Five times Christ was seen the same day that he rose: by Mary Magdalene alone in the garden (John 20:14), by the women as they were going to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:9), by Peter alone, by the two disciples going to Emmaus, and now at night by the eleven, of which we have an account in these verses, as also John 20:19. Observe,
1. The great surprise which his appearing gave them. He came in among them very seasonably, as they were comparing notes concerning the proofs of his resurrection: As they thus spoke, and were ready perhaps to put it to the question whether the proofs produced amounted to evidence sufficient of their Master’s resurrection or no, and how they should proceed, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and put it out of question. Note, Those who make the best use they can of their evidences for their comfort may expect further assurances, and that the Spirit of Christ will witness with their spirits (as Christ here witnessed with the disciples, and confirmed their testimony) that they are the children of God, and risen with Christ. Observe, 1. The comfort Christ spoke to them: Peace be unto you. This intimates in general that it was a kind visit which Christ now paid them, a visit of love and friendship. Though they had very unkindly deserted him in his sufferings, yet he takes the first opportunity of seeing them together; for he deals not with us as we deserve. They did not credit those who had seen him; therefore he comes himself, that they might not continue in their disconsolate incredulity. He had promised that after his resurrection he would see them in Galilee; but so desirous was he to see them, and satisfy them, that he anticipated the appointment and sees them at Jerusalem. Note, Christ is often better than his word, but never worse. Now his first word to them was, Peace be to you; not in a way of compliment, but of consolation. This was a common form of salutation among the Jews, and Christ would thus express his usual familiarity with them, though he had now entered into his state of exaltation. Many, when they are advanced, forget their old friends and take state upon them; but we see Christ as free with them as ever. Thus Christ would at the first word intimate to them that he did not come to quarrel with Peter for denying him and the rest for running away from him; no, he came peaceably, to signify to them that he had forgiven them, and was reconciled to them. 2. The fright which they put themselves into upon it (Luke 24:37): They were terrified, supposing that they had seen a spirit, because he came in among them without any noise, and was in the midst of them ere they were aware. The word used (Matt. 14:26), when they said It is a spirit, is phantasma, it is a spectre, an apparition; but the word here used is pneuma, the word that properly signifies a spirit; they supposed it to be a spirit not clothed with a real body. Though we have an alliance and correspondence with the world of spirits, and are hastening to it, yet while we are here in this world of sense and matter it is a terror to us to have a spirit so far change its own nature as to become visible to us, and conversable with us, for it is something, and bodes something, very extraordinary.
II. The great satisfaction which his discourse gave them, wherein we have,
1. The reproof he gave them for their causeless fears: Why are you troubled, and why do frightful thoughts arise in your hearts? Luke 24:38. Observe here, (1.) That when at any time we are troubled, thoughts are apt to rise in our hearts that do us hurt. Sometimes the trouble is the effect of the thoughts that arise in our hearts; our griefs and fears take rise from those things that are the creatures of our own fancy. Sometimes the thoughts arising in the heart are the effect of the trouble, without are fightings and then within are fears. Those that are melancholy and troubled in mind have thoughts arising in their hearts which reflect dishonour upon God, and create disquiet to themselves. I am cut off from thy sight. The Lord has forsaken and forgotten me. (2.) That many of the troublesome thoughts with which our minds are disquieted arise from our mistakes concerning Christ. They here thought that they had seen a spirit, when they saw Christ, and that put them into this fright. We forget that Christ is our elder brother, and look upon him to be at as great a distance from us as the world of spirits is from this world, and therewith terrify ourselves. When Christ is by his Spirit convincing and humbling us, when he is by his providence trying and converting us, we mistake him, as if he designed our hurt, and this troubles us. (3.) That all the troublesome thoughts which rise in our hearts at any time are known to the Lord Jesus, even at the first rise of them, and they are displeasing to him. He chid his disciples for such thoughts, to teach us to chide ourselves for them. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou troubled? Why do thoughts arise that are neither true nor good, that have neither foundation nor fruit, but hinder our joy in God, unfit us for our duty, give advantage to Satan, and deprive us of the comforts laid up for us?
2. The proof he gave them of his resurrection, both for the silencing of their fears by convincing them that he was not a spirit, and for the strengthening of their faith in that doctrine which they were to preach to the world by giving them full satisfaction concerning his resurrection. Two proofs he gives them:—
(1.) He shows them his body, particularly his hands and his feet. They saw that he had the shape, and features, and exact resemblance, of their Master; but is it not his ghost? “No,” saith Christ, “behold my hands and my feet; you see I have hands and feet, and therefore have a true body; you see I can move these hands and feet, and therefore have a living body; and you see the marks of the nails in my hands and feet, and therefore it is my own body, the same that you saw crucified, and not a borrowed one.” He lays down this principle—that a spirit has not flesh and bones; it is not compounded of gross matter, shaped into various members, and consisting of divers heterogeneous parts, as our bodies are. He does not tell us what a spirit is (it is time enough to know that when we go to the world of spirits), but what it is not: It has not flesh and bones. Now hence he infers, “It is I myself, whom you have been so intimately acquainted with, and have had such familiar conversation with; it is I myself, whom you have reason to rejoice in, and not to be afraid of.” Those who know Christ aright, and know him as theirs, will have no reason to be terrified at his appearances, at his approaches. [1.] He appeals to their sight, shows them his hands and his feet, which were pierced with the nails. Christ retained the marks of them in his glorified body, that they might be proofs that it was he himself; and he was willing that they should be seen. He afterwards showed them to Thomas, for he is not ashamed of his sufferings for us; little reason then have we to be ashamed of them, or of ours for him. As he showed his wounds here to his disciples, for the enforcing of his instructions to them, so he showed them to his Father, for the enforcing of his intercessions with him. He appears in heaven as a Lamb that had been slain (Rev. 5:6); his blood speaks, Heb. 12:24. He makes intercession in the virtue of his satisfaction; he says to the Father, as here to the disciples, Behold my hands and my feet, Zech. 13:6, 7. [2.] He appeals to their touch: Handle me, and see. He would not let Mary Magdalene touch him at that time, John 20:17. But the disciples here are entrusted to do it, that they who were to preach his resurrection, and to suffer for doing so, might be themselves abundantly satisfied concerning it. He bade them handle him, that they might be convinced that he was not a spirit. If there were really no spirits, or apparitions of spirits (as by this and other instances it is plain that the disciples did believe there were), this had been a proper time for Christ to have undeceived them, by telling them there were no such things; but he seems to take it for granted that there have been and may be apparitions of spirits, else what need was there of so much pains to prove that he was not one? There were many heretics in the primitive times, atheists I rather think they were, who said that Christ had never any substantial body, but that it was a mere phantasm, which was neither really born nor truly suffered. Such wild notions as these, we are told, the Valentinians and Manichees had, and the followers of Simon Magus; they were called Doketai and Phantysiastai. Blessed be God, these heresies have long since been buried; and we know and are sure that Jesus Christ was no spirit or apparition, but had a true and real body, even after his resurrection.
(2.) He eats with them, to show that he had a real and true body, and that he was willing to converse freely and familiarly with his disciples, as one friend with another. Peter lays a great stress upon this (Acts 10:41): We did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
[1.] When they saw his hands and his feet, yet they knew not what to say, They believed not for joy, and wondered, Luke 24:41. It was their infirmity that they believed not, that yet they believed not, eti apistounton auton—they as yet being unbelievers. This very much corroborates the truth of Christ’s resurrection that the disciples were so slow to believe it. Instead of stealing away his body, and saying, He is risen, when he is not, as the chief priests suggested they would do, they are ready to say again and again, He is not risen, when he is. Their being incredulous of it at first, and insisting upon the utmost proofs of it, show that when afterwards they did believe it, and venture their all upon it, it was not but upon the fullest demonstration of the thing that could be. But, though it was their infirmity, yet it was an excusable one; for it was not from any contempt of the evidence offered them that they believed not: but, First, They believed not for joy, as Jacob, when he was told that Joseph was alive; they thought it too good news to be true. When the faith and hope are therefore weak because the love and desires are strong, that weak faith shall be helped, and not rejected. Secondly, They wondered; they thought it not only too good, but too great, to be true, forgetting both the scriptures and the power of God.
[2.] For their further conviction and encouragement, he called for some meat. He sat down to meat with the two disciples at Emmaus, but it is not said that he did eat with them; now, lest that should be made an objection, he here did actually eat with them and the rest, to show that his body was really and truly returned to life, though he did not eat and drink, and converse constantly, with them, as he had done (and as Lazarus did after his resurrection, who not only returned to life, but to his former state of life, and to die again), because it was not agreeable to the economy of the state he was risen to. They gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of a honey-comb, Luke 24:42. The honey-comb, perhaps, was used as sauce to the broiled fish, for Canaan was a land flowing with honey. This was mean fare; yet, if it be the fare of the disciples, their Master will fare as they do, because in the kingdom of our Father they shall fare as he does, shall eat and drink with him in his kingdom.
3. The insight he gave them into the word of God, which they had heard and read, by which faith in the resurrection of Christ is wrought in them, and all the difficulties are cleared. (1.) He refers them to the word which they had heard from him when he was with them, and puts them in mind of that as the angel had done (Luke 24:44): These are the words which I said unto you in private, many a time, while I was yet with you. We should better understand what Christ does, if we did but better remember what he hath said, and had but the art of comparing them together. (2.) He refers them to the word they had read in the Old Testament, to which the word they had heard from him directed them: All things must be fulfilled which were written. Christ had given them this general hint for the regulating of their expectations—that whatever they found written concerning the Messiah, in the Old Testament, must be fulfilled in him, what was written concerning his sufferings as well as what was written concerning his kingdom; these God had joined together in the prediction, and it could not be thought that they should be put asunder in the event. All things must be fulfilled, even the hardest, even the heaviest, even the vinegar; he could not die till he had that, because he could not till then say, It is finished. The several parts of the Old Testament are here mentioned, as containing each of them things concerning Christ: The law of Moses, that is, the Pentateuch, or the five books written by Moses,—the prophets, containing not only the books that are purely prophetical, but those historical books that were written by prophetical men,—the Psalms, containing the other writings, which they called the Hagiographa. See in what various ways of writing God did of old reveal his will; but all proceeded from one and the self-same Spirit, who by them gave notice of the coming and kingdom of the Messiah; for to him bore all the prophets witness. (3.) By an immediate present work upon their minds, of which they themselves could not but be sensible, he gave them to apprehend the true intent and meaning of the Old-Testament prophecies of Christ, and to see them all fulfilled in him: Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, Luke 24:45. In his discourse with the two disciples he took the veil from off the text, by opening the scriptures; here he took the veil from off the heart, by opening the mind. Observe here, [1.] That Jesus Christ by his Spirit operates on the minds of men, on the minds of all that are his. He has access to our spirits, and can immediately influence them. It is observable how he did now after his resurrection give a specimen of those two great operations of his Spirit upon the spirits of men, his enlightening the intellectual faculties with a divine light, when he opened the understandings of his disciples, and his invigorating the active powers with a divine heat, when he made their hearts burn within them. [2.] Even good men need to have their understandings opened; for though they are not darkness, as they were by nature, yet in many things they are in the dark. David prays, Open mine eyes. Give me understanding. And Paul, who knows so much of Christ, sees his need to learn more. [3.] Christ’s way of working faith in the soul, and gaining the throne there, is by opening the understanding to discern the evidence of those things that are to be believed. Thus he comes into the soul by the door, while Satan, as a thief and a robber, climbs up some other way. [4.] The design of opening the understanding is that we may understand the scriptures; not that we may be wise above what is written, but that we may be wiser in what is written, and may be made wise to salvation by it. The Spirit in the word and the Spirit in the heart say the same thing. Christ’s scholars never learn above their bibles in this world; but they need to be learning still more and more out of their bibles, and to grow more ready and mighty in the scriptures. That we may have right thoughts of Christ, and have our mistakes concerning him rectified, there needs no more than to be made to understand the scriptures.
4. The instructions he gave them as apostles, who were to be employed in setting up his kingdom in the world. They expected, while their Master was with them, that they should be preferred to posts of honour, of which they thought themselves quite disappointed when he was dead. “No,” saith, he, “you are now to enter upon them; you are to be witnesses of these things (Luke 24:48), to carry the notice of them to all the world; not only to report them as matter of news, but to assert them as evidence given upon the trial of the great cause that has been so long depending between God and Satan, the issue of which must be the casting down and casting out of the prince of this world. You are fully assured of these things yourselves, you are eye and ear-witnesses of them; go, and assure the world of them; and the same Spirit that has enlightened you shall go along with you for the enlightening of others.” Now here they are told,
(1.) What they must preach. They must preach the gospel, must preach the New Testament as the full accomplishment of the Old, as the continuation and conclusion of divine revelation. They must take their bibles along with them (especially when they preached to the Jews; nay, and Peter, in his first sermon to the Gentiles, directed them to consult the prophets, Acts 10:43), and must show people how it was written of old concerning the Messiah, and the glories and graces of his kingdom, and then must tell them how, upon their certain knowledge, all this was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.
[1.] The great gospel truth concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be published to the children of men (Luke 24:46): Thus it was written in the sealed book of the divine counsels from eternity, the volume of that book of the covenant of redemption; and thus it was written in the open book of the Old Testament, among the things revealed; and therefore thus it behoved Christ to suffer, for the divine counsels must be performed, and care taken that no word of God fall to the ground. “Go, and tell the world,” First, “That Christ suffered, as it was written of him. Go, preach Christ crucified; be not ashamed of his cross, not ashamed of a suffering Jesus. Tell them what he suffered, and why he suffered, and how all the scriptures of the Old Testament were fulfilled in his sufferings. Tell them that it behoved him to suffer, that it was necessary to the taking away of the sin of the world, and the deliverance of mankind from death and ruin: nay, it became him to be perfected through sufferings,” Heb. 2:10. Secondly, “That he rose from the dead on the third day, by which not only all the offence of the cross was rolled away, but he was declared to be the Son of God with power, and in this also the scriptures were fulfilled (see 1 Cor. 15:3, 4); go, tell the world how often you saw him after he rose from the dead, and how intimately you conversed with him. Your eyes see” (as Joseph said to his brethren, when his discovering himself to them was as life from the dead) “that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you, Gen. 45:12. Go, and tell them, then, that he that was dead is alive, and lives for evermore, and has the keys of death and the grave,”
[2.] The great gospel duty of repentance must be pressed upon the children of men. Repentance for sin must be preached in Christ’s name, and by his authority, Luke 24:47. All men every where must be called and commanded to repent, Acts 17:30. “Go, and tell all people that the God that made them, and the Lord that bought them, expects and requires that, immediately upon this notice given, they turn from the worship of the gods that they have made to the worship of the God that made them; and not only so, but from serving the interests of the world and the flesh; they must turn to the service of God in Christ, must mortify all sinful habits, and forsake all sinful practices. Their hearts and lives must be changed, and they must be universally renewed and reformed.”
[3.] The great gospel privilege of the remission of sins must be proposed to all, and assured to all that repent, and believe the gospel. “Go, tell a guilty world, that stands convicted and condemned at God’s bar, that an act of indemnity has passed the royal assent, which all that repent and believe shall have the benefit of, and not only be pardoned, but preferred by. Tell them that there is hope concerning them.”
(2.) To whom they must preach. Whither must they carry these proposals, and how far does their commission extend? They are here told, [1.] That they must preach this among all nations. They must disperse themselves, like the sons of Noah after the flood, some one way and some another, and carry this light along with them wherever they go. The prophets had preached repentance and remission to the Jews, but the apostles must preach them to all the world. None are exempted from the obligations the gospel lays upon men to repent, nor are any excluded from those inestimable benefits which are included in the remission of sins, but those that by their unbelief and impenitency put a bar in their own door. [2.] That they must begin at Jerusalem There they must preach their first gospel sermon; there the gospel church must be first formed; there the gospel day must dawn, and thence that light shall go forth which must take hold on the ends of the earth. And why must they begin there? First, Because thus it was written, and therefore it behoved them to take this method. The word of the Lord must go forth from Jerusalem, Isa. 2:3. And see Joel 2:32; 3:16; Obad. 1:21; Zech. 14:8. Secondly, Because there the matters of fact on which the gospel was founded were transacted; and therefore there they were first attested, where, if there had been any just cause for it, they might be best contested and disproved. So strong, so bright, is the first shining forth of the glory of the risen Redeemer that it dares face those daring enemies of his that had put him to an ignominious death, and sets them at defiance. “Begin at Jerusalem, that the chief priests may try their strength to crush the gospel, and may rage to see themselves disappointed.” Thirdly, Because he would give us a further example of forgiving enemies. Jerusalem had put the greatest affronts imaginable upon him (both the rulers and the multitude), for which that city might justly have been excepted by name out of the act of indemnity; but no, so far from that, the first offer of gospel grace is made to Jerusalem, and thousands there are in a little time brought to partake of that grace.
(3.) What assistance they should have in preaching. It is a vast undertaking that they are here called to, a very large and difficult province, especially considering the opposition this service would meet with, and the sufferings it would be attended with. If therefore they ask, Who is sufficient for these things? here is an answer ready: Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you, and you shall be endued with power from on high, Luke 24:49. He here assures them that in a little time the Spirit should be poured out upon them in greater measures than ever, and they should thereby be furnished with all those gifts and graces which were necessary to their discharge of this great trust; and therefore they must tarry at Jerusalem, and not enter upon it till this be done. Note, [1.] Those who receive the Holy Ghost are thereby endued with a power from on high, a supernatural power, a power above any of their own; it is from on high, and therefore draws the soul upward, and makes it to aim high. [2.] Christ’s apostles could never have planted his gospel, and set up his kingdom in the world, as they did, if they had not been endued with such a power; and their admirable achievements prove that there was an excellency of power going along with them. [3.] This power from on high was the promise of the Father, the great promise of the New Testament, as the promise of the coming of Christ was of the Old Testament. And, if it be the promise of the Father, we may be sure that the promise is inviolable and the thing promised invaluable. [4.] Christ would not leave his disciples till the time was just at hand for the performing of this promise. It was but ten days after the ascension of Christ that there came the descent of the Spirit. [5.] Christ’s ambassadors must stay till they have their powers, and not venture upon their embassy till they have received full instructions and credentials. Though, one would think, never was such haste as now for the preaching of the gospel, yet the preachers must tarry till they be endued with power from on high, and tarry at Jerusalem, though a place of danger, because there this promise of the Father was to find them, Joel 2:28.