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110. Jesus Appears to His Disciples (Luke 24:36-46)
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Gospel Parallels §Appearances B2
William Brassey Hole, 'Jesus Appears to the Disciples (1906)' in 'The Life of Jesus of Nazareth (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1906)
"36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, '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.' 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.'" (Luke 24:36-46, NIV)
Something is up. Jesus' body is missing. Women report seeing angels who say he is alive. Two men recognize him as they walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but then he disappears. What is going on?
If Jesus is actually risen from the dead, how can we know this isn't just a hopeful fantasy, a disciples' illusion? This week's lesson sharply defines the nature of Jesus' resurrection.
I'm taking special care in this passage to look at precise word meanings, since this isn't your average narrative of Jesus' ministry, but a foundational passage on which the essential belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is based. It is appropriate to understand exactly what Luke is telling us based on eyewitness accounts.
Appearing to the Disciples (Luke 24:36)
After recognizing Jesus as he broke bread in their Emmaus home, Cleopas and his friend rush back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples who have gathered and pour out their story.
"While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'" (Luke 24:36)
According to both Luke and John, this appearance occurs on Easter Sunday evening (John 20:19). John adds the detail that it took place "with the doors locked for fear of the Jews." "Locked" (NIV) or "shut" (KJV) is the Greek verb kleiō, "to prevent passage at an opening, shut, lock, bar."1245 Imagine their shock!
Thinking He Is a Ghost (Luke 24:37-39)
"They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'" (Luke 24:37-39)
They are utterly alarmed, startled,1246 and utterly terrified.1247 They think they are seeing a ghost. "Ghost" (NIV) or "spirit" (KJV) is the Greek noun pneuma, "an independent non-corporeal being, in contrast to a being that can be perceived by the physical senses, spirit, ghost."1248 Pneuma is the common Greek word for wind or breath. It is the same word used in the phrase "Holy Spirit." But here it refers to a disembodied spirit, a ghost.
We might wonder about the disciples' unbelief. After all, they have just been discussing two appearances of Jesus -- to Peter and to the Emmaus disciples. But they are understandably startled. They haven't quite yet internalized the concept of a dead Messiah now alive and appearing and disappearing at strange times and places.
Jesus gently chides them that they are troubled1249 and notes their lingering doubts.1250 He seeks to reassure them. He encourages them to touch him, and satisfy themselves that he has flesh and bones -- most unlike a ghost or phantom. "Touch" (NIV) or "handle" (KJV) is the Greek verb psēlaphaō, "to touch by feeling and handling."1251 We don't know that any of the disciples went ahead and touched him. They were in awe.
Showing Them His Hands and Feet (Luke 24:40)
So he goes on to display his hands and feet to them so they can see and observe.
"When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet." (Luke 24:40)
Luke doesn't tell us exactly what Jesus showed them, but the similar passage in John's Gospel makes it clear that Jesus shows them the nail marks in his hands and feet and the hole made by the spear thrust into his side (John 20:20, 25, 27). The word "mark" in John's Gospel is the Greek noun typos, "a mark made as the result of a blow or pressure, mark, trace."1252
Luke uses the word "showed" in verse 40 as he describes Jesus displaying his wounds. The Greek verb deiknymi means "to exhibit something that can be apprehended by one or more of the senses, point out, show, make known."1253 This is not just some kind of vision or hologram, but a phenomenon that can be touched with the hands and probed with the fingers. Jesus' resurrected body has substance.
Eating in Their Presence (Luke 24:41-43)
But even this is too much, too soon for the disciples to grasp.
"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 24:41-43)
They disbelieve out of joy and wonder. They are now suffused by joy and wonder, but are still afraid that this is too good to be true. So Jesus offers them yet another sign that his body is real and has a physical reality. He asks if they have anything edible (Greek brōsimos) with which he can demonstrate his corporeal nature.
They respond by giving him a broiled fish which he eats. The term "broiled" (Greek optos) refers to preparing food by direct fire as opposed to boiling it in water, "roasted, baked, broiled."1254 The clause "and of a honeycomb" (KJV) is not in the earlier Greek manuscripts and should be omitted.1255
What We Learn about Jesus' Resurrected Body
Luke's account tells us several things about the nature of Jesus' resurrected body.
- Jesus' resurrected body has definite physical aspects -- flesh, bones, the ability to eat food, converse intelligently, and walk for miles on a road.
- Jesus' resurrected body has continuity with the previous body before death. Jesus' wounds in his hands, feet, and side are still clearly visible, and probably still open rather than healed over, since Thomas suggests putting his finger into the wounds (John 19:25). This may seem overly descriptive to the point of being gross. But the Gospel writers are making utterly clear the nature of a real body, not just the appearance or vision that is not physical or corporeal.
- Jesus' resurrected body is not bound to the physical sphere -- it can appear and disappear at will. While Jesus' body can relate to the physical world, it is not bound by space and time.
We don't know a lot more about Jesus' resurrected body than this. But we have a promise that when Christ returns our earthly remains will be resurrected in the same way he was (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).
Fulfillment of Scriptures (Luke 24:44-46)
Now Jesus teaches all his gathered disciples what he explained in detail to Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, how his suffering and resurrection were foretold in Scripture and by Jesus' own words:
"He said to them, '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. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.'" (Luke 24:44-46)
Some people look at Jesus as a martyr, a wonderful man in his time, but whose life was prematurely snuffed out by his enemies. Jesus makes clear that his suffering and death were not aberrations, mistakes, but part of God's plan. And that his resurrection he had told them about on several occasions previously (18:31-33). Jesus' ministry does not make the Scriptures obsolete; rather he is the fulfillment of them.
Lessons for Disciples
The Eleven disciples were literal eyewitnesses of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. They saw the nails pounded into his hands and feet, the spear thrust into his side. They were there. Some of their number removed his body from the cross, tenderly washed it, wrapped with spices, and entombed it. They knew he was dead.
Their disbelief indicates that they had no hope of him being alive. The chief priests and Pharisees took Jesus' prediction of his resurrection more seriously than the disciples -- so much so that they had the tomb guarded to keep the body from being stolen and a claim of resurrection being made (Matthew 27:62-66).
Now Jesus is clearly alive. His body is physical. It bears marks of his suffering, identical with the body of the Jesus they have known and loved.
But his body is now more than that. It can relate to space and time -- yes -- but it is no longer bound by them. Jesus can now live bodily as easily in the heavenly, spiritual sphere as in the earthly. He now transcends the physical, and someday we will also.
We must be very clear. I went to a pseudo-Christian liberal arts college at which the religion classes were taught by well-educated, ordained, scholarly unbelievers. In my lifetime I've heard lots of hemming and hawing, explaining away -- way too much balderdash about Jesus' resurrection:
- This is a religious myth, say some scholars. We must demythologize it.
- I don't believe in a "bodily resurrection," say others. It couldn't have been! It doesn't correspond with our presuppositions of what is scientifically possible.
- It was a "spiritual" resurrection, not a "physical" one, others proclaim. It has to be!
My dear friends, if we are to take seriously the only accounts we have of Jesus' resurrection, we must conclude that Jesus' post-resurrection body had continuity with the one that was crucified and buried. This is not presented as a religious myth, but as an astounding, historical reality.
Say, if you must, that you don't believe the apostolic witnesses. Postulate about the Church teaching what they wanted to be true. But don't pretend that the Bible supports your unbelief. Unanimously, the Gospels teach in exquisite detail the physical death, cold corpse, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. No other explanation fits the evidence we have.
The disciples were eyewitnesses. And their explicit statements as well as a record of their initial unbelief are written down for later disciples to ponder and believe. We, too, are witnesses -- witnesses of the transcripts of these events made by credible witnesses. And now we, too, are obligated to declare to our generation this astounding, amazing, overwhelming, world-altering phenomenon. Jesus is risen from the dead!
And if this is so -- and we believe it to be so -- then, the only appropriate response is: Wow! Hallelujah! Jesus, you are the Man. Jesus, you are my God! Jesus, I am your obedient and joyful servant. Forever and ever, world without end. Amen.
Father, what we see in black and white is truly amazing. Jesus died and came back to life. Thank you for what you have done before the faces of the disciples who have gone before us. I ask you to renew our perception of the resurrection, so that we might have the same passion and enthusiasm for proclaiming the resurrection as they did. Capture and re-ignite our hearts. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"'Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet." (Luke 24:39-40)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- Why were the disciples so terrified when Jesus suddenly was standing among them? How did they explain this phenomenon? (Luke 24:36-37)
- What point was Jesus trying to make by showing the disciples his hands and feet? (Luke 24:39a, 40)
- What point was Jesus trying to make by asking them to handle his flesh and bones? (Luke 24:39b)
- What point was Jesus trying to make by eating in their presence? (Luke 24:41-43)
- What things do we learn about the nature of the resurrection from Jesus' appearance to his disciples on this occasion?
- What basics about the Messiah did he teach them on that occasion from Moses, from the Prophets, and from the Psalms? (Luke 24:44-46)
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 Kleiō, BDAG 546.
 "Startled" (NIV) or "terrified" (KJV) is the Greek verb ptoeō, "be terrified, be alarmed, frightened, startled" (BDAG 895).
 "Frightened" is the Greek adjective emphobos, "pertaining to being in a state of fear, afraid, startled, terrified" (BDAG 326).
 Pneuma, BDAG 832-836, 4b.
 Greek tarassō, "be troubled, frightened, terrified" from the idea of "stir up, disturb, unsettle" (BDAG 990).
 Greek noun dialogismos, "reasoning that gives rise to uncertainty, doubt" (BDAG 232-233).
 Psēlaphaō, BDAG 1097-1098.
 Typos, BDAG 1019-1020.
 Deiknymi, BDAG 214.
 Optos, BDAG 717.
 Many later manuscripts include "and of a honeycomb" (KJV), though it is missing from most of the earlier manuscripts. In parts of the ancient church honey was used in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the baptismal liturgy. Metzger, pp. 180-181.
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