“He appeared to them for forty days”

According to Acts 1:3, Jesus appeared to various people for a period of “forty days,” beginning at his resurrection. The end of the forty days, by logical deduction, would be marked by his ascension into heaven. To whom did he appear during this time, and when did these events take place?
Calendar dates.  The year of the crucifixion can most likely be taken as AD 33. Passover on that year took place in very early April, and the resurrection would have taken place on Sunday, April 5. Jesus appeared to several people on that same day. Counting out forty days places the Ascension on Thursday, May 14. Of course, it was only ten days later, on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost) that the Holy Spirit was given to the church (Acts 2:1).
Events of the forty days. The NT records a number of appearances of Jesus during this time, and a few of them can be placed on a calendar with some precision; some can be placed more generally, and some have no chronological markers at all.
  • Appearance to Mary in the garden – this happened on the morning of Resurrection Sunday (John 20:14).
  • Appearance to two men on the road to Emmaus – this also happened “on that very day,” i.e. on Resurrection Sunday (Luke 24:13).
  • Appearance to the disciples in the Upper Room – this is at least the third appearance of Jesus on Resurrection Sunday, probably late in the evening or after nightfall. The two disciples “got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem,” to tell the other disciples, and Jesus appeared to them “while they were telling these things” (Luke 24:33-36).
  • Appearance to Thomas – this happened eight days later (John 20:26), which would place it on Monday, April 13.
  • Breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee – the disciples had been directed to travel to Galilee to meet Jesus (Matt 28:16). It was during this time that Peter decided to go fishing, and Jesus met them on the shore for breakfast (John 21:9). This trip is not given specific dates, but must have occurred after the appearance to Thomas and prior to the return to Jerusalem for the Ascension, placing it in late April or early May.
  • Appearance to 500 – Paul records that Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred brethren at one time” (1 Cor 15:6). This event is not recorded in the gospel accounts, and nothing else is known regarding its location or time.
  • Appearance to James – most likely to be identified as James the brother of Jesus, this appearance is mentioned by Paul (1 Cor 15:7) and seems to have been separate from those listed above.
Acts 1 recounts the events leading up to the Ascension, including Jesus’ command that his disciples should stay in Jerusalem. This indicates that they had returned from Galilee at some point, although no additional detail is given.
Putting these various appearances together on a calendar of the year AD 33 gives the following chart.

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