Jesus Christ: Resurrection and Ascension
The resurrection of Jesus, with its completion in the ascension, setting the seal of the Father’s acceptance on His finished work on earth, and marking the decisive change from His state of humiliation to that of exaltation, may be called in a true sense the corner stone of Christianity (compare 1Co 15:14,17). It was on the preaching of Christ crucified and risen that the Christian church was founded (e.g. Ac 2:32-36; 1Co 15:3,4). Professor Harnack would distinguish between "the Easter faith" (that Jesus lives with God) and "the Easter message," but the church never had any Easter faith apart from the Easter message. The subversion of the fact of the resurrection is therefore a first task to which unbelief addresses itself. The modern spirit rules it out a priori as miraculous. The historical fact is denied, and innumerable theories (imposture, theories of swoon, of hallucination, mythical theories, spiritualistic theories, etc.) are invented to explain the belief. None of these theories can stand calm examination (see the writer’s work, The Resurrection of Jesus). The objections are but small dust of the balance compared with the strength of the evidence for the fact. From the standpoint of faith, the resurrection of Jesus is the most credible of events. If Jesus was indeed such an One as the gospel history declares Him to be, it was impossible that death should hold Him (Ac 2:24). The resurrection, in turn, confirms His claim to be the Son of God (Ro 1:4).
(Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; 21; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
With the narratives of the resurrection are here included as inseparably connected, those of the appearances of Jesus in Jerusalem and Galilee. The accounts will show that, while the body of Jesus was a true body, identical with that which suffered on the cross (it could be seen, touched, handled), it exhibited attributes which showed that Jesus had entered, even bodily, on a new phase of existence, in which some at least of the ordinary limitations of body were transcended. Its condition in the interval between the resurrection and the ascension was an intermediate one--no longer simply natural, yet not fully entered into the state of glorification. "I am not yet ascended .... I ascend" (Joh 20:17); in these two parts of the one saying the mystery of the resurrection body is comprised.
a) The Easter Morning--the Open Tomb
The main facts in the resurrection narratives stand out clearly. "According to all the Gospels," the arch-skeptic Strauss concedes, "Jesus, after having been buried on the Friday evening, and lain during the Sabbath in the grave, came out of it restored to life at daybreak on Sunday" (New Life of Jesus, I, 397, English translations). Discrepancies are alleged in detail as to the time, number, and names of the women, number of angels, etc.; but most of these vanish on careful examination. The Synoptics group their material, while Joh gives a more detailed account of particular events.
(1) The Angel and the Keepers.
No eye beheld the actual resurrection, which took place in the early morning, while it was still dark. Matthew records that there was "a great earthquake," and tells of the descent of an angel of the Lord, who rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. Before his dazzling aspect the keepers became as dead men, and afterward fled. The chief priests bribed them to conceal the facts, and say the body had been stolen (Mt 28:2-4,11-15).
(2) Visit of the Women.
The first intimation of the resurrection to the disciples was the discovery of the empty tomb by the women who had come at early dawn (Mt 28:1; Mr 16:2; Lu 24:1; Joh 20:1) with spices, prepared to anoint the body of Jesus (Mr 16:1; compare Lu 23:56). Apparently ignorant of the guard, the women were concerned on their way as to who should roll away the stone from the door of the tomb (Mr 16:3), and were much surprised to find the stone rolled away, and the tomb open. There is no need for supposing that the women mentioned all came together. It is much more probable that they came in different groups or companies--perhaps Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, or these with Salome, first (Matthew, Mark; compare the "we" of Joh 20:2); then Joanna and other members of the Galilean band (Luke). (On the appearance of Jesus to Mary, see below.)
(3) The Angelic Message.
As the women stood, perplexed and affrighted, at the tomb, they received a vision of angels (Matthew and Mark speak only of one angel; Luke and John mention two; all allude to the dazzling brightness), who announced to them that Jesus had risen ("He is not here; for he is risen; .... come, see the place where the Lord lay"), and bade them tell His disciples that He went before them to Galilee, where they should see Him (Matthew, Mark; Luke, who does not record the Galilean appearances, omits this part, and recalls the words spoken by Jesus in Galilee, concerning His death and resurrection; compare Mt 16:21). The women departed with "trembling and astonishment" (Mark), yet "with great joy" (Matthew). Here the original Mr breaks off (Mr 16:8), the remaining verses being an appendix. But it is granted that Mark must originally have contained an account of the report to the disciples, and of an appearance of Jesus in Galilee.
b) Visit of Peter and John--Appearance to Mary
(John; compare Mark 16:9,10; Luke 24:12,24)
The narrative in John enlarges in important respects those of the Synoptics. From it we learn that Mary Magdalene (no companion is named, but one at least is implied in the "we" of 20:2), concluding from the empty tomb that the body of Jesus had been removed, at once ran to carry the news to Peter and John ("They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him"). These apostles lost no time in hastening to the spot. John, who arrived first, stooping down, saw the linen cloths lying, while Peter, entering, beheld also the napkin for the head rolled up in a place by itself. After John likewise had entered ("He saw, and believed"), they returned to their home. Meanwhile Mary had come back disconsolate to the tomb, where, looking in, she, like the other women, had a vision of two angels. It was then that Jesus addressed her, "Why weepest thou?" At first she thought it was the gardener, but on Jesus tenderly naming her, "Mary," she recognized who it was, and, with the exclamation, "Rabboni" ("Teacher"), would have clasped Him, but He forbade: "Touch me not," etc. (Joh 20:17, margin "Take not hold on me"), i.e. "Do not wait, but hasten to tell my disciples that I am risen, and ascend to my Father" (the ascension-life had already begun, altering earlier relations).
Report to the Disciples--Incredulity.
The appearance of Jesus to the other women (Mt 28:9,10) is referred to below. It is probable that, on the way back, Mary Magdalene rejoined her sisters, and that the errand to the disciples--or such of them as could be found--was undertaken together. Their report was received with incredulity (Lu 24:11; compare Mr 16:11). The visit of Peter referred to in Lu 24:12 is doubtless that recorded more precisely in John.
c) Other Easter-Day Appearances (Emmaus, Jerusalem)
Ten appearances of Jesus altogether after His resurrection are recorded, or are referred to; of these five were on the day of resurrection. They are the following:
(1) The first is the appearance to Mary Magdalene above described.
(2) The second is an appearance to the women as they returned from the tomb, recorded in Mt 28:9,10. Jesus met them, saying, "All hail," and as they took hold of His feet and worshipped Him, He renewed the commission they had received for the disciples. Some regard this as only a generalization of the appearance to Mary Magdalene, but it seems distinct.
(3) An appearance to Peter, attested by both Lu 24:34 and Paul (1Co 15:5). This must have been early in the day, probably soon after Peter’s visit to the tomb. No particulars are given of this interview, so marked an act of grace of the risen Lord to His repentant apostle. The news of it occasioned much excitement among the disciples (Lu 24:34).
(4) The fourth was an appearance to two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus--a village about two hours distant (Lu 24:12-35; Mr 16:12,13). They were conversing on the sad events of the last few days, and on the strange tidings of the women’s vision of angels, when Jesus overtook them, and entered into conversation with them. At first they did not recognize Him--a token, as in Mary’s case, of change in His appearance--though their hearts burned within them as He opened to them the Scriptures about Christ’s sufferings and glory. As the day was closing, Jesus abode with them to the evening meal; then, as He blessed and brake the bread, "Their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight" (Lu 24:30,31). They hastily rose, and returned to the company of disciples at Jerusalem. According to Mr 16:13, their testimony, like that of the women, was not at first believed.
d) The Second Appearance to the Eleven--the Doubt of Thomas
Eight days after this first appearance--i.e. the next Sunday evening--a second appearance of Jesus to the apostles took place in the same chamber and under like conditions ("the doors being shut"). The peculiar feature of this second meeting was the removal of the doubt of Thomas who, it is related, had not been present on the former occasion. Thomas, devoted (compare Joh 11:16), but of naturally questioning temperament (Joh 14:5), refused to believe on the mere report of others that the Lord had risen, and demanded indubitable sensible evidence for himself. Jesus, at the second appearance, after salutation as before, graciously gave the doubting apostle the evidence he asked: "Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands," etc. (Joh 20:27), though, as the event proved, the sign was not needed. The faith and love of the erst-while doubter leaped forth at once in adoring confession: "My Lord and my God." It was well; but Jesus reminded him that the highest faith is not that which waits on the evidence of sense ("Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed," Joh 20:29).
e) The Galilean Appearances
The scene now shifts for the time to Galilee. Jesus had appointed to meet with His disciples in Galilee (Mt 26:32; Mr 16:7; compare Mr 14:28). Prior, however, to this meeting--that recorded in Mt 28:16-20, probably to be identified with the appearance "to above five hundred brethren at once" mentioned by Paul (1Co 15:6)--there is another appearance of Jesus to seven disciples at the Lake of Galilee, of which the story is preserved in Joh 21:1-23.
(1) At the Sea of Tiberias--the Draught of Fishes--Peter’s Restoration.
The chapter which narrates this appearance of Jesus at the Lake of Galilee ("Sea of Tiberias") is a supplement to the Gospel, but is so evidently Johannine in character that it may safely be accepted as from the pen of the beloved disciple (thus Lightfoot, Meyer, Godet, Alford, etc.). The appearance itself is described as the third to the disciples (Joh 21:14), i.e. the third to the apostles collectively, and in Jn’s record seven disciples are stated to have been present, of whom five are named--Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel (probably to be identified with Bartholomew), and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. The disciples had spent the night in fishing without result. In the morning Jesus--yet unrecognized--appeared on the beach, and bade them cast down their net on the right side of the boat. The draught of fishes which they took revealed to John the presence of the Master. "It is the Lord," he said to Peter, who at once flung himself into the lake to go to Jesus. On landing, the disciples found a fire of coals, with fish placed on it, and bread; and Jesus Himself, after more fish had been brought, distributed the food, and, it seems implied, Himself shared in the meal. Still a certain awe--another indication of a mysterious change in Christ’s appearance--restrained the disciples from asking openly, "Who art thou?" (Joh 21:12). It was not long, however ("when they had broken their fast"), before Jesus sufficiently disclosed Himself in the touching episode of the restoration of Peter (the three-fold question, "Lovest thou me?" answering to the three-fold denial, met by Peter’s heartfelt, "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee," with the words of reinstatement, "Feed my lambs," "Feed my sheep"). In another way, Jesus foretold that Peter would have the opportunity of taking back his denial in the death by which he should glorify God (Joh 21:18,19; tradition says he was crucified head-downward). Curious inquiries were set aside, and attention recalled to duty, "Follow thou me" (Joh 21:22).
(2) On the Mountain--the Great Commission--Baptism.
Though only the eleven apostles are named in Matthew’s account (Mt 28:16), the fact of an `appointment’ for a definite time and place ("the mountain"), and the terms in which the message was given to the "disciples," suggests a collective gathering such as is implied in Paul’s "above five hundred brethren at once" (1Co 15:6). The company being assembled, Jesus appeared; still, at first, with that element of mystery in His appearance, which led some to doubt (Mt 28:17). Such doubt would speedily vanish when the Lord, announcing Himself as clothed with all authority in heaven and earth, gave to the apostles the supreme commission to "make disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28:18-20; compare Mr 16:15, "Go ye into all tho world" etc.). Discipleship was to be shown by baptism "into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (one name, yet threefold), and was to be followed by instruction in Christ’s commands. Behind the commission, world-wide in its scope, and binding on every age, stands the word of never-failing encouragement, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Doubts of the genuineness of these august utterances go as a rule with doubt of the resurrection itself.
It will be noticed that the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are the only sacraments instituted by Jesus in His church.
f) Appearance to James
Paul records, as subsequent to the above, an appearance of Jesus to James, known as "the Lord’s brother" (1Co 15:7; compare Ga 1:19). No particulars are given of this appearance, which may have occurred either in Galilee or Jerusalem. James, so far as known, was not a believer in Jesus before the crucifixion (compare Joh 7:3); after the ascension he and the other brethren of Jesus are found in the company of the disciples (Ac 1:14), and he became afterward a chief "pillar" of the church at Jerusalem (Ga 1:19; 2:9). This appearance may have marked the turning-point.
g) The Last Meeting
(Luke 24:50-53; Ac 1:6-14; compare Mark 16:19)
Jesus had declared, "I ascend unto my Father" (Joh 20:17), and Luke in Ac 1 narrates the circumstances of that departure. Jesus might simply have "vanished" from the sight of His disciples, as on previous occasions, but it was His will to leave them in a way which would visibly mark the final close of His association with them. They are found, as in the Gospel, "assembled" with Him at Jerusalem, where His final instructions are given. Then the scene insensibly changes to Olivet, where the ascension is located (Ac 1:12). The disciples inquire regarding the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (even yet their minds are held in these temporal conceptions), but Jesus tells them that it is not for them to know times and seasons, which the Father had set within His own authority (Ac 1:7). Far more important was it for them to know that within the next days they should receive power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Him to the uttermost part of the earth (Ac 1:8). Even as He spake, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight (Ac 1:9). Then, as the apostles stood gazing upward, two heavenly messengers appeared, who comforted them with the assurance that in like manner as they had seen Jesus ascend into heaven, so also would He come again. For that return the church still prays and waits (compare Re 22:20).
See, further, ASCENSION.
Retracing their steps to Jerusalem, the apostles joined the larger company of disciples in the "upper room" where their meetings seem to have been habitually held, and there, with one accord, to the number of about 120 (Ac 1:15), they all continued steadfastly in prayer till "the promise of the Father" (Lu 24:49; Ac 1:4) was, at Pentecost, bestowed upon them.