In our last lesson, we discussed the resurrection appearances of Jesus as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All of these encounters took place Sunday morning. However, after Jesus spoke with Mary Magdalen, He appeared to others over the course of forty days. Following are brief descriptions of these encounters.
1. Jesus appear to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Easter afternoon and evening, as they returned from Jerusalem to their home village of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). As the two men walked, they were discussing the overwhelming events of Friday.
A stranger joined them; He is actually Jesus, “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him,” (24:16). It does not say that He was unrecognizable but that their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him, evidently by an act of God. We are not told why the Lord did this but it may be that He did not want to reveal Himself to them until He had first opened their spiritual eyes to truth about Him in the word of God.
These two men are followers of Christ, had placed their hope in Him as Israel’s Redeemer and were crushed by the arrest and crucifixion of their Lord. When the Stranger asks them what they are talking about, one of them replies, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (24:18). Ironically, Jesus is the only One who really does know what happened.
A few hours earlier, they had heard reports of the empty tomb and the angelic messengers saying Jesus had risen, but had evidently departed before anyone had reported an encounter with the risen Lord (24:22-24). It is not that these men did not believe; rather, they did not understand.
They believed that Jesus “was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people” (24:19). They were hoping that He would be the Redeemer who would fulfill the kingdom expectations of the righteous. But they could not reconcile Jesus’ death with the other truths that they believed about Him. A crucified Messiah was completely outside their theological framework. As a result, they were devastated by the events of Friday and unconvinced by the reports of Sunday morning.
As they walked, Jesus opened the Old Testament Scriptures to them, which clearly testified that Messiah would establish His kingdom on earth but that He must first suffer, that the cross was not a failure but the outworking of God’s plan. The Scriptures available to these two men validated the events of the past few days. It was not that the Messiah failed to fulfill Scripture. It is that these men, and the people of Jerusalem, had failed to understand what Scripture said about the Messiah. Jesus therefore rebuked them, saying, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (24:25,26).
The cross was necessary to the kingdom purpose of God. If the Messiah had established His kingdom on earth without first redeeming sinners, then no man or woman could have entered the kingdom. So Jesus, always the Discipler, taught the two men: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” (24:27). Can you imagine attending a Bible study taught by Jesus, the very Word of God in human form?
Arriving at Emmaus, Jesus “acted as though He were gong farther,” (24:28). He entered their home only when they invited Him and it is still that way — He enters into fellowship with us as we invite Him. As they reclined at the table to eat, “He took the bread and blessed it and breaking it, He began giving it to them” (24:30). In that moment, as Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized the Risen Lord (24:31). In the moment of revelation, Jesus vanished from their sight.
2. Jesus appears to Simon Peter some time Easter Day (Luke 24:34).
We know nothing of this encounter, only that it happened. (The Apostle Paul validates this meeting between Jesus and Peter in I Corinthians 15:5). Having denied and betrayed Jesus, Peter was grief struck and deeply ashamed. He needed reassurance that his unfaithfulness had not destroyed his relationship with the Lord, that he was still included in God’s kingdom purpose, that Christ still loved him. Jesus did this privately and no one has ever been privy to the details. No one else was there, no record of their conversation. There would be a later encounter at the Sea of Galilee when Jesus publicly reinstated Peter as leader of the disciples. But do you hear the kindness and tenderness of Jesus in this private encounter — He appeared personally to reassure a fallen man of the continuance of their relationship.
3. Jesus appeared to a group of disciples Easter evening (Luke 24:33-53 also John 20:19-23)
The two disciples from Emmaus returned to the meeting place in Jerusalem (possibly the Upper Room) and began to relate their encounter with Jesus. We don’t know how many disciples were gathered but we assume all of the apostles, other than Judas and Thomas, and certainly other disciples as evidenced by the two men from Emmaus. “While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst” (Luke 24:36).
Their initial response was fear. There is no record that Jesus was shining with the brightness of glory, as the angels had. So the cause of their fear must have been simply because He stood in their midst even though the doors were locked. They thought He was a spirit, a ghost. Again, notice the complete lack of expectation. They were not looking for a resurrected Christ.
Jesus proved the reality of His presence by inviting them to use their physical senses, “See my hands and My feet, that it is I; touch Me,” (24:39). He then showed them His hands and His feet which were not only real but bore the marks of crucifixion.
They were still incredulous, not from fear but from joy and amazement (Luke 24:41). So Jesus asked for something to eat and they gave Him a piece of broiled fish, which He ate in front of them (24:41-43). This was a real body, though a glorified, resurrection body, capable of interacting with the physical world and the spiritual world; capable of standing and talking yet able to pass through walls; able to sit at a table and hold bread in His hands and yet able to vanish; capable of standing in a garden with Magdalene and yet able to ascend to the Father in heaven. This resurrection body was able to interact with living people within the bounds of time and space, yet not limited by time or space. What a joy to know that followers of Christ will someday have a resurrection body like our Lord!
John’s description of this event, in 20:19-23 of his Gospel, adds two important details. First, John tells us that “the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews” (20:19). The word shut may be translated locked, as in Acts 5:23 (describing the prison in which the apostles were briefly incarcerated). This gives us a glimpse into the mindset of the disciples. They were hiding, anticipating the possibility of their own arrest. No one was expecting a resurrection.
John also adds that the apostle Thomas was not present with the others (20:24). When they told him of their encounter with the risen Christ, Thomas was unbelieving. This sets up the next recorded appearance of Christ in Jerusalem.
4. Resurrection Appearance to Thomas (John 20:24-29)
For whatever reason, Thomas was not with the other disciples on Easter evening. When they reported the encounter, he declared famously, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later, which, by John’s method of counting would be the following Sunday, and again the doors are shut (locked), Jesus is suddenly standing in their midst and greeting them.
Jesus invites Thomas to touch Him, to prove beyond any doubt the reality of His resurrection. There is no indication that Thomas actually did touch the Lord. It seems that the mere sight of Jesus moved him to confess, “My Lord and my God!” He confesses his faith in a truly risen Savior (20:28). We should note that no one had ever before addressed Jesus as, “My God.” Thomas seems to understand intuitively that the risen Christ can only be God in human form. And Christ is now, to Thomas, “My Lord, my God.”
5. Jesus appeared to seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-25).
The disciples had left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee, as Jesus had instructed them. Seven of the disciples are together and Peter decides to go fishing. The others follow his lead. In spite of their professional experience, they caught nothing all night.
At daybreak, Jesus called from the shore (though they did not recognize Him). “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” Jesus then directed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they enclosed so great a catch that they could not haul it in.
The blessing of abundant fish opened John’s eyes to the identity of the Man on the shore and he said to Simon, “It is the Lord” (21:7). Simon threw himself into the water and swam 100 yards. The others came in the boat, dragging the net.
Jesus, ever the Servant, had prepared breakfast for them and they ate with their risen Lord. Following the meal, Jesus publicly restored Simon Peter to his position of leadership. In their private meeting on Easter Day, Jesus no doubt had forgiven Peter and restored their personal fellowship. But now Jesus does this in front of the other disciples. It’s as if the Lord is saying, “Whatever sin may have separated us, that is forgiven, that's over now. I am calling you again to be a shepherd to my flock.”
Final Resurrection Witnesses
6. Jesus appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time (I Corinthians 15:7).
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul testifies that the Lord appeared to a large gathering of disciples, though he does not tell us where this took place. Paul does say that many are still alive at the time he is writing, some two decades later.
Many commentators suggest that this is the occasion referred to in Matthew 28:16-20, known as the Great Commission, when Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee and authorized them to carry the gospel to the nations. Matthew does not mention the presence of others besides the apostles, but that does not mean they were not present.
7. Paul also records an appearance to James (I Corinthians 15:7).
The Scripture does not identify James but it is not likely that this was one of the apostles (two of whom were named James). They had already encountered the risen Lord. Probably this was James, the half-brother of Jesus, who later became a pillar of the Jerusalem church.
8. Jesus appeared to His disciples prior to returning to the Father (Luke 24:44-53 Acts 1:1-12)
Luke, in 24:50,51 of his gospel and in Acts 1:6-11, describes the final resurrection appearance of Jesus. The Lord led His disciples to Bethany, a small village on the east side of the Mount of Olives, only two miles from Jerusalem. After commissioning them again (Acts 1:8), He then “lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven,” (Luke 24:50). In Luke’s parallel account in Acts, Jesus was lifted up in a cloud, no doubt the shekinah glory of God (Acts 1:9).
Evidently, the disciples continued to gaze into the sky, since it was necessary for two angels to reassure them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven,” (Acts 1:11). So it is that Jesus will return from heaven to the Mount of Olives. Until that time, we are commissioned with those first disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom to every nation.
9. Jesus appeared to Paul (I Corinthians 15:8).
In addition to these recorded appearances of Jesus during the forty days after the Resurrection, He also appeared to Paul, though several years after He had ascended to the Father. This happened on the Damascus Road and is recorded in Acts 9:1-8.
Paul’s encounter was “last of all” and therefore he referred to himself as “one untimely born” (I Cor. 15:8). The credibility of this resurrection appearance is demonstrated by the radical change in Paul’s life. He had been a violent, deadly persecutor of the church, yet became the great apostle to the nations. He had inflicted terrible suffering on believers yet later endured beatings and imprisonment for the sake of Christ.
Notice in the I Corinthian’s passage (15:5-8), Paul’s repeated use of the word appeared: “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve ... He appeared to more than five hundred ... He appeared to James, then to all the apostles ... He appeared to me also.” These were not visions of Jesus. They were real, physical, historical appearances to real people at particular times and places.
Since that time, our risen Savior has proven Himself through the lives of millions who, by grace, have turned from sin and death to life abundant and everlasting. Their transformed lives, faithful service and courageous deaths are the latest proof, living testimony, of our Lord’s resurrection.
Jesus, the Lamb for sinners slain, is also the risen Lord of glory. The tomb is empty. He is alive and His presence has filled and moved every generation since that first Easter morning. This is a cornerstone of our faith, as Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
1. Why do you suppose the risen Lord Jesus appeared privately to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34)?
2. In John 20:24-29, what convinced Thomas that this was the risen Lord Jesus?
3. How does the reality of the resurrection impact your worship and your prayers?