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Same as title, the question came up in bible study looking for more information.

3 Answers 3

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The phrasing of the question is a bit tricky because it assumes the first believer was a disciple. It may also assume a certain gender. So I have provided three answers, but in the apparent order of actual belief. First are some guards at the tomb. Second is Mary Magdalene and probably the other women. Third is the male disciples.

FIRST GUARDS

If we look at the resurrection account in Matthew 28, we find that the first believers (Jesus is the Messiah, crucified, buried, resurrected) were the guards at the tomb.

And for fear of him [the Risen Lord] the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. Mat 28:4

The guards were certainly instructed about the circumstances of their watch. A crucified man has been entombed, but some of his followers think he will rise from the dead alive on the third day. They think he is the King of the Jews, the prophesied Messiah. Watch carefully.

So when it happens as they were told, we read later in the chapter that only some of the guard go tell the chief priests.

Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. Mat 28:11

Why some? Why not all? Because it would be evident that the others ended up believing. The guards were not disciples, but I think a solid case can be made that some of the guards were the first believers.

SECOND WOMEN

What about actual disciples? Do women count as disciples? If so, then the next case would be Mary Magdalene. She comes to the sepulchre to annoint Christ, but find his body gone. She tells Peter and John who come see the body is indeed missing, but they don't believe in the resurrection at that time.

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. John 20:1-2

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. John 20:8

Believed what? Believe the idea that the body had been stolen.

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. John 20:9

They depart, but Mary stays.

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. John 20:17

She tells the other disciples, but they are still in a state of denial.

THIRD MALE DISCIPLES

If one is asking about the first male disciple to believe that Jesus is Messiah, then we look at Luke 24 and the two travelers to Emmaus. Unbeknown to them, it is Jesus who is explaining the scriptures to them, concluding with this question.

Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? Luke 24:26

But not until the breaking of bread was revelation given.

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. Luke 24:30-31

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Jesus made a lot of claims. Which ones did you have in mind? That He was the Christ, the Son of God, and the Son of Man? Or that he would rise from the dead after his burial?

Perhaps Peter was the first to understand the significance of who Jesus was. When Jesus asked him, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:27-30). This happened before Jesus’ transfiguration which was witnessed by Peter, James and John. At that time, Peter didn’t fully grasp that Jesus, as the Son of Man, would suffer and die, and Jesus rebuked him (Mark 8:33).

However, John seems to have fully understood exactly who Jesus really was – the Word who was with God in the beginning and who was God, through whom all things were made, the life and the light of men (John 1:1-5). At the very start of his gospel, John makes it clear that the Word of God was Jesus, who became flesh and made his dwelling among us, having come from his Father in heaven (John 1:14).

When John came to this stunning conclusion the Bible does not say, only that it’s the first thing John wants us to understand. Perhaps this realisation was gradual, that it was only after witnessing Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection that all the pieces came together. The Bible does not say.

Without a doubt, the most amazing claim Jesus made was that he would be raised to life after his death. The resurrection account in Luke’s gospel says that Jesus first appeared to two travellers (one being Cleopas) on the road to Emmaus, and they returned to Jerusalem to inform the disciples that “The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon [Peter]” (Luke 24:33-35).

According to Luke’s gospel, Peter was probably the first disciple to see the resurrected Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15:5 corroborates this:

and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time... Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also [Paul].

A more compelling question is do we truly believe Jesus Christ and his claims?

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This is a good question, but rather than answer it I'm going to explain how to find this for yourself.

The simple approach is to start reading each of the four gospels, and see what they describe about people following Jesus. This will not take you very long, as all of the gospels talk about Jesus' followers very early on. You will encounter the 'first' within a few chapters of the beginning.

A few things to note:

  • The gospels do not all tell all of Jesus story. So if two gospels mention two different disciples first, you might have to decide which one actually came first.
  • You might have to decide who actually counts as a disciple. Mary and Joseph believed Jesus was special, and so did the Magi. Do they count?
  • Jesus did not necessarily reveal all his claims at once. So some disciples may have believed some of his claims at first, and then others been the first to believe later claims. I recommend Matthew 16 in this regard.

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