Holistic Bible Scholarship provides insight into the text but also creates difficulty in explaining what one finds. This post takes a look at the Risen Christ in the Gospel according to Luke and John through the Jewish worldview lens of the second temple period when Jesus preached and the Gospels were written.
All literary forms include assumptions about the audience in terms of “what everybody knows”, in terms of worldviews. What do those worldviews add to our understanding of the resurrected Christ? That’s what this post is about.
My personal faith includes the belief that that scripture, prayer, and the agency of the Holy Spirit reveal things in scripture (and elsewhere) meant for me that are beyond this type of analysis, a notion sometimes called lectio divina. This post is about analytical conclusions reached from the text and period literature, not about truths revealed by the Holy Spirit.
I’ve chosen Luke 24:1-53 and John 20:1-21:25 because they have similarities, and differences, with other divine encounters found throughout the Biblical corpus and other second temple period literature. This means that these narratives are not one-of events like those dreadful words that only appear once in all that has come down to us known as hapax legomena. That multiplicity allows comparative analysis and better understanding of the texts and the likely intended meanings of the authors thereof.
All of these quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRS or NRSV):
NRS – New Revised Standard Version Bible. Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. When quotations from the [N]RSV text are used in non-saleable media, such as church bulletins, orders of service, posters, transparencies, or similar media, the initials ([N]RSV) ought to be used at the end of each quotation. BibleWorks includes the various NRSV OT Apocryphal- Deutero-Canonical books.
- The risen Christ is not an Angel because he eats food (Luke 24:42-45, John 21:12, Tobit 12:19 – et al.)
- The risen Christ is not a Ghost because he has flesh and bones. (Luke 24:39, John 20:24)
- Luke (24:15-34) and John (20:14-16, 21:4-8) (italics below) write of encounters with the Risen Christ in a manner similar to encounters with the Divine, including God – let’s be frank – including Yahweh, in Old Testament stories of Abraham, Samson, and others (cf. Genesis 18:1-14, Genesis 32:24-30, Exodus 3:2-4, Judges 6:12-15, Judges 13:15-22, et cetera).
- The reader is given the true identity of the Divine element.
- The characters are in some sort of brain fog not understanding their encounter until the fog lifts and they realize that the Divine is with them.
- They are surprised, but not flabbergasted.
- Luke directly compares the coming of the Holy Spirit to the restoration of mankind after eating the forbidden fruit. (Luke 24:49)
- “Clothed in power” refers to contemporary Biblical interpretation (Midrash) which held that Adam and Eve were clothed in God’s glory prior to consuming the forbidden fruit.
- In Genesis 2:25, we read “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:25 NRS) yet in Genesis 3:7 we read “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen. 3:7 NRS).
- The Midrashim struggled with this because God would not have called a naked creation “good” – (Genesis 1:31) if nakedness was indeed shameful. Since everyone knew that nakedness was indeed shameful, Adam and Eve (actually Adam and Chavvah Genesis 3:20 – long story here) must have been clothed in the Glory of God, said the Midrashim.
- This passage in Luke alludes to the restoration of that state of grace, in my opinion.
- The Gospel according to Luke ends (Luke 24:52-53) with people worshiping Jesus and worshiping Yahweh in the Temple in Jerusalem. For monotheism to prevail, because Jewish people did not worship angels, Yahweh and Jesus must have been viewed as equivalent.
- In the Gospel of John, John 20:18, Jesus states that He is ascending to “Your god and My God”, and in John 20:28, Thomas directly states that Jesus is God (Yahweh), and Jesus does not correct him. Perhaps equivalent, but certainly not the same.
- The Gospel of Luke (24:49) reports Jesus sending the Holy Spirit as promised by the Father. The Gospel of John has Jesus directly breathing the Holy Spirit as a gift upon his disciples (John 20:22). The Gospel of John is therefore a primary source for the controversial filioque clause in the creed – that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son rather than just the Father. This is important because the some trinitarian doctrine holds that father, son, and spirit are distinct yet one, distinct yet co-equal – both spirit and son proceeding exclusively from the father.
- The Gospel of John was written after the death of St. Peter (John 21:19 indicates that the author knew the manner of Peter’s death).
- The Gospel of Luke was written before the fall of the Temple in AD 70, or excluded any mention of those events (Luke 24:53 includes worship in the Temple).
What are Angels like?
A really helpful work on how God and Angelic encounters are recorded in the Old Testament is found in James Kugel’s The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times. For the purposes of brevity and this post, a couple of examples including the much neglected Book of Tobit, ca 175 BCE, will have to do.
Judges Chapter 6 (Gideon)
11 Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior.”
13 Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.”
14 Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.”
- Note well that the text has shifted from an Angel of Yahweh (verse 11) to Yahweh himself (verse 14). As usual, English translations of Hebrew Scripture use LORD where the underlying text is YHWH. Note the shift back and forth in the story.
15 He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
16 The LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”
17 Then he said to him, “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.”
19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them.
20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight.
22 Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the LORD; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord GOD! For I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”
23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.”
- Seeing YHWH face to face was held to be fatal (“But,” he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ [Exodus 33:20 NRS; YHWH is speaking to Moses at Sinai.]
(Judges. 6:11-23 NRS)
Judges Chapter 13 (Samson’s birth predicted)
2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5 for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
6 Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7 but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'”
8 Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, “O, LORD, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.” 9 God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her.
10 So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” 11 Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.”
12 Then Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s rule of life; what is he to do?”
13 The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. 14 She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.”
15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.”
16 The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) 17 Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?”
- Manoah and his wife are still in a fog – they don’t know that an Angel of the LORD is with them.
- Angels DO NOT EAT OR DRINK.
18 But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.”
- Side note: Compare with Jacob’s encounter at Peni-el (Facing God or the face of God: 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” (Gen. 32:29-30 NRS)
19 So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. 20 When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground.
21 The angel of the LORD did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”
- The fog lifts. Seeing an Angel is equated with seeing the face of Yahweh and is therefore potentially lethal.
(Judges 13:2-23 NRS)
Tobit states what everyone at the time knew: Angels don’t do anything that is not God’s will (Tobit 12:18), and don’t eat or drink (Tobit 12:19).
15 I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord.”
16 The two of them were shaken; they fell face down, for they were afraid.
17 But he said to them, “Do not be afraid; peace be with you. Bless God forevermore. 18 As for me, when I was with you, I was not acting on my own will, but by the will of God. Bless him each and every day; sing his praises. 19 Although you were watching me, I really did not eat or drink anything– but what you saw was a vision. 20 So now get up from the ground, and acknowledge God. See, I am ascending to him who sent me. Write down all these things that have happened to you.” And he ascended.
21 Then they stood up, and could see him no more. 22 They kept blessing God and singing his praises, and they acknowledged God for these marvelous deeds of his, when an angel of God had appeared to them. (Tobit 12:15-22 NRS)
The Gospel According to Luke
NRS Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
- Note the elements mentioned above. We know it’s Jesus, they don’t. They are in some sort of fog.
18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”
- Note that they are surprised but not flabbergasted. It’s as though this is a common occurrence.
35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
- The refutation of the Ghost notion is direct. We should assume that some sort of proof was required to disabuse the reader of the notion that Jesus was a ghostly spiritual form.
44 Then he said to them, “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, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
- See my notes above. In second temple period thinking, this restores the Glory of God that was lost in the “fall of man”.
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
- Note here the similarity to Tobit 12:20-22 & Judges 13:20.
52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:1-53 NRS)
- Does this tie to Matthew 1:23 – Emmanuel meaning God is with us? Also note that the Temple is still standing indicating that the text is written before AD 70 or is about things before AD 70. We believe that the crucifixion was ca AD 33 by the way.
The Gospel according to John
NRS John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
- Again, note the classic fog. Mary thinks that Jesus is the gardener.
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
- Mary is surprised but not shocked.
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.‘”
- What is Jesus saying here? Is this a trinitarian statement or is Jesus saying that he is not “God”?
18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
- Filioque clause on display here … the Holy Spirit … qui ex Patre ⟨Filioque⟩ procedit – who proceeds from the Father (and the son) …
23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
- Possible argument that Peter alone was not given the keys to forgive sins.
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
- Again, Jesus makes the argument that He is no ghost. An angel, on the other hand, could create this type of vision. The truly eating notion is important.
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
- Thomas is the only person in the Gospels to come out and directly say that Jesus is Yahweh.
29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
- This is the only direct assertion that Lord and Yahweh are one in the same. Paul will use Lord to most likely mean Yahweh. This is straightforward given what Thomas has just said.
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
NRS John 21:1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
- Fog – we know that it’s Jesus, they do not. When the miracle occurs, they figure it out.
7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
- Note again the shame of nakedness.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
- Jesus is different but how?
14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
- Jesus asks for Agape love. Peter gives Philo love. Unconditional verses brotherly, e.g., Philo-Sophia = Philosophy = Love of Wisdom.
16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
- Jesus asks for Agape love. Peter gives Philo love. Unconditional verses brotherly.
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said tohim the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
- Jesus asks for Philo love and Peter complies. Jesus has settled for less than he wants.
18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
- John’s parenthetical remark tells us that Peter has already died when this was written.
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”
21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
23 So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 20:1-21:25 NRS)
That’s about it. What do you think? That’s what Bible Scholarship is about, you know, thinking.