Presenting the Resurrection Body
Luke and Cleopas hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that Jesus had appeared to them on the road to Emmaus. The eleven remaining disciples were there to hear the news (Luke 24:33), and apparently they believed. But Thomas was the last skeptic. He left the house (John 20:24), perhaps to ponder these things or to do some other business. He did not see Jesus at that group meeting. Like Luke and Cleopas, he too was “slow of heart to believe” until He saw Jesus.
The First Official Meeting
Luke 24:35, 36 says,
35 And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. 36 And while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst.
This was Jesus’ first appearance to the whole group (or nearly the whole group, since Thomas was absent). It took place the first evening of the day in which He was raised from the dead. Luke was there and wrote as an eyewitness. John 20:19, 20 says,
19 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
When Jesus appeared in their midst, having entered the room in spite of the locked door, He gave them the standard greeting, “Shalom,” which means “Peace be with you.” John says that the disciples “rejoiced when they saw the Lord,” which is true—after seeing His hands and feet—but Luke says that at first they were “startled and frightened”. Luke 24:37-40 says,
37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 [And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.]
The disciples were convinced only when Jesus showed them His hands and feet, which still carried the marks of crucifixion. The obvious question, however, is why they would not recognize Him by seeing His face. After all, they had spent years with Him. In the case of Luke and Cleopas, it may be argued that their eyes were veiled. Were their eyes again veiled in this appearance? Could they identify Him only by His pierced hands and feet?
The Official Report
It seems that Luke wanted to emphasize the fact that the disciples themselves were skeptical about the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. Perhaps this was for the benefit of Theophilus, to whom this gospel is addressed. Theophilus was probably reluctant to believe the reports about Jesus’ resurrection. Even so, it hardly seems likely that the son of Caiaphas would be unaware of the lie on which the official report was based, and of the bribing of the guards. (Luke was kind enough not to report that detail in his letter, lest he insult Theophilus’ family.)
Recall that the chief priests had sealed the tomb Saturday evening after sundown in order to prevent the disciples from stealing Jesus’ body and faking His resurrection. When the angel descended, he caused an earthquake and rolled the stone away (Matt. 28:2). This, of course, broke the seal. Matt. 28:4 says,
4 and the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.
Apparently, the guards saw the angel and were terrified. Yet they were gone by the time the women arrived at the tomb. The tomb was on the far side of the Mount of Olives, we know, because, like the ashes of the red heifer, all cemeteries had to be at least two thousand cubits beyond the city walls. We do not know if the guards met the women on the bridge over the Kidron Valley, but if so, no doubt the guards said nothing about this. Matt. 28:11 says,
11 Now while they [the women] were on their way [to or from the tomb] behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.
Matthew’s account, if read in a strict manner, makes it appear that the guards gave their report while the women were on their way back into the city. However, it is more likely that Matthew meant that they met while the women were on their way to the tomb, for he was giving the setting for the report of the guards. Matt. 28:12-15 continues,
12 And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews and is to this day.
The guards could have been executed for sleeping on the job, especially if their negligence allowed a prisoner to escape. This is why the priests had to reassure the guards that if they claimed to be asleep, they would not be held liable. They took the money, of course, knowing that if they refused it, the priests could simply accuse them of actually falling asleep.
However, since the guards all knew the truth, it is likely that at least some of them became secret believers. Perhaps one of them, on condition of anonymity, informed Matthew of this bribe.
So the official report said that the disciples broke the seal on the tomb, rolled the huge stone away while the guards slept through all the noise, and stole Jesus’ body. The guards were never prosecuted for sleeping, and the disciples were not arrested for their “crime,” even though they were in Jerusalem for the entire week of Unleavened Bread. The improbability of such a story is self-evident.
Theophilus certainly knew about the official report. In fact, it is likely that Theophilus had been present when the guards were bribed. If so, he was an eyewitness to the real story.
Instead of attempting to refute the official version, which would have insulted Theophilus’ family, Luke focused on the circumstances that had occurred on the day of resurrection. His personal testimony formed a large part of the climax to his gospel. As an eyewitness, Luke could testify to seeing Jesus at least twice, the first time on the road to Emmaus, and the second when Jesus appeared to all the disciples in the room in Jerusalem later that same evening.
Jesus’ Proves Himself
No doubt Jesus said and did many things in His first visit with the disciples that evening. But first Jesus had to prove to them that He was not a spirit. In verses 38-40, which we quoted earlier, He showed them His hands and feet and told them to touch Him. A ghost would not have been tangible.
He also said, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Here we see the contrast between the first Adam and the Last Adam. The first Adam was made a living soul, but the last was made a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). Because “the soul (nephesh) of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11), blood characterized the first Adam. But when Jesus appeared to the disciples, He did not claim to have blood. Though He had “flesh and bones,” He was also “a life-giving spirit.”
He could appear in the form of flesh when fellowshipping with the disciples on earth, but He could also leave the earth, put on His spiritual high priestly garments, and minister in the temple in heaven. He had all authority both in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18). It would have been unlawful (Ezekiel 44:19) for Jesus to minister in the earthly realm (“outer court”) dressed in His spiritual garments—that is, as a spirit. So He had to take on a body of flesh and bones in order to minister to the people on earth.
Luke 24:41-43 continues with a second proof that He was not a spirit:
41 And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them.
If He had been a spirit, the food would have fallen to the floor as soon as He ate it. But it did not. This proved that He was not a spirit.
Luke Presents Paul’s View of Resurrection
Why was it so important for Jesus to prove that He was not a spirit? No doubt Luke was thinking of Paul’s lengthy teaching about the resurrection of the dead, which he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15. Perhaps Luke was answering the question that Paul had raised on behalf of the skeptics in 1 Cor. 15:35,
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”
Paul’s answer is that resurrection bodies are not the same as those bodies that were put into the ground. 1 Cor. 15:36-38 says,
36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
He then continues with illustrations to show how there are different kinds of bodies, both among the beasts on earth and in the heavens, such as the sun, moon, and varying stars. He then concludes in 1 Cor. 15:42-45,
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.
His point was that the resurrection brings an inherent change. The seed that is sown in the earth looks nothing like the plant that sprouts from the ground. The “natural body” is different from the “spiritual body.” Jesus’ resurrection proves this, while at the same time showing that He had the ability to be clothed with “flesh and bones” when He appeared on earth. That earthly body, however, was not “natural,” in the sense of being of Adam. That spiritual body may look the same as the natural body, but it is inherently different.
Paul presents Christ’s resurrection as proof that we too will be raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:16-20). Then he discusses the type of body that we will receive, and this too is based on the example of Jesus. And so when Luke goes into detail to show that Jesus was “flesh and bones” and could eat food, he was presenting us with the original pattern by which we ourselves might understand what type of body to expect.
Theophilus, being from a family of Sadducees, probably did not believe in a bodily resurrection. Acts 23:8 says,
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
Paul had been a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5) and never renounced his belief in a bodily resurrection. Theophilus was a Sadducee, which denied a bodily resurrection, the existence of angels, and spirits. Luke’s gospel began with angelic appearances to Zecharias and to Mary, and it culminated with the resurrection of Jesus and the question about whether or not He appeared as a spirit.
More particularly, Luke showed that the old Adamic body would not be resurrected, but that the resurrected ones would receive a heavenly, or spiritual body. More to the point, the resurrection would give people authority in heaven and in earth.
That means they will be able to minister on earth in a physical body, while not being encumbered by the limitations of Adamic flesh. They will also be able to minister in the temple in heaven at will, and this is pictured prophetically in Ezekiel 44:17-19 as changing clothes, from woolens to linens. This is the privilege of the “sons of Zadok,” who represent prophetically the Melchizedek Order that has replaced the Aaronic order.
So the account of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples was more than a proof of Christ’s resurrection. These appearances also give us the hope of “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:20 that Christ in His resurrection has become “the first fruits of those who are asleep.” First fruits sanctify the harvest that is yet to come. From this we know that we too will be raised from the dead, for we are part of that harvest.