More than 500 brothers
Were you there—when He rose up from the grave?
7. ‘More than five hundred brothers’
1 Corinthians 15:1–8
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold
firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
‘More than five hundred brothers’
The only account
We now see how Jesus’ appearing to ‘more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time’ fits in with His meeting other people after He died on the cross and rose again from the tomb. Read Paul’s letter directed by God the Holy Spirit, in one of the key Bible resurrection passages at 1 Corinthians 15:1–8. Verse 6 contains the only account of the ‘five hundred’ (plus!). To have some idea of what preceded and followed this meeting, we now quote verses 5–8: After He rose again, Jesus
‘appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.’
You now can see it in the overall time frame.
Paul neither lists, nor intends to list, each and every post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. He just puts in time order those he chooses to mention. If we had to rely solely on Paul listing every appearance of Jesus, though God could do that if He chose to, someone would say, ‘We cannot believe that, because it is just Paul’s idea.’ We know that the Holy Spirit infallibly inspired and guided every writer of every Bible book to write God’s truth, in both the Old and New Testaments. But this real and varied evidence from different witnesses, recorded by five different Spirit-inspired writers, would be accepted as strong in any properly constituted and properly run court of law. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul record perfectly Jesus’ resurrection appearances which God wants us to know about. No doubt, there were others, too, who met Jesus after He died and rose again.
A different way to meet Jesus today
In a different way, we meet Him today when we are sorry for our sins, turn from them from our hearts, and trust Jesus by asking Him into our hearts to dwell there as our living Saviour, through the Holy Spirit. We look back to His death on the cross, where He bore our sins and took the punishment for them in our place. We look forward to experiencing the truth of God’s promises that, if we make Jesus at home in our hearts now, He will gladly make us at home forever with Him in Heaven after we die. Until then, He puts within us His free but costly gift of eternal life as we receive Him. (See, John 14:1–6; 3:16; 1 John 5:11–13 and Romans 6:23.) He also indwells every believer in Jesus with His Holy Spirit. Romans 8:5 confirms that, ‘if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.’
Limited and chosen witnesses—but good and plenty of them!
Is there a reason why Paul limits his reporting of the Lord Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to Peter (also called ‘Cephas’), ‘the Twelve’ disciples, ‘more than five hundred brothers together,’ James the brother of Jesus, ‘all the apostles,’ and ‘last of all’ Saul of Tarsus (who became the Apostle Paul) in his exceptional experience of meeting the risen Saviour on the Damascus Road? (We will look at Paul in Chapter 9.) The Bible does not reveal why Paul selects these witnesses to write about in the Bible. God does not need to explain to us why to us why Paul or He chose these witnesses. But we know that they are good quality, they are ‘first-hand’ witnesses all having met the risen Lord Jesus, they corroborate one another, and there are far more of them than would actually be needed in court to establish evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ that would convince the court.
Consider the apostles involved
But—apart from ‘the five hundred’—each of Paul’s post-risen record in 1 Corinthians 15 clearly involves apostles. Each named individual who meets the risen Lord in this passage is, or will become, an apostle. Some apostles are also included in ‘the Twelve’ as well as being included in the group together as ‘all the apostles,’ It is also likely that more than one apostle is in the crowd of ‘more than five hundred brothers.’ Maybe even all the apostles are there, except Paul himself who is not converted until after the time he writes about when dealing with the others who saw the risen Lord? In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul may be trying to show that he, along with other true apostles, does meet one of the key requirement for those God chooses as apostles—namely that an apostle must have met the risen Lord Jesus Christ. In his case, his later meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus Road is unique in how it happened, as we will see in Chapter 9.
Important to understand what an apostle was and did
Why is the question of historic apostleship so important? Because God entrusts to His twelve chosen apostles the leading of the early Church and He gives them His authority to lead. Also, through His apostles, God produces the New Testament Scripture. The Holy Spirit leads the apostles to write the Scriptures, or to supervise closely others who write the Scriptures. It is vital to recognise God’s original early church apostles clearly to enable the running of the early Church, and more vital still, for the compiling and completion of God’s written word, the Bible. God gives them His authority. Paul, when justifying his position and authority as an apostle makes a clear distinction between a Biblical apostle and any other keen disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
‘The things that mark an apostle’
The apostles are clearly distinguished from other Christians in the book of Acts, which is the most reliable early church history book. The Acts of the Apostles show that authoritative New Testament teaching, always Holy Spirit led and enabled, comes only through the apostles or those under their authority who are in close contact with them and are influenced by them (Acts 2:42). Acts also makes a point of saying that ‘many wonders and miraculous signs’—given by God to underline their God-given task and authority—come through the apostles (Acts 2:43). The apostles’ preaching and their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus are also marked by ‘great power’ (Acts 4:33). These are things that distinguish and mark out the unique, one-off, historically God-chosen apostles from all others. So when Paul makes the case to the rebellious Corinthian church that he is a genuine apostle, and therefore has both the authority and duty to instruct them as an apostle, he says, ‘The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance’ (2 Corinthians 12:12). He reminds them of the exceptional way that God has used him, always entirely by God’s grace alone.
We are not told which men are included in the 500 or so ‘brothers.’ We know it does not mean physical, but spiritual, ‘brothers.’ John 1:12 tells us that when we really believe in Jesus, and so receive Him into our hearts, we ‘become children of God,’ and so we are automatically brothers and/or sisters of all others who personally trust in Christ. There are some important reasons why this gathering of ‘five hundred brothers or more’ is important.
- Verse 6 says that the crucified, but risen, Jesus appeared ‘to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.’ Some have slept the sleep of death on earth and have woken up ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8). This reminds us that our lives are short and uncertain. However, if we know Jesus our future is certain and eternally wonderful with Jesus. Those who have died in Christ have only died a physical death but now they enjoy eternal spiritual life in Heaven ‘with the Lord’ and will later receive a resurrection body to go with their saved soul! (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10; 1 Corinthians 15:35–58). If you die today, will you be with Christ forever? Are you sure? You can be. (Please read Romans 10:9–10 and then pray.)
- But most of the 500 are still alive even as 1 Corinthians 15 is being written. To have live witnesses present when the evidence is being presented is particularly persuasive. This principle applies very much to the resurrection of Jesus. It is while the witnesses are alive and present that the early Christians proclaim the risen Christ. They are there to be grilled about it—everyone there knows it occurred.
- As most of Christ’s risen appearances are not to large crowds, it greatly underlines the huge weight of evidence that ‘more than five hundred’ saw Him on this occasion. There is no-one objecting because it is wrong, or fictional. Those who say that people were hallucinating or being manipulated, are already flying in the face of fact. But they cannot explain how 500 people should all get this wrong in the same way and be disillusioned or hallucinate together, just like varied individuals do in different conditions and numbers, and at different times of day and night! And note the lack of exaggeration—just ‘more than’ 500 are involved. There is no exaggeration here. And again, most of them are there to be questioned about whether what is written is true!
- This is the biggest early meeting with the risen Christ. But 500 people will make an amazing impact as surely most of them must tell their many friends and family and others what they know that they have all seen. It sets the scene for the 3,000 converts to be baptised on the Day of Pentecost after Peter preaches the gospel of the cross, resurrection, repentance and faith to many people in crowded Jerusalem (Acts 2:14–40, especially verse 40). These people, especially the 500-plus brothers, are prepared by God to hear the gospel, which some of them surely would have done on the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached to them. He then tells them that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:21). In that message, he stresses what happened at and around the cross, and that Jesus rose from the grave. The ground is truly prepared for faithful sowing and fruitful reaping as Peter sows the word of God. With so many at one time who saw the risen Lord, as well as all the individuals who testify to meeting Jesus, those listening knew that they were being faced with solid facts as well as scriptural truth.
- This reminds those of us who have become ‘born again’—always by faith alone in Christ alone—of the need and privilege to share with individuals how we came to know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and how He works in the life of every individual who turns from sin to Jesus. We can also see the immense privilege of taking opportunities to speak to larger gatherings and crowds of people as we mature and some of us are given that opportunity. Never be ashamed of Jesus, whether you talk to many or to few! If you are ‘born again’ and faithful in witnessing to individuals, maybe God has bigger plans for you in the gospel in the days ahead?