The Note: The main object of this evening’s Reading is to supply a connected and coherent statement of the circumstances attending and following the Resurrection, as related by the different evangelists. This is a difficult portion of gospel history, needing some such assistance as is here given; in affording which to the readers of this work, we have availed ourselves of an admirable paper by Professor Robinson, of New York, printed in the American Bibliotheca Sacra for February, 1845. enemies of Jesus remembered that He had once or twice intimated that, after three days, He would rise again from the dead. They therefore applied to Pilate for a guard to watch the sepulcher, lest, as they alleged, the disciples should steal away their Master’s body, and give out that He had risen from the dead. This was more matter of meditation for Pilate. How it affected him we know not; but he allowed them to employ in this service the guard they already had, and authorized them to secure the sepulcher in any way they thought best. The guard was therefore stationed; and, for farther security, the stone that closed the sepulcher was sealed, so that it was impossible that the stone could be moved without the fact being detected. It was thus, in the wisdom of God, ordered that the fears of the enemies of Jesus secured that evidence of the reality of the resurrection, which, had it come from friends alone, might be held open to suspicion.
Jesus was deposited in the sepulcher a little before sunset on Friday, and rose very early on Sunday morning, so that He was almost thirty-six hours in the tomb, being two nights and one intervening day; but, as this involved one whole day and parts of two days, it is rightly described, according to Jewish usage, as three days—or, rather, the resurrection was on the third day. The actual circumstances of the resurrection are not fully stated by the sacred writers. We only know that very early on Sunday morning there was an earthquake, and an angel of the Lord descended, and rolled away the stone from the sepulcher and sat upon it—showing that he did not then enter. “His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow,” and at the sight of him the guards were struck with terror, and sunk like men dead to the ground. What took place in the sepulcher we know not; but when soon after examined, there were no marks of confusion or haste; but, on the contrary, everything testified of deliberation and composure. The grave-cloth was folded up and laid apart; the head-napkin was also folded and deposited in another place.
The women who had come from Galilee had never lost sight of their Lord, from the time He was brought forth to be crucified until they noted the tomb in which He was laid. Their names were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome the mother of Zebedee’s sons. Knowing the haste in which the body had been deposited, it was their intention to come early in the morning after the Sabbath, and dispose the body in a more orderly manner for its final rest. After the Sabbath had ended, at sunset, they employed the evening in the requisite preparations, including the purchase of spices and perfumes—perhaps not being aware of the abundant provision made by Nicodemus in that respect. It was early dawn on Sunday morning when they set out; and as they went, it occurred to them that they would find an insuperable difficulty in the removal of the great stone that closed the sepulcher. But when they came to the spot, they observed with amazement that the stone had been already removed, and that the month of the sepulcher stood open. On perceiving this, Mary Magdalene, without further examination, concluded that the Lord’s body had been stolen away; and ran with all haste back to the city, to inform Peter and John, leaving the other two at the sepulcher, into which they entered. They saw at once that the body of Jesus had disappeared; but they perceived also the angel, as a young man clothed in a long white garment, sitting by the right of the spot where the body had lain. They were naturally terrified; but the angel spoke to them gentle words, and told them of the object of their search that, “He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him.” The good angel knew that even this would be a satisfaction to those faithful women. He also gave them a message to the apostles—that Jesus would meet them when they returned to Galilee.
As these two women were hastening back with gladdened hearts, Jesus himself met them, saying, “All hail!” With gentle words, He quieted their first alarm, and allowed them to approach and embrace his feet in testimony of their joy and homage. He then reiterated the message the angel had given, and pursued his way.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene had found Peter and John; and, excited by the report she brought, they both hurried off to the sepulcher. They ran; and John outstripping Peter, arrived soonest at the spot, and, stooping down, looked into the tomb, which he found to be indeed empty, but took notice of the grave-clothes lying in the manner before described. He did not enter; but, when Peter came up, he, with his characteristic ardor, at once went in. John also then entered, and took particular notice of the circumstances; and, reflecting that any person stealing the body would scarcely have divested it of the grave-clothes, or have disposed of them in the orderly manner he witnessed, or indeed have left them at all behind, he began to have some faint notion that Jesus might have risen from the dead. He says himself that he “believed;” and it is difficult to understand what he could then believe on the evidence before him but this.
Peter and John then returned thoughtful to the city, wondering greatly at what they had witnessed; but Mary Magdalene, who had followed them back to the garden, remained there alone after they had departed, weeping before the sepulcher. In the midst of her tears, she stooped down, as John had done, and for the first time looked in—and then, to her amazement, she beheld two angels robed in white, sitting, one at the head and the other at the foot, where the body of Jesus had lain. To their question, why she wept, she answered, because her Lord’s body had been removed, she knew not whither. After this, she turned slightly round, and perceived there was a person standing alone behind her, whom, from his being there, she supposed to be the keeper of the garden. He also asked her why she wept, and she gave the same answer she had just given to the angels; except that she supposed he may have been engaged in the removal of the body she desired to recover. He simply uttered in reply, in well-known tones, her name, “Mary!” and the whole truth at once flashed upon her soul. She exclaims, “Rabboni!” as much as to say, My dearest Master! and like the other women, fell at his feet, as if to embrace them and render Him her homage. But this He forbade, for some reason not very clear to us, for He had allowed it not long before to Mary and Salome. After this interview, Mary Magdalene hastened back to the city, and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and what He had said to her. She found them in the midst of their sorrow; and when she told them that Jesus was alive, and that she had seen Him, she could not gain belief.
In the afternoon of the same day, two of our Lord’s disciples, one of them named Cleopas, were on their way from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from the city. They had heard before they left some reports of what had taken place in the morning—that the tomb had been found open and empty, and that the woman had seen “a vision of angels,” who said that Jesus was alive. They had perhaps not heard before their departure the latter report, that Jesus had himself appeared to Mary Magdalene, and to the other women; or if they had heard this, they seem to have attached no importance to it, but, like the other disciples, regarded these reports as “idle tales.” They were very sorrowful, however, for their Lord’s death, and perplexed by the disappearance of his body; while they more than all deplored the frustration of their hopes, that He would “have delivered Israel” from the Romans. As they discoursed in melancholy tones of these things. Jesus himself drew nigh; “but their eyes were holden that they should not know Him.” Some have thought that they were recent converts, and had not seen much of Jesus, so that now, when He was in a different dress from what they had seen Him wear, and especially as they supposed Him dead they did not recognize Him. But it is clear from the way in which they did eventually recognize Him, that they had known Him well, and the evangelist seems clearly to intimate that they were supernaturally restrained from knowing Him at this time.
He accosted them courteously, and inquired the subject of their earnest and sad discourse. When they acquainted Him with it, He rebuked them for their slowness of heart to believe all the prophets had spoken, which clearly showed that what had happened, and not what they had expected, was in accordance with the Divine plan for man’s redemption. Then beginning with Moses, and going through all the prophets, He explained to them what was written in the Scriptures concerning himself. They felt the power of his words; and, as they afterwards expressed it, their “hearts burned within them.” Arriving at their destination, they pressed the Stranger to remain there over the night, as it was now late for further travelling. He consented, and they entered the house together. Their humble supper was soon ready; and the Stranger, at once assuming his usual office when taking a meal with his disciples, took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them. In the manner of this act, and in the tone of voice in which the blessing was given, they at once recognized the Lord; but before they could recover from their surprise, He had withdrawn from their sight. After this, the two disciples could not remain there, but hastened back to Jerusalem to make this great event known to the apostles. They found the eleven, with some other disciples, assembled together, and as they entered, were greeted with the intelligence—“The Lord hath risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon!” They then rehearsed what had happened to themselves; but the disciples seemed at first to discredit their report, as they had the morning reports of the women, evidently regarding the testimony of Peter as of far more importance. Of this interview of our Lord with Peter, no particulars are given, though it is mentioned by Paul, who, in speaking of those by whom our Lord had been seen after his resurrection, names the appearance to Peter first, and says nothing of the appearances to the women and to these two disciples (1Co_15:5).
The disciples were at their evening meal, and the two from Emmaus were still engaged in their relation, when Jesus himself came and stood in the midst of them, and gave the usual salutation—“Peace be unto you.” As the disciples had discredited most of the previous reports, so now they distrusted the evidence of their own sight, and supposed, in their alarm, that what the saw was a ghost. Jesus hastened to dispel their illusion. To convince them that it was himself, He invited them to touch Him; He showed them the wounds in his hands and his feet; and for their farther conviction, He asked for some food; and when they presented Him with some broiled fish and honey-comb, He ate it before them. He then apprised them that their office in the service of his kingdom, so far from having ended, had now really begun; and as a foretaste and earnest of the rich qualifying graces of the Spirit which awaited them, He breathed upon them saying, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
One of the apostles was absent on this occasion; and when, on his return, the others related what had occurred, he disbelieved them, as they had before discredited the women. This was Thomas; whose expression of doubt, though reprehensibly strong, is in keeping with the peculiar character we have already seen him indicate: “Except I shall see in his hands the prints of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” That day-week, when they were again assembled, probably in the same place, Thomas was present. Jesus then again appeared among them, much in the same manner as before; and instantly expressed his consciousness of what had passed, by calling Thomas forward to put his finger into the prints of the nails, and to thrust his hand into his wounded side. It is not likely that he did so; but rather, oppressed and filled with a sense of the divinity that beamed forth in this manifestation of the risen Savior, Thomas addressed Him by a title which had never hitherto, as far as we know, been applied to Him by any of his disciples—“My Lord and my God!” Jesus, however, did not fail to rebuke him for making a visible sign the condition of his belief. Far more blessed and precious is that faith which arises from within, than that which thus waits for a summons from without. There is reason to believe that Thomas never forgot this lesson; but there is not much of his subsequent history known to us.
It appears that, even before his death, our Lord had appointed to meet the disciples in Galilee after his resurrection—(Mat_26:32)—and after He had risen, the same intimation was, as we have seen, sent to them through the women who were first of all privileged to look upon their risen Lord. Accordingly, they left Jerusalem soon after the termination of the Passover festival, and returned to their homes in Galilee. Both the time and place were probably appointed. We hear, indeed, of “a certain mountain.” And while the apostles awaited the appointed time, they engaged in their usual occupations—most of them as fishermen. One day, as evening advanced, seven of them (including Peter, Thomas, and the sons of Zebedee) put out upon the lake with their nets in a fishing-boat; but during all the night they caught nothing. At early dawn a Stranger was seen upon the shore, from which they were then not far distant; and He called to them, telling them to cast their nets on the right side of the vessel. This they did, and then were not able—not all the seven of them—to draw in the net on account of the multitude of fishes which it enclosed. Some one—perhaps John—recognized his Master in this miracle; and no sooner did Peter catch the suggestion, “It is the Lord,” than, with his characteristic ardor, he leaped into the water that he might the sooner reach the shore. When the other disciples landed, they found a fire kindled, with fish broiling thereon, and bread ready there. By the direction of the Stranger, they brought some of the fish they had caught, and these also being dressed, ample materials for a simple meal were provided. Of this they were invited to partake, and Jesus took his usual part as master of the little feast, distributing their portions to the disciples. All this while no explanation had passed on either side; and of the disciples, “no one asked, Who art Thou? knowing it was the Lord.” It was on this occasion, and after this meal, that our Lord put to Peter the touching and thrice-repeated question, “Lovest then Me?” and charged him to evince his love by feeding his Lord’s lambs and his sheep.
At the appointed time, the apostles repaired to “the mountain” where they were to meet their Lord. Jesus had lived longer in Galilee, and had labored more there, than in any other part of the country, and it was here that his disciples were most numerous. This interview was perhaps, therefore, more public and solemn than any other, not only with the apostles, but with all the disciples who could be got together; and it is probably to this occasion that St. Paul refers when he says, that our Lord was “seen of five hundred brethren at once.” It was a great and solemn assembly, where Jesus met for the first time after his resurrection, and took his last farewell on earth of many of his most attached adherents. He then repeated to all the assembled disciples thus publicly the charge which the apostles had already received, to go and teach all nations, no longer restricting themselves to the Jews alone, as before his death; and that they might be sufficient for the services and sufferings before them, He gave them the assurance, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world!”
There were probably many other interviews which Christ held with his apostles, both before and after they had returned to Jerusalem by his direction. In Act_1:2-3, this is indeed plainly enough intimated. St. Paul (1Co_15:7) mentions one interview with James, which is not historically recorded; and he says, that “after that,” our Lord was seen of “all the apostles,” probably at an appointed interview just before the Ascension. On that occasion, He renewed the promise of that baptism of the Spirit through which they would be guided into all truth, and be made the efficient instruments of its promulgation.
Forty days had now elapsed since our Lord had risen from the tomb, when, during the discourse to which we have just referred, or in immediate connection with it, He conducted the disciples out to the Mount of Olives, the scene of so many interesting circumstances in his career. Here he lifted up his hands and blessed them; and while his hands remained uplifted in blessing, He was parted from them, and taken up into heaven. A cloud soon hid Him from their view; but while they were still gazing upward, hopeful to catch one more glance of his receding form, “two men in white apparel,” who were doubtless commissioned angels, were seen standing by, who told them that “this same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.”