Jesus didn’t permanently ascend into heaven immediately after His resurrection. He remained on earth for forty more days, was witnessed by more than five hundred people, and spoke and ate with His disciples.

Encounters with Jesus after His resurrection are briefly described in Matthew 27:51-56, 28:1-10, Mark 16:9-18, and John 20:11-18:

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks were split; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints that slept were raised, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now, when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly, this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding afar off, who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.”

“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher. And, behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow; and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee. There shall ye see him; lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy, and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshiped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid; go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.”

“Now when Jesus had risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven demons. And she went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed it not. After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the rest; neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat eating, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not those who had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow those who believe: In my name shall they cast out demons; that shall speak with 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 recover.”

“But Mary stood outside of the sepulcher weeping; and as she wept, she stopped down, and looked into the sepulcher, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seeketh thee? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him from here, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

“Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni,; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.

“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Matthew’s first account (Matthew 27:51-56) for the most part precedes the narrative of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and is included here because it furnishes information not mentioned by the other Gospel writers and addresses one post-resurrection element: the raising of many dead along with Jesus. Note that Matthew explicitly states that they came out of their graves after Jesus’ resurrection, an important fact since Jesus Himself was the first fruit of the dead as foreshadowed by the Feast of First Fruits.

The Old Testament focused heavily on foreshadowing and typifying Jesus; now in the New Testament, the focus adds in Jesus’ Church, foreshadowing the Church and Jesus’ relationship with her toward the end of days. The dead who were raised with Jesus after His resurrection foreshadowed the rapture of the Church, as Paul described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

“Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“But I would not have you be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

Jesus’ initial post-resurrection appearances as noted above in Matthew, Mark and John share several important commonalities comprising the basic elements of the event: the empty tomb; Jesus’ resurrection; Jesus’ appearances first to the women; and Jesus’ command to tell His disciples.

The accounts differ with respect to some specifics, although the differences do not speak of inconsistencies; rather, they complement each other by adding in color as seen through the eyes of different witnesses and considered by them to be of importance. If, on the other hand, the Gospel accounts were identical across the board, three of the four accounts would be redundant, furnishing no additional information. Differences include: the angel who moved the stone away from the sepulcher; the accompanying earthquake; the narrative of Jesus’ first appearance to the women; the disciples’ unbelief when the women attempted to tell them about the risen Jesus; the endowment of the power to heal; and the touching of Jesus.

This last event, the touching of Jesus, requires some explanation. Matthew’s account has Jesus’ feet being held as he was worshiped, whereas John’s account has Jesus telling the women not to touch Him, as He hasn’t yet ascended to the Father. But later in John’s account Jesus has Thomas thrusting his hand into Jesus’ side. But note that in Matthew’s account the women did not touch Jesus before they had left Jesus to tell His disciples that He was risen; this apparently was at the same time in John’s account when He told them not to touch Him. It was only at some time after they first left Jesus that He permitted them to touch His feet. Apparently He had briefly ascended to His Father between their first sighting of Him and their touching of His feet.

Perhaps the most moving of the accounts is John’s narrative of Jesus’ first appearance to the women, with the striking poignancy of Jesus’ single word: Mary. The color this adds rivals Luke’s account, as will be described later, of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Incidentally, I happen to think that in Mark’s account above, the words After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country referred to the Emmaus event.

[to be continued]


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