JESUS APPEARS TO HIS APOSTLES AFTER HIS RESURRECTION
“At any rate, a short time after the disciples from Emmaus had returned to the eleven Apostles at Jerusalem there occurred an event which removed all doubt from the minds of all of them except the Apostle Thomas. As they were discussing the appearances of Jesus to Peter and to the two disciples, suddenly Jesus Himself stood in their midst, and said to them, ‘Peace to you: It is I, do not be afraid’ (Luke 24:36).
‘DO NOT BE AFRAID’
St Luke tells us that the Apostles, far from assuming immediately that they saw Jesus alive again in His own Body, at first thought that they saw a spirit, a ghost, and for that reason were panic-stricken. St Mark tells us that Jesus Himself upbraided them for their lack of faith and their hardness of heart. He had appeared alive to Mary Magdalen, to Peter and to the two disciples at Emmaus. But they had not believed this when it was told to them. Now when Jesus Himself appeared to them, they still did not believe. They imagined that they saw a ghost.
But, as we have already mentioned, the Apostles were to be witnesses to the world of the Resurrection of Jesus. It was better that they should be hard-headed and disbelieving at first. If, only with difficulty, they are convinced that Jesus has truly risen in His own crucified Body, then their testimony will be completely acceptable.
A VALID TESTIMONY
After reproaching them for their lack of belief, Jesus proceeded to convince them that it was indeed Himself risen again. ‘Why,’ He said to them, ‘are you disturbed, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is myself. Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have’ (Luke 24:38-39).
Then He showed them His hands and feet and the wounds of the Crucifixion in them.
INDEED, NO HALLUCINATION!
Jesus was aware of the fact that they thought they were seeing a ghost. By showing them His hands and feet and the recognisable wounds in them He was seeking to show them that He was not a ghost; nor were they victims of an hallucination. He was trying to prove to them that the incredible had happened, the unbelievable was true: He, Who had died a violent death on the Cross on Friday, was alive again and well on Sunday, for the same Person, Jesus the Christ, alive again in His very own Body.
IS THERE ANY NATURAL EXPLANATION?
But the Apostles, even in the face of this startling proof, even though they had seen and handled the hands and feet of Jesus Himself, were still unbelieving. It is impossible not to sympathise with them. The Fact – or, to their minds, the supposed Fact – which confronted them was impossible, incredible. They may have heard, as we have heard, of men from the Far East whose control of their bodily functions was so complete that they could seem to suspend their breathing and the beating of their pulse so that no normal sign of life was evident. They may even have heard, as we have heard, of people who for some hidden psychological reason fall into cataleptic trances in which they give no external sign of life. They may also have known of men so wounded in battle or in accidents that it seemed impossible for them to live. When men in such cases returned to normal living, it was indeed marvellous, but it was capable of some natural explanation.
OUR LORD JESUS CHRISTS OFFICIAL ‘DEATH CERTIFICATE’
But the case of Jesus was none of these. He was not an East Indian fakir, [an extremely advanced and rare] practiser of yoga. He had not, while in the best of health, gone into a cataleptic trance. He had not been taken down from the Cross severely wounded, but still alive. He was a Man Who had been mortally wounded, scourged, crowned with thorns, hung upon a Cross for three hours, pierced to the heart by a lance. His enemies, the priests and Pharisees, His friends, His Mother, St John, Mary Magdalen, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, the public officials, the centurion and the soldiers all were certain that He had died on the Cross. In that certainty He had been taken down from the Cross and buried. A huge stone had been placed before the entrance to His tomb. Soldiers had been placed on guard to see that no one stole the Body. And yet, on Sunday, He appeared to His Apostles, not only alive but in command of Himself; not as a man sick unto death but as a man in the bloom of health. This was a fact unique in all human history. He had foretold His own death and His own resurrection. He had said that He had power to lay down His own life and power to take it up again. Now the Apostles were face to face with the fulfilment of His words.
FACE TO FACE WITH THE FULFILMENT OF THE MASTER’S PREDICTIONS
Because of their love for Him they wished to accept this impossible fact. But their minds still refused to admit that it could be true. Then Jesus, knowing their bewilderment, and tender to their indecision, chose a homely but so human gesture to convince them. ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ He asked them. Still wondering they gave Him a piece of broiled [grilled] fish and a honeycomb. He ate these in their presence and then gave them what was left. By thus dining, as it were, with them, Jesus finally convinced them that He was truly Himself, Jesus their Master risen again in the flesh.
HE FINALLY CONVINCES THEM THAT HE IS REAL
Once they were convinced that Jesus was truly risen from the tomb their hearts must have been flooded with joy, exultant joy, and then with profound awe and reverence. He Who had seemed to go down in defeat at the hands of mighty men had conquered the universal enemy, the enemy mightier than kings, the inevitable enemy, death. But the Gospel of St John says simply, ‘The disciples therefore rejoiced at the sight of the Lord’ (John 20:20).
HAVING CONQUERED DEATH, HE GIVES VITAL LIFE-GIVING POWERS TO HIS APOSTLES
How long Jesus stayed with the Apostles on this occasion, how extensive His conversation with them may have been, we do not know. Only St John speaks of what Jesus said after the Apostles became convinced that they were indeed talking to their risen Master. ‘Peace be with you!’ He said to them, ‘As the Father has sent me, I also sent you.’ Then He breathed upon them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained’ (John 20:21-23).
As God the Father, the first Person of the Trinity, had sent God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, into the world to bring about the forgiveness of sin, so now Jesus, the Son of God, sends His Apostles to bring forgiveness to the world.
JESUS IS SENT BY THE FATHER, AND HE IN TURN SENDS THE APOSTLES TO BRING FORGIVENESS TO THE WORLD (Jn 20:21-23)
They will receive the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, and by His power they will be able to forgive sins. This power they will exercise as judges, for they are given by Jesus the discretionary power to forgive or retain sin. Jesus died on the Cross to save mankind from sin. But His salvation will come to men through His Apostles. To them He entrusts the power to forgive the sins of men.
‘OH, COME ON! GET A GRIP! I NEED SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE, I NEED TO SEE PROOF’
The Apostle Thomas, called the Twin, was not with the other Apostles when Jesus appeared to them in Jerusalem. When he had returned to the group they told him of the visit of Jesus to the upper room. But St Thomas still refused to believe the testimony of the others. ‘Unless I see in his hands,’ he said, ‘the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’ (John 20:25).
Thomas was one of those stubborn, hard-headed men who have to see to believe. He did not care how many men lost their heads or became hysterical. He would have to see for himself, and he doubted if that would come to pass.
But eight days later, when he and the other Apostles were gathered in the upper room, Jesus came again and stood in their midst. After greeting them, He said to Thomas, ‘Bring here thy finger, and see my hands; and bring here thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing’ (John 20:27).
Did Thomas put his fingers and his hands into the wounds of Jesus? The Gospels do not tell us. At any rate he was convinced. Having seen Jesus, he believed. And like all sceptics, once he was convinced his conviction was unshakeable, his submission to truth profound. In the strength of his new-found faith, he cried out, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28).
This is the first explicit recognition of the divinity of Jesus recorded after His Resurrection.
Jesus accepted Thomas’ tardy recognition of His Resurrection. But He pointed out the greater merit of those who had already believed in it without having seen Him. ‘Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29).
HIS APPEARANCES SEEM TO BE AT IRREGULAR INTERVALS
If we are to judge by the recorded appearances of Jesus in the four Gospels, it would seem that Jesus was seen by His Apostles and disciples only at irregular intervals. On the day of His Resurrection He appeared to Mary Magdalen, to Peter, perhaps to the other women who went to the tomb, to the disciples going to Emmaus, to the Apostles in the upper room. A week later He appeared to the Apostles again when Thomas was present. Whether or not Jesus appeared to anyone during this interval of a week, we do not know. St Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, says that Jesus showed Himself alive after His passion, ‘for forty days appearing to them and speaking of the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3). But even this does not tell us how often Jesus appeared to His disciples. We must, then, be content with the appearances of Jesus which are related to us in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
BREAKFAST ON THE SHORE
The next recorded appearance of Jesus to His Apostles occurred in Galilee. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, John and James, the sons of Zebedee, had gone fishing. No doubt they had returned to Galilee because the angels had told them that Jesus would meet them there. They fished all night and caught nothing. Toward daybreak Jesus came and stood on the shore of the sea of Tiberias, where they were fishing. ‘Young men,’ he called to them, ‘have you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat,’ He said, ‘and you will find them.’ They cast the net on the other side of the boat. It was filled with so great a load of fish that they could not draw it up into the boat, but had to drag it behind the boat to the shore. At this miraculous draft of fish Peter, hearing John say, ‘It is the Lord,’ cast himself into the sea and swam to the shore to meet the Master. On shore they breakfasted on fish and bread with Jesus.
A SOLEMN AND SIGNIFICANT MOMENT
After breakfast Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, dost thou love me more than these do?’ Simon answered, ‘Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time He asked Simon, ‘Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?’ A second time Peter answered, ‘Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Then a third time He said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?’ Peter answered, ‘Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’ (John 21:1-17).
THE SHEPHERD OF HIS OWN FLOCK
This was a solemn and significant moment. Not only did Jesus show Himself again to His Apostles, thus confirming their faith in His real Resurrection from the dead but on this occasion He also fulfilled the promise He had already made to Simon Peter. He had told Peter that He would make him the rock on which His Church would be built; He had promised to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which would make him the master of the Church of Jesus; He had promised to Peter the power to bind and to loose in the Kingdom of God. He had also said that He would pray for Peter so that he, once he was truly converted to Jesus, might confirm the faith of his brethren. Now, on the shore of the sea of Tiberias, after His own glorious Resurrection had proven His right to do such things, He solemnly conferred these powers to Simon Peter. Three times He tested the faith and love of Simon. Three times He spoke to Simon, ‘Feed my lambs – Feed my lambs – Feed my sheep.’ In these words He made Simon the shepherd of His own flock. Apostles or disciples, those who already believed in Jesus and all who were to believe in Jesus in the future – all these Jesus entrusted to the pastoral care and authority of Peter. He had promised to make Peter the head of His Church. On the shore of Lake Tiberias the triumphantly risen Jesus with divine authority made Peter the ruler of the Kingdom of God on earth.
ST PETER WILL HAVE TO LAY DOWN HIS LIFE
Jesus knew that this high position, this exalted spiritual position, would not be an unmixed blessing. He had already told His Apostles that the world would hate and persecute them as it had hated and persecuted Him. And so He told Peter, after making him the head of His Church, ‘Amen, amen, I say to thee, when thou wast young thou didst gird thyself and walk where thou wouldst. But when thou art old thou wilt stretch forth thy hands, and another will gird thee, and lead thee where thou wouldst not’ (John 21:18). St John tells us that in these words Jesus meant to indicate that Peter would die for His Lord to glorify God.
ONLY THE APOSTLES ARE ENTRUSTED BY JESUS WITH THE TASK
St John also tells us of another interesting point in this conversation of Jesus with Peter. Peter, on hearing of the fate that awaited himself, and perceiving John following himself and Jesus, asked the Lord, ‘And what of this man?’ Jesus replied, ‘If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee?’ (John 21:21-22). St John remarks that because of this saying of Jesus many of the later disciples of Jesus thought that John was not to die until Jesus had come a second time to judge the world. But, as St John continues, ‘Jesus had not said to him, ‘He is not to die’; but rather, ‘If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee?’ (John 21:23).
What Jesus was saying to Peter, then, was this: I have made you the head of My Church; you have your task and your responsibility; what dispositions I may make for others is no concern of yours. The incident impresses us with its air of reality, with its human quality. But it should also be instructive. It shows how difficult it is for ordinary people to interpret correctly the words of Jesus. Only the Apostles, those to whom Jesus entrusted the task of bringing the teaching of Jesus to the world, can report His words faithfully and interpret them correctly.
‘BEHOLD I AM WITH YOU ALL DAYS’
Some time later Jesus appeared to the eleven Apostles on a mountain in Galilee, as He had promised them. The occasion is once again a solemn one, for He was about to give them their commission to build up His Church, the Kingdom of God, on earth. When the Apostles saw Jesus this time, they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. Now they knew beyond any doubt that He was God. Jesus said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and behold I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world’ (Matthew 28:19-20).
JESUS DECREES THAT THOSE WHO BELIEVE ARE TO BE RULED BY THE APOSTLES
In these words, Jesus, God Himself, gave His Apostles both their orders and their authority. In His name they were to preach to all the nations of the world the divine revelations which Jesus had brought to mankind, the message of salvation through the Cross of Jesus. Those who believed were to be baptised in the name of the Most Blessed Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Those who believed were to be ruled by the Apostles, who would teach them all that Jesus had commanded. Jesus Himself would stand behind this mission to the end of the world. He would guarantee the truth of their preaching, make fruitful the baptism which they administered unto the forgiveness of sin, and ratify their rule over the people of the Kingdom of God.
UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD
From the lips of a mere man such a promise would be only a sign of empty optimism or the utterance of a vain hope. But from the lips of God Himself in His human nature the commission of the Apostles becomes a divine commission, and the promise of assistance to the end of the world becomes an infallible prophecy. And since Jesus as God knows that the Apostles themselves will not live on earth until the end of the world, His words suppose that their commission and their authority will descend through historical time to generation after generation of legitimate successors [The first of many nominations by the Apostles and their successors of a legitimate successor of an Apostle was their replacement of Judas Iscariot with Matthias (Acts 1:26b)]. This is His will, this is His intention when He says that He will remain with His Apostles until the end of the world.
A VERY CRUCIAL MATTER
The commission entrusted to the Apostles is not a matter of small consequence to the world of mankind. As we are told in St Mark’s Gospel, men will be judged, will be saved or lost, by their reaction to the teaching of the Apostles. ‘He who believes and is baptised shall be saved, but he does not believe shall be condemned’ (Mark 16:16).
BY THE POWER OF GOD
Jesus on this occasion also told His Apostles that the power of God, manifested in extraordinary ways, would accompany the spread of the Kingdom of God among men. ‘And these signs shall attend those who believe: in my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak in new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall get well’ (Mark 16:17-18).
A MYSTERY HIDDEN IN THE MIND AND WILL OF GOD
Last of all, Jesus appeared to the eleven Apostles at Jerusalem. According to St Luke, in His Gospel, on that occasion Jesus explained to them how the words of God in the writings of Moses, in the Psalms and the Prophets were fulfilled in Himself. He showed them that it was necessary that the Christ, the Messias, should suffer, die and rise again on the third day. He also taught them that repentance and the remission of sin must be preached in His name to all the nations of the world. But they were to begin their preaching in Jerusalem itself, the Holy City of their own people. In the Acts of the Apostles St Luke also tells us that Jesus told them that they were to wait first for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit had come to them from on high and clothed them with power, then they were to go forth (first into Jerusalem) to preach the Kingdom of God among men. With the power of the Holy Spirit they will be witnesses to Jesus and to His teaching to the whole world. During His public ministry Jesus, while preaching only to His own people, had said that His teaching would be accepted throughout all the nations of the earth. Now He sends His Apostles to bring that teaching to all men. But, out of love for His own people, He commands His Apostles to preach Him first to them. This led some of them to ask Him if it was His intention to restore the Kingdom of God to Israel at this time. But Jesus replied to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates which the Father has fixed by his own authority’ (Acts of the Apostles 1:7).
Thus Jesus taught them that the time of the salvation of the ‘remnant of Israel’ was a mystery hidden in the mind and will of God. The Chosen People, outcast now because of their rejection of Jesus, would sometime be saved. But the time is known to God alone.
After this last conversation Jesus led His Apostles and disciples out towards Bethany. There He lifted up His hands for the last time and blessed them. Then, as St Luke relates it, ‘He parted from them and was carried up into Heaven’ (Luke 24:51).
In the Acts of the Apostles he tells us that while the Apostles and disciples were gazing up into the heavens, ‘two men stood by them in white garments, and said to them, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to Heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you have seen Him going up into Heaven’ (Acts of the Apostles 1:11).
THE GATHERING OF ALL THE TRUE SONS OF GOD
Forty days after His Resurrection from the dead, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, ascended into Heaven. It may be that the Apostles who watched Jesus vanish from their sight thought that heaven, the dwelling place of God, was somewhere on high, beyond the stars. We must remember, though, that for them, as for any Jew of their time, they had inherited the idea that God, a pure spirit, dwelt throughout the universe. But, whatever may be the place of the ‘heaven’ to which Jesus had ‘ascended’, one thing was clear to them: Jesus had gone, as He had said He would, to God His Father. And He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit down upon the Apostles to inaugurate the Kingdom of God among men, the Church, the gathering of all the true sons of God. With this in mind they returned to Jerusalem to await the Spirit.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959