Bible Study – Seeing Is Believing

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at a “composite-account” of Jesus’ last forty days on this earth which will be drawn from three of the four Gospels, since no single Gospel writer paints a complete picture of all of the events.

Pilate sets a guard
62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The guards are bribed
11 Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Why should we NOT be surprised that the Jewish leaders concocted a story to cover-up the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead? After all, they had seen Him hanging on the cross, dead as a rock, and since they were still convinced that Jesus was an impostor, the only plausible explanation for His body being missing HAD to be that some had stolen the body, right under their noses. There was NO WAY they were ever going to believe that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.

The Road to Emmaus
13 And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” 19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” 25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:13-27)

Imagine these two dejected followers of Christ trudging-along trying to figure out what had just happened. Yes, they had heard Jesus tell them that He had to be crucified and be resurrected on the third day, but they still weren’t “connecting-the-dots“. When they had met Jesus some years ago, His claims of being the Messiah had rekindled their hope that He was their long-promised “conquering-king“. He also claimed to be their long-awaited “David’s greater Son“, thus He was also in the royal-lineage and could be that final heir to the Davidic-kingdom. As they chafed under Roman domination, they were hoping and praying that God would send a “liberator” to set them free and re-establish the nation of Israel as an independent kingdom. Jesus death on the cross had dashed their last hope that He was their “messianic-king“.

They believed, as most Jews still do today, that the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53 referred to the nation of Israel, not to some particular person, let alone Jesus Christ. We see Isaiah 53 first applied to Jesus by Philip when he preached to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Only Christians understand Isaiah 53 as Messianic-prophesy.

While they had heard the report that Jesus was alive, they weren’t quite sure they believed it. After all, nobody, at least nobody they trusted, had actually seen Jesus alive. Jews didn’t put much credence in the testimony of a woman, particularly in a woman who had been demon-possessed. For all they knew, the resurrection was still a rumor, not an established-fact. Then Jesus met them…

15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. Jesus already knew what they were talking about, but He wanted to hear it from them. Why were they prevented from recognizing Jesus?

18 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” 19 And He said to them, “What things?” They were incredulous that He seemed to be ignorant of the most significant event that had happened over the weekend. How could He have NOT heard?

19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” What had happened to Jesus’ body? Like most Jews of their day, they DID believe in a “resurrection from the dead“, but only in a general way, and only at the end of the age. That was the way Mary and Martha thought too, until Jesus resurrected Lazarus. These two dejected followers may have even witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection, but they still hadn’t “connected the dots” to realize that Jesus might be resurrected too. For all they knew, someone may have stolen Jesus’ body, as was rumored in Jerusalem. In spite of all they had seen and heard, Jesus had seriously let them down.

25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Why HADN’T they believed what the prophets foretold about the coming Messiah? Even though they hadn’t been to “seminary“, but that doesn’t mean that they were illiterate about the Old Testament? After all, it was read in their synagogues every Sabbath. Had they been looking for the wrong “kind” of Messiah? While we aren’t told what Scriptures Jesus used to show how He had fulfilled many prophesies, He certainly tore-down their Old Testament Messianic-preconceptions and showed them that they had been looking for the wrong “kind” of Messiah all along. Jesus came to be the “suffering-servant“, not to be an earthly “conquering-king“.

On a side-note, I had read and heard the Great Commission many times over the years, but because it was given to the Apostles, and has been largely-restricted to the “spiritual-elite” to carry-out in our time, I never understood that it applies to ALL Believers. I didn’t “get-it” until my pastor preached a series of sermons entitled “Getting out of the boat“. That is when the Great Commission flashed through my brain like a stroke of lightning. My eyes were finally opened, and it “only” took fifty-eight-years to finally happen. I finally “got-it“. Why did it take me that long to finally “get-it“? I grew up in a church-culture where men were “called, trained and ordained” as pastors or missionaries. It was, and still is, a tightly-controlled system, which should remind us of the Jewish religious leaders asking Jesus “By what authority…?” “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Maybe we shouldn’t be quite so “hard” on those disciples, because they were a “product” of their culture just as I was of mine.

28 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. 29 But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. 30 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. 32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:28-35)

Why did Jesus act like He was going to continue His trip? Had He come “dangerously-close” to revealing who He was? Were their “mental-gears” whirring with wondering if the stranger who had met them might be Jesus? Maybe He wasn’t ready for the “great-reveal” just yet…

29 But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. Hospitality-customs in that culture required that local-people open their home to travelers who were passing-through, so in keeping with that custom, they offered Jesus a place to spend the night, and supper.

30 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. This begs the question of whether they had been with Jesus during the Last Supper, or were their eyes opened supernaturally? Maybe a bit of both? Why did Jesus abruptly-vanish?

32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” They had heard those prophesies before, maybe even dozens of times, but they had been “conditioned” to a different-interpretation. How many times have we read or heard the same thing ninety-nine times, but we didn’t “get-it” until the hundredth time? That is the work of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told us in John 16:13 “He will guide you into all truth.” We are guided to understand the truth because we have a Divine-guide.

33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. That news was certainly too good to keep to themselves so they high-tailed it back to Jerusalem. They weren’t the only ones to have seen the risen Lord; Jesus had also appeared to Simon Peter.

Note: We don’t have a “timeline” of Jesus’ appearances to His disciples, so the following-accounts may be “parallel-accounts” told by different authors. We will take them as individual-events as recounted by their authors.

Other Appearances
36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them. (Luke 24:36-43)

I can imagine their surprise as they were swapping-stories about the Risen-Lord when Jesus Himself appeared to them. They hadn’t heard a “knock” on the door and didn’t see the door open, Jesus just “appeared”. He appeared as suddenly as He had disappeared from Emmaus. I would be troubled too.

“Peace be to you.” His greeting should have brought comfort to them, but they couldn’t believe their eyes. They thought that they were seeing a ghost, a “spirit”, because humans don’t walk through doors or just “appear”.

38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” As incredulous as it seemed, Jesus really WAS alive.

41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them. One thing was for sure, “ghostsDON’T eat, but Jesus took food and ate it in their presence. Yes, He WAS alive, and they were NOTseeing-things”.

Jesus among His Disciples
19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:19-23)

The disciples had gathered, most-likely in an upper-room, and they had gone there secretly because they weren’t “out-of-the-woods” yet just because Jesus was “dead”. They still represented a significant-threat to the Jewish-establishment because there were so many of them. They also knew that if Jesus WAS alive, they could be rounded-up at any moment and suffer a similar-fate. Some of them may have even slipped-in under-cover of darkness. It was just too soon to be taking ANY chances. I would have been jittery too.

When Jesus appeared to them, He tried to calm their fears with “Peace be with you.” That “peace” was more than just an absence of conflict, it was an inner-peace, and the kind of “peace” we can have regardless of circumstance because we know that God is still in control of everything. 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. If any of them had been skeptical about Jesus’ resurrection, seeing Him in person removed all doubt.

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Jesus’ disciples weren’t going to be able to just “go back home as if nothing had happened”, He gave them a new mission, a COMMISSION. They were to be His “ambassadors”, and they were to carry on with the work that He had begun, namely spreading the Good-News that the Kingdom of God had come.

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. This gift is essential for the performance of the task given the disciples. This occasion is a “foreshadowing” of the fullness of the Spirit to be given to the church on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came-upon them in great power. There were no “tongues-of-fire” or “speaking in tongues”, but God was already preparing them for the mission which lay-ahead of them.

23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” The Apostles, as the founders of the church and acting for it, received the authority to declare God’s judgment on sins. Fundamentally, this declaration is made when the Gospel is preached.

“Doubting” Thomas
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Why didn’t Thomas believe that Jesus had risen from the dead? Did he still believe the rumor in Jerusalem that Jesus’ body had been “stolen”? He had witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection, but how could a “dead-man” bring himself back to life? That was impossible. He, along with Mary and Martha, may have believed that there would be a “general-resurrection” at the end of time, but…

Thomas needed EVIDENCE, real, touchable EVIDENCE, that Jesus was alive. He would only believe if he could see and touch Jesus for himself. Second-hand “testimony” wasn’t good enough for him. He would have been a very-tough “trial-lawyer”.

26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:24-29)

Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas for wanting to see Him first-hand because He knew that some people need more “evidence” than just what they have been told. He had certainly surprised the other disciples when He appeared to them. He also wasn’t “surprised” that Thomas was “skeptical” because there is a bit of “skeptic” in all of us. It is part of being HUMAN. That is also one of the reasons why we have four Gospels, not just one. Each of the Gospels was written by a different author, each from their own “perspective”, and each was written to a different “target-audience”.

27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas could only exclaim “My Lord and my God!” Thomas finally “got-it”.

29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The disciples were the first eye-witnesses to the resurrected Christ, and yes, seeing WAS believing, but Christ has a message for us today. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Because of their eye-witness accounts in the Gospels, we too are able to believe in the resurrected Christ. We have the same opportunity to exclaim, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Have you seen Christ through the pages of Scripture? I pray that you have.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

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