Why Were the Disciples So Sure?

by Matthew W. Bassford

One of the most significant proofs of Jesus’ resurrection is the early disciples’ sincere belief that He had risen. They maintained this belief in the face of great hostility from earthly powers, enduring persecution, prison, and death rather than recanting. Whatever else they were, they were not deceivers.

However, we also must ask why they were so sure that the risen Lord had appeared to them. Many of us have had a hallucination at some point in our lives (I have), and the ancients were aware of hallucinations too. If I were standing before the Sanhedrin, I’d want to be really, really sure that my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me before I spoke up!

One of the most elegant Biblical explanations of the disciples’ certainty appears in 1 John 1:1-2. John probably wrote these words to contradict the Gnostic claim that Jesus did not come in the flesh, but they serve just as well as a defense of the resurrection. They didn’t glimpse the risen Jesus at a distance or see Him early in the morning when they were fuzzily waking up.

Instead, they heard Him. They saw Him. They studied Him intently. They touched Him with their hands. Their testimony isn’t based on wishful thinking. It’s based on the firm experience of their senses.

A study of John’s gospel reveals some of these experiences. John watched as a Roman soldier plunged His spear into Jesus’ side, and the corpse didn’t even twitch. He looked into the tomb where Jesus had been laid and saw discarded grave wrappings but no body. He heard Mary Magdalene relate that she had laid hold of the feet of the risen Jesus as she worshiped Him. He was in the locked upper room when Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples and displayed the wounds in His hands and side for their inspection. He watched later when Thomas reached out and touched those wounds. He ate breakfast with Jesus as the sun rose over the Sea of Galilee.

To summarize, John had all the evidence he needed to be 100 percent convinced that Jesus was a real human being who really died and really was restored to life by God. So did the others. They knew this had happened.

In an earthly sense, their experience did them no favors. It set them against all the rulers of their world, men who were determined that Jesus had not risen and were indifferent to the evidence. Without the resurrection, they could have lived ordinary, peaceful lives. Because of it, they were hounded to the end of their days.

However, it also gave them the most precious hope imaginable. If Jesus was raised to life, they could trust His promise that they also would be raised to life through Him. Because of their steadfastness in testifying to their experiences, we can trust it too. Next to this, nothing else matters, either to them or to us.

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