About a week ago, Cariolan made a comment in ‘ Where were the disciples?‘ which included the following 2 questions:
“As Jesus was tried et crucified publicly, why did he resurrect secretly since resurrection is the base of Christian faith? … and at last, why ascension of Jesus did not occur with more publicity to make matters easier for doubtful believers?
Please help! Cariolan”
These are really good and important questions: but to answer them properly requires me to go well beyond the scope of the original post (which was simply about the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection) to a more detailed examination of what Jesus actually taught; and why. So for that reason, I have decided that it is best to make them the subject of this, separate, post…
It’s important to understand how our natural expectations and priorities differ from those of Jesus. The Jewish people in Jesus’ day believed their Messiah was going to immediately drive out the Romans who were occupying their land and establish a worldwide reign of peace. But Jesus had other plans. Even after spending 2-3 years following Jesus and listening to his teachings, his disciples still hadn’t grasped this. When Jesus died, they were initially shattered, as this seemed to contradict all they had traditionally believed about the Messiah, in spite of Jesus’ efforts to warn them and change their outlook. Even after Jesus’ resurrection they still imagined that the Kingdom Jesus was coming to establish was essentially a new political and religious government with Jerusalem at its centre and Jesus as its God-appointed ruler. E.g:
“But we were hoping that it was he who would redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:20-27)
“Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:4-8)
Jesus’ agenda was completely different.
“The Kingdom of God doesn’t come with observation; neither will they say, ‘Look, here!’ or, ‘Look, there!’ for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
“My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I wouldn’t be delivered to the Jews. But now my Kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
For a start, He wasn’t planning to stay around in physical form on earth after his resurrection.
As they heard these things, he went on and told a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the Kingdom of God would be revealed immediately. (Luke 19:11-27)
Shortly after, Jesus went into far more detail with them, making it clear that he was going to be away for a very long time, and they would be left to carry on his work.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes in various places. … Then they will deliver you up to oppression, and will kill you. You will be hated by all of the nations for my name’s sake. … This Good News of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:3-14)
How were they going to manage without Him? And what did He mean when He said that the Kingdom of God is within you? On their final night together, Jesus went into this in much more detail, as recorded by John in chapters 14-17 of his gospel:
“I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever, – the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more; but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:16-21)
Notice that Jesus speaks here of 3 persons: his Father, the Counsellor (also described as ‘the Spirit of truth’) and himself. These are the three persons who are united together as the one God of the Christian Trinity. (This is explained more fully in the article, “The Triune God“, elsewhere on this site.) But if Jesus is going away, how will the disciples keep in touch with Him? Because from the time of his resurrection onward the disciples will be living in God and God will be living in them. Quite literally, the Kingdom of God, and God’s temple, will no longer be just an outward institution: but an inward reality. We are destined to become living temples for God’s Spirit to dwell in; and He will be the one who keeps us connected with both Jesus and the Father.
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. … I have said these things to you, while still living with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.” (John 14:23-26)
This is something entirely beyond the disciples previous experience of Jesus. Up to this point, they could only be aware of Jesus’ presence when he was physically present with them: but now they are to have a permanent connection even when He seems to be absent. From now on, they will never be alone. This is far better than their previous experience! And this is not just to be for them: but for all Jesus’ true followers in all succeeding generations!
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I don’t go away, the Counselor won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)”
“I have yet many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming.He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)
“Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23
But this is going to take a while for the disciples to get used to the idea. And the resurrection appearances were designed to help those first followers to discover what this meant. In the encounter on the Emmaeus road, Jesus really was there: yet somehow he didn’t look the same and they didn’t recognize him till right at the end. Later that same day, he appeared to them, along with ten of the twelve apostles.
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn’t with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
After eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace be to you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
Do you see what happened here? Jesus, who seemingly wasn’t there when Thomas expressed his unbelief, immediately picks up the conversation where Thomas left off! Even though unseen, he was still there. But then Jesus affirms that those who believe without seeing are even more blessed. Why? Because they have already begun to experience that better, inseparable, yet even more personal, relationship with Jesus and the Father, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. And there is more to come …
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
Paul tells us, in 1Corinthians 15:6, that on one occasion he appeared to over 500 at once; most of whom were still alive when he wrote. But, on balance, this appears to have been a post-ascension appearance. When Jesus ascended he was neither needing nor seeking personal publicity. He was handing over responsibility to his disciples to continue his work under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit. And His final words to his disciples on that occasion were this simple reassurance:
“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Mat 28:20
Feel free to comment or ask further questions about this in the space below.
For more information about the ways in which the presence of the Holy Spirit empowers a Christian’s life, see the 3-part series, “The Power of His Resurrection” in the “About Jesus” section of this site.
Page creation by Kevin King
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