The Disciples

Were you there—when He rose up from the grave?

5. The Disciples

4. The two travellersIndex | 6. James, the brother of Jesus

1 Corinthians 15:1–12

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. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Also refer to—Matthew 28:1–20; Mark 16:1–20; Luke 24:1–53; John 20:1–31; 1:1–14

The Disciples

The disciples as a group

We are ‘meeting’ people who met the Lord Jesus Christ after He had died on the cross. It was there that He bore our sins and God the Father’s punishment on them, and then rose again from the dead on the third day from the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. So far, having set the scene, we have looked at some who met the risen Jesus. They are the women, Peter (‘Simon Peter’), and two sad travellers on the seven-mile road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. Now we look at Jesus’ disciples as a group. The Bible readings which cover this are as shown above. We will follow them in that order.

The ‘Twelve’ are sometimes known as the ‘Eleven’—after Judas’ death

Our resurrected Lord met individual disciples on various occasions: whether solo, in twos, in small groups, or as part of a big crowd. We now concentrate on the group of disciples known as the ‘Twelve.’ They are sometimes called the ‘Eleven,’ after Judas Iscariot committed suicide. But sometimes the same group is still called by their original title, the ‘Twelve’. A ‘disciple’ is someone under another’s teaching and discipline. He is committed to follow that person. The apostles were Jesus’ special disciples: men who led the group with God-given authority to lead other disciples and churches. Their qualifications include the fact that they have met the Lord Jesus Christ after His resurrection.

God’s word

God uses them and other leading spiritual disciples, under their influence and in close contact with them, to write the word of God in the New Testament. For that, they are infallibly inspired and guided to do so by the Holy Spirit, despite showing their own styles in their writings. God’s holy and inspired word consists of sixty-six books: thirty-nine are in the Old Testament, and twenty-seven in the New Testament. The Old and New Testaments together form the entire, infallible and complete written word of God. Take nothing from it and add nothing to it. It is there daily to be read, learned, followed in Christian living, and taught and explained to Christians and non-Christians. Its central character is God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is how the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit want it to be! God is One, and the three Persons of the Trinity are always in full accord and agreement! But the point right now is that the Spirit’s inspiration and enabling, in producing the New Testament, comes through the apostles and through other leading disciples who worked closely with them, and are helped and influenced by, those apostles.

Risen Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15

Jesus, risen from the grave, appears to the disciples as a group. Here are two occasions, recorded by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and 8:3

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.

Variety of appearances

The first appearance of Jesus ‘to the Twelve’ is after He first meets Peter (when, as explained earlier, they are called the ‘Eleven’) in Luke 23:33–34. The second time is to ‘all the apostles’ after Jesus has appeared to the crowd of 500 brothers in Christ, and then separately to James. It seems that this is soon before the risen Jesus ascends to Heaven (Luke 24:50). An important point is the variety of appearances that Jesus makes. He shows Himself to some people once or twice and others more often, and also to vastly different numbers of people, in different circumstances, and at different times. This must be remembered when sceptical but non-sensical suggestions are made that the people who think they see Him are merely deluded or hallucinating. That is impossible with such differing people and varied circumstances. The same delusion never comes to so many different people in different circumstances. Nor will they all get over the ‘delusion’ at exactly the same time! All appearances cease after the time that Jesus ascends to Heaven! (Paul’s case was different. As we shall see later, the post-resurrection and post-ascension Christ appears to him from Heaven to speak to ‘unconverted Saul’ and meet him on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:12–18). He later becomes ‘converted Paul!’ He is always very sure that the resurrection of Christ is a solid fact!

Matthew 28:16–17 sees the risen Jesus appear to the Eleven on the mountain in Galilee. (The women had been told to tell them He would meet them there—and He did!) Some worshipped Him ‘but some doubted.’ This is so true of sinful human nature. The fact that even doubters ended up believing in Christ crucified and risen from the dead is a strong evidence for the reality of the historical resurrection.

Jesus then:

  • Reminds them of His authority (as God the Son and the eternal Son of God).
  • Commissions them to go and share the gospel message worldwide and make disciples out of their hearers everywhere.
  • Confirms this is to be done ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (note: three Persons but only one name because God is One).
  • Teaches them to teach those who become Christians, by faith alone in Christ alone, to obey Him.
  • Promises ‘surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 24:18–20).

It is not clear whether Mark 16:14–18 refers to the same actions as Matthew 28:18–20, or whether it is a similar event. It seems that at very least they slot in together. In Mark 16, Jesus appears to the Eleven as they eat together. He rebukes them for their unbelief in His resurrection. He then commissions them (in different words from Matthew 28) also to preach the gospel to everyone all over the world, and then encourages them by telling them the kind of things that will happen under God’s hand to help them. His ascension happens later. After that they go out and preach ‘everywhere.’

Luke 24:33–52: when the two on the Emmaus Road go to tell the disciples they have met the risen Jesus, rather like the women have done earlier after they see the risen Christ, they are first greeted by the news that ‘the Lord has appeared to Peter!’ They tell the disciples of their experience of Christ making Himself known in the breaking of bread. As they do, Jesus Himself is suddenly ‘in the midst’ of them all. That is proof upon proof upon proof that Jesus is alive from the dead. But they are scared, and Jesus comforts them, refers them to His crucifixion wounds, and uses logic to say that spirits do not have flesh and bones as He has.

Ample proof

The risen Christ, having fulfilled His own prophecies and given ample proof of His resurrection, now uses truth-based logic to convince them. That is a good pattern for Christians to remember when speaking to others about Christ. Scripture first, facts next, and logical argument based on all of that—all pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ who died to be punished for our sins and rose again to be our living Lord now and in Heaven. Jesus then demonstrates He is more than a spirit, but is in His resurrection body, when He eats some fish! He then tells them to believe all the word of God, as then presented in the Old Testament, and opens the Scriptures to their understanding. That also happens when a sinner turns to Christ today! When we come to know the Author of the Bible, we begin to understand His book with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus then commissions them to share the gospel of repentance from sins, and their remission (which means complete forgiveness) starting near them in Jerusalem and then to ‘all nations.’ That is why He died and rose again—to see people saved from all over the world. That is why committed Christians show real interest in missions worldwide, by informing themselves of the position, praying often, and giving financially to support them. They want people all over the world to hear about the Lord Jesus Christ and put their trust in Him.

Witnesses to others to be saved

Once saved, we are to be His witnesses to others to be saved. Does that include you yet? Has Jesus saved you yet? He then promises them that the Holy Spirit will come upon them to empower them to live for Him. When God commands Christians to do something in His word, He also empowers them. God’s command is also His enabling. Later Jesus ascends to Heaven after blessing them. They then go to the temple to praise and bless God. What a transformation Jesus makes in our lives when we trust Him!

Jesus appears three times

John 20:19–31; 21:1–14: here we see Jesus appear three times, but we are also told, in John 20:30, that ‘Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.’ The Bible is God’s complete word with everything in it that we need to know about being saved and about Jesus, but it does not include all the details of His heavenly or earthly life, of course. It would take a huge library to even begin to record all that (see also, John 21:25).

First and second appearances are without, and then with, Thomas

The first two appearances to the disciples are, first, without Thomas and then with him. We will consider Thomas later in this book. Suffice it to say that, after not believing in Christ, he became convinced and then lived for Christ—a good example for all doubters who then come to faith in Jesus! It appears that the second appearance is probably the one, described above, in Luke’s Gospel. As we have thought before, the Gospel writers record different aspects of the same situation, without contradicting each other, just as sports writers do when they describe a match. They all record the same result! In these two cases it is all to do with putting your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross for you and rose again. That gives us acceptance with God, eternal life, peace, a commission to tell others about Christ, and the Holy Spirit in our lives. We also learn that to believe the words of God, here through the Lord Jesus Christ, is far more important than living by sight alone. It is, by God’s grace, faith in Jesus alone that saves us and so gives us eternal life. Nothing else can (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Third appearance of Jesus and Peter’s restoration

The third appearance focuses on Peter’s restoration to Jesus after his earlier sad three-part denial of Jesus. Perhaps you remember that Jesus asked him three times before his restoration, ‘Do you love Me?’ That is a question we should let Jesus ask us, remembering that love for Jesus is far more than just a gooey feeling. Jesus said in John 14:15, ‘If you love Me keep my commandments’ (NKJV, followed by ESV—NIV similarly says, ‘If you love Me, you will obey what I command.’) That includes all His commands made or confirmed as God the Son, including the timeless Ten Commandments. To love Christ will mean my life changes—not just my emotions. Nothing shows we love Jesus more than obeying Him.

Jesus’ third appearance is while some of the disciples go fishing. They are Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, and two other unnamed disciples (of which one was probably John, who records the meeting.) They toil all night but catch nothing. In the morning they see a ‘Stranger’ on the beach (whom they do not recognise as Jesus, at first). He tells them to put the net over on the other side. They do and have such a huge catch of 153 fish that they cannot haul in the net. Peter jumps in the water to rush to Jesus, while the others tow in the net. Jesus is cooking breakfast for them and tells them to get some fish. Peter goes back to drag it in and have breakfast with Him. Strangely they dare not ask Him who He is, but they know! Almost as a footnote we learn that the net is not torn, despite the huge sudden catch! Then we read that moving conversation between Jesus and Peter, which leads to his restoration and reinstatement as an Apostle. God will greatly use him in the future, starting with his stirring gospel message on the Day of Pentecost.

There is much to learn from all these recorded samples of Jesus’ meeting the disciples after He rose from the dead. Perhaps the main lesson is that God loves all who trust and follow Him even after failure. He always wants us to come back to Him. We must trust, worship, follow, serve, and tell others about Him—but, above all, love Him and keep close to Him in daily Bible reading, prayer, and meet with others in weekly fellowship each Lord’s day and in Bible studies.

Not wanting anyone to perish

And, of course, we constantly see that Christ crucified and now risen from the grave still longs to see sinners repent and trust Him as their Saviour. That never changes. In His earthly ministry, Jesus told the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ‘how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’ (Luke 13:34; Matthew 23:37). 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us today that, ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ If you have not responded to Him yet, why not do so now?