Luke 24:36-49


Jesus is Risen – Unpacking the Mystery

Luke 24:36-39  -  Jesus Appears to His Disciples 

36 While they were talking about these things,
Jesus himself stood in their midst;
and he said to them, "Peace be with you." 
37 They were terrified and frightened,
and thought they were seeing a spirit.

Jesus’ greeting was the common Jewish greeting Shalom! Yet it conveyed more. Jesus had instructed his disciples on mission: In whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house".  If there is a peace-loving person there, your peace will come down on that person; but if there is not, it will return to you. (10.5-6).

Jesus’ greeting did not achieve its purpose. Rather than allow his peace to envelop them, the disciples were terrified and frightened  Faith did not come easily, even though they had earlier accepted the resurrection of Jesus in theory on the word of Simon.

Within the culture some people believed that in the case of violent, untimely death and improper burial, the residual “person” went around (as ghost or spirit) vainly seeking to be united to its original body. Jesus had certainly been violently and untimely murdered. Luke was concerned to emphasise beyond doubt that Jesus was not some shadowy, residual “person”. Resurrection was more than the uncertain continuation of some spirit or ghost. It was more, indeed, than immortality. So by the medium of narrative, Luke went on to emphasise the physical reality of the body of the risen Christ:

38 He said to them, "Why are you disturbed?
and why are these doubts arising in your hearts?
39 Take a look at my hands and my feet, that it really is me.  
Touch me
and understand that a spirit does not have flesh and bones,
as you see I have."
40 Having said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 
41 Since they were still disbelieving from joy and amazement,
he said to them, "Do you have anything eatable here?"
42 They offered him a piece of grilled fish.
43 He took it and ate it in front of them.

What would his hands and feet have shown had the disciples looked and touched? Perhaps Luke referred to nail holes in them. Yet, in his account of the crucifying of Jesus, he had made no reference to Jesus’ hands and feet being nailed to the cross. Nailing was not necessarily practice, though it did happen.

Depending on how Jesus was clothed (his clothes had earlier been divided among the soldiers!), hands and feet may have been all that they could see or touch. 

Luke’s concern seems to have been to emphasise that Jesus had been truly and integrally raised. This was not a mere vision on the disciples’ part, and it was more than an encounter with some separate immortal, continuing soul.

Pierced Hands and Feet

If Luke intended to refer to nail-wounds in the hands and feet of Jesus, then those wounds remained with the risen Christ. They were not eliminated. Christian spirituality might deduce from that observation that, when disciples also are eventually brought to share in the resurrection experience of Jesus, their wounds will also not be eliminated. Every life experience, including the negative, can be integrated into the reality of human persons and, through the ennabling power of God, serve to their maturing and growth. Paul believed that God would make all things conspire to the good of disciples who let the love of God transform them: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:18) 

44 He then said to them,
"This is the meaning of what I said to you
while I was still with you
that everything written about me
in the law of Moses,
in the prophets
and in the psalms
had to be fulfilled."

Luke repeated what he had reported of the disciples’ experience on the way to Emmaus. This time he added the psalms to the law of Moses and the prophets as witnesses to the unfolding experience of Christ.

45 And he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
46 He said to them,
"It is written this way that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day.
47 In his name radical change of heart
and the removal of sin
would be preached to all the nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.  

Luke had begun his Gospel by having the heavenly messenger Gabriel tell Mary that God would give to the child she was soon to conceive the throne of David his father. The messenger then went on to say that her son would rule over the house of Jacob for ever, and his reign will have no end (1:32-33). During his public life Jesus had not used the title king/Messiah of himself. When called such by demons, he had silenced them. When an enthusiastic crowd had welcomed him on his entry to Jerusalem, praising him as the king who comes in the name of the Lord, he had reinterpreted the event by enacting Zechariah’s prophecy of a humble, non-violent Christ/Messiah. During the final days in Jerusalem he had himself raised the issue of the Messiah’s identity, inviting his hearers to see more in the Messiah than descent from David (with its overtones of political kingship). When questioned about his identity as Christ/Messiah/king by both Jewish chief priest and Roman governor, he had ignored the question or answered diffidently, realising that leaders of political/religious structures would almost inevitably be blind to the kind of kingship he would embody.

Only at this final stage of his narrative did Luke have Jesus explicitly claim the title for himself and redefine the role in terms of his suffering and resurrection: the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead.

Jesus’ claim to be Christ/Messiah/king also needed to be seen in close connection with the title Son of Man that he generally seemed to prefer. The original Son of Man title as used by Daniel referred not only to a single individual but also to the people of the holy ones of the Most High (7:27). To both were promised universal kingship and dominion (7:14 and 27). 

In Jesus’ mind his messianic/kingly state was to be shared also by those who followed his way, by disciples (= ones who have learned). As he had made clear through his teaching of the disciples, and had demonstrated practically through his own suffering and death, this redefined kingship was not one of domination and imposed subservience but of shared dignity, respect, love and mutual service. In Jesus’ Kingdom, all would be kings, whether children or adult women or men; poor or rich; with responsibility for leadership or serving and loving in other ways.

Jesus then went on to insist that it was to this kingship, in which they all shared, that the disciples were to be witnesses. The role was not one of personal status or honour, but of urgent mission to the world.  They were to witness as individuals within the practical contexts of their varied interactions and lifestyles. They were also to witness as community, as the restructured Israel, founded on the reconstituted patriarchs, the twelve (22:29-30). Community witness would be the more difficult enterprise, given that the sin of the world in its most destructive and hidden ways takes shape more within institutional structures than in individual lives. It has been the constant struggle confronting the Church across the centuries.

"It is written this way that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.  In his name radical change of heart and the removal of sin would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

The on-going inspiration of Christ, present and active in the Christian community through his Spirit, enabled later generations to realise how the removal of sin - the fruit of the liberating power of God’s love for humanity - was now realised in the vision that Jesus had proclaimed and in the way he had lived, died and been raised. The change of heart (and its necessary concrete expression in the constant struggle to shape better social, cultural and political structures), was no longer an undefined call, but had been translated into practice by the life and message of Jesus.

Luke’s narrative was itself an exploration and exposition of this new insight. The proclamation of human repentance and divine forgiveness of sins would now take place in the name of Jesus, informed by all he had said and done.

The Forgiveness of Sin and Work for Justice 

Luke had begun the Gospel in the Jerusalem temple with the promise to Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, of the conception of John. On the occasion of the circumcision of John, the dumb Zechariah broke out in inspired song, and had claimed of his child:

you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.
You will make known to his people their salvation
through forgiveness of their sins(1:76-77).

And when John began his public ministry, that was precisely how Luke described his ministry:

He went through the whole Jordan region
proclaiming a baptism of conversion for forgiveness of sins (3:3)

Liberation. Yet Jesus himself had not explicitly proclaimed forgiveness of sins in his ministry. His overarching vision had been to introduce the Lord’s year of favour: He had begun his public ministry proclaiming in Nazareth the focus of his future activity:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
and so has anointed me.
He has sent me to announce good news to the poor,
to announce freedom to captives
and sight to the blind,
to send the oppressed away reprieved, 
to proclaim the Lord's year of favour (4:18-19).

Forgiveness. Had Jesus’ mission to bring concern for justice and compassion to an oppressive and violent world changed emphasis to become the personally oriented concern of forgiveness?

Not necessarily! There are problems, however, with the term forgiveness. The word means basically “removal” or “elimination”, even “liberation”. Given that meaning, the question can then arise: removal of what from whom? elimination of what? liberation from what? 

Sin of the World. Forgiveness can be understood as the removal of the burden of guilt from the shoulders of the guilty. It can also be understood as the removal of the power and consequences of the sin of the world from the shoulders of the oppressed. The sin of the world that crucified Jesus took practical shape in the decisions and actions of the leaders of the political and religious institutions of the day, and of the mob they manipulated. But had it not been Pilate and the high priest or that precise crowd, it would have been others. (It is interesting that Luke had not explicitly named the high priest, because in some ways the individual person was not the issue. He mattered simply as the one responsible for leadership within a system that had become corrupted. For the same reason, Luke need not have mentioned Pilate, except that his major concern with Pilate was to carefully cite for the sake of his own Christian community Pilate’s thrice-repeated official declaration of Jesus’ innocence.) 

The sin of the world takes shape in the practical systems that people create to facilitate their interaction. These systems seem inevitably prone to corruption. Power and domination so often prevail over justice and compassion. The need for repentance is continuous.

Mission. Jesus was sending his disciples to confront and to work for the removal and elimination of the sin of the world. To do that: 

    • They needed be aware of and alert to the world’s sin. Jesus’ trial and death according to the procedures of the religious and political systems of the time had patently made that clear. 
    • They needed to share Jesus’ vision of the dignity of every person, oppressed or oppressing. Again Jesus’ determination in the face of death had clarified that. 
    • They needed to share Jesus’ thirst for justice and compassion that flowed from his closeness to his God. Luke had gone to great detail to underline Jesus’ compassion even at the moment of his greatest suffering.

To achieve that, they needed to convert - to repent. Luke’s Gospel had been one long meditation on the process, the shape and the outcome of conversion. 

Jesus commissioned the disciples to all the nations. His own ministry had been largely confined within the boundaries of Israel. The sin of the world was not confined to Israel. It extended to wherever human persons grouped together. Now, beginning from Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, the disciples were to move out to change the world.

The reinterpretation of Messiahship, made possible through reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, allowed the former narrow nationalistic understanding to be replaced by a mission embracing the whole world – all the nations.

Luke used the geographical reference beginning from Jerusalem to make clear that what had climaxed in Jerusalem – the death and resurrection of Jesus – was the non-negotiable key to understanding God’s plan for the world.

Isaiah’s vision of the work of the Suffering Servant was finally to be fulfilled: It is too light a thing that you should be my servant,to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations,that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6)

48 You are witnesses to these events.
49 Now I send on you what my Father promised.  
Stay here in the city
until you are invested with power from heaven."

The presence and action of Jesus would continue in the world across the centuries through the living witness of disciples. Disciples would be not simply the beneficiaries of God’s saving work in and through Jesus but its apostles and its stewards.

The Spirit of God, active in the Christian community, would continue to interpret, apply and empower disciples to bring God’s liberating truth and love to all the nations.

The disciples who had known the risen Jesus were the ones who were able to testify to God’s validation of Jesus’ stance. Of itself their witness would not be sufficient. Even in their case, seeing had not been believing. Faith would come as people recognised the resonance of their own spirits with the person and the message of Jesus. That further step would be the result of the action of God’s Spirit within them.

Jesus said that they would be invested with power from heaven. Isaiah had looked forward to this time:

For the palace will be forsaken,
the populous city deserted ...
until a spirit from on high is poured out on us,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest  (Isaiah 32:14-15)

And many years later the prophet Joel had predicted:

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28)

Jesus did not explicitly identify the power from heaven with the Spirit of God. Luke would make the connection explicit in his companion volume to the Gospel, Acts of Apostles. Whatever about the explicit connection, Jesus obviously saw the disciples’ mission as the fulfilment of a wonderful dream, the beginning of a world and of persons renewed.

Next >> Luke 24:50-53