Yesterday I began publishing a harmony of the four Gospels regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This continues the harmony, picking up in the afternoon of Easter Sunday.
That afternoon two disciples of Jesus were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One of them was named Cleopas; the name of the other is unknown. (It might have been the wife of Cleopas; we don’t know.) Jesus joined them on their journey, but they didn’t recognize him. At his urging, they reported to him what had happened in Jerusalem. Jesus took the opportunity to give them a thorough Bible lesson, showing how Moses and the prophets had described all the events of the weekend. Jesus explained how he accomplished the plan and the promises of God. Cleopas and the other disciple invited Jesus to stay the night at their place. When they sat down to supper Jesus took the bread and broke it, and they recognized him. Then he disappeared from their sight. In excitement, the two disciples ran back to Jerusalem to describe their conversation with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).
It probably took them two hours or more to run the distance they had just walked. Meanwhile, Peter had a private meeting with Jesus (Luke 24:34, I Corinthians 15:5). We know nothing about what was said in that conversation. When Cleopas and the other disciple joined ten of the twelve apostles, they were hiding in a locked room (John 20:19). Some believed the accounts of the resurrection, but others doubted (Mark 16:13). As they were sharing their various accounts of the resurrection, Jesus joined them (Mark 16:14, Luke 24:36, John 20:19). He used the usual Hebrew greeting of “Shalom,” meaning, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36, John 20:19). At first they were frightened, even after hearing from Peter and Cleopas that Jesus was alive. They thought they were seeing a ghost, and Jesus had to eat some fish to prove that he was physically alive (Luke 24:37-43). Then they worshiped him. Jesus again reminded them that Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms (the entire Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament) described his mission, now accomplished (Luke 24:44-47). He also breathed on them to grant his Holy Spirit. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven,” he said (John 20:21-23). Then he told them to rest in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). This instruction seems to contradict the earlier message to meet him in Galilee. Jesus was not forbidding them to set foot outside of the city; he was giving them a general instruction to rest until the next stage of their preparation was complete. (It is also possible that Luke combines all the meetings of Jesus with his apostles into one conversation, starting with Easter night and ending shortly before the Ascension. If that is the case, then the instruction to rest in Jerusalem was spoken only a few days before Pentecost and after the events in Galilee.)
Thomas was not with the other apostles that night (John 20:24). (Luke says that Jesus appeared that night “to the eleven.” Paul even refers to them as “the twelve” in I Corinthians 15:5. Both writers are using the numbers as titles for the group of apostles chosen by Jesus, not requiring their readers to believe that eleven or twelve of the apostles met Jesus Easter night.) A week later, the apostles were in the same locked room, still hiding out of fear, but Thomas was with them. Jesus returned and invited Thomas to inspect the wounds of his crucifixion to verify his resurrection. Thomas confessed his faith, saying “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), and Jesus gently scolded him and the others for their lack of faith (Mark 16:14, John 20:29). Perhaps at this time he reminded them of his desire to meet with them in Galilee and explained that his instruction to rest in the city was not to be taken literally.
The third time Jesus met with his apostles was in Galilee. Some of them went fishing but caught nothing. Jesus met them on a beach in the morning and reenacted a miracle that he had first worked when he called them to follow him. Over breakfast they had a conversation in which Jesus gave Peter three chances to reverse his three denials (John 21:1-24).
Probably also in Galilee, Jesus met with five hundred disciples (I Corinthians 15:6). Quite likely, many of them had not been in Jerusalem for the Passover, but Jesus wanted to affirm their faith as well. Perhaps on this occasion, or perhaps in a fifth appearance, Jesus told his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them….” (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus was with the apostles and other disciples a number of times during the forty days after his resurrection, strengthening their faith and preparing them to make disciples as he had instructed them (Acts 1:3). He also had a private meeting with his brother, James (I Corinthians 15:7), who would become the head pastor in Jerusalem.
By the fortieth day from the resurrection, the apostles had returned to Jerusalem. Jesus met with them one more time (I Corinthians 15:7) on a hillside not far from Jerusalem. From there he ascended into heaven (Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-11). After his ascension, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to empower the leaders of his Church (Acts2:1-13); yet the ascended Jesus also had the power to be with his disciples always, even to the end of the earth (Matthew 28:20). J.