“As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace be to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ -Luke 24:36-39
Only Jesus knows the exact history of the forty days after His resurrection and before His ascension. Paul has the longest list of Jesus’ appearances, though not complete (1 Corinthians 15). Particularly, he makes no mention of the women who saw Jesus first, especially Mary Magdalene.
The Gospels each tell their own accounts. For example: John includes details about a breakfast Jesus and some of the disciples shared on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21), and Luke tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and the eye-opening instruction during the meal which followed.
Paul speaks of appearances which the others do not, like the “more than 500 occurrence and Jesus appearing to James. John concludes his Gospel succinctly with this caveat: “Now there are also many other things which Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).
So, we draw an obvious conclusion: Only Jesus really knows completely what He did and everyone He saw during these forty days. What is recorded is not all that occurred, only what God determined we needed to know.
What is instructive to us about this short segment on Earth in Jesus’ resurrected life? First, He was substantiating the veracity of His promise “after three days [I] will rise (Matthew 17 and Mark 9). Perhaps, most tenderly seen in His frequent appearances to them during the forty days, Jesus displayed special concern for His disciples, the men He had personally chosen to be beside Him during His public ministry.
The disciples certainly showed doubt about Jesus after the shock of His crucifixion. Wouldn’t you? Despite His pre-cross promises of resurrection, they were still thrown into despair and confusion by His tortured death. But these post-resurrection appearances fixed in their hearts and minds what sustained and fueled their own powerfully effective ministries right up to their own martyrdoms.
It is a fact: Jesus’ resurrection energized the explosive and continuous growth of the church right up to the present day. His resurrection has been the primary cause of Christianity becoming the major world religion, covering the globe in every tribe, nation, language, and race which inhabits the Earth.
The resurrection established the Lordship of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God His Father. It certifies His work for your salvation, sealing your own resurrection. It is the cause of the ultimate defeat of Satan and his minions; it is the ruin of death and its sting. It cements Jesus’ authority as the Word of God. Finally, it confirms that indeed every knee will one day bow and confess that Jesus is Lord of all!
After coming out of the tomb, Jesus had no need to lord it over His enemies, all those who had mocked and crucified Him. So, we see nothing of this. He did not even attempt to eviscerate the lies spread everywhere about His rising from the dead. Why? Because trust in Jesus is a matter of sheer faith and intended to be so by God. Your faith grabs hold of the risen Christ. You know beyond a doubt that He lives!
On the other hand, it is a matter of persistent unbelief for those who hate and ignore Him. To ignore Him is really to hate Him. “Ignore is the Hebrew meaning of “hate. Essentially, for those who will not believe, only the Judgment will convince them they were fatally wrong.
Unfortunately, using unassailable proofs to try to persuade them still will not convince so many to believe, for their hearts are increasingly hardened. Even the risen Jesus standing right before their eyes while displaying the scars in His hands, feet, and side would not necessarily move them to belief. Jesus is well aware of this hardness of their hearts. This is something we ourselves continually wrestle with in this fallen world.
Yet, in these weeks immediately after Easter, meditating on the events of these forty days, considering the people who were the eyewitnesses, and seeing your living Lord interact with them will truly enrich your soul.
You can observe the miracle of a rapidly-growing church blossoming into a world-altering assembly of diverse peoples in every place on Earth, all springing from a profoundly despondent, small group of Jesus followers from a tiny place…that is, until He left the empty tomb behind!
You very possibly will be more energized in your own life, as the apostles and followers of the Lamb were, to serve the risen Christ with humility, steel, passion, and love. You will be enabled to reach even the most hardened for the risen Jesus. The intentional contemplation of these things can have the same result on you as it did them. For this is true: He lives!
“On the first day of the week, Mary came, the grave to seek; Jesus met her by the way on that first resurrection day, rising like the morning sun, bringing hope to everyone. Praise the Lord, His work was done! Jesus is my morning sun!
(First verse of James Ward’s hymn, “Jesus Is My Morning Sun, 1975)