After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to Mary Magdalene, various other women, two unnamed disciples, Peter, and the rest of the remaining eleven apostles. Scripture says that “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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:6–8). Some have suggested that a larger body of witnesses would have provided more compelling evidence, thereby swaying more people to believe in Christ. Why did Jesus not appear to more people after His resurrection?
Jesus could have shown Himself to many other people after His resurrection, if He had chosen to. But it was God’s plan to limit the post-resurrection appearances to certain groups. The five hundred-plus eyewitnesses to the living Lord were enough. The Bible teaches that salvation is a gift of grace through faith—it is not the product of learning a large enough amount of historical knowledge: “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). Having more evidence is not necessary for those with faith.
There are many passages of Scripture that are sufficient to lead someone to believe in Christ. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). When we hear Scripture, the Spirit works in tandem with the Word in our hearts to bring us to the point of believing. Just a little bit more information about Jesus’ life wouldn’t necessarily cause more people to be saved; rather, everyone whom the Spirit works on to believe will believe.
There were many people who were not eyewitnesses to the resurrection who did in fact hear about it. The word of Jesus’ resurrection quickly reached the ears of the Jewish leaders via the Roman guards at the tomb. The guards had seen an angel descend and roll away the stone from the tomb’s opening. At the sight, the guards “shook with fear” and “fell into a dead faint” (Matthew 28:4, NLT). When they reported the event to the Jewish leaders, their reaction was to give the guards money, saying, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble. So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day” (Matthew 28:13–15).
In addition, many deceased saints rose from the dead and were seen by many (Matthew 27:52–53). The fact is that the Jewish leaders heard about the resurrection and had many confirmations from eyewitnesses, but they rejected the truth. We might assume that, if Jesus had appeared to more people after His resurrection, more people would have believed, but the availability of evidence doesn’t change a hardened heart.
Jesus taught that a man’s heart can be so hardened toward God that even a resurrection will not sway him (see John 11:53; 12:9–10). The rich man in Hades begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn the man’s five brothers of the need to repent and so avoid the torment he was experiencing (Luke 16:27). The man’s reasoning seemed logical: “If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” (verse 30). But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. . . . If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (verses 29, 31). Jesus’ appearing to more people after His resurrection would not have been enough evidence for those who refuse to believe.
Faith in Christ has a particular definition. Simply having a lot of knowledge about the life of Christ and intellectually believing that He existed is not the type of faith the Bible talks about. The faith that leads to salvation is faith that places trust in Christ’s death and resurrection and results in action (James 2:22). Believing in Christ isn’t only about a quantifiable amount of knowledge about His life, but a conversion, trust, and commitment to Him and His work, which brings one’s life into obedience.
Jesus did not appear to more people after His resurrection because faith is not dependent on having the most possible facts. We do not need more written, historical information to arrive at the proper position of faith. The risen Christ did not need to show Himself to the Sanhedrin, Herod, Pilate, or any other scoffers. His kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36), and people have enough evidence on which to base their faith.
Jesus appeared to just the right amount of people after His resurrection. We have enough historical evidence to believe the truth, and God requires faith (Hebrews 11:6). “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16). Of course, knowledge about the Scriptures is crucially important, but the type of “faith” that comes only by scholastic work, without a life-changing conversion, may only be intellectual assent, not faith that brings salvation. True faith in Christ involves a certain amount of historical knowledge, but it also leads to a changed life with the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart. Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who have faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, ESV).