Forty Days' Sojourn, and Ascension.
Luke testifies that Jesus showed himself alive after his sufferings "by many infallible proofs" (Acts i., 3) -- proofs not open to cavil or question. Of this character were the incidents described in our last chapter. They included every kind of circumstance by which living men are known to one another. Seeing and hearing and feeling were all enlisted in the demonstration, and that too on the part of many different persons in different transactions. Had the case rested on the testimony of the women who visited the sepulchre alone, or on the testimony of Peter alone, or on the testimony of the two who journeyed to Emmaus alone, or even on the eleven alone, it would not have stood on the solid foundation on which it was placed by separate interviews with separately grouped persons in various places. The case in fact is impregnable. It can only be impugned by doubting the veracity of the record; and this cannot successfully be done in harmony with the facts. All the rules of evidence go to establish the apostolic narratives as those of capable and honest witnesses: honesty doubly guaranteed by the nature of their enterprise, and its personal consequences to themselves: capability self-manifest in writings which are inimitable for their combination of power with grace, and lucidity with simplicity of diction.
The "proofs" would have been "infallible proofs" had they been limited to one day. The incidents already described all belong to one day: but there were other incidents of the same character afterwards, spreading over a period of forty days. The last interview of Christ with his disciples did not take place till the sixth week after his resurrection; and during the interval, there were various appearances, terminating in a formal leavetaking, which definitely closed the resurrection episode. How many times Jesus appeared to them in the interim is not recorded. There are hints at more than are described. One or two are fully detailed in addition to those of the first day. It was seven days before he showed himself again.
During the interval, a very remarkable and valuable circumstance appears. One of the apostles (Thomas, called Didymus) stood out against all conviction on the subject of Christ's resurrection. He had not been present on the evening of the resurrection day when Jesus showed himself to the assembled company, and when, afterwards, he heard the report of the event, he would not believe. He said that nothing but the evidence of his own senses would convince him "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (Jno. xx. 25). It was a happy circumstance for the faith of subsequent generations that one of the very apostles should have been allowed to take such an attitude. His absence from the first interview can scarcely have been an accident, in view of its providential value. The ardent faith that succeeded to such determined unbelief must have been the result of strong evidence, which we accordingly see. For at the end of the seven days, the disciples being again assembled within closed doors because of the public hostility, Jesus again presented himself among them. On this occasion, there was none of the surprise or trepidation that agitated the disciples on the first interview. Seven days' reflection on what happened then had enabled them to settle to the calm and joyful conviction that "the Lord had risen indeed." They now received him with the pure delight that belongs to the intercourse of enlightened, cordial, living friendship. To Thomas Didymus, the doubter only, was the occurrence the cause of some painful excitement, but it was soon at an end. Jesus greeted the company with a salutation of peace, and then directed his attention specially to Thomas: "Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands: and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless but believing" (Jno. xx. 27). What could Thomas do but make a humble and joyful surrender: "My Lord and my God?"
"Many other signs did Jesus in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book." So testifies John, and so we instinctively feel it must have been, during a period so protracted as six weeks. We are only told as much as is needful for faith: and for this purpose we have enough. There are hints at some things of which particulars are not supplied. We are told that "many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many" (Matt. xxvii. 52, 53). The statement occurs in connection with the description of the crucifixion, and the first impression it makes on the mind is that it occurred at the same time that terrible day when "the earth did quake and the rocks rent." But reading again, it appears that only the opening of the graves happened in connection with the earthquake. the vivifying of the bodies thus exposed and ready for liberty, did not take place till the morning that saw the Lord himself "arise triumphant from the tomb." There is something fitting in the idea that the effluence of life-power, employed in restoring the Lord to life, should extend its healing effects to the Lord's recently-interred friends. We may infer they were recently interred from the circumstance of their entering Jerusalem and "appearing unto many." Strangers would not have been recognised Did they die again? or did they survive in the Elias and Enoch state? The question has been asked. It cannot be answered. There is no information. It matters nothing. The circumstance of their return to life at the Lord's resurrection is interesting: and no doubt it would greatly tend to establish that faith in the event which all the opposition and unbelief of the enemy was not able to eradicate.
There is a reference by Paul (1 Cor. xv. 6) to an appearance of Christ to a large company of disciples simultaneously. "After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present (the time of Paul's writing) but some are fallen asleep." From the place Paul gives to this occurrence in the enumeration of the witnesses to Christ's resurrection, it must have happened during the first week after that event, but where, or under what circumstances, is not recorded. It was a matter evidently well known among the believers of the first century. Paul would hear of it from Peter during the fortnight he spent with Peter at Jerusalem, after-his own enlightenment (Gal. i. 18). It would be a thoroughly authenticated circumstance, since the majority of the 500 were still living when Paul wrote. It would be interesting to know the particulars, but it could not add to the strength of the "infallible proofs."
Paul refers (1 Cor. xv. 7) to an interview of Christ with James, of which we have no other record. John gives particulars of a very interesting meeting with Christ on the part of seven of his disciples whose names are given (Jno. xxi. 2). The meeting took place in Galilee by the lake or sea (as it is called in the New Testament) in whose neighbourhood Jesus performed so many of his works while in the flesh. The disciples had returned from Jerusalem to their own homes, and having as yet received no final directions concerning their future operations, they proposed to occupy the time at their business as fishermen on the lake. "I go a fishing," said Peter. Some have suggested that he did so in a spirit of indifference or faithlessness, under the feeling that the whole case of Christ was enveloped in fog and perplexity. There is no evidence in support of this view at all. The evidence is rather the other way. Jesus had appeared to Peter on the day of his resurrection, besides his meeting again with him and the others in the evening, and once again within seven days. It is contrary to common sense to suppose that in the course of a few days, after such experiences, he could so lose heart as to propose to throw up his apostleship, and go back to business. It is more natural to believe that he knew a little time must elapse before anything definite could be done in execution of the work in which Jesus had told them they were to be employed; and that it would be the best way of filling up the time to return to Galilee, the more especially as Jesus had said he would see them there (Matt. xxviii, 10). He had in fact told them to "go into Galilee," and it is the reverse of unnatural to find them here. He had not yet told them to "tarry at Jerusalem," -- a direction he gave them at his final interview.
On the lake, then, we find them fishing, and fishing in vain a whole night -- probably by Christ's own arrangement, that he might find effective opportunity of introducing himself to them. In the morning, as they are nearing the shore, a friendly voice from the shingle enquires if they had got anything. They see the speaker, but know not who he is. They answer, "No." He advises them to let out the net just where they are on the right side of the ship, assuring them there is fish to be had there. There was something in the voice that constrains them to comply. They let down the net, and instantly they have a haul that they cannot deal with -- the fish so large and so numerous. The exact number is given -- 153. John eyes their friend on the shore; he recalls a similar circumstance some years before. Quickly as a woman's intuition, he jumps to the conclusion that it is Christ. He whispers his conviction to Peter: "It is the Lord." Peter does not wait another moment. With the ardour of discipleship, which was always manifest, he hastily puts on his fisherman's coat, of which he had probably divested himself to deal with the extraordinary haul of fish (or possibly the warmth of the morning had led him to sit without it -- in a not absolutely nude, but comparatively unclothed state); and getting over the boat's side into the water, he swam or waded to the land, a distance of about 100 yards, to where Christ was. The others took time to pull to shore, dragging the fish-laden net after them. They would wonder why Peter was in such a hurry to land. When they got to land they found a coal-fire burning on the shingle, near to Christ, with fish and bread cooking. Who lit the fire, who got ready the meal, there is no hint; but with such a host, there need be no questions. The disciples appear to have stood for a moment uncertain what to do -- momentarily embarrassed between their deference to the interesting friend standing before them, whose identity had not been declared; and the necessity for dealing with the fish, which were struggling in the net-meshes in the water. Their friend ended their embarrassment by proposing they should "bring of the fish they had now caught." Peter at once goes to work and hauls the net ashore with its living, gleaming, leaping mass. This done, Jesus invites them to sit down and partake of the meal he had provided -- a proposal which very likely was a welcome one, after a toilsome night on the water. They accepted the invitation and sat down. No one dared as yet to ask the host who he was Though nothing had been said, they "knew it was the Lord," and were awed in his presence. He put them at their ease by handing round the cooked fish and bread, and probably eating with them. When they had eaten enough, a most interesting passage ensued between him and Peter, the beauty and force of which is usually lost by a false application. Peter had said. "Lord, I am ready to go with thee into prison and to death." "Though all shall be offended yet will not I. Though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise." This was equivalent to saying he loved him more than the other disciples did. We know he three times denied that he had any connection with him. This had been forgiven; but Jesus now proceeded to take a sweet revenge -- sweet and complete -- complete in its humiliating reminiscence and numerical correspondence, and sweet in humbling without hurting, and effecting its end in love's declaration. Fixing his eyes on Peter, he said, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" Peter could only say, probably with some degree of abashment, in remembrance of his boast and his failure, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee" (nothing about "more than the others," now). Jesus did not upbraid him as he might have done. He did not say, "Why then denied ye me?" He did not go back upon the past. There is never any advantage in that, though it is so common. He gave it a future application: (this is the part of wisdom, always) -- "Feed my lambs" -- as much as to say, "Let your love, which failed you in my own case, be shown in what you will have to do for my people." Doubtless Peter's heart would rise in loyal gladness at such a charge. But he was not to be let off so lightly. The reproof was gentle, but it was made weighty by repetition, and by its appendix. "He saith unto him a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time (after a pause, doubtless), Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" Peter was now greatly embarrassed. We may just know how he would feel. It says he was "grieved" that Jesus should put the question a third time. Under any circumstances, the repetition of the same question three times would put any person to shame, but under such circumstances, -- a triple denial of the Lord so recent and after such confident boast of loyalty -- it was like getting the finger on to a sore place and rubbing it. It was concentrating attention on the one terribly weak spot which Peter would gladly have hidden. It was all very fitting, very beautiful, very just. Peter met the ordeal in the only way possible to honest affection: "Lord thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." Jesus responds again with the command to show his love in the feeding of the sheep; and closes the episode by "signifying by what death he should glorify God" (Jno. xxi. 19).
After this, they all appear to have had a walk together, during which Peter made bold to ask what would happen to John; but Jesus closed the door against curiosity by an ambiguous remark which gave rise to the mistaken idea that John would not die (verse 23). How and where the walk terminated, we are not imformed by John; but it is probable that it was connected with what Matthew records, that the eleven having come into Galilee, went to "a mountain where Jesus had appointed them." The mountain might be pointed out during this walk by the Sea of Galilee, and a day fixed for the whole eleven to be there (four of their number were lacking on this occasion). Be that as it may, they separated and met again by appointment, the whole eleven being there. "When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted." It might be the previously absent four that doubted. Their doubt was not unnatural in their only partial illumination and consequent inability to understand as yet all that had happened. The record of their doubt is a weighty fact. It is a proof of the veracity of the record, forwhyshould the fact of some having doubted be recorded except that it was true? and being true, what explanation is there of the fact that the doubt afterwards disappeared except that the after occurrences were of a character to dispel all doubt? which they truly were when we consider their nature "Jesus came to them and spake to them, saying, all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age" (aiwn). On another occasion, he said, "Go ye unto all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned." He also indicated the miracles that would accompany and confirm their preaching.
Towards the end of the forty days the Lord remained on the earth after his resurrection, the disciples were again in Jerusalem, and Jesus came to them for the last time. The fact only is stated, without personal particulars. From what is stated, it is evident that much conversation passed between them on this occasion: "Being assembled together with them, he commanded that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me (referring to the promise he had given to them at the table that he would send the Holy Spirit), for John truly baptised with water, but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit, not many days hence" (Acts i. 4).
This allusion to something so imminent -- the effusion of Divine power, "not many days hence," seems to have revived their idea that "the kingdom was about to appear." At all events, it led to the expression of it on this occasion. Jesus had uttered the Jericho parable to counteract this idea (Luke xix. 11), and it probably received somewhat of a quietus from that parable, but naturally came to life again with the restoration of his personal presence among them, and his reference to a descent of power "not many days hence." They asked him, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom again to Israel?" He did not rebuke this idea, except on the question of time. "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power." The kingdom would certainly be restored to Israel, as had been abundantly promised; but the time had not come. The impending descent of the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with that, but with the work which they had to do as his witnesses; "ye shall receive power after that the holy spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth" (Acts i. 8).
For this, he said, the), were to wait; they were not to begin till the Holy Spirit came, and qualified them for an effective testimony. What an indication this circumstance affords of the true and divine character of all these transactions. If Jesus and the disciples had been the subject of a phantasy (as unbelievers are so prone to suggest), there could have been no reason for the disciples waiting at Jerusalem before beginning their testimony to his resurrection. As a matter of fact, they did wait; and as a matter of fact, they began their testimony at the end of the waiting; and as a matter of fact, the reason given for the waiting, and for then waiting no longer, was the most powerful that could be imagined; viz., that the co-operation of the power of God with their testimony in the performance of wonderful works, might produce conviction. Had they begun to proclaim Christ risen, without "the Lord working with them, confirming their words with signs following" (Mark xvi. 20), it is certain that their words would have produced no effect. But their words produced great and instantaneous effect; for 3000 believers were added to the apostles on the very first day (Acts ii. 41); and as Jesus had said in the words above quoted, the apostles became his witnesses to "the uttermost parts of the earth;" and in the uttermost parts of the earth to this day his name is established. Let any reasonable man ask himself what it was that enabled the apostles to produce an effect which could not have attended their unsupported words, and he must find himself compelled to rccognise the record of Acts ii. (coinciding with the previous promise of Christ), as the only admissible or possible explanation: the bestowal of miraculous power, by the effusion of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had told the disciples that he would have to leave them and "go to the Father." The moment had now arrived for an event of which they had not comprehended the import. It was to be done openly in their presence, so that no misapprehension might rest on the cause of his disappearance from the earth. How much unbelieving scorn has to say we know; but what would it not have said had the Lord simply ceased to be seen any more after a certain day, without any open leave-taking? The meeting they had just had was preliminary to the final parting. Where the meeting took place is not stated, but it appears to have been in Jerusalem. At its close "he led them out as far as to Bethany," on the summit of the Mount of Olives. On the way thither, they talked as they walked, until, arriving at a certain spot, they came to a halt. The disciples gathered round the Lord. A few more words of kindness were his last. Then he lifted up his hands in the attitude of benediction. While in this posture, he slowly rose from the earth. Ascending, their eyes followed him. Presently "a cloud received him out of their sight." Still they looked. They intently watched the cloud that concealed his form. They might have remained watching a long time, but "while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel, which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why st nd ye gazing up into heaven? 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" (Acts i. 10).
We need not trouble our minds with the question of where he went to, or the time he would occupy in traversing the ether fields on his way to the Throne of Eternal Light and Life (see remarks in chapter Iv.) Suffice it that he left the earth for a season. Since that day he has been no more seen upon the earth. A year or two afterwards, he showed himself by vision from heaven to Saul of Tarsus, turning him from a rabid persecutor to a devoted apostle (Acts xxvi. 13 19; 2 Cot. ix. 1; xv. 8), and close on sixty years further on, he sent his angel to John in Patmos, to communicate a revelation of the events among men that should fill up the interval of his absence from the earth, and indicate the epoch of his promised return, to restore again the Kingdom of Israel, and take possession of all the kingdoms of the world (Rev. i. 1). As yet the days are current of which he spoke when on earth: "The days will come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man and shall not see it" (Luke xvii. 22), but the signs which he said should precede his second appearing are all too distinctly visible in human affairs everywhere to leave any doubt that the time for that blessed event is nigh, even at the door. Among his last words by John in Patmos are these: "Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me, go give to every man according as his work shall be.... He that testified these things saith, Surely come quickly. Amen. Even so: come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. xxii. 12, 20).
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