What does it mean to be a witness of Christ’s resurrection? People often wish they could’ve been present when Jesus rose or could’ve seen Him bodily after rising. But would either make us witnesses of Christ’s resurrection? Matthew 28 helps us consider these things.
Roman soldiers were at Jesus’s tomb when He rose. They saw the angel descend from heaven to roll away the stone. They shook with fear as the earth quaked at heaven’s touch (Matt. 28:2-4). No doubt they overheard the angel telling the women Christ was risen (Matt. 28:5-6). Perhaps they saw Jesus stop the women as they were running to tell the other disciples what happened (Matt. 28:8-9).
The soldiers reported all they saw and heard to the chief priests. But the priests paid the soldiers to tell everyone the disciples stole Jesus’s body during the night. The soldiers took the money and joined the cover-up.
The chief priests and soldiers saw or heard about Jesus’s resurrection. But can we say they were witnesses in the sense Jesus meant when He said, “You will be my witnesses….” (Acts 1:8)? Then again, why should we expect Roman soldiers and chief priests to be bonafide witnesses of Christ’s resurrection? They weren’t followers of Jesus. Doesn’t that account for their reaction? Matthew 28 has something to say about that as well:
“The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted” (Matt. 28:16-17).
This scene played out just before Christ’s ascension. The disciples knew about Jesus’s very public execution. Here he was, standing before them in the daylight, “but some doubted.” Mind you, these weren’t second-string disciples but the apostles (minus Judas). Even among the apostles were those who saw the risen Christ but weren’t witnesses of the resurrection.
We have no reason to think the apostles that doubted eventually came to faith. How did that happen? If seeing Jesus bodily after His resurrection didn’t convince them, what did? And what makes us true witnesses of Christ’s resurrection if being His follower doesn’t?
Paul’s life gives a clear answer to these questions. He didn’t see Christ physically after the resurrection. Instead, he talked about the day God “was pleased to reveal His Son in me” (Gal. 1:15-16). This began a life-long process. Time and again the Spirit would draw the veil back from Paul’s soul so that he could see Christ in him (Col. 1:27). Another place, Paul said, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:19-20).
The experience of Christ living within makes one a witness of the resurrection. In the basic meaning of “witness,” one must see something. As noted, seeing Christ bodily after He rose did not make people witnesses, even if they were followers of Jesus. Only spiritually seeing Jesus as life within makes one a witness of His resurrection. Throughout the New Testament, we learn this is a process facilitated by the Holy Spirit, who exerts divine influence on our souls.
On Easter, it is typical for Christians to exchange this greeting: “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” An alternative answer to “He is risen!” might be, “He is risen in us!” Indeed, He is risen in us. We need not look for the living in the dead past. Though Christ was once known physically, we know Him that way no longer (2 Cor. 5:16).