Between His resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus spent 40 days appearing multiple times to his disciples and some 500 people. I have not spent a great deal reflecting on this period of time in Jesus’ earthly ministry, but here lately I have found it particularly fruitful. One of the helpful reflections I’ve enjoyed this week was how Jesus revealed Himself during this time as prophet, priest, and king in such clear and convincing ways.
The Risen Lord as Prophet
The first recorded appearance of our Risen Lord was on the road to Emmaus. Here were two men, depressed and dejected because they had come to hope that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the one “to redeem Israel.” During that journey, Jesus “opened up the Scriptures” beginning “with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus repeated this practice with His disciples. Luke records Jesus declaring, “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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45). Jesus was committed to not only teaching the truth of God’s Word, He was committed to His disciples rightly interpreting God’s Word–all of Scripture is about Him!
We also see Christ as Prophet in Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts. In the beginning verses, we discover the Risen Christ “giving commands through the Holy Spirit” and “speaking about the kingdom of God.” Jesus clearly invested a considerable amount of His time during those 40 days teaching, speaking, instructing, and charging His disciples as not only as a witness to the truth of God’s Word, but the embodiment of truth as the Incarnate Word.
The Risen Lord as Priest
Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, all of His disciples fled in fear and denial. After the crucifixion, His disciples were full anxiety, doubt, and disbelief. Attempts to change their minds with testimonies from others “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Yet the Lord appeared to them in the midst of such disarray and bewilderment with His presence and nearness. He came among them. He invited them to the most intimate settings of sharing a meal together. He encouraged them to feel the scars on his hands, feet, and side. He made Himself accessible and approachable in the most tangible and transparent ways possible.
The question, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38) was met with “many proofs” as he repeatedly “presented Himself alive to them after His suffering” (Acts 1:3). Why so many proofs? Why so many repeated appearances during that 40 days? Jesus was determined to eliminate all doubt, fear, and unbelief in the hearts of His disciples. He refused to have any of them in the slightest way unsure or unconvinced of His resurrection and the implications of that reality should make in their lives. Luke 24 begins with His disciples full of anxiety, fear, and unbelief, and Luke 24 ends with His disciples full of faith, joy, and praise (Luke 24:52-53). This is the result of the priestly labors of our Risen Lord.
In John’s post-resurrection account, we discover the priestly work of Jesus specifically in the lives of Thomas and Peter. You remember what Thomas said, right? “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Jesus could have easily grown tired of such responses, but his loving care went much deeper than the unbelief in Thomas’ heart. He made His wounds available for Thomas so that his heart would be fortified by faith. The shame that had pierced his heart was no match for the love that pierced Jesus’ side.
Then there’s Peter. Remember what he did, right? Denied Jesus three times, cursing, and weeping bitterly from a distance. How could he look upon the One whom he betrayed so blatantly. Peter and the disciples thought it best to go back to life before Christ, fishing in a boat. Instead of going to the tomb, Jesus came to them. Apparently they were having a really bad day fishing. Jesus gave them orders to cast the nets again. What did Jesus know about fishing? Oh yeah, Jesus made those fish and the sea that contains them. After the big catch and breakfast together, Jesus had some one-on-one time with Peter. Notice His line of questioning.
“Peter, do you love me more than these?”
More than what? These fish that were caught? These men Peter knew? Probably all of the above. Jesus was restoring Peter to a place where his identity was not determined by what he did but who he belonged to. Peter did not feel like he belonged to Jesus, but Jesus transformed those feelings by His strong affections for Peter.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
This time, Jesus brings up Peter’s old name and relationship to his father. When Peter first followed Jesus, he not only left “these things” (fishing, nets, boats), he also left his earthly father. By referring to Peter as “Simon, son of John”, Jesus is gently restoring Peter’s identity as one relationally and intimately connected to Jesus, more than any other earthly relationship.
Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Jesus restored Peter. Peter wanted to go back to fishing. Jesus wanted Peter to go back to being a fisher of men. Peter wanted to pretend like nothing ever happened, in his old life with his father. Jesus wanted Peter to understand it did happened, and that changed everything. Jesus is too loving and caring to allow Peter to be dominated by denial, unbelief, guilt, and shame. He was determined to have Peter as a man full of faith, hope, love, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The Risen Lord as King
After those 40 days, Jesus would ascend into heaven. They know and understand the truth. They are full of joy, faith, and love for Jesus. But now what? What are they going to do once Jesus is ascended into heaven? During those 40 days, Jesus set up the administration for His kingdom advance. As King, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom with His life and continues to build His kingdom through the lives of His disciples.
We do not know all the commands Jesus gave through the Holy Spirit, but we do know a few. Actually one command with several expressions. We call it the Great Commission.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me into the world, even so I am sending you into the world” (John 20:21). The lives of His disciples are to be characterized by a “sentness” – a life marked by mission and gospel advance.
Jesus charges in Luke’s account that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47-48).
In more detailed fashion, we read in Acts that His disciples will “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
In most commonly referenced passage, we read in Matthew’s account the following: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). The authority of Christ speaks of His qualification to rule over every square inch of this universe. There are no boundaries to His reign; therefore there are no limitations to our mission to make disciples.
With all this talk of going and being witnesses of King Jesus, it is important to notice the admonishment to wait and pray for power from on High, the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus had to go up for His Spirit to come down so that His people would go out. The power to live on mission as God’s sent people making disciples of Jesus comes from the Spirit of the Risen Lord controlling our lives.
Throughout His earthly life, Jesus showed Himself as consummate prophet, priest, and king. But it is particularly encouraging to see how, during His 40 days post-resurrection pre-ascension period, such offices of Christ were on display as the staging ground for the great work of kingdom advance by people entranced by Christ, fueled with His joy, and filled with His Spirit to continue the mission entrusted to us.