthermore, the creedal statement was created neither by a Roman audience nor for one. It was created by Jews who personally experienced these events. It was taught and celebrated as their central beliefs and shared with those around them in Jerusalem.
          Second, the Gospel writers did not set out to record every significant event that happened around Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The authors knew they did not have space for this and were selective about what they included (as all writers are). John mentions at the end of his Gospel how he was only able to give a selective account, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Rather than recording as many events as possible, each author chose to focus on different themes from Jesus’ life and teaching. They selectively arranged accounts to help elucidate their overall message. While they all record Jesus appearing to groups after his resurrection, they present different examples of this. Furthermore, Luke, in his joint Luke-Acts account, tells us that Jesus appeared to His followers multiple times over a period of 40 days, “After [Jesus’] suffering, He presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Since Jesus appeared to His disciples on multiple occasions and we find the Gospels choosing to highlight different instances while all affirming group appearances, I don’t find the lack of mentioning the account with 500 people all that significant.
          Even if one only accepts the Gospel accounts, I am not sure I see any meaningful change. One still has to account for group appearances which alternative theories like hallucinations cannot do. Furthermore, skeptical scholars rather unanimously accept Paul and 1 Corinthians 15 as a reliable source. If they tend to doubt or reject something it is the Gospel accounts. Thus, this statement in 1 Corinthians 15 is highly respected among even the most critical of scholars. It is difficult to dismiss the account away simply because it is not mentioned in the Gospels.
          Once again, thanks for writing in! I hope that helps as you keep exploring this topic.

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