Question:

Hello,

I came across your web site a while back while doing a topical web search and bookmarked it as a study source. I’m a member of the Lord’s church in Lancaster, California, and teach a teenage class, some of whom are Christians, some not. I had an interesting question last Lord’s Day from a student: “How do we know Christ doesn’t appear to anyone today?”

I referred her to I Corinthians 15:7-8 where Paul says: “Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” I pointed out that the Holy Spirit directed Paul to write “and last of all” so we would know for all time that Paul was the “last of all” to see Christ (similar to Jude 3’s “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”). She then asked if Christ’s appearance to John in Revelation 1:12-13 wouldn’t actually make John the last to see Christ. I responded that I needed to study the question a bit more before continuing the discussion.

The truth is, I had never considered His appearance to John in the same way as His appearances to Paul, I suppose because the appearances of Christ in Acts are not as descriptive as the descriptive language in Revelation.

In Acts 18, Paul had “a vision.”

“And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10).

Then in Acts 22, Paul tells how Ananias revealed that Paul was appointed to see the Righteous One, and then Paul says he saw Him while in a trance:

"A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

"It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles’”(Acts 22:12-21).

In Acts 23:11, there is no “vision” or “trance” mentioned, only that “the Lord stood at his side.

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also”" (Acts 23:11).

In Acts 26:19, following Paul’s description of his conversion and conversation with Jesus, he calls it a “heavenly vision

So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

Then there’s Revelation 1:12-18:

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

Granted, the Revelation passage doesn’t directly identify the “one like a son of man” as Jesus, but verses 17-18 would seem to rule out anyone else.

I’m interested to read your thoughts on this.

The real issue with my student is that she has been in conversation with a schoolmate who claims to have “been visited” by Jesus at least five times. I believe she was looking for a “slam dunk” passage to show him that Jesus doesn’t appear to anyone anymore.

Still studying on this one. Just collecting a bit of counsel before offering some.

“Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory”(Proverbs 11:14).

Thanks for your time.


Answer:

A perceptive student! You're fortunate to have someone like her in your class.

In "Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time" (I Corinthians 15:8). "Last of all" is from the Greek word eschatos, which is a superlative meaning the farthest or furthest in place or time. But to understand what was last, you must keep it in context. Paul was listing out the witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. Paul was the last of those witnesses and it is a reason Paul could claim he was an apostle. "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Corinthians 15:9-10).

It is true that both Paul and John saw Jesus several times after Paul became an apostle, but these weren't significant in regards to witnessing the resurrection because both had already witnessed that it had occurred. You can see this in Paul's list of witnesses to the resurrection. It isn't a complete list of all of Jesus' appearances, even if you narrow it to the time between the resurrection and his ascension. The list establishes the solidness of the evidence that Jesus arose.

So, would Jesus appear again to other people before Judgment Day? If he did, then there would be additional witnesses to the resurrection and Paul would no longer be the last witness. It is one of the reasons we know Joseph Smith's claim is false. Therefore, your student's friend might believe she has seen Jesus five times, but her testimony is in contradiction to what the Holy Spirit recorded.

Of course, confronting this person with the truth is going to be met with rejection. If possible, what I would suggest is asking this person more questions, such as why would Jesus appear to her, what did he say, what did these appearances accomplish? What I suspect you'll find is that this person will, in the process of answering, make many statements that are contradictory to both the Bible and earlier statements she made. It happens every time. When it does happen, point out where she is contradicting the Bible by asking her to read the verse. Then point out at the end a few verses that shows that God never lies and the Gospel message never changes. Her friend will have to come to a decision point of whether to remain in her deception or admit she was wrong. While I can't predict her choice, this method at least avoids a knee-jerk denial of the truth.

Getting a person out of self-deception is hard, but an advantage the Christian has is that we know what the truth is. As soon as a person makes a claim that they are an apostle, or prophesy, or have visions, or heal the sick, etc. I already know they are lying, even if they don't realize it themselves. I merely have to wait for the inevitable mistake to occur and then we can discuss what God actually said. I don't have to prove that someone didn't see Jesus (something I can't do anyway), I wait until proof is furnished that they could not have seen Jesus and then talk about that.

Understand that people make claims like this to elevate themselves above others. They somehow think their faith is greater because Jesus came to see them. What is missed is that such a claim without evidence is a sign of a weaker faith. "Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed"" (John 20:29).