In this post we will walk you through Scripture for the appearances of Jesus during the forty days following His resurrection.
Early on the first day of the week, a second earthquake shook the area around the garden tomb. Matthew tells us that an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone from the tomb.
Mark gives us more details about the early morning hour. “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance’” (Mark 16:1-4, NIV)?
Let us continue with Mark’s narrative about the women entering the tomb. “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:5-8, NIV).
John tells us that Mary Magdalene ran to Peter and John with the news about the missing body, “So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him’” (John 20:2, NIV)!
“Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So, they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in” (John 20:3-5, NIV).
John waited for Peter to arrive before entering the tomb. “Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying” (John 20:6-10, NIV).
The other disciple is believed to be John himself. According to the above scripture, after John saw the arrangement of the strips of cloth that had wrapped the body and the folded cloth that had been around Jesus’ head, he realized that Jesus had risen from the dead – the body could not have been stolen. Peter seems to remain confused.
In the meantime, the guards were revived and fled the scene. Matthew gives us the details. “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, ‘telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ ‘So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day’” (Matt. 28:11b-15, NIV).
It appears that both Mary Magdalene and the other women went to tell His disciples – but at different times – Mary Magdalene got there first. Matthew confirms that the story the guards told was still circulating many years later, even when Matthew wrote his gospel.
We can only speculate about the reaction and discussions His disciples had when John and Peter returned to where they were staying and reported what they had seen. Since Jesus’ disciples did not expect Him to rise from the grave, they could not believe what had happened. We must remember that they were still in hiding
s for fear of the Jewish leaders.
“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3, NIV).
During the first forty days following Jesus’ resurrection, a careful study of Scripture shows that He presented himself at least ten times to His disciples and others. We will look at each of these appearances as we follow the sequence as recorded in the late Dr. A. T. Robertson’s book, “Harmony of the Gospels.”
After Peter and John left the tomb area, Mary Magdalene stood outside the open tomb weeping; she was confused about what had happened – she assumed the body had been moved.
Again, we follow John’s narrative for details. “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. (John 20:11-12, NIV).
“They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ ‘At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus’” (John 20:13-14, NIV).
It is amazing how our mind plays tricks on us. Since Mary Magdalene was so sure that the body had been stolen, she was not expecting to see Him and, therefore, did not recognize Him. His appearance had also changed. Let us continue with the narrative.
“He asked her, Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him’” (John 20:15, NIV).
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’). Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:16-18, NIV).
Over the years, this statement has been very confusing and controversial among many great Biblical scholars. Why did Jesus not want her to touch Him? We will see later that Jesus invited other people to touch him.
Some scholars, including the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee, believed that Jesus had unfinished work with the Father. This day was the Feast of First Fruits, which always occurs on the first day of the week following Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The Jews were to bring a sheaf of the first fruits of the barley harvest unto the priest, and the priest would wave it before the Lord. The offering of a burnt offering and a meal offering followed the waving of the sheaf.
The apostle Paul, in First Corinthians, gives us the order of the resurrections that will eventually take place and states that Christ was the first fruits. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20, NIV).
The Feast looked forward in type to the resurrection of Jesus and has now been fulfilled by His resurrection.
Remember that Jesus said He had not yet ascended to the Father. We have already stated that Jesus was in Paradise for three days while His earthly body was in the tomb. We must remember that at that time, Paradise was called Abraham Bosom and was the excellent part of hades and was not part of heaven where the Father was.
It seems that Jesus is going immediately to heaven to complete some unfinished business, probably relating to the Feast of the First Fruits. Some scholars believe that Jesus took His shed blood to heaven and placed it on the altar of the temple in heaven as a permanent memorial of His sacrifice.
In the book of Hebrews, we read these words: “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtainingeternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11-12, NIV).
This verse does not refer to the Most Holy Place in the earthly temple in Jerusalem but the one in heaven, which was not made with human hands. The blood was probably placed in the Most Holy Place in heaven as a memorial of our sins which were paid for on the cross.
Perhaps, Jesus may have spent time both in heaven and on earth during those forty days. But we have no record of where He was when He was not with His disciples.
A short time after Jesus met Mary Magdalene, He met the other women who had come to the tomb. “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’’’ (Matt. 28:9-10, NIV).
Since Jesus now allows these women to touch him, did He make a fast trip to heaven and do business with the Father between these two personal appearances?
I have always been amazed at how slowly His disciples reacted to Jesus’ instructions to return to Galilee. For some reason, they remained in or near Jerusalem. Next, we meet Jesus as he approaches some of His disciples walking on the road to the village of Emmaus – a few miles outside of Jerusalem. He walked beside them for quite some time, and they did not recognize him. Let us pick up the conversation.
“He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’ They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him’” (Luke 24:17-20), NIV).
They had no idea to whom they were speaking. Let us continue with the conversation. “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus” (Luke 24:21-24, NIV).
“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27, NIV).
We must remember that His disciples were spiritually blind and had accepted Jesus on blind faith. They expected Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom. Therefore, they were bewildered and devastated since he did not.
Now let us continue with the narrative. “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them” (Luke 24:28-29, NIV).
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31, NIV).
We may wonder why these men did not recognize Jesus after He began discussing the prophecies about His death. First, we need to realize that in the minds of these men, Jesus was dead. Even if He were alive, since they were not members of the group of the selected twelve disciples, He would not be there with them. Jesus did not suddenly appear to them but since He was walking faster than they were, He caught up with them, and they engaged in a conversation.
And the second reason that they did not recognize Him is that His appearance had changed dramatically. As He had previously walked among the disciples, He was a suffering servant. He probably wore gray or brown clothing as an ordinary person usually wore. We must remember that He emptied Himself of His glory during His ministry on earth (Philippians 2:5-8) – He looked and acted like other people.
He is now resurrected with all the glory and power of His deity. He is no longer a suffering servant but now the King of kings. I believe that His appearance is that of an aristocrat and royalty wearing a fine white linen robe with a beautiful colored sash. His sandals were probably made of the fineness of materials.
He probably restrained His full glory before these men. In no way did He have the appearance they were accustomed to seeing. Perhaps, He may have even disguised His voice. I don’t think He wanted the men on the road to recognize Him.
It is incredible how Jesus could appear and then disappear at will. It is obvious that He now has a body made of non-molecular materials. He can be seen or not be seen at will. Angels do the same thing; they can be all around us and be invisible. One day, we, as believers, will have the same type of body.
After Jesus left, the men were astonished, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us’” (Luke 24:32, NIV)?
Almost immediately, the disciples returned to Jerusalem. “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’” (Luke 24:33-34), NIV).
After denying Him three times, Peter may have needed clarification about where He stood with Jesus. He may also have required an understanding as to where was the body of Jesus. At this time, none of the original eleven disciples had seen Jesus. We are not told what Jesus said to Peter – there is no doubt that Peter believed Jesus was alive after the meeting.
Both Luke and John provide details of His next appearance but let us explore John’s narrative as more details are given.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20, NIV).
We are not told how many people were in the locked room. We know that the two disciples Jesus met on the road to Emmaus were probably in the room. There may have been a large number of people. We are told that Thomas was not among them. Jesus came into a locked room and Luke tells us that Jesus just appeared to them – no doors were opened. He showed the disciples His scars on His hands and side. Even though we will have blemish-free bodies in heaven, Jesus will probably wear those scars forever to remind us of the price He paid for our sins.
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’” (John 20:21-22, NIV).
Jesus gave them three gifts. First, He gave them peace, His peace. Second, Jesus gave them a mission; He would send them out as missionaries through the coming Church. Third, Jesus breathed upon the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit – it appears, however, that they did not receive the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at that time. They would have to wait until Pentecost to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and the baptism by the Holy Spirit through the promised Church (1 Cor. 12:13).
There was no visual evidence that they received the Holy Spirit at that time. The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee believes that they were regenerated, born again, at that moment. However, they have been true believers before, but now Jesus has paid for their sins. We need to keep in mind that Thomas is not with them. Was he also regenerated?
There may be another meaning. This group of believers would become the first church. On that day, the church was dead because they had not yet received the power of the Holy Spirit; however, fifty days later, they became spiritually alive at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven upon them. But in the meantime, they remained spiritually blind and without power.
Now, let us go to Luke’s gospel for more details of this first meeting with His disciples. “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:40-43, NIV).
Since eating is important to us in our earthly bodies, I am sure that most people have wondered if we can eat in heaven. Jesus is now demonstrating that you can eat with a resurrected body; the Bible says we will be able to eat in heaven. We know there will be fruit trees in heaven, and also Jesus told us about great feasts that will be celebrated. Some prophecy teachers teach that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9) will be celebrated on earth at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom (Matt. 25:1-13) – at which time, many will have resurrected bodies.
Jesus had just eaten a piece of physical fish, and then He disappeared – think about it. This is the type of body we will have one day, and it will do marvelous things – in heaven and on earth. Here we see the mixture of molecular and non-molecular structures coming together and working together – Jesus’ body was non-molecular, and the fish was molecular.
Luke tells us that Jesus continued to teach. “’This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45, NIV).
“He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:46-49, NIV).
The disciples were still slow to learn. We will see that soon they will leave the city. We are not told, but apparently, Jesus quietly disappeared just as He had appeared.
Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. When He returned, they told him the news, but He did not believe them. “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’” (John 20:24-25, NIV).
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:26-27, NIV).
Thomas quickly changes his mind after seeing the scars. “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:28-29, NIV).
Even though Jesus told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter and some other disciples returned to Galilee. At this time, it is difficult to know the mindset of the disciples. They need clarification as to their future roles.
“Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:2-3, NIV).
After fishing all night, they had yet to catch any fish. I believe that Jesus was responsible for them not catching any fish – He wanted to perform another miracle for them.
“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered” (John 21:3, NIV).
“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (John 21:6, NIV).
“Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. ‘The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread’” (John 21:7-9, NIV).
Jesus had prepared breakfast for them – a feast of fish and bread. Quickly, the disciples went to the shore towing the net full of fish. Let us continue the narrative.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish” (John 21:10-13, NIV).
We are not told if Jesus also ate, but many teachers believe He did. We know He could eat because He had eaten a piece of fish when He first met with the disciples in the locked room in Jerusalem. They probably had a great time of fellowship together.
Jesus began questioning Simon Peter. ”When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love [agapas] me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love [philo] you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs’” (John 21:15, NIV).
“Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love [agapas] me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love [philo] you’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep’” (John 21:16, NIV)
“The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love [phileo] me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love [philos] you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep’” (John 21:17, NIV).
Let us notice that the first two times, Jesus uses the Greek divine form of love (agapas), but Peter responds with the Greek brotherly form of love (phileo). In the third question, Jesus used the Greek brotherly form of love (phileo), and Peter used the word “philos.” Big, bold Peter had become meek after denying the Lord three times. He was afraid to trust himself to use the “agape” form of the word love. In the last question, Jesus Himself uses the “phileo” form of the word love. Peter is saying all three times, Lord, you know that I love you (only) with brotherly love (philos).
Jesus then told Peter how he would die. “‘Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” (John 21:18-19, NIV).
Some thirty years later (64 AD), Peter’s execution was ordered by the Roman Emperor Nero, who blamed the city’s Christians for a terrible fire that had ravaged Rome. Peter requested to be crucified upside down as he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord and Savior, Jesus. By that time, Peter could have probably told Jesus that He loved Him using the agape form of the verb. Peter matured in his Christian walk over the many years of his ministry.
Eighth Appearance and Ninth Appearance
The apostle Paul when writing to the Church at Corinth, probably from Ephesus, tells us that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time – we assume in Galilee.
He then appeared to His brother, James. Although we are not told, other members of Jesus’ family may have been present. We know that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were unbelievers – they thought He had mental problems (Mark 3:21). However, we know that Jesus’ brothers and sisters later became believers as they were in the upper room with the disciples waiting for Pentecost (Acts 1:14).
James and his brother, Jude, later wrote books that became part of the New Testament. James also became head of the Church in Jerusalem.
Now let us look at what Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth. “After that, he [Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James” (1 Cor. 15:6-7a, NIV).
Matthew tells us that Jesus gave His disciples The Great Commission. Perhaps, He gave it to the five hundred as they were all disciples. “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matt. 28:16-20, NIV).
The above Scripture says that this meeting took place in Galilee. It does not say anything about the larger group, over five hundred people, being in the meeting. Many Bible teachers believe that this meeting took place with the larger group on a mountain somewhere in Galilee – Jesus liked teaching from a large hill or mount as it was easier for Him to see everyone. It would appear that this Great Commission was part of a larger discourse. Most of what He said remains unknown.
At the end of the forty days, Jesus met on and around the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with the eleven original disciples along with other disciples. He gave them final instructions.
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. ‘For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit’” (Acts 1:4b, NIV).
“Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority’” (Acts 1:6-7, NIV).
We need to focus on the disciple’s mindset. We are within about ten days before the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus has been trying to prepare them for their mission with the Church, which will begin at Pentecost. Unfortunately, it seems that they have learned very little. With their mindset, they still expect Him to set up the earthly Kingdom at that time.
Looking at history, we must recognize the change in mindset that took place with the disciples during Pentecost. Some people believe that the disciples concocted The Church. No way could the disciples have changed their mindset in ten days without the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, at the end of ten days, they would change mindsets and begin a walk that would change the course of history for mankind, and most of them would die as martyrs.
We also need to understand that Jesus did not say there would not be a future physical Kingdom. He is only postponing it, and only the Father knows when it will be.
Jesus then tells His disciples to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, where they will receive new understanding and power to do His work. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV).
Now let us continue with the ascension of Jesus. “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11, NIV).
Mark adds these words, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19 NIV). Remember that Jesus told the high priest during His trial that this would happen.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® 2011 by Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.