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The Lord Seen by the Apostles.
After the Savior's first recorded appearance, that to Mary Magdalene, he revealed himself at some time during this eventful day, the first Lord's day in the history of the world, to Simon Peter, and late in the evening appeared to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. These hurried back at once to Jerusalem with the glad story, and found the eleven gathered, with others, discussing the account told by the women and by Peter. They added their testimony, but still there was such skepticism of the resurrection that many refused to believe. Then, while the company sat at meat, with the doors closed for fear of the Jews, suddenly the Lord appeared in their midst, with the salutation, “Peace be unto you.” 300
The following are the recorded appearances of the Savior after his crucifixion. There were ten or eleven in all.
1. To Mary Magdalene alone (Mark 16:9; John 20:11–18), near Jerusalem,—Sunday, April 9. 2. To the women returning from the sepulchre (Matt. 28:9, 10), near Jerusalem,—Sunday, April 9. I suspect this is another version of the appearance to Mary Magdalene. 3. To Simon Peter alone (Luke 24:34), near Jerusalem,—Sunday, April 9. 4. To the two disciples going to Emmaus (Luke 24:13), etc.,—Sunday, April 9. 5. To the apostles at Jerusalem, excepting Thomas, who was absent (John 20:19),—Sunday, April 9. 6. To the apostles at Jerusalem a second time, when Thomas was present (John 20:26, 29),—Sunday, April 16. 7. At the Sea of Tiberias, when seven disciples were fishing (John 21:1). 8. To the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16). 9. To above 500 brethren at once (1 Cor. 15:6), in Galilee, near the time of the last. It is possible that these two are identical. 10. To James only (1 Cor. 15:7). 11. To all the apostles on Mount Olivet at his ascension (Luke 24:51),—Thursday, May 18.
19. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week. John particularly marks the time of this important event. It is the third or fourth appearance of the Savior upon this memorable day, and the first one to the apostolic body. By a comparison with (Mark 16:14–16, and Luke 24:36, we learn that at the moment of his appearance they were discussing the story of the resurrection of which many refused to be convinced, so incredulous were they. The doors were shut . . . for fear of the Jews. Probably barred as well as shut. It was only natural to suppose that the vengeance that had fallen on the Master would also visit his followers. He had himself forewarned them of persecution. Peter's fear had been shown by his repeated denial of Christ. Came Jesus and stood in the midst. They suddenly saw him among them. How he came, whether by miracle, or whether his body now had new conditions which freed it from material hindrances, it is useless for us to discuss, as it is an untaught question. It is enough for us to know and accept the fact. Luke states that they were “affrighted,” which was only natural, and this explains the loving salutation that John records, Peace be unto you, the usual salutation of friendship and love.
20. He shewed unto them his hands and his side. The Lord showed his wounds to convince them beyond a doubt that it was not a fantasy or an apparition, but the 301crucified one arisen. A week later he shows his wounds to Thomas. The resurrected body still bore these proofs of his suffering and love. Sixty years later, when John, at Patmos, saw the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, he beheld “a Lamb as it had been slain.” Perhaps our Lord in glory continues to bear the marks of the cross. Perhaps these will forever, as we gaze in glory, remind us of the story of our redemption. When the apostles beheld these marks they were glad. All doubt had passed away. The test was indisputable. The Savior had risen indeed.
21. Peace be unto you: as my father hath sent me, even so send I you. Now that they know that he is their Master, he again repeats his blessing, and then reminds them of their work upon earth. As he had come to the world because the Father sent him, and represented the Father, so they, the apostles, are now sent by him and will speak his will. They are the executors of the Testament of Jesus Christ, the New Testament, that comes into force after the Testator dies, (Heb. 9:15–17), and are to be sent forth to proclaim its provisions. This is the first development of the Great Commission, more fully developed in Galilee a little later, and finally completed on Mt. Olivet, just before the Lord ascended. The Lord had trained the apostles for three years in order to fit them for this important work.
22. Breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Breath is the symbol of life. God breathes into man the breath of life (Gen. 2:7), and Christ breathed upon his apostles as a symbol of the impartation of the Holy Spirit. I suppose that he imparted a measure of the Spirit at this time to guide and strengthen them during this preparatory period, but the baptism of the Spirit, “the power from on high,” was not imparted until the day of Pentecost, after the Lord ascended.
23. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, etc. There is hardly a passage in the New Testament that has caused more discussion, which is more obscure, unless the proper key to its explanation is secured, or which is plainer from the right standpoint. It will be seen at once, by a comparison with Matt. 16:19, that the keys then promised to Peter are now given to all the apostles, and all have similar power to open and shut, to remit sin, and to bind. There are three explanations: 1. That of the Romish Church, which holds that to Peter as to the “prince of the apostles,” and after him, to all the priesthood, is given the power to pardon sin. This is the basis of their doctrine that the priest can grant absolution to the sinner. 2. A kind of confused and uncertain view of Protestants, who deny to the priest individually, the power to absolve, but hold that the Church, acting through its officials, can remit penalties for sin, 302free from sin, on the one hand, and can anathematize upon the other. 3. The third and correct view is plain when we consider, first, the charge that the Savior was making, and, secondly, look forward and see how that charge was carried out, or, in other words, observe the apostles “remitting sins” and retaining them. It is the Great Commission to preach the gospel that the Savior gives for the first time in verse 21. It is with reference to carrying out that Commission that he speaks in verse 23. It was in order that they might present the terms of that Commission infallibly to the world that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was imparted, of which there is a foreshadowing in verse 22. The great end of that Commission was to declare to men “repentance and remission of sins” in the name of Christ. The following facts are manifest: 1. The Savior gave to his apostles his Commission that they might make known his will. 2. He bade them preach “remission of sins.” 3. He gave them a measure of the Holy Spirit, and bade them wait until “endued with power from on high” by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. 4. When the Holy Spirit fell they spoke as it “gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4. 5. They then declared, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the terms on which “sins could be remitted.” To anxious sinners they answer, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins. “Here, then, they, directed by the Holy Spirit, “remit” and “retain” sins by declaring the terms on which Christ will pardon. Thus, also, they, do in their preaching recorded through the Acts of the Apostles, the very thing that the Savior gave them power to do. This power was not imparted to a hierarchy, nor to any ecclesiastical body, but to the apostles, and was fulfilled by them in declaring to the world the conditions of pardon and condemnation under the Commission of our Lord.
24. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them. Didymus, which means the Twin, is the Greek for the Hebrew name, Thomas. He was one of the Twelve, of whom history has recorded but little. It is reported by tradition that he carried the gospel to India and died there. He seems to have been an honest, affectionate man, but of a rather skeptical turn of mind. This incident, as well as the unbelief of the others prior to the meeting of the Savior with the apostles, shows that they were very incredulous, and hard to convince, notwithstanding the Lord had said he would rise again. Only “infallible proofs” could convince them. The failure of Thomas to be present with the other disciples was probably due to his utter despair.
25. He said unto them . . . . I will not believe. At some time during the week they meet him and tell their joyful story, but he meets it with skepticism. He will believe no man, not even his eyes; he must feel the wounds as well as see them before he will believe. His language is not merely skepticism, but defiance. 303His position was nearly that of modern materialists and positivists who hold that no testimony will prove such a miracle.
26. After eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. It was on the second Sunday after the resurrection; the second Lord's day in the history of the world. Let it be noted: 1. On the seventh day the Lord was in the tomb and the hearts of his disciples buried with him. It was the last Sabbath of the old dispensation. The Sabbath institution went out in gloom. Its last memory is of the dead Savior and buried hopes. 2. It is on the Lord's day, the first day of the week, that he bursts the tomb and brings life and immortality to light. 3. On that day occurs the first recorded meeting of the disciples of the crucified Lord and he meets with them. 4. During the entire following week, including the seventh day, there is silence; no appearance of the Savior and no meeting of the disciples. 6. But on the next Lord's day, the first day of the week, they meet again, probably because he had directed it, and he appears again. 6. When we add that the meeting of Pentecost was on the first day also, that there are positive evidences in Acts and 1 Corinthians of the custom of the churches of meeting on the first day, and not a single account, after the resurrection of the Savior, of a church meeting for worship on the seventh day, and lastly, that church history shows it to have been the unbroken usage of the ancient churches to meet on the first day of the week, we may well wonder at the Sabbatarian folly.
27. Reach hither thy finger. The Lord suddenly appeared in their midst, as one week before, and uttered his salutation of peace. Then turning to the skeptical Thomas, he asks him to apply the tests that he had declared would be necessary before he could believe. His compassion for the unbelief of Thomas shows the patient tenderness of the Savior with the difficulties of an honest seeker. Christ never wasted words on the unsincere.
28. Thomas answered, . . . My Lord and my God. Thomas did not need to apply the test. Every shadow of doubt passed away, and from out of his full and astonished heart came forth the ejaculation, which was a confession of his faith: It is his Lord, and his divine Savior, God manifest in the flesh.
29. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Thomas “saw” (he did not need to handle), and believed. We have not seen, but nevertheless, believe upon the same Lord. Upon us he pronounces a special blessedness, because we walk by faith instead of sight. 304
30. Many other signs truly did Jesus. Not near all that occurred, either before or after the resurrection, is recorded. Each of the evangelists records some features that the others omit and they each reveal the fact that they only outline the wonderful story.
31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, etc. This is the object of all the gospel histories. They are to so reveal Christ as to produce faith in him. He is the one object of belief. He is the Christian's creed. Faith in him, a faith that takes him as the Christ, saves the soul. All who have such faith wrought by the word of God will “have life through his name.”
Here, with these words, John ends the great argument that he entered upon with the first chapter and which continues with unbroken connection until it reaches its culmination in the remarkable declaration of the purpose with which he had written. The chain of argument embraces the testimony of Moses and the prophets, the witness of John the Baptist, whom the Jews acknowledged as a man of God, the wonderful life of Christ, the supernatural wisdom and authority of his teaching, his supernatural works, and last and greatest of all, the fact of his death, burial and resurrection. The last is the crowning argument, and it is after he has established it beyond a doubt, if such a wonderful fact can be proven by human testimony, that he closes with the declaration, These were written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, etc.
The resurrection is so vital that, in addition to the condensed argument given at the close of the preceding section, I think it important, here, where the argument of John reaches its climax, to add some additional remarks. First, I will cite the admissions of great German scholars of the Rationalistic school, and then add the argument given by Dr. Philip Schaff in his history of Apostolic Christianity.
1. Dr. Baur, of Tubingen, who might well be called the head of the celebrated Tubingen school of rationalistic criticism, after the study of a lifetime, came at last to the conclusion, stated in revised editions of his Church History of the First Three Centuries, published shortly before his death, that nothing but the miracle of the resurrection could disperse the doubts which threatened to drive faith itself into the eternal night of death. While he adds that the nature of the resurrection itself lies outside of historical investigation, he states that “the faith of the disciples in the resurrection of Jesus becomes the most solid and irrefutable certainty. In this faith only, Christianity gained a firm foothold of its historical development. . . . No psychological analysis can penetrate the inner spiritual process by which in the consciousness of the disciples their unbelief at the death of Jesus was 305transformed into a belief of his resurrection. . . . We must rest satisfied with this, that for them the resurrection of Christ was a fact of their consciousness, and had for them all the reality of a historical event.” Vol. I, pp. 39, 40.
2. Dr. Ewald, of Gottingen, while resolving the resurrection into a purely spiritual one, through long-continued manifestations from heaven, declares, “Nothing is historically more certain than that Christ rose from the dead and appeared to his own, and thus, their vision was the beginning of new, higher faith and of all their Christian labors.”—Apostolic Age, p. 69.
3. Dr. Keim, of Zurich, a pupil of Dr. Baur, in his Life of Christ, expresses the conviction that “it was the crucified and living Christ who, not as the risen one, but rather as the divinely glorified one, gave visions to his disciples and revealed himself to his society.” In his last work on the great problem which has defied all rationalistic explanations, he comes to the conclusion that we must either, with Dr. Baur, humbly confess our ignorance, or return to the faith of the apostles “who have seen our Lord.” See last edition of Life of Christ, p. 362. To these might be added other testimonies, but these are enough to show the bewilderment and confusion of the rationalistic “higher criticism” of Germany. For further treatment of this subject, see Dr. Schaff on the Resurrection, in the Appendix.305
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