There are many times after Jesus arose from the dead that he showed himself to his disciples. They rarely recognized him at first. These are people who knew him well and were expecting him to come again, and they didn’t know it was him.
Let’s look at the various examples as we come across them in the Gospels. I’m using the Holman Christian Standard Bible for this translation, but you can use any that you want. I’m deeply indebted to the Bible Gateway website for digitizing the Bible in many translations. It makes this so much easier.
Piecing together stories from the Gospels is a bit like looking at different reports from eyewitnesses to an accident. Some leave some things out, some emphasize other parts. To get the whole picture we have to look at what everybody has to say.
The story starts in Matthew 28:1-7, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb to take care of Jesus’ body. They didn’t have time to properly prepare his body after he died because the Sabbath was coming. They arrive, and they see an angel at the tomb. He tells them that Jesus isn’t there, that he has risen.
Then we see this, in Matthew 28:8-10.
“8 So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell His disciples the news.9 Just then Jesus met them and said, “Good morning!” They came up, took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see Me there.”
He appears to them when they leave the tomb, and they worship him. In this version of the story, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are able to recognize Jesus immediately. I like that he calls his disciples his brothers here. This is a term of equals, and not of master and student. I also find it interesting that he doesn’t tell the women to bring the men there, but for them to go on ahead and he will meet them.
The two Marys do as they are told and the men go ahead.
16 The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There are a few things of note here. Notice that some of the disciples worshiped, but some doubted. They know Jesus. They spent all their time with him. Here he is, just like he said, back from the dead, and these people are full of doubt. What would cause them to doubt? Did he look different? Some versions of the Gospels indicate this. I find it also really important that Jesus says in verse 20 that “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Notice he said “I am with you”. Not “I will be with you”, but “I am with you”. That is present tense. He’s here. There is no future.
Now let’s look at the book of Mark, in chapter 16, at the same point. The women have gone to the tomb as before. In this version they are listed as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They too hear from an angel that Jesus isn’t there and they leave,” running from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them” (in verse 8).
Then we hear in verses 9-11,
9 Early on the first day of the week, after He had risen, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons. 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, as they were mourning and weeping. 11 Yet, when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe it.
Mary Magdalene sees him first. She tells the disciples and they don’t believe her. I’d like to think that they don’t believe her in part because she was seen as less-than-credible because she used to have seven demons in her. Even though she is healthy and whole now because Jesus healed her, that taint of “possession” and of “crazy” is on her. Nobody listens to crazy people.
Then in versus 12-13 we read
12 Then after this, He appeared in a different form to two of them walking on their way into the country. 13 And they went and reported it to the rest, who did not believe them either.
Notice now he’s appeared to two of the disciples, not just to Mary Magdalene. This is a separate encounter. Notice also that it is “in a different form.” He just doesn’t look like himself. He keeps changing how he looks. They are made to understand that this is Jesus, and then they too are not believed. These are the “sane” ones, the not-formerly-possessed ones, and the others don’t get it. Perhaps the others think the madness is catching.
Then he appears for a third time, to all of them. This is in verse 14.
14 Later, He appeared to the Eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table. He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who saw Him after He had been resurrected.
He’s a little ticked off that they didn’t believe the other followers who saw him.
In verses 17-20 we read this-
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 they will pick up snakes, if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.” 19 Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the accompanying signs.
Now, while I’m not into the idea of snake-handling and poison-drinking (I’ve written about this part in another post), I included all of this because of the few words in verse 20 “…the Lord working with them…”
Jesus was there, with them, healing the sick, casting out demons. They weren’t alone. He’s back.
Now we move on to the Gospel according to Luke. Let us see what this eyewitness has to say about what is going on.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground.“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” 8 And they remembered His words.
The same things happen. The passage is a bit vague here on who “they” were who were at the tomb, but from the context we know it isn’t the male disciples. Once again, they don’t find Jesus. In this case there are two angels there.
I love what they say in verse 5.
“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
That is what we are doing when we continue to wait for Jesus to come again. We are looking in the wrong place.
The women had to be reminded in verse 7 of the words of Jesus.
“The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day.”
The words of Jesus were what aided their faith. This is important. We know Jesus through words. He is the Word made flesh, after all.
Let’s keep going on. Now we are at Luke 24:9-12
9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened.
This story has more women who are involved, telling the story. It isn’t just “crazy” Mary – it is a lot of women. They still aren’t believed. Their words seem like “nonsense.” In this version however, Peter at least goes to the tomb to look. While he doesn’t see Jesus, he does think something pretty amazing has happened. Also, in this version, we don’t hear about Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, as he did in Matthew and Mark’s versions of the story. But in this version, we get a really great version of the walk to Emmaus.
Luke 24:13-35 (I’ve broken it up to comment on it)
13 Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 Together they were discussing everything that had taken place.15 And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them. 16 But they were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 Then He asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.
—–Jesus just drifts into their conversation, and they don’t recognize him. You know those people who just swoop in on your conversation and you think they are rude? They might be more important than you realize.
18 The one named Cleopas answered Him, “Are You the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” He asked them.
—–Of course Jesus knows what has happened. He is playing along, to see what they say.
So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who was a Prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened.22 Moreover, some women from our group astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, 23 and when they didn’t find His body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see Him.”
—-They still don’t believe in who Jesus is. They don’t believe the stories that the women told because they didn’t see it for themselves. They also don’t understand that radical transformation of anything, especially people, doesn’t happen overnight. But it does have to start somewhere.
25 He said to them, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
—-They have to be wondering at this point who this guy is, who knows all this Scripture and can speak about it so effortlessly. They still don’t get it. He is just a guy walking along with them, and they don’t see who he really is.
28 They came near the village where they were going, and He gave the impression that He was going farther.
—-To me, this is the most amazing part. “He gave the impression that He was going farther.” He was going to keep on walking. He was going to leave them where they were. These are his disciples. These are his chosen people. And they haven’t recognized him. So he is going to keep on walking.
This is huge. This part alone is worthy of its own post, but I’ll try to contain it here.
Every single time we don’t recognize Jesus he walks on until he finds someone who does recognize him. So we have to seek him everywhere. Remember how we are to “seek, and you will find”? We have to seek. Mother Teresa said that she saw Jesus in every single person she served – babies abandoned by their poor parents, people suffering from AIDs, old people turned out by their families because they were sick. She saw Jesus in every person. She saw him there because she was looking for him.
This is the secret. This is the answer. We have to look for him, everywhere, in everyone. He’s hiding in plain sight. When we look for him, he reveals himself to us.
These disciples aren’t there yet –but what saves them is that they offered hospitality. This is an excellent start.
29 But they urged Him: “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.
—-Hospitality is the key. They day is getting late and they are looking out for him. They want him to be safe and warm. This is a stranger and they are showing him kindness. This is the way in.
30 It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight.
—-They finally got who he was when they ate the bread that he served to them. I find it interesting that the formula is always the same – he blessed it and then he broke it. Always give thanks first. This is true communion here – not the ritual. This is a sharing of a real meal, and a true recognition of the Divine in our midst. And then he disappeared. Poof. Gone.
32 So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 That very hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and those with them gathered together, 34 who said, “The Lord has certainly been raised, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they began to describe what had happened on the road and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
—They were amazed. Even though it was late, they got up and left straightaway for Jerusalem to tell the others. He was with them for a long time on the road and they didn’t recognize him at all. If they hadn’t offered him hospitality, they would never have seen him for who he was.
While it is almost anticlimactic, I’m going to go on with the Gospel according to John to finish this out. The story starts in chapter 20.
On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
—Here, Mary is by herself.
2 So she ran to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”
—understandably, she is very worried. She thinks someone has desecrated the tomb and stolen Jesus’ body.
3 At that, Peter and the other disciple went out, heading for the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb first. 5 Stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in. 6 Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself. 8 The other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw, and believed. 9 For they still did not understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went home again.
—-In Luke, only Peter went. Here, Peter and another disciple went to see what is going on. The other disciple believes without even seeing Jesus. He trusts that what has happened is what was prophesied. Peter is still doubtful.
11 But Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
—The two disciples are inside the tomb and Mary is standing outside. Because she is outside she gets to see Jesus. She isn’t looking for the living among the dead. She is out in the world of life and light.
“Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.”14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus.
—once again, Jesus is standing there and a person who knows him well doesn’t recognize him. If they can’t recognize him – people who spent a lot of time with him, how much harder it is for us to recognize him. Thus, how much more important it is for us to be welcoming to everyone as if they are Jesus.
15 “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.”
16 Jesus said, “Mary.”
Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”—which means “Teacher.”
—-He said her name, and that was enough. In an instant she saw him, truly saw him. He took compassion on her, in her grief. She was distraught that her Teacher was missing. She wanted to show him the respect and honor of performing the Jewish burial rituals for him. He wanted to show her that she didn’t have to and she was worrying for nothing. He was right there.
17 “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God.” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what He had said to her.
—-The disciples who were right there, staring at the burial cloths, didn’t even see him. They don’t believe her. Perhaps they are a bit jealous – why would Jesus show himself to this woman first, and not them? Aren’t they his closest confidants? Aren’t they more important? If they had been standing outside they would have seen him. The longer we all continue to look in the wrong place, the longer we aren’t going to see him either.
Going on further, with John 20:19-23
19 In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them,“Peace to you!”
—-The doors are locked, and Jesus just appears amidst them. This had to be terrifying. They are in a locked room and there he is suddenly. They still don’t recognize him.
20 Having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
—After showing them his wounds they then see him. Notice that it is only after they see the wounds that they rejoice. They didn’t rejoice when he appeared.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
—This is known as “The Great Commission.” Jesus calls his followers to go out into the world. He gives them the Holy Spirit as a guide. In some versions of the Great Commission, (Mark 16:19-20) he mentions that they are to heal, drive out demons, and speak in new languages. They also will be safe from all harm and poisons. In this one, they are just told to forgive sins. But no matter what, they are told to go out and do these things.
They aren’t told to go build big buildings and set up a vestry. They aren’t told to collect money for tithes or buy vestments. They are told to go out and work, in fact doing Jesus’ work. He has blessed them and in his death and resurrection he has multiplied himself, just like in the story of the loaves and the fishes. He was blessed, and broken, and now lives in us and in everyone who accepts him into their hearts and lives.
The very last bit of this part is in John 20:24-29
24 But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!”
—once again, here is a disciple that has to see it to believe it. This is something he has expected and been waiting for. His own friends and fellow disciples have seen Jesus and he still doesn’t believe. He should be able to trust them, right? But he still can’t. He wants proof.
26 After eight days His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!”
—Eight days later. Not instantly. Jesus is taking his own sweet time. Jesus appears when he wants to. Once again he does the magic trick of appearing in the middle of a locked room.
27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer. 28 Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”
—Jesus knew about Thomas’ doubts. He wasn’t standing there when Thomas said he had to see Jesus’ wounds to believe that he was really back from the dead, but he knew about it anyway. He was kind to show up to assure Thomas. Notice that Thomas didn’t have to even touch the wounds – he saw Jesus and knew. But the most important part is that Jesus says that “Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”
Believe. Seek Jesus out, everywhere. He’s hiding in plain sight. The more you seek him, the more he will reveal himself to you.
I’ve adopted Mother Teresa’s philosophy at work and it has been transformative. I try my best to see Jesus in every single person I serve, and when I do that (I don’t always remember to) they open up and are very real and kind. Every person. I tell you, seek Jesus and you will find him, everywhere.
His own disciples didn’t recognize him. He appeared out of the blue, sometimes in locked rooms, and just sometimes as a fellow traveler on the road. If it was hard for them to spot him, how hard must it be for us to do the same? So we are to treat everyone as if they are Jesus.
And – we are to serve everyone with the aid of Jesus. He’s here, with us, inside each one of us who call upon him.
There is no “second coming”. It is here, already, all around us. We just have to open our eyes and look.
But wait, there’s more. In the book of John, chapter 21, versus 1-14 we read this:
After this, Jesus revealed Himself again to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed Himself in this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 “I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them. “We’re coming with you,” they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
—-Fishing is their normal activity. This is how Jesus found several of them to start off with. They weren’t scholars. They were average, everyday workers. Remember Jesus chose them, not the ministers and leaders of the day. Jesus chose common folk then, and he does the same today.
4 When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore. However, the disciples did not know it was Jesus.
—once again, they don’t recognize him. They’ve just seen him twice, and they still aren’t seeing him this time. We have to constantly be looking for him. He appears in different guises.
5 “Men,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?” “No,” they answered. 6 “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. 7 Therefore the disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
—-A disciple figures it out not by how the man looked or what he said, but by the amazing results. They caught a huge amount of fish. This is very interesting.
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer garment around him (for he was stripped) and plunged into the sea. 8 But since they were not far from land (about 100 yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. 9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.
—-I like that Jesus already has a fire going for them. Raw fish isn’t very hospitable, and the warmth of the fire is comforting. I also like that there is fish and bread there – just like in the story of the loaves and the fishes.
10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them. 11 So Simon Peter got up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish—153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
—–I find it significant that the net was not torn by all those fish. This tells me that whatever we do, if we do it on Jesus’ command, will succeed. When we try to do things our way is when it fails. But if we do it Jesus’ way it will always be bigger and more amazing than we could ever expect, and all will be well.
12 “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after He was raised from the dead.
—-They knew. They were still a bit terrified. He keeps appearing, and in different guises. This is a whole new side of Jesus. They didn’t have any warning that he was going to appear anywhere and everywhere and look different every time.
Then, lastly, in John 21:15-17, Jesus talks just to Peter, who he had said earlier was the rock upon which his church was going to be built.
15 When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Feed My lambs,” He told him.
—-Feed them. I take “feed” to mean food, of course, but also to nourish in other ways – to educate, to heal, to support. Shepherds take care of their sheep in many ways.
16 A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
—Peter has to be wondering why Jesus keeps asking the same question.
17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.”
—-Peter is really hurt. Of course he loves Jesus. But that isn’t the point. Jesus wants to make sure he hears what he needs to do to prove it.
“Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.
So, from all this, I get that Jesus appears in many forms. So treat everyone as if they are Jesus. I believe that if everybody does this, then we will truly see healing and love in this world. If we treat every single person we meet – whether friend or stranger – as if they are Jesus, then the world will know peace.
I tell you that if we don’t do this, Jesus will walk on by, just like he was going to do to the disciples on the walk to Emmaus.
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