Background The emerging threat posed by antibiotic resistance has affected public health systems all over the world. Surveillance of resistant bacteria in clinical settings and identifying them in mixed cultures is of paramount importance and can contribute to the control of their spreading. Culture- independent monitoring approaches are highly desirable, since they yield results much faster than traditional susceptibility testing. However, many rapid molecular methods like PCR only detect the sole presence of a potential resistance gene, do not provide information regarding efficient transcription, expression and functionality and, in addition, cannot assign resistance genes to species level in mixed cultures. Methods By using plasmid-encoded TEM β-lactamase mediated ampicillin resistances as a proof of principle system, we (1) developed a fluorescence in situ hybridization-test (FISH) capable to detect the respective mRNAs, (2) implemented an immunofluorescence test to identify the corresponding proteins and (3) compared these two microscopic tests with an established colorimetric nitrocefin assay to assess the enzymatic activity. Results All three methods proved to be suitable for the testing of antibiotic resistance, but only FISH and immunofluorescence were able to differentiate between susceptible and resistant bacteria on the single cell level and can be combined with simultaneous species identification. Conclusions Fluorescence in situ hybridization and immunofluorescence tests are promising techniques in susceptibility testing since they bridge the gap between the slow, but accurate and sound cultural methods and molecular detection methods like PCR with much less functional relevance.