Why did Jesus show Himself to only a few people and not to everyone, especially to Jews who did not believe He was the Messiah? 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 says, “Christ died for our sins . . . He was buried . . . He was raised on the third day . . . He appeared to Cephas then to the twelve . . . to more than 500 brethren at one time . . . ” (NASB)
The passage that you refer to reads as follows:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (NASB) 1 Cor. 15:3-8
The Holy Spirit tells us that Jesus appeared to the twelve apostles, the apostle Paul, and more than 500 people after His resurrection. The twelve apostles were Jewish. Most likely many, if not all, of the 500 men were Jewish. Why did Jesus appear only to these individuals? Scripture does not tell us and, therefore, we do not know. We can only speculate. Acts 1:3 says that Jesus remained for forty days and then returned to heaven. Most likely He used the time to prepare the men for the events and challenges that would follow after He left. Did Jesus have extra time to visit others? Why did He delay His return to heaven?
God the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to accomplish great things. Scripture also reveals that many more people believed in Jesus during the ministry of the apostles than had ever believed during Jesus’ ministry. Jesus did not need to show Himself to a wider audience. God had already chosen those who would believe in Jesus. There was no fear that some souls would be lost. All who were chosen to believe in Him from the foundation of the world would believe (Eph. 1:3-7).
I believe that Jesus’ main purpose during those forty days was to prepare the disciples to be the apostles or “sent ones,” who would turn the world upside down and make Jesus Christ known throughout the world. Jesus had already shown Himself to just about everyone in Galilee and Judea. Many had already believed. Others rejected Him. Would it have been beneficial for Him to have demonstrated to them that He had returned to life? Since the Jewish leaders had already lied about Him and called Him the Devil, they most likely would have created more lies.
In Luke 16 Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and Lazarus who have died. There was a great chasm between them. The rich man was in hell. At the close of the parable, the rich man asks Abraham to resurrect Lazarus and send him to the rich man’s family. Here is the response of Abraham.
But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” But he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (NASB) Luke 16:29-31
The parable says it all. The testimony of the apostles was enough. People will always make excuses for rejecting Jesus. Those who do not want to believe will find a reason. Those who believe have understood the message and responded.
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