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Jesus Appears to His Disciples

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The Ascension of Jesus

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.


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36. Jesus himself stood in the midst of them. While the Evangelist John copiously details the same narrative, (20:19,) he differs from Luke in some circumstances. Mark, too, differs somewhat in his brief statement. As to John, since he only collects what Luke omitted, both may be easily reconciled. There is no contradiction about the substance of the fact; unless some person were to raise a debate about the time: for it is there said that Jesus entered in the evening, while it is evident, from the thread of the narrative, that he appeared at a late hour in the night, when the disciples had returned from Emmaus. But I do not think it right to insist precisely on the hour of the evening. On the contrary, we may easily and properly extend to a late hour of the night what is here said, and understand it to mean that Christ came to them after the evening, when the apostles had shut the doors, and kept themselves concealed within the house. In short, John does not describe the very commencement of the night, but simply means that, when the day was past, and after sunset, and even at the dead hour of night, Christ came to the disciples contrary to their expectation.

Still there arises here another question, since Mark and Luke relate that the eleven were assembled, when Christ appeared to them; and John says that Thomas was then absent, (20:24.) But there is no absurdity in saying that the number — the eleven — is here put for the apostles themselves, though one of their company was absent. We have lately stated—and the fact makes it evident—that John enters into the details with greater distinctness, because it was his design to relate what the others had omitted. Besides, it is beyond a doubt that the three Evangelists relate the same narrative; since John expressly says that it was only twice that Christ appeared to his disciples at Jerusalem, before they went to Galilee; for he says that he appeared to them the third time at the sea of Tiberias, (21:1) He had already described two appearances of our Lord, one which took place on the day after his resurrection, (20:19,) and the other which followed eight days afterwards, (20:26) though, were any one to choose rather to explain the second appearance to be that which is found in the Gospel by Mark, I should not greatly object.

I now return to the words of Luke. He does not, indeed, say that Christ, by his divine power, opened for himself the doors which were shut, (John 20:26;) but something of this sort is indirectly suggested by the phrase which he employs, Jesus stood. For how could our Lord suddenly, during the night, stand in the midst of them, if he had not entered in a miraculous manner? The same form of salutation is employed by both, Peace be to you; by which the Hebrews mean, that for the person whom they address they wish happiness and prosperity.

37. And they were terrified and affrighted. John does not mention this terror; but as he also says that Christ showed his hands and sides to the disciples, we may conjecture that some circumstance had been omitted by him. Nor is it at all unusual with the Evangelists, when they aim at brevity, to glance only at a part of the facts. From Luke, too, we learn that the terror excited in them by the strangeness of the spectacle was such, that they dare not trust their eyes. But a little ago, they had come to the conclusion that the Lord was risen, (verse 34,) and had spoken of it unhesitatingly as a matter fully ascertained; and now, when they behold him with their eyes, their senses are struck with astonishment, so that they think he is a spirit. Though this error, which arose from weakness, was not free from blame, still they did not so far forget themselves as to be afraid of enchantments. But though they did not think that they are imposed upon, still they are more inclined to believe that an image of the resurrection is exhibited to them in vision by the Spirit, than that Christ himself, who lately died on the cross, is alive and present. So then they did not suspect that this was a vision intended to deceive them, as if it had been an idle phantom, but, seized with fear, they thought only that there was exhibited to them in spirit what was actually placed before their eyes.

38. Why are you troubled? By these words they are exhorted to lay aside terror, and regain the possession of their minds, that, having returned to the rigor of their senses, they may judge of a matter which is fully ascertained; for so long as men are seized with perturbation, they are blind amidst the clearest light. In order, therefore, that the disciples may obtain undoubted information, they are enjoined to weigh the matter with calmness and composure.

And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? In this second clause, Christ reproves another fault, which is, that by the variety of their thoughts they throw difficulties in their own way. By saying that thoughts arise, he means that the knowledge of the truth is choked in them in such a manner, that seeing they do not see, (Matthew 13:14;) for they do not restrain their wicked imaginations, but, on the contrary, by giving them free scope, they permit them to gain the superiority. And certainly we find it to be too true, that as, when the sky has been clear in the morning, clouds afterwards arise to darken the clear light of the sun; so when we allow our reasonings to arise with excessive freedom in opposition to the word of God, what formerly appeared clear to us is withdrawn from our eyes. We have a right, indeed, when any appearance of absurdity presents itself, to inquire by weighing the arguments on both sides; and, indeed, so long as matters are doubtful, our minds must inevitably be driven about in every direction: but we must observe sobriety and moderation, lest the flesh exalt itself more highly than it ought, and throw out its thoughts far and wide against heaven.

39. Look at my hands and my feet. He calls upon their bodily senses as witnesses, that they may not suppose that a shadow is exhibited to them instead of a body. And, first, he distinguishes between a corporeal man and a spirit; as if he had said, “Sight and touch will prove that I am a real man, who have formerly conversed with you; for I am clothed with that flesh which was crucified, and which still bears the marks of it.” Again, when Christ declares that his body may be touched, and that it has solid bones, this passage is justly and appropriately adduced by those who adhere to us, for the purpose of refuting the gross error about the transubstantiation of bread into the body, or about the local presence of the body, which men foolishly imagine to exist in the Holy Supper. For they would have us to believe that the body of Christ is in a place where no Mark of a body can be seen; and in this way it will follow that it has changed its nature, so that it has ceased to be what it was, and from which Christ proves it to be a real body. If it be objected, on the other hand, that his side was then pierced, and that his feet and hands were pierced and wounded by the nails, but that now Christ is in heaven without any vestige of wound or injury, it is easy to dispose of this objection; for the present question is not merely in what form Christ appeared, but what he declares as to the real nature of his flesh. Now he pronounces it to be, as it were, a distinguishing character of his body, that he may be handled, and therefore differs from a spirit. We must therefore hold that the distinction between flesh and spirit, which the words of Christ authorize us to regard as perpetual, exists in the present day.

As to the wounds, we ought to look upon this as a proof by which it was intended to prove to us all, that Christ rose rather for us them for himself; since, after having vanquished death, and obtained a blessed and heavenly immortality, yet, on our account, he continued for a time to bear some remaining marks of the cross. It certainly was an astonishing act of condescension towards the disciples, that he chose rather to want something that was necessary to render perfect the glory of the resurrection, than to deprive their faith of such a support. But it was a foolish and an old wife’s dream, to imagine that he will still continue to bear the marks of the wounds, when he shall come to judge the world.

Luke 24:41. But while they yet believed not for joy. This passage shows also that they were not purposely incredulous, like persons who deliberately resolve not to believe; but while their will led them to believe eagerly, they were held bound by the vehemence of their feelings, so that they could not rest satisfied. For certainly the joy which Luke mentions arose from nothing but faith; and yet it hindered their faith from gaining the victory. Let us therefore observe with what suspicion we ought to regard the vehemence of our feelings, which, though it may have good beginnings, hurries us out of the right path. We are also reminded how earnestly we ought to struggle against every thing that retards faith, since the joy which sprung up in the minds of the apostles from the presence of Christ was the cause of their unbelief.

43. And he took, and ate it in their presence. Here we perceive, on the other hand, how kindly and gently Christ bears with the weakness of his followers, since he does not fail to give them this new support when they are falling. And, indeed, though he has obtained a new and heavenly life, and has no more need of meat and drink than angels have, still he voluntarily condescends to join in the common usages of mortals. During the whole course of his life, he had subjected himself to the necessity of eating and drinking; and now, though relieved from that necessity, he eats for the purpose of convincing his disciples of the certainty of his resurrection. Thus we see how he disregarded himself, and chose always to be devoted to our interests. This is the true and pious meditation on this narrative, in which believers may advantageously rest, dismissing questions of mere curiosity, such as, “Was this corruptible food digested?” “What sort of nourishment did the body of Christ derive from it?” and, “What became of what did not go to nourishment?” As if it had not been in the power of Him who created all things out of nothing to reduce to nothing a small portion of food, whenever he thought fit. As Christ really tasted the fish and the honeycomb, in order to show that he was a man, so we cannot doubt that by his divine power he consumed what was not needed to pass into nourishment. Thus the angels, at the table of Abraham, (Genesis 18:1,) having been clothed with real bodies, did actually, I have no doubt, eat and drink; but yet I do not therefore admit that the meat and drink yielded them that refreshment which the weakness of the flesh demands; but as they were clothed with a human form for the sake of Abraham, so the Lord granted this favor to his servant, that those heavenly visitors ate before his tent. Now if we acknowledge that the bodies which they assumed for a time were reduced to nothing after they had discharged their embassy, who will deny that the same thing happened as to the food?

44. These are the words. Though it will afterwards appear from Matthew and Mark that a discourse similar to this was delivered in Galilee, yet I think it probable that Luke now relates what happened on the day after his resurrection. For what John says of that day, that he breathed on them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost, (20:22) agrees with the words of Luke which here immediately follow, that he opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. By these words Christ indirectly reproves their gross and shameful forgetfulness, that, though they had long ago been fully informed of his future resurrection, they were as much astonished as if it had never been mentioned to them. The import of his words is: “Why do you hesitate as if this had been a new and unexpected occurrence, while it is only what I frequently predicted to you? Why do you not rather remember my words? For if hitherto you have reckoned me worthy of credit, this ought to have been known to you from my instructions before it happened.” In short, Christ tacitly complains that his labor has been thrown away on the apostles, since his instruction has been forgotten.

All things which are written concerning me. He now rebukes them more sharply for their slowness, by declaring that he brought forward nothing that was new but that he only reminded them of what had been declared by the Law and the Prophets, with which they ought to have been familiar from their childhood. But though they had been ignorant of the whole doctrine of religion, nothing could have been more unreasonable than not to embrace readily what they knew to have undoubtedly proceeded from God; for it was a principle admitted by the whole nation, that there was no religion but what was contained in the Law and the Prophets. The present division of the Scriptures is more copious than what we find in other passages; for besides the Law and the Prophets, he adds, in the third place, the Psalms, which, though they might with propriety have been reckoned among the Prophets, have, something distinct and peculiar to themselves. Yet the division into two par which we have seen elsewhere, (Luke 16:16; John 1:45,) embraces notwithstanding the whole of Scripture.

45. Then he opened their understanding. As the Lord had formerly discharged the office of Teacher, with little or no improvement on the part of the disciples, he now begins to teach them inwardly by his Spirit; for words are icily wasted on the air, until the minds are enlightened by the gift of understanding. It is true, indeed, that

the word of God is like a lamp,
(Psalm 119:105;)

but it shines in darkness and amidst the blind, until the inward light is given by the Lord, to whom it peculiarly belongs to enlighten the blind, (Psalm 146:8.) And hence it is evident how great is the corruption of our nature, since the light of life exhibited to us in the heavenly oracles is of no avail to us. Now if we do not perceive by the understanding what is right, how would the will be sufficient for yielding obedience? We ought, therefore, to acknowledge that we come short in every respect, so that the heavenly doctrine proves to be useful and efficacious to us, only so far as the Spirit both forms our minds to understand it, and our hearts to submit to its yoke; and, therefore, that in order to our being properly qualified for becoming his disciples, we must lay aside all confidence in our own abilities, and seek light from heaven; and, abandoning the foolish opinion of free-will, must give ourselves up to be governed by God. Nor is it without reason that Paul bids men

become fools, that they may be wise to God,
(1 Corinthians 3:18;)

for no darkness is more dangerous for quenching the light of the Spirit than reliance on our own sagacity.

That they might understand the Scriptures. Let the reader next observe, that the disciples had not the eyes of their mind opened, so as to comprehend the mysteries of God without any assistance, but so far as they are contained in the Scriptures; and thus was fulfilled what is said,

(Psalm 119:18,) Enlighten mine eyes,
that I may behold the wonders of thy law.

For God does not bestow the Spirit on his people, in order to set aside the use of his word, but rather to render it fruitful. It is highly improper, therefore, in fanatics, under the pretense of revelations, to take upon themselves the liberty of despising the Scriptures; for what we now read in reference to the apostles is daily accomplished by Christ in all his people, namely, that by his Spirit he guides us to understand the Scriptures, and does not hurry us away into the idle raptures of enthusiasm.

But it may be asked, Why did Christ choose to lose his labor, during the entire period of three years, in teaching them, rather than to open their understandings from the very outset? I reply, first, though the fruit of his labor did not immediately appear, still it was not useless; for when the new light was given to them, they likewise perceived the advantage of the former period. For I regard these words as meaning, not only that he opened their understandings, that, in future they might be ready to receive instruction, if any thing were stated to them, but that they might call to remembrance his doctrine, which they had formerly heard without any advantage. Next, let us learn that this ignorance, which lasted during three years, was of great use for informing them that from no other source than from the heavenly light did they obtain their new discernment. Besides, by this fact Christ gave an undoubted proof of his Divinity; for he not only was the minister of the outward voice, which sounded in their ears, but by his hidden power he penetrated into their minds, and thus showed that what, Paul tells us, does not belong to the teachers of the Church is the prerogative of Him alone, (1 Corinthians 3:7.) Yet it ought to be observed, that the apostles were not so destitute of the light of understanding as not to hold certain elementary principles; but as it was only a slight taste, it is reckoned to be a commencement of true understanding when the veil is removed, and they behold Christ in the Law and the Prophets.

46. And he said to them, Thus it is written. The connection of these words refutes the calumny of those who allege that outward doctrine would be superfluous, if we did not naturally possess some power of understanding. “Why,” say they, “would the Lord speak to the deaf?” But we see that, when the Spirit of Christ, who is the inward Teacher, performs his office, the labor of the minister who speaks is not thrown away; for Christ, after having bestowed on his followers the gift of understanding, instructs them out of the Scriptures with real advantage. With the reprobate, indeed, though the outward word passes away as if it were dead, still it renders them inexcusable.

As to the words of Christ, they are founded on this principle: Whatever is written must be fulfilled, for God declared nothing by his prophets but what he will undoubtedly accomplish.” But by these words we are likewise taught what it is that we ought chiefly to learn from the Law and the Prophets; namely, that since Christ is the end and the soul of the law, (Romans 10:4,) whatever we learn without him, and apart from him, is idle and unprofitable. Whoever then desires to make great proficiency in the Scriptures ought always to keep this end in view. Now Christ here places first in order his death and resurrection, and afterwards the fruit which we derive from both. For whence come repentance and forgiveness of sins, but because our old man is crucified with Christ, (Romans 6:6,) that by his grace we may rise to newness of life; and because our sins have been expiated by the sacrifice of his death, our pollution has been washed away by his blood, and we have, obtained righteousness through his resurrection? He teaches, therefore, that in his death and resurrection we ought to seek the cause and grounds of our salvation; because hence arise reconciliation to God, and regeneration to a new and spiritual life. Thus it is expressly stated that neither forgiveness of sins nor repentance can be preached but in his name; for, on the one hand, we have no right to expect the imputation of righteousness, and, on the other hand, we do not obtain self-denial and newness of life, except so far as

he is made to us righteousness and sanctification,
(1 Corinthians 1:30.)

But as we have elsewhere treated copiously of this summary of the Gospel, it is better to refer my readers to those passages for what they happen not to remember, than to load them with repetitions.

47. To all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Christ now discovers clearly what he had formerly concealed—that the grace of the redemption brought by him extends alike to all nations. For though the prophets had frequently predicted the calling of the Gentiles, still it was not revealed in such a manner that the Jews could willingly admit the Gentiles to share with them in the hope of salvation. Till his resurrection, therefore, Christ was not acknowledged to be any thing more than the Redeemer of the chosen people alone; and then, for the first time, was the wall of partition (Ephesians 2:14) thrown down, that they who had been strangers, (Ephesians 2:19,) and who had formerly been scattered, might be gathered into the fold of the Lord. In the meantime, however, that the covenant of God might not seem to be made void, Christ has assigned to the Jews the first rank, enjoining the apostles to begin at Jerusalem. For since God had peculiarly adopted the posterity of Abraham, they must have been preferred to the rest of the world. This is the privilege of the firstborn which Jeremiah ascribes to them, when Jehovah says, I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is first-born, (30:9.) This order, too, Paul everywhere observes with the greatest care, telling us that Christ came and proclaimed peace to those who were near, and afterwards to strangers who were at a distance, (Ephesians 2:17.)

48. And you are witnesses of those things. He does not yet commission them to preach the gospel, but only reminds them to what service he has appointed them, that they may prepare themselves for it in due time. He holds out this, partly as a consolation to soothe their grief, and partly as a spur to correct their sloth. Conscious of their recent departure from their Master, they must have been in a state of dejection and here, contrary to all expectation, Christ bestows on them incredible honor, enjoining them to publish to the whole world the message of eternal salvation. In this manner he not only restores them to their former condition, but by the extent of this new favor he utterly obliterates the recollection of their heinous crimes; but at the same time, as I have said, he stimulates them, that they may not be so slow and dilatory in reference to the faith of which they were appointed to be preachers.

49. And, lo, I send. That the apostles may not be terrified by their weakness, he invites them to expect new and extraordinary grace; as if he had said, though you feel yourselves to be unfit for such a charge, there is no reason why you should despond, because I will send you from heaven that power which I know that you do not possess. The more fully to confirm them in this confidence, he mentions that the Father had promised to them the Holy Spirit; for, in order that they might prepare themselves with greater alacrity for the work, God had already encouraged them by his promise, as a remedy for their distrust. Christ now puts himself in the place of the Father, and undertakes to perform the promise; in which he again claims for himself divine power. To invest feeble men with heavenly power, is a part of that glory which God swears that he will not give to another: and, therefore, if it belongs to Christ, it follows that he is that God who formerly spoke by the mouth of the prophet, (Isaiah 42:8.) And though God promised special grace to the apostles, and Christ bestowed it on them, we ought to hold universally that no mortal is of himself qualified for preaching the gospel, except so far as God clothes him with his Spirit, to supply his nakedness and poverty. And certainly, as it is not in reference to the apostles alone that Paul exclaims,

(2 Corinthians 2:16,)
And who shall be found sufficient for these things?

so all whom God raises up to be ministers of the gospel must be endued with the heavenly Spirit; and, therefore, in every part of Scripture he is promised to all the teachers of the Church without exception.

But remain you in the city of Jerusalem. That they may not advance to teach before the proper time, Christ enjoins on them silence and repose, until, sending them out according to his pleasure, he may make a seasonable use of their labors. And this was a useful trial of their obedience, that, after having been endued with the understanding of the Scripture, and after having had the grace of the Spirit breathed on them, (John 20:22;) yet because the Lord had forbidden them to speak, they were silent as if they had been dumb. For we know that those who expect to gain applause and admiration from their hearers are very desirous to appear in public. Perhaps, too, by this delay, Christ intended to punish them for indolence, because they did not, in compliance with his injunction, set out immediately, on the same day, for Galilee. However that may be, we are taught by their example, that we ought to attempt nothing but as the Lord calls us to it; and, therefore, though they may possess some ability to teach in public, let men remain in silence and retirement, until the Lord lead them by the hand into the public assembly. When they are commanded to remain at Jerusalem, we must understand this to mean, after they had returned from Galilee. For, as we shortly afterwards learn from Matthew, though he gave them an opportunity of seeing him at Jerusalem, still he did not change his original intention to go to Galilee, (Matthew 26:32, and 28:10.) The meaning of the word, therefore, is, that after having given them injunctions at the appointed place, he wishes them to remain silent for a time, until he supplies them with new rigor.

Luke 24:50. And lifted up his hands, and blessed them; by which he showed that the office of blessing, which was enjoined on the priests under the law, belonged truly and properly to himself. When men bless one another it is nothing else than praying in behalf of their brethren; but with God it is otherwise, for he does not merely befriend us by wishes, but by a simple act of his will grants what is desirable for us. But while He is the only Author of all blessing, yet that men might obtain a familiar view of his grace, he chose that at first the priests should bless in his name as mediators. Thus Melchizedek blessed Abraham, (Genesis 14:19,) and in Numbers 6:23-27, a perpetual law is laid down in reference to this matter. To this purport also is what we read in Psalm 118:26, We bless you out of the house of the Lord In short, the apostle has told us that to bless others is a Mark of superiority; for the less, he says, is blessed by the greater, (Hebrews 7:7.) Now when Christ, the true Melchizedek and eternal Priest, was manifested, it was necessary that in him should be fulfilled what had been shadowed out by the figures of the law; as Paul also shows that we are blessed in him by God the Father, that we may be rich in all heavenly blessings, (Ephesians 1:3.) Openly and solemnly he once blessed the apostles, that believers may go direct to himself, if they desire to be partakers of his grace. In the lifting up of the hands is described an ancient ceremony which, we know:, was formerly used by the priests.

52. And having worshipped him, they returned. By the word worship, Luke means, first, that the apostles were relieved from all doubt, because at that time the majesty of Christ shone on all sides, so that there was no longer any room for doubting of his resurrection; and, secondly, that for the same reason they began to honor him with greater reverence than when they enjoyed his society on earth. For the worship which is here mentioned was rendered to him not only as Master or Prophet, nor even as the Messiah, whose character had been but half known, but as the King of glory and the Judge of the world. Now as Luke intended to give a longer narrative, he only states briefly what the apostles did during ten days. The amount of what is said is, that through the fervor of their joy they broke out openly into the praises of God, and were continually in the temple; not that they remained there by day and by night, but that they attended the public assemblies, and were present at the ordinary and stated hours to render thanksgiving to God. This joy is contrasted with the fear which formerly kept them retired and concealed at home.




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