I can understand why people question the sorts of things Jesus does (and doesn’t do) when He appears to His followers after His resurrection. For example, each of the Gospels agree that it was a group of women who discovered the empty tomb. And Matthew and John specifically report that it was to Mary Magdalene and other women that Jesus first appeared. Why couldn’t it have been Pilate who discovered the empty tomb and encountered Jesus? Can you imagine the resurrected Jesus saying to Pilate, “Remember me?” Imagine the power of Pilate’s testimony! But Jesus chooses to only appear to His followers and, firstly, to some of the women who were part of his entourage.
Recall that in Jesus’ day it was a man’s world; women were seen as less important than their male counterparts. Religious teachers believed that teaching women was a waste of time. Women could not even be witnesses at a court trial. Jesus came into a world where, as one writer puts it, “the cards were stacked against women.”
So when Jesus appears for the first time following His resurrection to women, it’s tempting to think Jesus should have first consulted with a public relations expert who might have directed Him to instead dazzle the influential movers and shakers of society (read: men!). Even John Calvin ponders how “it may be thought strange” that the Gospel writers “do not produce more competent witnesses.”
Well, it probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that I believe Jesus knew what He was doing. Among other things, Jesus affirms that women are equally capable as men of encountering the risen Christ. And Jesus affirms women can be entrusted to proclaim the Good News of Easter. In a culture that consistently did the opposite, Jesus honors women by ensuring they are the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection.
In addition, that the Gospels report that Jesus first appeared to women helps me believe that the stories are in fact true. If the early church made up this story, why would they have chosen women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection? No ancient author would have done that! I like how Frederick Dale Bruner puts it in his commentary on the Gospel of John:
The very fact that our four Gospels all attest to precisely women as the first witnesses to the Empty Tomb shows the newborn Church’s serene confidence in the credibility of the fact of the Resurrection – and its respect for women. For if the Church had wanted to fortify her faith in the Resurrection, she would “found” male witnesses to give the first testimonies to the Empty Tomb. The initial female witnesses in all four Gospels solidifies, paradoxically, the credibility of the Church’s faith in the Resurrection and her calm assurance of the Resurrection’s factuality. (pp. 1144-1145)
I guess Jesus doesn’t need better P.R. after all.