Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Luke 24:36b-48




Jesus’ appearance to the “eleven and their companions” takes place in Jerusalem where the two men who encountered the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus find “the eleven gathered together” (v. 33). Luke has told us that the encounter with the two men on the Emmaus road took place “that very day” (v. 13)—meaning the day of Christ’s resurrection. He then tells us that, after recognizing Jesus as he broke bread with them, “They rose up that very hour, returned to Jerusalem” (v. 33), where they met with “the eleven gathered together, and those who were with them” (v. 33). This encounter, then, almost certainly takes place on Easter evening. The place is almost certainly the room where the disciples gathered behind locked doors as related in the Gospel of John (John 20:19-23)—although Luke doesn’t specify the place.

This is Jesus’ third resurrection appearance in Luke’s Gospel. The women find the empty tomb, but do not see Jesus (vv. 1-12). Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is to Peter, but Luke only mentions that encounter, giving no details (v. 34). Jesus’ second resurrection appearance is to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, an incident that Luke records in considerable detail (vv. 13-35).

The Emmaus Road appearance (vv. 13-35) lays the foundation for Jesus’ appearance to his gathered disciples (vv. 36-49). There are a number of parallels between the two appearances:

• Jesus appears to disciples who do not recognize him (v. 16) or who believe that they are seeing a ghost (v. 37).

• Jesus rebukes the disciples for their failure to believe (vv. 25, 38).

• Jesus breaks bread for the disciples (v. 30) or eats in their presence (v. 43).

• Jesus interprets scripture for the edification of the disciples (vv. 27, 44-47).

• The disciples hearts burn with them as Jesus teaches them (v. 32) or they respond with joy (v. 41).

The only distinctive element in this second appearance is Jesus’ commission, “Behold, I send out the promise of my Father on you. But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high” (v. 49) (Fitzmyer, 1573). Luke tells about their waiting in Acts 1 and their being clothed with power in Acts 2.


36As they said these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37But they were terrified and filled with fear, and supposed that they had seen a spirit (Greek: pneuma—spirit).

38He said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is truly me. Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

41While they still didn’t believe for joy, and wondered, he said to them,“Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43He took them, and ate in front of them.

As they said these things” (v. 36a). Who are “they”? They include the two disciples from the Emmaus road encounter, the eleven, and companions of the eleven (v. 32-35). The topic of discussion just prior to this appearance of Jesus was his earlier appearance on the Emmaus road. The two disciples who saw Jesus on that occasion were telling “how (Jesus) had been made known to them in the breaking of bread” (v. 35). The apostles were ready to listen to this report, because Peter had also reported seeing the risen Christ (24:34).

“Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace be to you'” (v. 36b). Luke doesn’t tell us where the disciples were when Jesus appeared to them. Mark says “they sat at the table” (Mark 16:14). In the Fourth Gospel, they were inside a locked room (John 20:19). Nor do any of the Gospels tell us how Jesus entered the room. It is clear from the next verse that Jesus’ visit is a great surprise to the disciples.

But they were terrified and filled with fear, and supposed that they had seen a spirit” (v. 37). Given the presence and testimony of the Emmaus road disciples, we would think that the gathered disciples would be well prepared for Jesus to appear in their midst but, rather than gladdening them, Jesus’ sudden appearance startles and terrifies them. They assume that they are seeing a pneuma—a disembodied spirit or ghost.

“Why are you troubled? Why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is truly me. Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you see that I have” (vv. 38-39). Jesus presents two forms of evidence that he is not a ghost but, instead, has a resurrected body. First, he shows them his hands and feet and invites them to touch him. Second, he asks for food and eats it in their presence (vv. 41-43). Neither would be possible if Jesus were a disembodied spirit.

In relating this story, Luke has an apologetic purpose—to establish that Jesus has been raised from the dead with a physical body, a fact to which this rather large group of disciples can bear eyewitness testimony. Jesus will call these disciples to be “witnesses of these things” (v. 48), and the effectiveness of their witness will depend on their personal experience of the risen Lord.

This emphasis on Jesus’ physical body requires us to consider two popular Greek beliefs—dualism and immortality.

• Dualism divides the world into the physical and the spiritual, saying that the physical world is bad but the spiritual world is good.

• The concept of immortality, growing out of this dualistic understanding, says that, at death, the good spirit or soul separates from the bad body and continues to live independently of the body.

We should note that many Christians today have a very fuzzy understanding of the difference between resurrection (future oriented—God raises a person from the dead after a period of time) and immortality (“now” oriented—life continues after death with no lapse of time). At a funeral, it isn’t uncommon to hear Christians say, “That isn’t Joe. Joe is somewhere else”—acting as if the body were like a skin shed at death—something no longer important to the deceased person. However, Jesus presents himself to the disciples after the resurrection, not as a disembodied spirit, but as a person in bodily form—a body recognizable by sight and touch—a body capable of eating food. The scriptures teach us that we too shall be resurrected from the dead in bodily form. The body is not some sort of useless debris that we leave behind, but is an integral part of our identity.

However, we also need to acknowledge that while resurrection is the central teaching of the New Testament, there are also New Testament scriptures that hint at immortality.

• In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3)—thus giving a “now” dimension to eternal life, which we usually consider to be something that we can experience only in the future.

•In his classic resurrection chapter that is almost totally future-oriented, Paul speaks of immortality: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible will have put on incorruption, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory'” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

• Jesus incorporates both the “now” and the “future” dimensions in a single sentence when he says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life (now), and I will raise him up at the last day” (future) (John 6:54).

There are also sensitive pastoral issues here:

• For one thing, we need to be careful about correcting grieving people. It is good to preach resurrection, but not good to take a grieving person to task for saying, “That isn’t Joe.”

• Also, the doctrine of resurrection raises questions about people whose bodies were destroyed in an explosion, fire, or other disaster. What becomes of them? The answer is that the God who gave them life (and bodies) originally is quite capable of restoring life (and bodies) in the resurrection.

• And then there is the issue of cremation—is cremation an obstacle to resurrection? It is hard to imagine that the God who can resurrect bodies lost at sea or burned accidentally cannot also resurrect cremated bodies. There are other issues to consider, such as the respect with which we treat the dead body. In my opinion, cremation seems at least as respectful as embalming.

• What about donated organs? If, after a person dies, physicians use various parts of that person’s organs to give life or functionality to a dozen people, how can God get all the right parts together in the resurrection? Once again, the God who gave us bodies in the beginning is surely capable of restoring our bodies in the resurrection.

Understanding that Luke has an apologetic purpose here (to establish that Jesus has been raised from the dead with a physical body), we might be inclined to doubt the truth of this story. Perhaps Luke has just fabricated the story to make Jesus’ resurrection believable. However, the story is credible because of the changed lives of these disciples. Before this appearance, they were defeated and afraid. After this appearance, they will find courage to preach publicly on a street corner in Jerusalem at Pentecost—to bring thousands of Jews into the Christian faith in a very public baptism (Acts 2). They will go on to change the world.

We should also note that, while Jesus’ resurrected body is a physical body, it is apparently different from his pre-resurrection body. He makes surprising appearances from out of nowhere (v. 36). In John’s Gospel, he enters a room without regard for a locked door (John 20:19). The Emmaus disciples did not recognize him for the longest time, and the gathered disciples require reassurance that he is not a ghost.

Paul talks about the resurrected body in 1 Corinthians 15:35-57, contrasting the physical body and the spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). In that passage, Paul emphasizes the differences between our original bodies and the bodies that we will obtain after our resurrection. In our Gospel story, however, Luke emphasizes the similarity between Jesus’ original body and his post-resurrection body (Stein, 618).

The disciples respond to Jesus with joy, disbelief, and wonderment (v. 41). Jesus’ sudden appearance overloads their ability to process what is happening. A lifetime’s experience tells them that death is the end, but Jesus’ sudden presence tells them otherwise. We should not be surprised that they are befuddled. Just imagine how you would respond if you were to bury a loved one only to find that person standing in your midst again, fully alive, a few days later. Joy, disbelief, wonder! Yes! Confusion! Absolutely!


44He said to them, “This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me must be (Greek: dei—it is necessary—a divine necessity) fulfilled.”

45Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. 46He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, (Greek: ethne) beginning at Jerusalem.

48You are witnesses (Greek: martures—from marturia—from which we get our word “martyr”) of these things.

“This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me must be (dei) fulfilled” (v. 44). Jesus first demonstrated the physical reality of his resurrected by body by inviting the disciples to look at him and to touch him and also by eating food in their presence. We have the sense that they watch in stunned silence. Now Jesus takes the next step in the revelatory process, first reminding the disciples of what he said to them earlier—and then helping them to understand the scriptures—scriptures that speak of the Messiah suffering and rising from the dead on the third day (v. 46)—scriptures that speak of “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (v. 47).

Luke does not specify which of the earlier words of Jesus he now brings to the disciples attention, but they must surely include his passion predictions (9:22; 18:31-33). Both of these predict his suffering and death at the hands of the Jewish leaders as well as his resurrection on the third day. 18:31 specifies that this will happen in Jerusalem and that it is in accord with the writings of the prophets.

Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures” (v. 45). Neither does Luke specify which scriptures Jesus opens their minds to understand. There is no single Old Testament scripture that incorporates all the three major themes of vv. 46-47—three themes that will form the core of the church’s kerygma: (1) the suffering and death of the Messiah, (2) his resurrection on the third day, and (3) the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness to all nations. There are, however, a number of Old Testament scriptures that address particular elements. Luke alludes to or quotes a number of these in Luke-Acts (see Bock, 387-389 and Evans, 358-360):

• Isaiah 53:7-8 says, “He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he didn’t open his mouth. He was taken away by oppression and judgment; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken for the disobedience of my people?” Luke tells us that it was these verses that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading. Philip will use these verses to proclaim the good news about Jesus to him (Acts 8:32-35).

• Psalm 16:10 says, “For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, neither will you allow your holy one to see corruption.” Peter will allude to this verse in Acts 2:27 and Paul will allude to it in Acts 13:35 (in both cases recorded by Luke).

• Hosea 6:2 says, “After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him.” This may be the verse to which Jesus refers in Luke 24:46.

• In Luke 11:29-32, Jesus referred to the sign of Jonah. In Matthew’s version Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

• Isaiah 49:6 says “I will also give you for a light to the nations, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.” Luke alludes to this verse in Luke 2:32; Acts 1:8; 13:47.

• Joel 2:32 says, “It will happen that whoever will call on the name of Yahweh shall be saved,” which Peter (recorded by Luke) quotes in Acts 2:21.

• Other Old Testament scriptures that Jesus might have used to open the disciples’ minds include Psalms 22; 31:5; 69; 110:1; 118:22-26 and Isaiah 11:10.

“repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his (the Messiah’s) name” (v. 47a). While this is not in the imperative mood (Jesus does not say, “You shall proclaim”) it nevertheless constitutes Jesus’ mission statement for the disciples. They are to proclaim two things—repentance and forgiveness of sins. They are to do so in the name of the Messiah, who is the one who makes forgiveness possible.

“to all the nations, (ethne) beginning at Jerusalem” (v. 47b). The disciples are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness “to all nations” (eis panta ta ethne). The word ethne can mean nations or Gentiles, and these words suggest an opening of the door to Gentile Christians. Luke will spell out in the Acts of the Apostles how the disciples come to grips with understanding the Jewish Messiah to be everyone’s Messiah (see especially Acts 10).

This proclamation is to begin from Jerusalem, but it will not be limited to Jerusalem. The disciples are to be Jesus’ witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8—also written by Luke). Prior to Jesus, the Jews had assumed a centripetal model, with the world being drawn toward a central point, Jerusalem. After Jesus, the model reverses, spinning outward from Jerusalem.

In Mark and Matthew Jesus issues even more explicit commissioning statements. Whereas Luke emphasizes repentance and forgiveness of sins (v. 47), Mark emphasizes preaching the Gospel (Mark 16:15) and Matthew emphasizes making disciples and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20a).

The initial proclamation will take place on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem with Peter’s sermon (Acts 2), which will emphasize the three great themes of vv. 46-47:

• The suffering and death of the Messiah (Acts 2:23, 36)

• His resurrection on the third day (Acts 2:24, 31-36)

• The proclamation of repentance and forgiveness to all nations (Acts 2:17, 21, 38-39).

“You are witnesses (martures—from marturia—this is where we get our word “martyr”) of these things” (v. 48). A witness was a person who had seen something and could testify to the facts of the case. That was the case with these disciples, who had seen Jesus with their own eyes. They could testify to having seen Jesus after his resurrection (vv. 36-49). They could also testify to seeing him ascend into heaven (vv. 50-53).

Now these disciples will testify to what they have seen, and some will be killed as a consequence. They were “to tell the story. To tell it not as hearsay, but as of their own knowledge (I John 1:1). And to tell it at cost. There was no other plan” (Scherer, 433).

There still is no other plan. We have not seen the risen Christ with our own eyes, but we have experienced him in our lives. Our responsibility is to tell the story as we have experienced it, and to do so at cost if need be.

Over time, fewer and fewer Christians would have seen the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes. However, they would tell the story—and tell it at cost, often at the cost of their own lives. As a result, this word martys would come to mean martyr—those who were killed because of their Christian witness.


49Behold, I send forth the promise of my Father on you. But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50He led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51It happened, while he blessed them, that he withdrew from them, and was carried up into heaven.

52They worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

These verses are not included in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) reading, presumably because the RCL deals with verses 44-53 for Ascension, Years ABC. However, the preacher will do well to be familiar with them.

The failure of the lectionary to include verse 49 in this reading seems particularly puzzling. In that verse, Jesus is still with the disciples in Jerusalem and gives them their orders. They are to remain in Jerusalem until they have received “the promise of my Father”—until they “are clothed with power from on high”—until they have received the Holy Spirit.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan