Multiple Appearances on the First Day
Jan 30, 2015
After Peter and John left the tomb, Mary herself finally looked into the tomb and saw two angels. John 20:12, 13 says,
12 and she beheld two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 and they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
She still doubted His resurrection. Perhaps the angels appeared to be so human that she did not realize until later that they were indeed angels. John’s account indicates that she answered their question as if she thought they were men who had been sent to guard the tomb. She was not “terrified,” as were the women in the first visit (Luke 24:5). Neither did she bow her face to the ground, as the women did in that first visit. She acted normally, as if she only saw two men. This was obviously not the same encounter that the women had in the first visit.
The angels asked why she was weeping, and she replied that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. They did not respond to her misguided answer. If she thought they were men guarding the tomb, she probably assumed that the answer was “classified,” which would explain why they would not tell her where they had taken Jesus’ body. She then turned from the tomb, only to see the figure of another man outside the tomb. John 20:14-16 says,
14 When she had said this [to the angels], she turned around, and beheld Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
Jesus asked Mary the same question that the angels had asked. Her answer shows that she still did not believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. It seems strange that Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus, nor did she even recognize His voice when He first spoke. But in all of the post-resurrection accounts, no one seemed to recognize Jesus until He revealed His identity to them. We are not told if this was because their eyes were veiled, or if His appearance had actually changed, or if He could change His appearance at will.
A Change in Jesus’ Appearance
Jesus’ body was no longer the same as it was during His previous life on earth. After all, in His resurrection He had passed through His grave clothes. Paul later tells us in 1 Cor. 15:42-44,
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
So Jesus was raised with a “spiritual body.” This does not mean He could not manifest Himself physically, as we see in subsequent stories. Nonetheless, His body was altered so that He was no longer subject to the limitations of human flesh.
Perhaps the main underlying truth that the gospel writers intended to convey in their post-resurrection stories was that “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). In other words, He had authority in both realms and could travel back and forth to heaven in a spiritual body or to earth in an earthly body, according to His own will.
Jesus’ First Ascension
It was only when Jesus spoke Mary’s name that He revealed Himself to her. She apparently made some move as if to hug Him or to cling to His feet, but John 20:17 says,
17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me [“Do not touch Me”], for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’.”
Many, including the translators of the NASB, try to interpret this as if Mary were clinging to Jesus in order to prevent Him from leaving. But such an interpretation misses the point. She was not allowed to touch Him until He had ascended as the first of the first-fruits offering.
The Emphatic Diaglott is more accurate: “Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.”
Jesus was to fulfill the prophecy of the wave-sheaf offering at the third hour of the day, when the high priest was to wave the sheaf of first fruits of barley before the Lord. It was the moment when Jesus had to present Himself to the Father in heaven, showing Himself to be alive from the dead, and to present Himself as the Son of God.
All first-born sons had to be presented to God on the eighth day, according to the law in Exodus 22:29, 30,
29 You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The first-born of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.
This is one of the laws of Sonship. Hence, Jesus (as a baby) was presented to the Father in the temple on the eighth day from birth. When raised from the dead as “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), it was again an eighth day—in this case “on the day after the (old) Sabbath” (Lev. 23:15), as God had commanded in regard to the wave-sheaf offering.
Likewise, seven weeks later the Church had to be presented on an eighth day (Pentecost Sunday), for they too are “first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:18). In the time of Christ’s second coming, the sons of God must be presented to God on the eighth day of Tabernacles in order to fulfill the law of the eighth day.
Those who remain overly focused on the seventh day law are often hindered from understanding the message of Sonship that is prophesied in the eighth day law. In fact, many have been taught to fear the eighth day, as if it were evil. Some consider it to be the mark of the beast, when, in fact, it is the mark of true Sonship.
So Jesus told Mary not to touch Him prior to His ascension on the third hour of that day. He could not be touched by a mortal, for then He might be defiled by touching a dead (mortal) body, were this possible. In fact, Jesus would not have been defiled. Instead, Mary would have become immortal. She would have been affected—not Him. He told her not to touch Him, lest she become immortal, incorruptible, and glorified before her time.
Nonetheless, we see that later—after His ascension—the disciples were allowed to touch Him. This shows that He had already ascended as the Son of God and the High Priest of the Melchizedek Order carrying His own blood into the Most Holy Place in the temple in heaven (Heb. 9:12). His actions in the heavenly temple made Him “the Mediator of a New Covenant” (Heb. 9:15). When He returned, they could touch Him without taking on His immortality.
This passage in Hebrews 9 speaks in terms of the Day of Atonement, for Jesus is said to do two works. The death work involved sprinkling the blood of the first goat on the mercy seat in the temple in heaven. Heb. 9:28 concludes with a brief statement about Christ’s appearance as the second goat, saying, “so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation.” This second goat removes sin, thus completing the work of salvation.
Peter also spoke of this second work of salvation, telling us in 1 Peter 1:5,
5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Mary, of course, knew nothing of this yet, for she had not had time to learn how these prophecies were being fulfilled. All she knew was that Jesus had appeared to her, and her reaction was emotional and natural. Yet we are glad for her reaction, because it shed light on the prophetic purpose of the wave-sheaf offering that we may otherwise have missed.
The Good Report Seemed like Nonsense
After seeing Jesus, Mary returned to the disciples in Jerusalem with a very different report. John 20:18 says,
18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.
We may assume that she arrived before the other women. She had less distance to travel, and Jesus did not appear to the group of women until after His ascension. John implies that she arrived at the house alone (John 20:18). He does not tell us the disciples’ reaction to her report of Jesus’ resurrection.
Luke omits the fact that Mary Magdalene and the other women arrived in Jerusalem separately. He includes Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James in the group who “were telling these things to the apostles.” Luke 24:10, 11 says,
10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.
Luke omits much of the sequence of events, and here too he does not distinguish between the first and second report that the women gave to the disciples in the house. We know from the other accounts that the first report was of the grave robbery, which caused Peter and John to run to the tomb. The second report was of Jesus’ appearance to the women and to Mary Magdalene.
Luke 24:10, 11 skips the first report and goes immediately to the second report that Jesus was alive. The disciples themselves, who had not yet seen Jesus, thought this was “nonsense.”
The next verse, which is put in brackets in the NASB, appears to be a flashback, because it tells how Peter had run to the tomb. But this visit was not motivated by the good report, but by the bad report that came earlier. The problem is that Luke skips many details, so he gives the impression that Peter ran to the tomb to verify the resurrection, when in fact he ran to the tomb to see if Jesus’ body had been stolen.
This may be why some ancient texts omit verse 12. Perhaps some transcribers thought the verse was out of place or did not fit the accounts in the other gospels, so they omitted it altogether.
12 [But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, and he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at that which had happened.]
The numerical patterns built into the text itself show that this verse should indeed be included in the text. Panin’s Numeric New Testament includes it, which tells us that it contains all the numerical patterns found in the rest of Scripture. To exclude it would destroy many numerical patterns for the book as a whole.
So the only explanation is that Luke gives an abridged account that must be clarified by the other gospel writers.
As we will see, when Jesus finally appeared to the disciples later in the evening of that first day, Thomas was absent. John apparently was the first to believe, after seeing the position of the grave clothes earlier (John 20:8). What discussions they must have had that day!
It is important to note that Jesus first appeared to women after His resurrection. Theophilus would have wondered why Jesus would have honored the women before the men. But this is part of Luke’s theme of repairing the breach between men and women. To place women in such a place of honor was to help restore women to their proper place of honor in the Kingdom (Gal. 3:28).
Earlier, the angel had told the group of women to convey this resurrection message to “the disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). By singling out Peter, the angel conveyed comfort and forgiveness to him in view of his earlier denial of even knowing Jesus. More than that, we may ask why Jesus did not convey this message to Peter personally? It can only be because it was important for the initial revelations to come to the women before the men.
A Week in Jerusalem
When verse 12 says that Peter “went away to his home,” it is apparent that Luke again omitted many details that the other gospel writers had given us. Peter did not immediately walk home to Galilee by himself. That same evening we find him in the house where the other disciples had gathered. In fact, the eleven disciples spent the entire seven days of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem. Only after Jesus’ second appearance to them (as a group) did they all return to Galilee together, as the angel had instructed the women. Matt. 28:7 says,
7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 8 And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples.
We know, then, that they all made the trip home to Galilee. But they did not leave that same day, for Jesus appeared to them that same evening in Jerusalem (Luke 24:33). Meanwhile, Luke and Cleopas (Luke 24:18) had attempted to leave Jerusalem and go to the nearby town of Emmaus when Jesus met them along the way and walked with them. Only after arriving at their destination, when Jesus suddenly disappeared, did they realize who He was, and “that very hour” they “returned to Jerusalem” to tell the other disciples (Luke 24:33). Jesus then showed up while they were telling their story to the other disciples (Luke 24:36).
Hence, the Galilee visitation had not yet taken place, nor had the disciples even begun their trip to Galilee on the day Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus Appears to Simon Peter
Luke also says (with no explanation) that when Luke and Cleopas returned, the others told them that Jesus “has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34). When did this occur? We are given no further details.
33 And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon.”
The disciples told Luke and Cleopas of Simon’s encounter. Apparently, Simon was the first of the apostles to see Jesus. Paul confirms this later in 1 Cor. 15:5, where Simon is called Cephas. All eleven disciples were present, and they conveyed the latest news to the two who had just returned from Emmaus.
It is clear, then, that Jesus was not reluctant to show Himself to the disciples after His resurrection, once He had completed His work in the heavenly temple. For Jesus to appear individually to Simon Peter might be expected. Their conversation, however, is shrouded in silence. This suggests that their conversation centered on the painful topic of Peter’s denial of Christ during His trial. At any rate, Peter never seems to have shared the details of their conversation, for his epistles are silent on this, and the gospel writers give us no further enlightenment on it.
Many events happened on that resurrection day and the following evening. Each of the gospel writers gives us details as seemed good to share. Then, as we will see, Jesus appeared to them again on the following Sunday when Thomas finally saw Jesus (John 20:26).
This is the 143rd part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones