We ponder the unprecedented nature and meaning of three particular days of the greatest week in the history of the world. Nothing had ever happened, or ever would happen, that could compare in grandeur and scope with the events between the Garden of Gethsemane and the Garden of the Resurrection, events that affect the mortal and immortal life of every soul to come into this world.
I will proceed to prove the resurrection of the dead by confirming the authenticity and reliability of the resurrection texts and their authors and the historicity and credibility of eye-witness accounts in various nations and eras. I will focus less on archaeological, cultural, and philological remains or finds, and more on the spiritual reliability and credibility of the testaments and the testators.
I am going to first quote a statement from Elder Howard W. Hunter about the resurrection of the dead. To better appreciate the value of the citation it may be helpful to know that Howard W. Hunter served for decades as one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of his prominence as a lawyer earlier in his life he now has a law library at Brigham Young University named in his honor. He was also an avid aficionado of Mesoamerican archaeology and for twenty-four years served as chairman of the New World Archaeological Foundation – for decades one of the most active and respected research organizations in Latin America. There is in the Petén region of Northern Guatemala an Instituto Tecnológico Howard W. Hunter. More recently established in Southern California is the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies in the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University.
Elder Hunter proclaimed that “the doctrine of the Resurrection is the single most fundamental and crucial doctrine in the Christian religion. It cannot be overemphasized, nor can it be disregarded. Without the Resurrection, the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a litany of wise sayings and seemingly unexplainable miracles – but sayings and miracles with no ultimate triumph. No, the ultimate triumph is in the ultimate miracle: for the first time in the history of mankind, one who was dead raised himself into living immortality.”1
Thanks to Jesus, who died and raised his body to immortality, we can die and be raised to live forever also. One of my colleagues at Brigham Young University had a little daughter who died at age thirteen. When she was seven, already struggling with the disease that would eventually take her life, she stood one day in a meeting to bear witness to these beautiful truths: “I love Jesus Christ. Because of him, I only have to die once. I’ll never have to die again.”
The story of Jesus is not a “womb to tomb” story. “[His] Death on Calvary was no more the ending, than the Birth in Bethlehem was the beginning, of that Divine Career.”2
Many Bible scholars recognize the pivotal importance and the far-reaching consequences of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Were it not for the resurrection event,” wrote F. F. Bruce, “there would have been no resurrection faith.”3 The followers of Jesus would not live and die for a lie. Something dramatic and true had changed their lives forever. The fact is, none of the early leaders and preachers in the first century Church could say enough about the Resurrection. It was on the lips of Peter, Stephen, Paul and all others everywhere they went and with everyone they taught.
Another prominent scholar declared:
“Whether we are comfortable with it or not, Christianity does indeed stand or fall on certain historical facts – not merely historical claims, but historical facts. Among these facts that are most crucial to Christian faith is that of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The Christian faith is not mere faith in faith – ours or someone else’s – but rather, a belief about the significance of certain historical events.”4
“We have to ask, Why is there no other first-century Jew who has millions of followers today? Why isn’t there a John the Baptist movement? Why, of all first-century figures, including the Roman emperors, is Jesus still worshiped today, while the others have crumbled into the dust of history?
“It’s because this Jesus – the historical Jesus – is also the living Lord. That’s why. It’s because he’s still around, while the others are long gone.”5
The Resurrection literally changed the lives of the early Christians, and the lives of all true Christians since that day. The day following the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus was the holy Sabbath, the day the Saints met to worship. But that particular Saturday must have been a Saturday of deepest depression. Who would have wanted to hold a meeting? And who would have been willing to give a talk? Talk about what? It must have been a most oppressive time for the spirit of those early members of the Church. But that depressing day was followed, the very next morning, by a Sunday of most brilliant joy.
This single, historical fact and doctrine forever changed the course of the ancient Church and the course of the world. There is no fact in history that is so widely attested and confirmed by credible witnesses.
Women and Angels: First at Jesus’ Tomb
“In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1), women disciples were making their way toward the tomb when an aftershock of the earthquake of the previous Friday struck Jerusalem again, as angels came down from heaven to open the tomb of God’s Son. No heavy stone seal nor secure guard of the Sanhedrin would stand up to nature’s convulsive powers directed by the God of the universe, nor could they withstand angelic messengers sent by that very God to open the tomb. Jesus’ mortal life was terminated at the hands of men, but his post-mortal life, again in the mortal sphere, commenced at the hands of the Father and his messengers. The two angels (Joseph Smith Translation [JST] Matthew 28:2) removed the stone at the entrance of the sepulchre and sat on it (JST John 20:1).
Jesus did not need angels to roll away the great stone from the door of the sepulchre so that he could leave. Resurrected beings have more refined bodies and have power to pass through the elements and objects of the earth. In the resurrection we shall become acquainted with a whole new dimension of the laws of physics.
Why, then, did the angels roll the stone away and open the tomb? First, there was undoubtedly important symbolic meaning in this act. Just as the door of the tomb of the Resurrection was now open, signaling its Occupant was no longer there, so too the door of the spirit world was now open, signaling that its righteous inhabitants were free from the bondage of death and would no longer be confined there. This is not unlike the tearing of the veil of the Jerusalem Temple at the final moment of the Crucifixion. The exposed Holy of Holies symbolized, among other things, a new order or dispensation that allowed, through the Atonement of Christ, all the righteous to enter the presence of God-which the Holy of Holies represents (Hebrews 9:19-24; 10:19-20).
Second, with the opening of the tomb, the disciples could look inside as well as enter the sepulchre and know for themselves that the tomb was empty, that Jesus had returned to life, that he really was the Savior, with power to raise his own physical body back to life.
Others would likewise come to the tomb, and out of their initial experience with its emptiness would eventually blossom the witness that Jesus was who he said he was, that he had told the truth, that he was the Savior, Messiah, and Son of God alive again.
Among the women who approached the tomb that glorious morning were: Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses (Joseph); Salome, the mother of apostles James and John, and Joanna, wife of Chuza, steward of Herod Antipas (Luke 8:3; 24:10). Plus, we wonder if the two beloved sisters from Bethany, Martha and Mary, along with some of the apostles’ wives, were not also present.
Among the women disciples who followed Jesus, Mary Magdalene seems to have served in a leadership capacity. She is mentioned first in several listings of female followers (see, for example, Matthew 27:56; Luke 24:10), and she was first to see the resurrected Lord (John 20:1-18). Mary of Magdala appears to have had a preeminent relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.
Testimony of Angels: “He is risen”
Angelic visitors came at the Savior’s birth, during his ministry (for example, at the Transfiguration), in Gethsemane, and now at his tomb. There was frequent contact between heaven and earth while the great Creator sojourned here for a brief time (see Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19; 4:11; 28:2-8; Luke 1:11-20, 26-30; 2:9-15; 22:43).
When the angels appeared, the guards were scared to death (Matthew 28:4), but the heavenly messengers calmed the women’s fears, assuring them that the Man they were seeking was “not here: for he is risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6); then they invited the women to “come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
“But when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away, (for it was very great,) and two angels sitting thereon, clothed in long white garments; and they were affrighted.
“But the angels said unto them, Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he is risen; he is not here; behold the place where they laid him;
“And go your way, tell his disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him as he said unto you.
“And they, entering into the sepulcher, saw the place where they laid Jesus” (JST Mark 16:3-6).
Seeing and hearing all these astonishing things, Mary Magdalene ran to tell Peter and John (we are not told where James was). Representing all the women, Mary exclaimed to the two leading apostles: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2). If, by mentioning “they” who took away the body, Mary meant the Romans, or the Jewish leaders, or even the angels, she had not quite comprehended the divine message the women had heard from those angels: “he is risen; he is not here.” It would yet require some personal experience, seeing, hearing, and touching for Mary and for all others to comprehend the glorious fact of resurrection.
The angels had instructed the women to go quickly and tell the apostles and other disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead, and that the apostles had a future appointment with Jesus in Galilee: “he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him” (Matthew 28:7). The women “departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word” (v. 8). They were experiencing, understandably, a dramatic mix of feelings – fright, perplexity, amazement, respect, excitement, joy – over what was happening, and their minds were beginning from these very moments to piece together the doctrines that Jesus had taught that only now, as they actually occurred, could be fully comprehended by mortals.
Peter and John at the Tomb
Luke, who likely learned what happened next from Peter himself (years later) and from John, recorded that the two apostles, hearing these extraordinary, unbelievable reports, ran together to the sepulchre, John outrunning Peter.
John arrived, stooped down, looked in, and then Peter arrived and immediately entered. Respectfully giving way to the chief apostle, John waited and then followed Peter inside. They both saw the burial cloths where Jesus’ body had been. According to his own written report, John “saw and believed” (John 20:8). He saw what? and believed what? That a dead mortal being was alive again. They sensed that there was something very different about this Being. He was not just brought back to life temporarily to eventually die again; raising of the dead was a miracle they knew not only from scripture, the Old Testament, but from personal experience, watching Jesus do it at least three times.6 This was different. The apostles were coming to understand that their Savior had been raised by the power of the Father into immortality. As the next verse (John 20:9) explains, up to this point “they knew [or comprehended] not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.”
We raise the question: how could they comprehend such a thing? For four thousand years mortals had been dying and were buried away, their physical bodies remaining dead, having no spirit, no life. Resurrection had never happened in this world. But now the apostles were fitting together the current facts and the teachings and the prophecies (actually they had been pondering this doctrine of resurrection for some time, at least since the occasion of the Transfiguration; see Mark 9:10). They had weighty matters to reflect on.
It seems significant that there are no scriptural records that discuss the details of the actual resurrection process or what went on inside the tomb immediately after the Resurrection. We do not know how long Jesus was there. We do know that Jesus passed through his burial clothes, leaving them lying in place, in the outline and form of the body around which they had been wrapped. Resurrected bodies have the power to move through solid objects. John recorded in his own Gospel that when he came to the tomb and looked inside, and when Peter entered it shortly thereafter, they both saw the strips of burial linen lying in place in the burial chamber as well as the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head (John 20:4-7). The strips of cloth “were left in such a way as to show that his resurrected body had passed through their folds and strands without the need of unwinding the strips or untying the napkin.”7
This was explicit evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection. No mortal man had disturbed his body. The cloth that had been wrapped about Jesus’ head (“napkin” in the King James Version) was still by itself, separate from the linen.
Jesus, then, left his burial cloths in place as one more witness of the greatest of the miraculous acts that compose the Atonement and Resurrection.
Mary Alone with the Resurrected Jesus
One woman, alone, remained at the sepulchre, crying (John 20:11-17). Of all the Marys who had been attending to the body, the one from Magdala stooped down and looked into the burial chamber and saw two angels arrayed in brilliant white “sitting the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.”
The angels asked: “Woman, why weepest thou?”
Mary responded: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.”
Mary turned around and saw Jesus, but through her tears she did not recognize him, and when asked who she was looking for, she replied to that man she supposed was the gardener:
“Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus spoke her name: “Mary”
Then she recognized him: “Rabboni” (Master)!
Mary instantly desired to embrace him, but his first embrace was reserved for his Father – then mortals.
“Hold me not,” he gently explained to her, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (JST John 20:17).
There would now be a respectful separation between immortals and mortals. Jesus taught: He is first my Father and God, then your Father and God. And Jesus himself was now more than mortal friend and associate in the divine work; he was Savior, Lord, and God to those men and women and to all humankind.
If, as the Savior indicated, he had not yet ascended to his Father, where had he been? The answer is more gloriously and plainly presented in Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants8 than anywhere else in sacred writ. The Lord Jesus Christ had not yet ascended far into space, to the home of his Father, but had gone to the spirit world – which is the place of all spirit beings and living things occupying the very same space as this physical Earth. He had organized in the world of spirits, among the billions of the Father’s children who had lived from the days of Adam and Eve until his own day, that same missionary effort that he had organized on earth during his mortal ministry. “And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on condition of repentance” (Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 138:19).
The great monster, death, has no more effect on us. “There is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ” (Book of Mormon,9 Mosiah 16:8). In the end, only death will die. All living things (things with a spirit) will live forever.
Why is the resurrection of the body so important to each of us? The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181). Dr. Robert J. Matthews adds: “The resurrection of our individual bodies is important because our Heavenly Father has a resurrected body of flesh and bone (see D&C 130:22) . . . . It would be possible to continue in eternity as spirit bodies without the physical body, but as such we could not reach the fulness of salvation. A spirit body without a resurrected physical body cannot obtain a fulness of joy (see D&C 93:33-34).”10
Other Women Encounter the Resurrected Jesus
The elect women, chosen to be the first to see the miracle of the Savior’s Resurrection, even before the priesthood leaders, rushed to tell the Brethren that they had personally met and talked with him, and touched his feet (the same feet showing the wounds of crucifixion), and had worshipped him (Matthew 28:9-10).
“One may wonder,” Elder James E. Talmage wrote, “why Jesus had forbidden Mary Magdalene to touch Him, and then, so soon after, had permitted other women to hold Him by the feet as they bowed in reverence. We may assume that Mary’s emotional approach had been prompted more by a feeling of personal yet holy affection than by an impulse of devotional worship such as the other women evinced. Though the resurrected Christ manifested the same friendly and intimate regard as He had shown in the mortal state toward those with whom He had been closely associated, He was no longer one of them in the literal sense. There was about Him a divine dignity that forbade close personal familiarity.”11
One of the specific messages for the Brethren was to leave Jerusalem, journey the hundred miles down to Galilee, and there, in that less threatening, more peaceful setting, they would see him and receive further instructions.
Mary Magdalene went and told what she had seen and heard, to the eleven apostles and other disciples, testifying that she had seen the Lord (Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18). Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Joanna, and the other women likewise described the visitation of the angels and their witness that the Lord had risen from the dead, and the fact that they, the women, had seen Jesus and touched his resurrected body. The words of the women “seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11).
Jesus Appears to Two Disciples on the Road to Emmaus
Only Luke narrates a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to two disciples walking along the road from Jerusalem down to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), the likely candidate being Emmaus Colonia, situated one to two hours’ walking distance west of Jerusalem, at today’s suburb of Motza.
Why would the two disciples not have recognized Jesus right from the beginning of their walk together? They would have been quite familiar with his appearance, his mannerisms, and his way of teaching. Mark notes that “he appeared in another form” (Mark 16:12). As a resurrected Being Jesus was certainly in “another form,” a condition with which no one on earth (except the women that morning) was yet acquainted. Besides that, Luke points out that “their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (Luke 24:16), the recognition being withheld for a time so that the resurrected Lord could teach them and help them come to an understanding.
We also learn from this experience that the resurrected Savior has the ability to appear as a normal man (or at least to cause others to see him that way). The disciples saw no radiance or brilliance about his person that would indicate someone different than a regular mortal.
The two disciples rehearsed the events of the previous three days with this “stranger in Jerusalem,” who surprisingly seemed to know nothing of these momentous events (v. 18). They testified of their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was a mighty prophet, but “we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” (v. 21). They did not yet understand.
The two disciples explained what the women had earlier reported about seeing angels and hearing those angels declare that Jesus was alive.
Jesus then chastised these disciples, as he would chastise the apostles and others later (Mark 16:14), for being hard of heart and slow to believe the eyewitness testimony of their peers and all that the prophets and he himself had taught them about the Messiah and his mission.
“Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Was it so difficult to comprehend that Jesus’ crown of thorns had to come before his crown of glory? The prophets – the Messiah’s forerunners – plainly testified over the course of four millennia that the Messiah (who would eventually rule and reign at his Second Coming to earth) would come at first to suffer, bleed, and die.
As they approached Emmaus it looked as though Jesus would continue on the road, but the disciples pled with him, since it was getting late in the afternoon, to come in and eat with them. As they were eating Jesus took some unleavened bread and broke it, blessed it, and handed them some. Their spiritual eyes were opened; they realized who he was, and he disappeared in that instant, leaving them reflecting on the singularity of their feelings: “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (v. 32).
Cleopas and his companion rushed back up to Jerusalem to report to the apostles and others gathered together (Luke 24:33; although Luke mentions “the eleven,” we learn later that only ten of the apostles were there; Thomas, for some reason, was absent on that occasion). They excitedly described what had just happened to them in the preceding hours – how Jesus had walked and talked with them, opening the scriptures to their understanding, and how they realized who he was. Meanwhile the apostles and others confirmed to the two the report of Jesus’ personal appearance to Peter (Luke 24:34; also 1 Corinthians 15:5).
Jesus Appears to His Apostles
Sometime later that same evening (on that first day of the week, Sunday, Resurrection day) the group of ten apostles and other disciples were gathered behind locked doors, fearful of what had already happened, and of what they knew the Jewish leaders could still attempt to do (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23). If this is the same gathering noted in Mark 16:14, they were eating a late evening meal. Jesus suddenly appeared in the room (not coming in through the door, showing that physical walls are no obstacle for a resurrected being). The Savior greeted them with shalom aleichem, Hebrew/Aramaic: “peace be unto you.”
The disciples were startled and afraid, supposing that some spirit had joined them, but Jesus calmed their anxiety and satisfied their curiosity by inviting them to come forth and get acquainted with a resurrected body: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). He extended his hands and his feet for them to touch, just as he would do for his disciples in the western world: “come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet” (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 11:14).
The Lord wanted his still-mortal friends to know that a resurrected, immortal body is very corporeal; the flesh is real and physical – though now in a more refined and perfected condition. It was important for them to see and feel, to be eyewitnesses with an unequivocal testimony of the corporeal nature of the resurrected Lord’s body, because for many generations thereafter – from ancient through modern times – some would corrupt and distort the reality of physical resurrection and question the corporeality of Jesus’ post-mortal body.
The physicality of Jesus’ resurrected body pointedly refutes the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus is a mere spiritual essence or influence without a body. If Jesus now has no body, what did he do with his resurrected body? The notion that He is merely a spiritual essence was not taught by him but added later by men.
The disciples “yet believed not for joy” (Luke 24:41) – they were so happy they could hardly believe what was happening, and they continued marveling, trying to figure out how a resurrected body works.
Jesus offered a practical illustration: they brought food, a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb, and he ate before them – so they learned that a resurrected body can still consume and digest food.
As he satisfied their curiosity and fascination with his immortal body he also chastised the apostles for their hardness of heart, not believing the women who had already seen him earlier in the day (Mark 16:14). Then he proceeded to teach the whole group, as he had taught the two on the road to Emmaus, how all the foreshadowings and prophecies concerning him must be fulfilled, those from the Torah (the law of Moses), from the prophets’ writings, and from the Psalms. They knew the scriptures, but this time it was different. This time “opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Again he testified to them that as it was written, so it was necessary for the Messiah “to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (v. 46; cf. Isaiah 53:5). Now they would realize how often he had taught them those very truths (Matthew 16:21; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 10:32-34; Luke 9:22; 18:31-34).
Thomas was not present when the Lord appeared to the other ten, and when he heard their exclamation that they had seen the Lord, he insisted: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Thomas desired the same privilege that the other apostles and the women had received; and an eyewitness he, too, had to be.
A Visit with Thomas also
A week later, on Sunday, the Church leaders were meeting again, and Thomas was also present (John 20:26-29). The Savior appeared and invited him to do exactly as he had desired: to touch with his finger the prints of the nails and thrust his hand into Jesus’ side, and to not doubt, but believe. He told Thomas, “because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Being convinced by eye-sight is good, but better and more lasting is to be convinced by the Spirit, through faith. In worldly matters, as we say, seeing is believing, but in the realm of sacred, spiritual truth, the opposite is true: believing is seeing.
The Resurrected Jesus with Apostles in Galilee
One of the resurrected Lord’s first instructions had been for the apostles to gather in Galilee, there to receive further direction about how and in what manner to carry forth the kingdom in succeeding generations. The leaders probably gathered somewhere on the north or northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, which was the locale of much of Jesus’ mortal ministry.
Seven of the apostles were there awaiting the Savior’s arrival: Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael of Cana, the sons of Zebedee (James and John – Matthew 4:21), plus two others (John 21:1-19).
The other four followed Peter, James, and John, who were skilled fishermen, and launched out onto the lake. During the night of fishing they caught nothing.
Next morning they saw a man on the shore who called out to them, ‘Do you have any food?’ ‘No.’ “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.” They did so, and found that they could not draw the net back in because it was so heavy with fish. That aroused memories; this same scene had been played out before (Luke 5:4-11). John said to Peter, “It is the Lord,” and Peter, who was half-naked, impulsively threw on his fisher’s coat and dove into the water, heading for shore.
As the apostles approached the shore they noticed a fire of coals, and fish cooking, along with some bread. Jesus invited them to come and eat. He prepared and gave them food to eat. Meanwhile, John interestingly notes, no one dared ask Jesus who he was, for they knew him (though they were still marveling over this Man with whom they were well acquainted who was now in another form). John also notes that this was the third time Jesus had shown himself to the apostles (v. 14), giving them time and experience to come to an understanding of resurrection and to put all his teachings in a much wider and eternal perspective.
Another post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus may have occurred on Mount Arbel, a high point overlooking the whole Sea of Galilee region. There, on the secluded edge of the twelve-hundred-foot precipice, Jesus could have inspired his leading disciples with their commission to take the gospel to all the world (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18).
When Jesus’ apostles saw him, they worshipped him, Matthew reported (28:17), “but some doubted,” otherwise meaning that some hesitated; they were still piecing together this wonderful mystery of the resurrected Lord.
Back in the southern part of the land, Jesus led his closest followers out as far as to Bethany (Luke 24:50), on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12), and there he blessed them. Following the blessings he ascended to heaven (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53).
Other Appearances of the Resurrected Jesus
The scriptures go on to relate the visits of the risen Lord with members of the Twelve in Galilee (John 21), and with more than 500 brethren (noted in 1 Corinthians 15:6), and with James (1 Corinthians 15:7). For five to six weeks (40 days) after the Resurrection, Jesus met with and taught the apostles and others, then said farewell from the Mount of Olives, near Bethany (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:3-11). He appeared to Paul (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8), and again to John (Revelation 1:9-18).
Jesus also visited personally with many righteous Nephite and Lamanite souls, as recorded in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 11:1-18:39), including another Quorum of Twelve Apostles in the western hemisphere (3 Nephi 27:1-28:12). Centuries later the resurrected Christ appeared to western hemisphere prophets, Mormon and Moroni (Mormon 1:15; Ether 12:39). In modern times he has appeared to Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith-History [JS-H] 1:14-20) and to others.
Appearances of Additional Resurrected Beings
We do not know of the reality of the resurrection of the dead from the numerous appearances of Jesus Christ alone. Others have resurrected and shown themselves with their glorified, resurrected bodies also.
Moroni, a Book of Mormon prophet who lived at the end of the 4th century after Christ, is well known because he is depicted in gold-plated statues atop Latter-day Saint Temples throughout the world. He was the last guardian of the plates on which the text of the Book of Mormon was inscribed. Moroni appeared in the Smith family home in the township of Palmyra, western New York, during the night of September 21-22, 1823, to advise young Joseph Smith where the plates were buried and that he would be allowed four years later to secure and translate them by the gift and power of God. Moroni became Joseph Smith’s tutor, training him in a series of visits and interviews over a four-year period “respecting what the Lord was going to do [through him], and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days” (JS-H 1:54).
When the resurrected Moroni first manifested himself, Joseph Smith related the scene in these words, giving one of the most detailed descriptions of a resurrected person ever recorded:
“I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
“He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.
“Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person” (JS-H 1:30-32).
When the angel Moroni finished delivering his message, Joseph Smith described his departure:
“After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance” (JS-H 1:43).
Later, while living in the village of Harmony, Pennsylvania, Joseph Smith labored over the translation of the Book of Mormon, and he reported the visit in May, 1829, of another personage from heaven to him and his friend, Oliver Cowdery:
“We on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us . . . [and conferred on us] the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys . . . of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” and they were authorized to baptize each other (JS-H 1:68-69).
Joseph Smith later explained that “the messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us” (JS-H 1:72).
It is interesting that the messenger announced himself as the one who is known in the New Testament as John the Baptist, because if he had introduced himself using his ancient name he might have said something like this: “Shalom. Ani Yohanan ben Zechariah ha Cohen” (Hello. I am John the son of Zacharias the Priest), which likely would have left Joseph Smith quite baffled about the identity of the angelic visitor.
John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver in a resurrected body, complete with his head that he had lost at the hands of Herod Antipas’ executioner, showing that the miracle of resurrection restores body parts lost in mortality.
As announced by the Baptist, Joseph Smith soon afterwards received the higher priesthood under the hands of the ancient apostles Peter, James, and John, who had received the keys of the kingdom of God and its administrative powers on the Mount of Transfiguration during Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 16:19; 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-19).12 Actually, Peter and James returned to earth with resurrected bodies, but John came with his translated or transfigured body,13 which condition was promised by Jesus at the end of His mortal ministry (John 21:21-23/Doctrine and Covenants 7:1-8; 3 Nephi 28:6-9).
Other renowned ancient prophets came back to earth to confer on Joseph Smith and his associates the keys of various requisite powers – and all this as part of, as Acts 3:21 says, the “restitution [or restoration] of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith reported that on April 3, 1836, on the occasion of the dedication of the House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio, “the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel. . . .
“And after this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
“Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi-testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come-
“To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers [genealogical and family history work] . . .
“Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near” (D&C 110:11, 13-16).
These two prophets, Moses and Elijah, had come back to earth eighteen hundred years earlier to the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3; Luke 9:30), but on that occasion they had returned to earth as translated beings,14 since there was no resurrection from the dead as yet. Jesus Christ, as the scriptures attest, would be “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20), the first to resurrect from the dead to immortality (see Acts 26:23; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; 2 Nephi 2:8-9).
On this latter-day occasion the two preeminent prophets came as resurrected beings, and
on that same pentecostal day the Lord Jesus Christ once again appeared, to accept his House.
“We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
“His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah” (D&C 110:2-3).
What We Have Learned about Resurrected Beings
From all these accounts-ancient and modern, on both hemispheres-we learn that Jesus Christ was the first of all who have ever lived on this planet to rise from the dead to immortality. Every human will resurrect, as Paul wrote: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22), though not everyone will resurrect to the same glory: there are different levels or degrees of resurrected bodies, as the sun, moon, and stars differ from one another in glory (1 Corinthians 15:40-42). Resurrected bodies consist of more refined and pure physical/spiritual matter that can pass through what we regard as solid objects. They are composed of flesh and bone, but no blood (Luke 24:39). They have power to eat and digest food. They are tangible and corporeal (Luke 24:39-40; John 20:25-29).
The Resurrection of the Lord, and our subsequent resurrection, is one of the most glorious messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of the gift of resurrection provided by our Savior, all humankind will rise again from the dead and live forever. There is no choice in that matter; as a gift from the God of Heaven we are all going to live forever. The choice we do have is where and with whom we would like to live forever. We are now in the process of determining that by how we live here on earth.
1 Conference Report of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1986, 18.
2 Orson F. Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts: A Series of Dissertations on Spiritual, Historical and Philosophic Themes. Salt Lake City: Deseret News,1921, 152.
3 F. F. Bruce, New Testament History. New York: Doubleday, Galilee Book, 1969, 206.
4 Ben Witherington, III. New Testament History-A Narrative Account. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2001, 166.
5 Ben Witherington, as cited in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1998, 141.
6 The three persons Jesus raised from the dead were the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (Matt. 9:18-26; Mark 5:22-43; Luke 8:41-56), and Lazarus (John 11:1-46).
7 Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah. 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979-81, 4:268.
8 The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of scripture accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as revelation from God through Joseph Smith and other modern prophets. Most of the collection of revelations date from approximately 1823 to 1844, and were received in the States of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, USA.
9 The Book of Mormon is a book of scripture, much like the Bible, which contains religious and political histories of two colonies of people that were brought by the hand of the Lord to the ancient Americas: the Jaredites, dating from approximately 2200 BC to 600 BC, and the Nephites and Lamanites, dating from 600 BC to AD 421.
10 Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994, 280.
11 James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ. Classics in Mormon Literature Series. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983, 633-634. Elder Talmage was an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1911 to 1933 and was one of the Church’s greatest theologians.
12 “Of the keys of the kingdom-the right of presidency-President Joseph F. Smith explained: ‘It is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood’ (Gospel Doctrine, 136; see also D&C 7:7).
“The first person on this earth to possess the keys of the priesthood was Adam. In fact, our first father holds the keys of presidency over all dispensations and eras of the gospel. He is the presiding high priest, under Christ’s direction, over all the earth. . . . (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 157). . . .
“Among the keys of authority and power bestowed upon Peter and other apostles and prophets, including Joseph Smith and each of his successors in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, none are of greater or more far-reaching significance than those given by Elijah (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:126). This ancient prophet held the keys of the kingdom in his day. He held the keys of presidency and the keys of the sealing power that constitute the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood” (Ogden and Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Four Gospels, 332).
13 “The Latin trans figura (like the Greek meta morpho) means to change into another form. Peter, James, and John were transfigured, or changed, to another condition. . . . They passed into a higher state, but what is that state? The scriptures use a number of terms to describe these changed beings: transfigured and translated are two of the descriptions, both meaning the same condition, though transfigured is short-term and translated is long-term. Other words used are ‘renewed’ and ‘paradisiacal’ (Article of Faith 10), ‘caught up’ (Moses 7:27; 3 Nephi 28:36; D&C 88:96), ‘glorified’ (Moses 1:11; 7:3), ‘quickened’ (D&C 67:11; 88:96), and ‘changed in the twinkling of an eye’ (3 Nephi 28:8; D&C 43:32; 63:51; 101:31). Most of these descriptions refer to the shifting upward from our current telestial condition to a terrestrial condition. To be transfigured or translated, then, means to be changed to a terrestrial level, where bodies (while in that condition) are sanctified, made holy, and do not experience mortal pains or death (3 Nephi 28:7-9, 13-17, 36-40). Transfiguration, or translation, Joseph Smith taught, ‘is that of the terrestrial order’ (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 170)” (Ogden and Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Four Gospels, 339-340).
14 Moses and Elijah had both been translated upon concluding their mortal ministries so they could participate on earth in this very occasion of Transfiguration. They were taken up, interestingly, in the same area east of the Jordan River opposite Jericho (Deuteronomy 34:5; Alma 45:19; 2 Kings 2:11-12) where John the Baptist and Jesus both began their mortal ministries. Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory, and spake of his death, and also his resurrection, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (JST Luke 9:31). Moses and Elijah were only six months away from their own resurrection and would understandably have been anxiously anticipating that glorious experience.