Chapter 1: Christ's Resurrection in the Gospels
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
It is beyond dispute, that women who bring costly spices and ointments to an eastern tomb are not anticipating a resurrection! That no one among the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ was expecting resurrection is truly amazing. After all, the Lord was explicit about it. After Peter’s confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" Matt.16.16, we read "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and beraised again the third day" Matt.16.21; cf. Mk.8.31; Lk.9.22.
Later "while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, ‘The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall be raised again’" Matt.17.22,23; cf. Mk.8.31; 9.31; Lk.9.43,44.
Again, when they were on the way to Jerusalem "He took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto Him, saying, ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him: and the third day He shall rise again’" Mk.10.32-34; cf. Matt.20.17-19; Lk.18.31-33. "And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken" Lk.18.34.
However, if the friends and followers of the Lord were oblivious to resurrection, His enemies had regard to His words. "Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night, and steal Him away, and say unto the people, ‘He is risen from the dead:’ so the last error shall be worse than the first" Matt.27.62-64.
So while the enemies of the Lord remembered His words about rising again on the third day, and sought to prevent anything that could be portrayed as resurrection, His disciples were in general ignorant; and some women were preparing burial spices!
WOMEN WITH DEVOTED HEARTS PREPARE
"In the end of [now late on, R.V.] the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary [the mother of James, and Salome, Mk.16.1] to see the sepulchre" Matt.28.1; cf. Lk.24.1. It was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who were close observers "sitting over against the sepulchre" Matt.27.61, when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus reverently laid the Lord’s body in the garden tomb, rolled the great stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed. They were last to leave the garden on the day of the crucifixion and "returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment" Lk.23.56. While many link Matt.28.1 with the narrative in relation to their coming to the tomb early on the first day of the week, others1 suggest it was before 6pm on the sabbath (as Jewish chronology measures the 24 hour day from sunset to sunset, i.e. from 6pm to 6pm). If that indeed be the case, then women who had lingered longest at the tomb on crucifixion day: went home to prepare spices and ointments, rested on the sabbath, before sundown at the end of that day they briefly visit the tomb and then return again in the early dawn of the first day of the week. Their affections are bound up with Christ. In devotion they prepared to add perfume to the body of the One Whom they loved. They were drawn to the place of His repose, they just could not stay away, but no thought of possible resurrection ever crossed their minds!
- 1 Kelly, Wm. “Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew”. Believer’s Bookshelf, Pennsylvania, reprint, 1971.
Robertson, A.T. “Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 1”. Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee.
Robertson, A.T. “A Harmony of the Gospels for students of the life of Christ, based on the Broadus Harmony in the Revised Version”. Harper and Row publishers, London.
Jamieson, R; Fausset, A.R. and Brown D. ”Commentary on the Whole Bible”. Zonderman Publishing House,1961.
MacDonald, Wm. “Believer’s Bible Commentary, New Testament”. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990.
Nevertheless these women receive honourable mention in the Scripture record. They are Mary Magdalene, the "other" Mary, Salome and Joanna. Mary Magdalene is the only Mary named in all four Gospels. Mary the mother of James the less and Joses, Matt.27.56, may be the same person as Mary the wife of Cleophas, Jn.19.25. Salome is the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John the apostles. Joanna is the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. The identity and inter-relationships of these women have been the subject of much discussion elsewhere, but are not of direct relevance to our consideration here.2
- 2 Unger, M.F. “The new Unger’s Bible Dictionary” Moody Publishers, Chicago, revised 1966.
Wenham, J. “The Easter Enigma.” Paternoster 1992. Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon. While this monograph provokes helpful consideration, the author of this chapter does not agree with all of Dr. Wenham’s conclusions or conjectures, e.g. most notably his suggestion that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are the same person!
Before sunrise on the first day of the week there was a great earthquake (the second in three days), for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled away the stone from the entrance to the tomb, and sat upon it. The glory of his appearance was like lightning and his garments white as snow and such was the dread evinced by his appearance that the guard of soldiers shook with terror and became paralysed with fear, Matt.28.2-4.
We should note that the angel did not roll the stone away to let the Lord out. We shall see that He had already risen and vacated the tomb. However, the activity of the angel demonstrates the impotence of the political scheming of the chief priests and their acolytes. It is not often that an angel appears to unbelievers, but here one does, to break with impunity Rome’s imperial seal and render their military prowess irrelevant. He then takes his seat upon the stone to await the arrival of ordinary women with extraordinary devotion.
WOMEN WITH DEVOTED HEARTS DRAW NEAR
The early events on that Lord’s Day morning are recorded in Matt.28.5-8; Mk.16.2-8; Lk.24.1-8 and Jn.20.1.
Evidently these women commenced their journey when it was still dark, which indicates that they wished to use their spices and ointments as early as possible. It should be noted that anointing the body is not the same as embalming, which was not a Jewish practice. It is not explicitly stated that all of the women came together unto the tomb. Indeed it is inferred that Mary Magdalene came separately and alone, Jn.20.1, demonstrating her special devotion. However, they reach the tomb just after sunrise. Their desire to add external fragrant ointments was a tangible expression of their love.3
- 3 Wenham, ibid.
As they come near to the sepulchre they converse about an anticipated difficulty, which in the event did not exist, namely, how to roll back the stone that closed the tomb. As they "looked [up], they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great" Mk.16.4. The tomb stood wide open, inviting entry, but their initial fear was that others had rolled back the stone to get prior access to the body, which was also the immediate fear of Mary Magdalene, Jn.20.2-15.
These women were not deterred. They enter the tomb, which indicates that it had the sizeable entrance and vestibule of a newly hewn family sepulchre, and they encounter "a young man sitting on the right side" Mk.16.5. The angel has the appearance of a young man, dressed in long stately robes suggestive of distinction and dignity, and is seated to the right of the tomb entrance. Their encounter with an angel overwhelms them with wonder and amazement, rather than fright. This awesome personage then speaks, "Be not affrighted: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him" Mk.16.6
This narrative is important. It was not an apparition they beheld, but an angel who understood their feelings and fears, who immediately spoke to reassure and calm them. This is a visitation of a being from another realm, betokening the miraculous, but who is nevertheless real and practical, engaging with the issues of the moment. He knew the purpose of their coming and the feelings of their heart and instantly takes their focus from himself to Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified. It is amazing that heaven’s angelic messenger spoke of despised Nazareth in the garden tomb. Of greater moment is that the Lord later spake that name from heaven, "I am Jesus of Nazareth" Acts 22.8. The reassuring word of the angel recorded by Matthew is "Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified" Matt.28.5.
"He is risen" is God’s vindication of His Son and His redeeming work at Calvary. Resurrection affirms that He is indeed the Son of God, proves that His sacrifice for sin has been accepted and that the work of salvation has been completed. Resurrection is God’s "Amen" to the Saviour’s "It is finished" Jn.19.30. The heavenly messenger attests to an accomplished fact. He is risen in the totality of His Person: body, soul and spirit. Out-resurrection always includes the body, which is never to die again.
Therefore the angel directs their attention to the shelf or alcove carved out in the rock where the body had been laid. "Come, see the place where the Lord lay" Matt.28.6. Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the crucified, is Jesus the Lord! For the first time these believers have their attention drawn to the bedrock foundation of the Christian hope: the empty tomb! "And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus" Lk.24.3, states the unanimous testimony of the women, later to be confirmed by Peter and John, that the tomb was empty.
Although only one angel is mentioned by Matthew and Mark, while Luke and John refer to two angels, it is not a cause for any disquiet if several Gospel writers refer to the total number of angels present and others refer particularly to the one who was speaking. "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Lk.24.5, is that angel’s pointed challenge to the women. Really how can the Living One remain among the dead? The challenge is followed by the affirmation, "He is not here, but is risen" Lk.24.6.
The angel then summarises the Divine plan of redemption, "remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again’" Lk.24.6,7. Had they paid due attention to the Lord’s words in Galilee they would have spared themselves anxiety, as well as the expense of the spices and ointments. Indeed the spices are never mentioned again!
These women, and others, had forgotten the Lord’s words, which ran contrary to their ideas and expectations of an immediate restoration of a Jewish monarchy, even though the Lord had clearly foretold His betrayal into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, then His crucifixion by the Romans, and His resurrection. He first told the gospel story. Old Testament types, most particularly the feast of firstfruits, Lev.23.9-14, with the sheaf waved before the Lord on the morrow after the sabbath, also prefigured this fulfilment but, again its relevance was missed. Nevertheless, His words were in their mind, if not readily so. After angelic prompting, recollection occurs: "And they remembered His words" Lk.24.8.
WOMEN WITH DEVOTED HEARTS GO FORTH TO PROCLAIM
"Go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him: lo, I have told you" Matt.28.7. These are the marching orders given by an angel to these true-hearted women. ‘Come and see’ is replaced by ‘go and tell’. Only those who draw near with reverent worship are fitted to go forth to tell others the glad evangel, something that aspiring gospel preachers should bear in mind. "Be going" has an imperative sense and so is a command. Knowledge of resurrection calls for immediate action. There is a duty of care to discouraged disciples and to a perishing world to proclaim the fact of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The response of the women to the angelic command is instantaneous. "And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid" Mk.16.8. Trembling and astonishment in association with reverential awe describes their emotional condition. Yet this is not a negative experience, as it is also described as "fear and great joy" Matt.28.8. It was an emotion they had never experienced before, which was unique to them. Within minutes ointments are made redundant: spices are replaced by speech; and perfumes by praise.
- How hast Thou triumphed, and triumphed with glory,
- Battled death’s forces, rolled back every wave!
- Can we refrain, then, from telling the story,
- How Thou art victor o’er death and the grave?
- (H. d’A. Champney)
It is Luke who gives most detail about the report to those variously described as "the eleven" "the apostles" and "all the rest" by "Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them" Lk.24.10. It is important to note that the Scriptures do not explicitly state that all the disciples were found at the one location.
These women with the greatest message the world has ever heard receive the same response as countless gospel preachers have encountered since: "and their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not" Lk.24.11. Their hearers treat the report of the empty tomb as the hysterical nonsense of the delirious. They refused to believe the factual report of their findings at the sepulchre, the words of the angel, the references to Christ’s earlier teaching, and kept on distrusting the assurances of these women. It is also important to note that it is not explicitly stated in the Scriptures that all of the women were together at each of the rehearsals of the message.
It is only after a very particular rehearsal of the story by Mary Magdalene to Peter and John, who evidently were together, that any activity was elicited in response. Mary Magdalene says, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him" Jn.20.2. This wording suggests that at this stage Mary Magdalene’s mind was still focused upon the absence of the body, a presumption that it had been removed by person or persons unknown, and that its location had not been established. Either she had still to assimilate the significance of the testimony of the angel, or, perhaps more likely, she had immediately left the sepulchre on discovery of the open tomb and the absent body.
However this, and the response of the eleven and the rest, underscores again that no one was anticipating a bodily resurrection. Also, as they would all reflect upon their initial incredulity, they would understand the ongoing resistance to believe the resurrection by those to whom they would later preach. That said, they later preached resurrection as an accomplished fact with appropriate Scripture reference, and this is still the way it should be presented to unbelievers today: preached as a fact of Scripture, relying upon the Holy Spirit to bear home its profound implications upon the souls of the hearers.
MEN BEGIN TO MOVE
Peter and John understand at least that something had happened to require them to run to the garden tomb, Jn.20.3-10. John covers the distance faster than Peter, reached the sepulchre first and stooping down he glanced in. From his position he saw the linen grave clothes, most likely in the general shape in which they had been wrapped around the body. At this stage John had not apprehended the fact of resurrection, but it must now be clear to him, from the fact that the grave clothes are here, that this was not any simple removal of a body. Peter then arrived, passed John, and entered the sepulchre to see "the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" Jn.20.6,7.
The aspect of the undisturbed linen clothes and the position of the head cloth give mute testimony that the Lord’s body had not been removed either by friends or enemies. Looking carefully it is evident to Peter that whatever had happened it was not a grave robbery. The body had gone, true, but the clothing remained in the shape it had been, but folded inwards. To sight and intelligence it appeared to his still puzzled mind as if the Lord’s body had passed through the linen clothes leaving them undisturbed, which is exactly what had happened!
John then entered the tomb "and he saw, and believed" Jn.20.8, which means more than physical sight. He understood the implications of the evidence before him. Indeed his perception went beyond that of Peter as it is recorded that "he believed". He now accepts the word of Mary Magdalene that the Lord’s body is gone and, with the evidence before him, he accepted the fact of resurrection, prior to actually seeing the risen Christ.
Yet John and all the other disciples, "knew not the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead" Jn.20.9; they were unaware of the relevant prophetic Scriptures and had not assimilated the Lord’s own instruction. So to the extent that he was now accepting the fact of resurrection, he was ‘walking by sight and not by faith!’
Peter and John return from the garden tomb to their place of residence or lodging. We wonder if this was the same location to where Mary the mother of our Lord4 was taken by John, "from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home" Jn.19.27? So, if she were still residing there, what a conversation must have taken place!
- 4 Unger, ibid. Wenham, ibid.
THE FIRST RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO MARY MAGDALENE
The details of this appearance are given in Mk.16.9-11 and Jn.20.11-18. While John provides the greater detail, it is Mark who records the crucial time point, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene" Mk.16.9. We must understand that none was able to see Him in this new resurrection condition except those to whom He was pleased to, specifically and convincingly, manifest Himself. Mark identifies Mary Magdalene as the woman "out of whom He had cast seven devils [demons]" Mk.16.9. Thus the Lord’s power over demonic forces had continuing effect even after His death. His first resurrection appearance to this woman manifested that Satan’s power was broken, and that the Lord will never disown sinners saved by His grace.
Mary Magdalene, and indeed the other women, stand as ‘continuity saints’ in the Gospel record. By that I mean they link two separate, but closely related, time periods. For example, Nathan the prophet, Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, link seamlessly the last years of David’s reign with the first of Solomon’s. Here it is given to a small group of women to provide an unbroken eye-witness continuum between the death, the burial and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This Mary had obviously returned to the garden after reporting to the disciples that the tomb was empty. She must have followed in the footsteps of Peter and John when they ran to the tomb. She lingers there, weeping, after they had returned to their home. Her heart is totally absorbed with the Person of Christ, but she is not in the good of the Old Testament promises or the Lord’s own words. Nor does she seem to have received any angelic announcement at this point, which suggests that her experience was individual and distinct from that of the other women. With breaking heart and lamentation she is determined to establish what had happened to the Lord’s body. So she draws ever closer to the tomb and "she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain" Jn.20.11,12.
Angels are rarely mentioned in John’s gospel, so their appearance here denotes importance. Their presence, seated at each end of the surface on which the body of the Lord had lain, did not startle Mary Magdalene. Such was her distress that the angels do not announce that the Lord is risen but ask, "Woman, why weepest thou?" Jn.20.13. Her answer is plaintive in its simplicity, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him" Jn.20.13. Although she believed Him to be dead, He is still her Lord. However the fact of resurrection has not dawned upon her distressed mind.
Then she turns away from the angels, not waiting for their response. "She turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing" Jn.20.14, which was as significant a turn round as that by Abraham in Genesis chapter 22 and John in Revelation chapter 1. Did she sense the approach of someone behind her? Or did the angels rise, indicating the approach of the Lord? Anyhow, the words used suggest that Mary Magdalene looked at Him steadfastly with that sense of inquiry appropriate to the weighing up of a stranger, "and knew not that it was Jesus" Jn.20.14.
Consideration of a number of post-resurrection appearances suggest that the Lord was not immediately recognised by His friends, those who had known Him intimately. Whether this was because of a change in His appearance, or due to another means of withholding His identity, is not explained. Understanding is dependent on revelation. He asks Mary Magdalene the same question as that posed by the angels, "Woman, why weepest thou?" but follows with an additional question, "whom seekest thou?" Jn.20.15. Indeed, He had asked a similar question of those sent to arrest Him at Gethsemane, Jn.18.4.
Then we have those wonderful words, "She supposing Him to be the gardener" Jn.20.15. Her supposition, while wrong, paradoxically was also strangely accurate! For truly He was the world’s Gardener, for "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made" Jn.1.3. In consideration of the abundant profusion and variety of trees, shrubs and plants, with beauty of form and richness of colour, Mrs. Frances Alexander, the hymn writer, was absolutely correct when she wrote "the Lord God made them all." Mary Magdalene used a word unique in the New Testament in calling Him, literally, the ‘keeper of the garden.’ As a result of His death, burial and resurrection He will, in a coming day, reverse environmental degradation and biodiversity losses and, in a millennial earth, "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly" Isa.35.1,2. Indeed Mary Magdalene was about to have a millennial foretaste, as described in Isa.35.9,10, "But the redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with songs And everlasting joy upon their heads:
They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
She follows her assumption with an enquiry, "Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence, tell me where Thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away" Jn.20.15. Although she refers to "Him" three times in this statement, He is still unrecognised, either by appearance or by voice. The One she desired above all others stands unknown before her. How near He was! Is He not near to us in all of our experiences? We are often totally unaware of His proximity and interest!
Revelation came with one word, "Jesus saith unto her, ‘Mary’" Jn.20.16. Truly, "He calleth His own sheep by name" Jn.10.3; recognition dawns. She turned herself, body as well as head, to be the first of redeemed humanity to look full at the face of the risen Christ. He used one word to her: "Mary". She used one word to Him: "‘Rabboni’; which is to say Master" Jn.20.16. Let us not chide her for not using "Saviour" or "Lord" but the title of a respected Teacher. He knew her heart. He knew every throb of her being, all the grief of past days, with all the tears and all the fears, but face to face with Christ it is now all wonder and joy. For Him, what feelings He must have, appreciating the true hearts who love His Person, contemplate His passion and are enthralled by His resurrection power!
"Jesus saith unto her, ‘Touch Me not’" Jn.20.17. That is, do not cling to me, do not hold me, stop what you are doing or are about to do. The Lord is graciously teaching her that she is not to relate to Him as a man in the flesh; new relationships are to be understood. In John’s Gospel He is to be known characteristically as a risen Man. For the Christian He is to be recognised as a Man in heaven. Therefore Mary is not to fasten on to Him, but appreciate a new reality, a relationship based on faith. His ongoing presence in spirit after the ascension would be a greater blessing than anything she had ever experienced.
Explanation is given: "for I am not yet ascended to My Father" Jn.20.17. After His ascension a new, continuous, spiritual relationship will be established. Then He will send down the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to believers in a way that would be impossible while He remains among them physically. Although at Calvary the Lord committed His spirit to His Father, Lk.23.46, to Mary Magdalene He disclosed that He did not ascend bodily to His Father immediately after His resurrection. Best to believe the Bible and not some of the books! Although the word "ascend" in the next phrase is in the present tense; that is not in the sense of being immediate, but His resurrection commences a new stage of being.
Then He says, "but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God" Jn.20.17. Note that here it is not ‘our’ Father and ‘our’ God. He had an eternal relationship with His Father, with His God, which is inherently and fundamentally distinct from our relationship. Nevertheless His Father and His God is also ours; and we can enjoy fellowship with Divine Persons on the basis laid at Calvary. He calls the disciples by a new name, "My brethren" even though they had scattered from Him at His arrest at Gethsemane; Peter had denied Him with oaths and curses; for the past three days the disciples had been in hiding! Nevertheless their recent failures did not disturb this relationship, which He affirms and asserts. Anyone reading this, who looks back on some sad incident where they failed the Lord, should take courage: "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" Heb.2.11. Be encouraged to seek restoration to full fellowship with Him as soon as possible.
Mary then releases her hold on the Lord, obeys His command and goes immediately to "them that had been with Him, as they mourned and wept" Mk.16.10. "I have seen the Lord" would doubtless be her initial announcement, followed by a rehearsal of all that she had seen and heard. However, Mary experiences what the apostles, and later all gospel preachers, had to contend with when the resurrection was preached: "And they, when they had heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not" Mk.16.11.
THE SECOND RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO THE OTHER WOMEN
The details of this appearance are provided in Matt.28.8-10. As the other women, that is other than Mary Magdalene, were returning from the tomb, the Lord met them. Their devotion to the Lord is rewarded with a sudden, unanticipated, face to face meeting with the risen Christ.
The Saviour’s greeting, "All hail" is an ordinary form of salutation meaning ‘grace’ or ‘rejoice’. Judas used an equivalent greeting at the entrance to Gethsemane, Matt.26.49. Roman soldiers used it in their barrack-room mockery, Matt.27.29. However, here the Lord uses it with such tenderness that the women "came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him" Matt.28.9.
Resurrection truth should always draw forth worship. With reverence they fall at His feet and, in homage, take hold upon the reality before them. The Lord does not forbid their taking hold of His feet as He had done in relation to Mary Magdalene’s clinging to Him. For believing Jews the great hope of Israel is to have Messiah in their midst. Nevertheless such an immediate manifestation is not going to be in Jerusalem, where He was despised and rejected! Indeed it is a feature of Matthew’s resurrection accounts that the focus is no longer on Jerusalem, but Galilee.
"Then said Jesus unto them, ‘Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me’" Matt.28.10. Their joy was mingled with reverential fear and awe. He reiterates the intention for reunion in Galilee, as earlier announced by the angel. However, His "brethren" if we take that phrase to refer to His disciples, would see Him that very evening in Jerusalem, (as recorded by other Gospel writers), and in the same location, one week later! Given that, and the fact that at least some, if not all, of these women were relatives of Mary the mother of our Lord, should we take the phrase "My brethren" here to more properly refer to those who had grown up with Him, the children of Mary and Joseph? It is used in that context on a number of previous occasions in John’s Gospel, such as "neither did His brethren believe in Him" Jn.7.5. We shall allude to this again when considering the Lord’s appearance to James.
PARALLEL MESSENGERS – THE WOMEN AND THE WATCH
The details of this narrative are given in Matt.28.11-15. As the women hurry to report the Lord’s resurrection, parallel testimony is being borne by another group to a different audience. The soldiers authorised by Pilate, at the request of the Sanhedrin, to guard the garden tomb come to the chief priests to give astonishing news.
It is amazing that these enemies of Christ should hear the astounding news of the absent body before all the disciples. The soldiers could be in no doubt that something amazing had happened, which had affected them personally and had emptied the tomb. Full details are given; they "shewed … all the things that were done" Matt.28.11. Although knowledge is not faith, nevertheless they give a faithful account of the facts from their perspective.
This was everything that the chief priests had feared, not that their hearts were changed. The soldiers’ report is transmitted by the chief priests, Annas and Caiaphas, to the elders who took counsel. "And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord, And against His Anointed … He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision" Ps.2.2,4.
The Jewish religious leaders then take the course that most corrupt rulers follow when faced with uncomfortable facts. They devise an alternative narrative, initiate a cover up and pay bribes. Those who had negotiated with Judas to betray the Lord Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver again have recourse to their coffers to provide large or considerable money to tell the lie. The price payable to each member of the guard had to be great; after all it was their lives that were on the line. As well as money, the guards receive assurance that should the issue be the subject of a judicial inquiry by Pilate; the chief priests would intervene and persuade him, most likely by an even bigger bribe!
Their alternative narrative was simple: "Say ye, ‘His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept’" Matt.28.13. How would they know if they were sleeping? Did they really all fall asleep at once? Why did they not hear the stone being moved? Why were the grave clothes left behind undisturbed? Why was there no round up of the disciples? Why was there no search for the body?5 Their story is not credible but, like all lies, the simplest and the most audacious are often the most readily accepted. After all, for them the alternative would be unthinkable, and that is why the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is still discounted by many today. A risen Christ means that God has intervened in human history and, if so, He can do again!
- 5 Morison, F. “Who moved the stone?” Authentic Media Ltd, Milton Keynes, 2012.
The false report, which was still current when Matthew wrote his Gospel, was evidently promulgated assiduously by the Jewish leaders. However, a number of soldiers knew, from the bribe money in their hands, that a cover up was underway. From their personal knowledge, imperfect as it was, and from the fearful response of the Jewish leaders, they knew that something momentous had happened.
For the Jewish leaders, their worst fears had been realised. However, they must have hoped that their stratagem was successful by the relative silence in the weeks following. Nevertheless, their complacency would be shattered on the Day of Pentecost!
THE THIRD RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO TWO DISCIPLES ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
The details of this appearance are given in Mk.16.12,13 and Lk.24.13-34. "He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country" Mk.16.12. "But their eyes were holden that they should not know Him" Lk.24.16. Earlier He had been perceived as the gardener by Mary Magdalene, here He is perceived simply as a fellow traveller.
A new narrative is intimated by "and behold" although "that same day" Lk.24.13, clarifies that it is the resurrection day. The two disciples concerned were clearly in the group of "them that had been with Him" to whom Mary Magdalene reported, although not of the eleven disciples, Mk.16.10. One is called "Cleopas" the other unnamed. Whether two men, or man and wife, need not concern us as our focus is on the unrecognised traveller.
Before these two disciples left Jerusalem for their two hour walk to Emmaus, a village almost 8 miles to the northwest, they had heard reports from the women about the empty tomb and the angelic message, plus corroboration by Peter and John.
Now as they walked, "they talked together of all these things which had happened" Lk.24.14. Although disillusioned and disappointed, He remained the subject of their conversation as they sought to make sense of all that they had heard that morning and to draw the appropriate conclusions.
Then we have those wondrous words, "while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them" Lk.24.15. The risen Lord is an unrecognised fellow companion, Who drew ever closer to them, overhearing their conversation as He fell into step beside them. What a joy the subject of their consideration must have been to Him! "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it" Mal.3.16.
The pilgrim stranger then speaks: "What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?" Lk.24.17. So commences a Divine work to probe and manifest the hearts of these disciples. They had been exchanging thoughts and feelings with each other, but now they stop to turn and face their questioner.
Cleopas answered with words that must have caused him to blush every time he recalled them, "Art Thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?" Lk.24.18. To which their interlocutor replies, "What [kind of] things?" Lk.24.19.
That question became the prelude to an outpouring of all their hopes and fears. His name is spoken first, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth". His work and words are spoken of next, "which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people" Lk.24.19. They bear witness of His miracles and wonders and signs plus His gracious words of power. While they may have lost their joy, and all their hopes may have been shattered, it was still their belief that He was mighty before God.
Then they speak of His death, attributing the blame to their rulers and not to the Romans, "the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him" Lk.24.20. That fact had evidently shaken their confidence, "But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel" Lk.24.21. Their hopes for a political Messianic kingdom to replace the bondage of Roman rule had been dashed by the crucifixion. They remained disconsolate even though they had received the reports of the empty tomb, "and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done" Lk.24.21. They judge that He is still dead and, therefore, they are without hope.
Nevertheless they recount the experiences of the women at the tomb, repeat the words of the angels and narrate the account of Peter and John. The experience of the women, plus that of Peter and John, is summed up by the words, "they found not His body" Lk.24.23. They are aware that the angels were reported to have said that "He was alive" Lk.24.23. "But Him they saw not" Lk.24.24, confirms that Cleopas and his companion had left Jerusalem before Mary Magdalene, and later the other women, had reported their encounters with the risen Christ.
The dynamic now changes. The unknown stranger speaks with the voice of authority, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" Lk.24.25. Their dullness of perception stemmed from partial understanding, they were unable to grasp and believe all that the prophets had written. They could read the words, but missed their meaning and application to Messiah. So it was necessary to show that, in accordance with Old Testament type and teaching, Messiah had to die to effect redemption. They needed a new understanding of the Word of God free from Jewish misconception.
"Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" Lk.24.26. Was it not necessary? Sadly the very things that caused them disturbance of mind, the sufferings and death of the Saviour, should have been to them the unique authentication of His Person and redeeming work. Unless the meaning of the cross is understood aright, everything else will be out of focus. His sufferings and death are the means whereby He will enter into His glory.
So begins a wonderful exposition of the Old Testament with particular emphasis on Messianic truth. "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" Lk.24.27. This is a systematic unfolding of types and prophecies which spake of redemption, forgiveness of sins, peace and pardon, through His death. He showed Himself in all of the Old Testament.
This conversation on the unfolding drama of redemption continued over the remaining miles to Emmaus. "And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and He made as though He would have gone further. But they constrained Him, saying, ‘Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent’" Lk.24.28,29. Of course, He would not force an entry, nor continue His fellowship, if they were unwilling, but they longed to extend His exposition and so by use of courteous words they plead for His acquiescence. He does not disappoint and, as the shadows of evening lengthen, He enters their home to tarry with them.
Supper is prepared. The hosts and the guest take their places reclining at the table, but unusually the guest becomes the host, gives thanks, breaks the bread and, in the act of giving to them, "their eyes were opened, and they knew Him" Lk.24.31. Previously their eyes were holden, now they are opened and, at a common evening meal, they recognise the identity of their teacher. There is no mention of nail prints in His hands, nor of any familiar method of breaking bread. Rather their eyes were opened as a result of Divine revelation. They had opened their home; He opened their eyes. Yet in the moment of full recognition "He vanished out of their sight" Lk.24.31. Becoming invisible to them indicated that His resurrection body can act quite differently to that which pertained prior to His death. Hence He can disappear suddenly and, as we shall soon see, appear suddenly as well.
They are neither startled by His disappearance, nor caused to doubt as a result. Their words one to another are instructive, "Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?" Lk.24.32. Their heart, responding to His exposition, authenticated the reality. They were won by the words of the One Who unlocked the treasures of truth. He Himself is the key to the understanding of Holy Scripture. The risen Lord had walked the road with them, had talked with them, had sat with them, had prayed with them, had eaten with them and opened their eyes. They were absolutely sure.
What a change it made! The meal was evidently forgotten. Although the hour was late, they again set out to retrace all the miles they had traversed earlier. "They rose up the same hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them" Lk.24.33. The last time they had come to Jerusalem, for the Passover, they no doubt hoped that their Lord would be recognised as Messiah. Now they knew that He was indeed Messiah, having acquired a greater insight to His glory and saving purpose.
THE FOURTH RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO SIMON PETER
The details of this appearance are given in Lk.24.34 and 1Cor.15.5. The unfolding events of the resurrection day had evidently encouraged the apostles and other believers to seek each other’s company. Reports from Mary Magdalene and the other women about the empty tomb, Peter’s and John’s report, followed by news of resurrection appearances, changed the entire outlook. It is to this changed group that those from Emmaus reported. However, as well as giving news, the Emmaus residents receive news: "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon" Lk.24.34.
The where, when and how of this appearance is not supplied. Nor do we have any record of the conversation between the Lord and Peter. All that transpired was evidently of an intensely intimate and private nature. For Peter it must have mingled the joy of reunion with the recollection of his recent denials and disavowals on the night of his Lord’s arrest. For restoration to fellowship, the past must be faced honestly, but the details need not be the subject for public humiliation. Would that we all could learn the lessons of grace and discretion taught by this private appearance!
Another aspect of this encounter, which is of benefit to all, is that Peter’s report was convincing, hence the word "indeed". The whole atmosphere has now changed; believers at Jerusalem are convinced that the Lord has risen! Their understanding is therefore reinforced by the detailed report of those returning from Emmaus, which prepares them for the next event in this seminal resurrection day.
THE FIFTH RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO THE TEN APOSTLES
The details of this appearance are given in Mk.16.14; Lk.24.36-48 and Jn.20.19-23. "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, ‘Peace be unto you’" Jn.20.19. The apostles were sitting at meat, no doubt partaking of the last meal of the day and discussing all the events of recent days and hours.
"And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, ‘Peace be unto you’" Lk.24.36. He Himself stood, appearing suddenly in their midst, which caused them to be "terrified and affrighted" Lk.24.37. The sudden appearance caused an intense, immediate, emotional reaction in response to something which was beyond rational or natural explanation. Their psychological shock was such that they continued in a state of fear in His presence. Even after hearing His words, they continued to think that "they had seen a spirit" Lk.24.37.
He then "upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen" Mk.16.14. This reproach or censure from the risen Christ was essential to rouse them from their lack of faith and correct their muddled thinking. Their refusal to accept first-hand, eye-witness testimony showed hardness of heart and an obstinate refusal to bow in faith to the evidence before them. They were slothful in spiritual perception. They had heard of His resurrection before seeing Him and, on seeing and hearing Him, they were in terror. Before such can be commissioned to preach to others, they must learn from personal experience what it takes to be convinced that Christ is risen. Later they must not become discouraged when people do not believe the gospel. Therefore they must first come to understand that nothing less than Divine revelation and spiritual enlightenment are needed, in association with a faithful exposition of the facts of the gospel message, before unbelievers can be convinced and converted.
The Lord then deals with their fearful condition. "And He said unto them, ‘Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?’" Lk.24.38. He challenges them to face the reasons why they were agitated when spiritual perception should have been able to discern the truth. For their benefit He goes further in self-revelation. "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have" Lk.24.39. Evidently the prints of the nails remain in His resurrection body. He thus assures them of His identity, offering proof to sight, hearing and touch. The reality of His resurrection body is tangible. Well could John later write, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life" 1Jn.1.1.
His body is real and is proof to the disciples that the risen Christ is the Jesus of Nazareth. One can only begin to imagine the feelings of His own when "He shewed unto them His hands and His side" Jn.20.20. His wounds proved His crucifixion, His wounded side was unique and proved His death, and His presence proved His resurrection. However, this was overwhelming and too much to absorb immediately as "they yet believed not for joy, and wondered" Lk.24.41. In complexity of emotion, their joy eclipsed their ability to analyse and assimilate. In wonder they grappled with the reality of His presence.
Again the Lord condescends to accommodate their need. "He said unto them, ‘Have ye here any meat?’ And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish [honeycomb is an unwarranted insertion in the A.V.]. And He took it, and did eat before them" Lk.24.41-43. He eats, not because He has need of it, but to give assurance to them. True He could enter and exit closed rooms, and disappear from sight instantaneously, all of which was beyond human knowledge and understanding, but what could be more homely and comforting than to eat with friends? The feelings of the ten disciples, the Emmaus two, and whoever else was present are encapsulated in the words, "Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord" Jn.20.20.
"Then said Jesus to them again, ‘Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you’" Jn.20.21. Appreciation of peace is necessary for those being commissioned to go out with the gospel message to an unbelieving world. There is herein a repetition of what they had heard in the upper room, Jn.17.18. What honour is bestowed in this commission! As the Lord was sent by the Father, the disciples are similarly sent forth by the Son as sent ones, apostles.
Then we have a singular act of the Lord. "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’" Jn.20.22. By this unique, symbolic and prophetic act, the Lord gives His disciples a foretaste of Pentecost, but with certain distinctions. Pentecost will have manifestations of sight and sound, involving the baptism in the Spirit into one body and the birth of a distinctly new Spirit-indwelt community, the church of the new dispensation of grace. This present action of the Lord, however, is a private and personal impartation or bestowal. In the introduction to this chapter we commented upon the earlier teachings of the Lord to His disciples and their inability to grasp the import thereof. From this point, however, they receive empowerment to better understand His teachings and prepare them for the task of proclamation. We shall see this again in relation to the Lord’s commission, "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures" Lk.24.45. It was a bestowal of understanding.
The Lord then says, "whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" Jn.20.23. This links their being sent out into the world with the activity of the Holy Spirit and the message of the gospel. Those who preach the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit have the privilege of announcing and assuring the forgiveness of sins by God to all who repent and believe. The corollary also applies, that is, those who refuse the gospel should be made aware that the rejection of the message will ensure the retention of their sins with its concomitant eternal penalty. Associated with the bestowal of understanding is a granting of discernment to distinguish between reality of conversion and mere profession.
The footnote to this fifth appearance is in relation to a missed opportunity. "But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus [twin], was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said unto them, ‘Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe’" Jn.20.24,25. While no blame is directly levelled at Thomas’ absence, we are simply not given any further explanation; nevertheless we recognise how much he missed. Those who were present would keep on telling him, "We have seen the Lord." This draws forth his strong negative reaction, literally "I will in no wise believe".
To Thomas’ credit he missed only one meeting! Missing one meeting, for whatever reason, makes missing another easier! So "let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" Heb.10.24,25. Staying away engenders discouragement, of others as well as oneself, and can lead to self pity. Poor Thomas had to endure a seven day delay before he caught up with the experience of his brethren.
It is difficult to sequence precisely the Lord’s words as recorded in Lk.24.44-48. It may well be that they were spoken at this appearance. However, there is obvious parallelism with Acts1.3-8. Also, there is commonality with the record of the next resurrection appearance as well. Although we may have some difficulty with the precise positioning, their import is clear. The Lord refers them to the words He spake unto them in His earthly ministry and to what was "written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me" Lk.24.44. The Scriptures are to be their stay during the time of His absence. "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures" Lk.24.45. It is a Divine work to open their understanding; and this illumination continues as a present activity of the Holy Spirit post-Pentecost. He then shows them that "it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day" Lk.24.46. Also that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" Lk.24.47. The final verses in Luke’s Gospel parallel those in Acts 1.3-12.
THE SIXTH RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO THE ELEVEN APOSTLES
The details of this appearance are given in Jn.20.26-31. This occurred on the following Lord’s Day, when Thomas was present. The feast of unleavened bread was over and the disciples were likely contemplating their return to Galilee. Again, the Lord manifests Himself in identical circumstances to those of the previous week with a greeting of peace to all, but with a particular invitation to Thomas.
The Lord commences by quoting Thomas’ earlier statement back to him, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing" Jn.20.27. The One Who knows our words and feelings offers to Thomas the opportunity to see and touch.
This appearance was special for Thomas. He knows that the Lord is caring for him individually, is condescending to address his needs, and is giving him opportunity to apply the tests of reality he himself had set. Thomas immediately moves from doubt to declaration, "My Lord and My God" Jn.20.28. He acknowledges His authority as "Lord"; His Deity as "God"; and his own allegiance in "my". The last testimony to the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ in John’s Gospel is given by Thomas who doubts no more!
The Lord then seeks to elevate the experience of the disciples from the tangible to that appropriated by faith: "because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" Jn.20.29. In a few weeks the Lord would ascend back to heaven and, from then on, will only be apprehended by faith, not by sight. The words of His servants, the written record of Scripture, and the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit will be the means whereby succeeding generations of believers will be brought to faith in Christ. "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name" Jn.20.30,31.
What was revealed to Thomas that day is similarly appropriated by all those who come to true faith in Christ, namely that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of Israel. He is God of very God, the incarnate Revealer of God, the Logos, the Word.
THE SEVENTH RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO SEVEN DISCIPLES AT THE SEA OF GALILEE
The details of this appearance are given in Jn.21.1-25. The Lord had told His own that, "after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee" Matt.26.32. The angels reminded the women at the tomb that, "He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him" Matt.28.7.
This manifestation takes place on the shores of Galilee to seven of the apostles: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and another two who are unnamed. Peter proposes an all-night fishing expedition, which ultimately proves fruitless. Whether Peter was right or wrong to initiate this activity is not stated explicitly, but their experience mirrors that of an earlier occasion, which caused Peter to say "Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing" Lk.5.5, and ought to have brought to mind the Lord’s words, "without Me ye can do nothing" Jn.15.5.
Little did they know that their fruitless activity was under the surveillance of Omnipotence. Although still dark, the first blush of dawn was apparent beyond the Galilean hills, to encourage the drawing in of nets and turn their direction toward the shore. Unrecognised, "Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus" Jn.21.4. Whether their inability to recognise Him was due to the reduced visibility in the early dawn or whether He had withheld recognition, as was the case with Mary Magdalene and the two on the road to Emmaus, we are not told. However, they had no expectation of seeing the Lord at this time, nor in this secular setting! The voice of the Man on the shore carries to them across the water, "Children, have ye any meat?" Jn.20.5. To their negative response He adds, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find" Jn.21.6. Obediently they recast to starboard; and "were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes" Jn.21.6. It is only now with voice and miracle associated that recognition dawns. John says unto Peter, "It is the Lord" Jn.21.7.
Before going further we should note some practical lessons. First, all our service, including where we fail, is under the interested surveillance of the Lord. Second, He may withhold His direction until we come to recognise our powerlessness and the futility of natural wisdom and skill. Third, there are fish to be caught (sinners to be saved and saints to be edified) with only a boat width between achieving nothing and achieving everything according to His will. The dynamic to move our service from futility to success is dependent on our willingness to listen for His voice and to act upon it. "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it" Jn.2.5.
These seven disciples, often like ourselves, may have compartmentalised their lives into what was spiritual and what was secular. They had no expectation of the Lord having any interest in their everyday activities, their time management, or priorities in stewardship. Surely they, and we, must learn the lesson that the Lord’s eye is over all. He has an interest in the full spectrum of our lives. He can work out His purpose for us in and through our home life and work life, as well as assembly life. Like those seven weary fishermen we fail to recognise that:
- "…behind the dim unknown,
- Standeth God within the shadows,
- Keeping watch above His own".
- (J.R. Lowell)
Although John was first to recognise the Lord; Peter was first to react. He puts on his outer garment, steps overboard and wades toward the shore, leaving the others to bring the boat and drag the net full of fishes. As soon as they were all come to land they become the recipients of the Lord’s provision, "they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread" Jn.21.9. The Lord’s prior provision was independent of their effort, but although He has demonstrated that He can provide, He says, "Bring of the fish which ye have now caught" Jn.21.10. He would have them enjoy something of the results of their own labour, as directed by Himself. Now, as then, He is cognisant of our material needs as well as our spiritual needs. His hand will provide and He seeks our fellowship. Truly, "His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: Great is Thy faithfulness" Lam.3.22,23.
The Lord invites their participation in the meal, "Come and dine" Jn.21.12. As they drew near and sat down, Peter surely would remember the time he had sat at the fire in the courtyard of the high priest’s residence. Insight is provided to the attitude of these disciples, "And none of the disciples durst ask Him, "Who art Thou?" knowing that it was the Lord" Jn.21.12. The fact of this being recorded shows that they were still grappling with the sense of mystery associated with the resurrected Christ, hence their silence. The Lord then approached and served them, acting as host and servant at the last recorded meal with His own. How reminiscent of former times when, with bread and fish, He fed five thousand.
John’s statement, "This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead" Jn.21.14, must be understood not in the absolute sense. Rather that this is the third time the Lord revealed Himself to groups of disciples as recorded in John’s Gospel.
The early morning meal being over, the Lord engages Peter in particular conversation. While Peter already had his private conversation with the risen Lord to restore him to fellowship, this conversation is essential for his restoration to service. It is also a public demonstration to the others that everything between Peter and his Lord has been fully and righteously resolved.
The interchange between the Lord and Peter in Jn.21.15-17, contains two Greek words for "lovest" as used by the Lord, two words for "knowest" as used by Peter, and two words for "feed" as used by the Lord6. The various shades of meaning in the words used need not concern us unduly here as we seek to glean the main import.
- 6 Heading, J. “John - What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie, Kilmarnock,1988.
Peter who denied the Lord three times, here confirms his love for the Lord three times. However, that is not the main point. The Lord goes to the reason for Peter’s earlier failure by asking "lovest thou Me more than these?" Jn.21.15. If ‘these’ refers to things, then the Lord’s question is probing why Peter had left the path of spiritual service to give priority to the business, boats and fishing. It would be a wholesome exercise for us to examine our own lives to establish what place we give to the Lord and His interests relative to all other considerations. However the ‘these’ could also refer to persons, that is, more than these other disciples7. While the Lord never encouraged any spirit of competition between His disciples, nevertheless there were often disputes among them as to who should be the greatest, Mk.9.34; Lk.9.46; for example. Indeed the crux of Peter’s problem was a self-confidence which, with extravagant professions of loyalty, inferred greater love to the Lord than anyone else. Peter responds to the Lord’s question assuring Him of his affectionate devotion, but now he is careful not to make any comparative claims. The same question from the Lord, but omitting "more than these" draws forth Peter’s second assertion of affection. The Lord’s third testing question uses Peter’s word for love. This causes Peter to be grieved at the Lord’s further probing, which evokes from the depth of Peter’s soul the sublime words "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee" Jn.21.17.
- 7 Vine, W.E. “John – The Collected Writings”. Gospel Tract Publishers, Glasgow, 1985.
Bruce, F.F. “The Gospel and Epistles of John”. William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1983.
The Lord taught Peter that day that his love must henceforth be shown in action: by feeding young and needy believers as tenderly as a shepherd cares for lambs, by tending and shepherding more mature believers, and providing food for all. Peter’s faithful discharge of his responsibilities is evidenced by his later writings, "feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" 1Pet.5.2-4.
The Lord then discloses to Peter that he would live to an old age and how he would die. "‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.’ This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God" Jn.21.18,19. The Lord has foreknowledge of the future life of His own. He also has sovereign authority over their future service. Not everyone would be comfortable about knowing their future, since it may energise (or paralyse) their service. The Psalmist could say, "So teach us to number our days, That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" Ps.90.12. Nevertheless, Peter has assurance that, at the last, when facing his greatest test, martyrdom, he will not fail. He had earlier boasted that he was prepared to die for Christ, Jn.13.37, but failed. Here he is assured that in his death he would glorify God. The Lord then says to Peter "Follow Me" Jn.21.19, and so he does, as a disciple in subsequent service and right on until a God-glorifying death.
That said, Peter, and not for the first time, takes his eye off the Lord and speaks unadvisedly. "Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, ‘Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?’" Jn.21.20,21. In other words he asks, not in idle curiosity, but with genuine interest, about what will happen to John? "Jesus saith unto him, ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me’" Jn.21.22. Peter here learns that the detail of a servant’s life and work is primarily between that individual and their Lord. So the last recorded words of the Lord in John’s Gospel are emphatic and are directed to Peter, but let us not miss their application to ourselves, "Follow thou Me!"
John closes his account by correcting a misconception that arose inferring that the Lord’s return would happen in John’s lifetime, Jn.21.23. He then gives his final summation. "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" Jn.21.25.
THE EIGHTH RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – TO JAMES, THE LORD’S HALF-BROTHER
The detail of this appearance is given, not in the Gospels, but in 1Cor.15.7, "After that, He was seen of James." It is not possible to sequence this appearance, nor to identify where it took place. However, the fact that it did take place is enormously significant. We have already noted that His brethren formerly did not believe on Him. No doubt you have read or heard it said that no unsaved person ever saw the risen Lord, an assertion based on the silence of Scripture. Yet James previously was an unbeliever, so when was he converted? If the Lord’s direction to the other women in the second resurrection appearance is to report to His brethren, the children of Joseph and Mary, then it may be that James believed after Calvary and after reports of the resurrection. Was James, therefore, the first post-resurrection convert?
In any case, following the ascension, the apostles are named and this statement follows immediately, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren" Acts.1.14.
THE NINTH RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – ON A MOUNTAIN IN GALILEE
The details of this appearance are given in Matt.28.16-20 and Mk.16.15-18 and, indeed, it may be (we cannot be certain) that this is the same appearance referred to in 1Cor.15.6, "after that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain until this present, but some are fallen asleep." That means that more than 250 eye witnesses were still available to corroborate the details even though 30 years had passed since this appearance. We have already seen that resurrection appearances have convinced individual disciples who were not expecting any resurrection. Now we have a very large company of disciples on a mountainside witnessing a resurrection appearance.
Matthew does not record any of the resurrection appearances of the Lord in Jerusalem, the city that rejected their Messiah. His focus is on Galilee where Messiah will raise His standard, as it were, and energise His disciples to worldwide mission. All eleven disciples had returned to Galilee, most likely after the conclusion of the feast of unleavened bread. This resurrection appearance is different in that the Lord did not appear unto them suddenly and unexpectedly. Here they went to "a mountain where Jesus had appointed them" Matt.28.16. Truly we can say, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; That bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; That saith unto Zion, ‘Thy God reigneth!’" Isa.52.7.
There is something intensely regal about this appearance: "And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him" Matt.28.17. Every view of the resurrected Christ draws worship; here they are prostrated before Him. "But some doubted" Matt.28.17, infers that there was a much greater number present than the eleven disciples, who were not in any doubt given previous manifestations. If this were the first opportunity for many to see the risen Lord, doubt may have been their initial attitude, but "Jesus came and spake unto them" Matt.28.18. In coming near and speaking, certainty is conveyed and doubt is forever dispelled.
Then the voice of a King is heard again in the land: "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" Matt.28.18-20. This is an authoritative statement. His authority is absolute, encompassing earth, heaven, time and eternity. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" Mk.16.15,16.
His commission is not optional, but mandatory. It is not selective, but comprehensive. It is not abstract, but personal. Over the course of centuries His authority and commission continue. So the disciples go forth as the proto-preachers, with a worldwide commission, invested with all the authority of the Divine Tri-unity. Soon they will receive dynamic power at Pentecost. Then they will be joined by thousands more believers, until we ourselves join to fulfil the ongoing commission: a commission given by the risen Lord from a mountain in Galilee.
THE TENTH RESURRECTION APPEARANCE – THE ASCENSION
The details of this appearance are provided in Mk.16.19,20; Lk.24.50-53 and Acts1.9-12. His ascension will be considered later in this book.
The subject of this chapter is "His Resurrection in the Gospels". It provides the context, as revealed in Scripture, of the Lord’s appearances to a small band of demoralised and despondent disciples, who had no expectation of resurrection. We have traced the appearances, noted their transformative effects, and sought to glean the practical import.
The distinguishing themes and nuances, that are particular to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are not the subject of this study; nor have we provided any analysis of each of the Lord’s commissions.
Essentially we have considered the human dimension. The eleven disciples, the women, the wider circle of believers, were men and women of flesh and blood, just like us. They had experienced the exhilaration of the Lord’s entrance to Jerusalem, followed within days by the crushing disappointment of His crucifixion, which left them emotionally and spiritually disorientated. Yet it was those same believers who were reinvigorated by the resurrection appearances; and provided with fresh understanding of the scope of Scripture. Soon they would go forward in Pentecostal power. It was people such as these who "turned the world upside down" Acts 17.6. We can do so also if, in soul and spirit, we could grasp with joy the intended import of those ten momentous resurrection appearances!
Hallelujah, Christ arose!