“Then, he was seen by over five-hundred brethren at one time, of whom, many still remain even now, yet some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:6)
The Apostle John begins to bring his gospel to a close with the statement that Jesus did many other things that were not recorded in his book (John 20:30); here we have Paul relating one of those things to us. At the time of Pentecost, there were 120 who had gathered together in fellowship and devoted themselves to prayer. Of course, after Pentecost, the church exploded in its size rapidly. Thus, the instance that Paul is referring to had to have taken place some time after the time of Pentecost (for there were not yet 500 brethren), but the specific details are uncertain.
The fact is, though, that Jesus did appear to this group of more than 500 believers—note that the word Paul uses here is a˙delfoi/ß (adelphois), which literally means “brothers,” but when used in this context, Paul consistently uses this term to refer to the fellowship of believers—though we also do not know the exact reason why Jesus chose to make this appearance. Regardless, the emphasis that Paul is making here is once again on the reliability of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul is saying, don’t take my word for it, look, he appeared to Peter and the twelve and he has appeared to more than 500 people—most of whom are still alive. Go ask them!
One thing that amazes me about our culture is its amazing demand for proof when it comes to matters of the Christian religion. Thousands will flock to shrines where supposedly some tribal deity made its appearance, and do so only on the testimony of one or two people (usually who were under the influence of hallucinatory drugs at the time). Millions of Muslims flock to Mecca each year to kiss a rock that was supposedly sent by Allah. Millions of Roman Catholics will flock to various churches where one or two people supposedly witnessed a statue cry blood or to touch something that is supposed to be the finger bone of one of the saints. Yet, these same people, when confronted with the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, will reserve judgment. Paul was reminding the Corinthians of all of the proof that was out there.
If we look back through church history, it would seem that two of the earliest heresies of the church were heresies surrounding the denial of Jesus’ return (see 2 Peter 3:4) and the denial of Jesus’ death and resurrection (see 1 John 4:2). How quickly people fall into those age-old traps over and over again. If a lawyer were to bring 500 reliable witnesses through a courtroom today, the judge would have no choice but to admit that their testimony was true and reliable—why is it that so many people are so quick to discredit the many witnesses to the truth? Loved ones, stand upon the truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—it is a fact, and you can have complete confidence in it. And then, by the way you live, proclaim to those around you that Jesus Christ is alive and at work in the lives of his people.