…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:5).
“Cephas” is the Aramaic word for “Peter” which means rock. This is interesting because it may relate to how ancient this tradition is. Aramaic was the language of Jesus and the early disciples. So this may well suggest this was a formulaic confession right from the early Jewish Aramaic speaking church.
According to the gospels the absolute first witnesses to the resurrection were the women. This actually is very ironic because women were not considered to be good witnesses. Yet a group of women were the first to proclaim the good news to the apostles. This adds a great deal of credibility to the gospel account for the simple reason that if someone were manufacturing the story they would not have proceeded in this manner. They would have Jesus appearing first to his closest disciples; especially Peter, James, and John.
This also puts forth the high value that women had in the ministry of Jesus and the church. This idea the New Testament is somehow misogonistic is pure nonsense. The teaching of the church elevated men and women to the same status as “sons of God.” Don’t have the space to get into this now.
Why not mention of the women in 1 Corinthians? Probably because the focus in the early church was on apostolic appearances. Remember that in order to be an apostle and have the authority of the apostle one had to have seen the resurrected Christ.
But it’s also important to note that when the women did tell the disciples they had seen Jesus alive, Luke says the response was, “But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women.” (Luke 24:11) But two disciples, Peter and John, did get up and run to the tomb. Luke only says Peter ran to the tomb to see what happened, but John has both of them going to the tomb. Again this shows that the gospel accounts are not fabrications. Rather as in any event people will report and remember different things.
But according to 1 Corinthians Peter was the first of the twelve disciples to see the risen Christ. This is what the gospel tradition also maintained in Luke 24:34. It is quite apparent that he appeared to the women, then to Peter, then to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (it doesn’t say who they were), and then to the rest of the disciples. And this is probably as it should be. Peter was the leader of the twelve. And he was the one that spoke to the crowd on the day of Pentecost about the risen Christ.
It says that when Peter first saw the empty tomb he was “amazed.” Actually a better translation may be “bewildered astonishment” according to the Erdmans Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Now put yourself in Peter’s position.
1) You have spent approximately three years following Jesus around. You have heard him teach, seen the miracles, and everything about this man screams that this is the Messiah.
2) Your expectation is that this Messiah is going to usher in the Kingdom of God. So much so that you have left your family and occupation to give yourself to this man’s mission and the Kingdom of God.
3) But low and behold this man that you’ve given up almost all earthly pleasures for has now been tried, scrounged, and crucified.
4) You are so disappointed in this man that when push comes to shove and you have a chance to show your allegiance to him you publicly deny him not once, but rather three times.
5) Then three days later the women come back from the tomb. They say we have seen Jesus risen and you go to the tomb and it is empty.
I can understand the perplexity and amazement. That’s a lot of mind bending realities in a few short days!
6) And then Jesus somewhere and at some point on Sunday appears to Peter. And everything changes AGAIN!
We don’t know exactly where Jesus appeared to Peter. I suspect that it was some time when Peter was walking back from the grave or immediately when Peter got home since Luke says that’s where Peter was headed. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Peter testifies to Jesus’ appearance.
Who is this Peter?
Peter was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. He was one of the first of the disciples. He was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. He was also the one Jesus resoundingly rebuked on a number of occasions. He is well known for the one who denied Christ three times during the trial of Jesus. On the one hand he was zealous for Jesus, but on the other hand when his own life was the least bit threatened he was ready to deny Jesus. One thing that gives credibility to the gospel witness is the gospels never gloss over the failures of its church leaders. The gospels paint the disciples as zealous, but also as weak and sometimes really dumb and blind.
Yet this same Peter turned into the leading spokesman for the church 50 days later in the very city that crucified Jesus.
And according to the early church historians this same Peter died by crucifixion for this same Jesus. But he was crucified upside down, because he believed he was not worthy to be crucified right side up like Jesus.
So here are some questions: Is Peter’s testimony credible? Would it hold up in a court of law? Is he the kind of man that would fabricate this type of message for his own benefit?
So if you are sitting on a jury and you hear his testimony to the resurrrection of Jesus would you believe him? Why or why not?