The first thing I knew was that the pain which had racked me the last few hours was suddenly ended. But I could still see the world which I had left. I was amazed to find I could zoom in on whatever I wanted to see. My first concern was for the two criminals still groaning in agony on their crosses. Then I noticed my dead body still hanging between them. What an awful sight!
The Father proudly welcomed me home. "It's nice to have you back among us." And the Spirit pointed out the resurrection body he had given me (Romans 8:11). "You are still perfectly recognizable, and you have the equivalent of your human limbs and bodily senses, but now they are freed from any earthly limitations." I could see he was quite pleased with the body he had created, and I had to agreed that the sense of total freedom was out of this world.
I thought of my mother Maria, and there she was safely with my apostle John's family (John 19:25-27). She had great faith, and I knew she was going to be all right. And each one of my closest disciples was busy making last minute preparations for Passover. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, bless them, had taken my body down, covered it with sweet-smelling spices, wrapped it in a cotton shroud, and laid me reverently in Joseph's brand new rock tomb (John 19:38-42).
The first gift my Father gave me was the metaphorical keys (Revelation 1:18) to open up sheol (Hades, the abode of the dead). Abraham and Moses and Elijah led the way out, we greeted them warmly (Ephesians 4:9-10). . Some were reluctant to leave their quiet resting place and accept their freedom, so I had to announce the good news to them (1 Peter 3:18-19). Eventually sheol was emptied and dismantled. Sadly there were some who refused to join us, and they moved out into the outer darkness (John 3:19-20) away from our light and love and joy.
I thought of going right back to appear to each of my disciples to assure them all was well. But the Spirit said I had told them I would be raised three days after my crucifixion (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19). So the Father decided we would make the first day of the week as my special day for meeting with my disciples.
We appreciated that Joseph of Armathea had kindly given his newly cut tomb for my old body to rest. But we didn't want it to become a place of pilgrimage. Localizing us in one place is a terrible hindrance to enjoying the love of God (Exodus 20:4-6, 1 Corinthians 10:14). Nor did we want my earthly body to be venerated with all the superstitions that would encourage. So I was charged with disposing of my own body any way I chose early that Sunday morning. Just one thought disintegrated it. But I carefully left the grave clothes to drop from the corpse. That would prove there was no point in looking for my body elsewhere. As an added touch I neatly folded the towel they had wrapped around my head (John 20:5-7).
The poor soldiers on guard (Matthew 27:62-66) felt the earthquake, and saw the angel I had sent to roll back the huge stone that had sealed the tomb. He actually sat triumphantly on the tomb till they ran off totally terrified (Matthew 28:2-4).
I sent another two angels (Greek angeloi meaning 'messengers') inside the tomb to greet the women when they arrived (Luke 24:2-5). The one on the right said "Do not be alarmed; for you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look there is the place where they laid him" (Mark 16:3-6).
Mary Magdalene and the other women ran to call the apostles, and John and Peter raced to see what had happened. John arrived first, but it was Peter who walked right into the rock tomb (John 20:2-6). He went away confused and mystified. Then John had the courage to go into the tomb and look carefully, and he believed I must be around.
Mary Magdalene was still crying her eyes out, and I couldn't resist walking up behind her. My very first words to any human after my resurrection were "Lady, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?" At first she thought I was the cemetery gardener, but when I called her by her name "Mary" she answered with her pet name for me, "Rabbouni" (Aramaic for 'my Lord' but also 'my Teacher'). She wanted to hug me (John 20:17), but the Father and I had decided that the contact between us and people still on earth should be primarily of a spiritual nature (2 Corinthians 5:16). She understood I wasn't keeping her at arm's length, and joyfully rushed off to tell the disciples "I have seen the Lord" (John 20:11-18).
I knew that the disciples would find it hard to come to terms with my resurrection body. So I joined two of them who were walking that same Sunday afternoon (Luke 24:13) towards the village of Emmaus. They were discussing what had happened earlier that morning, but they were unable to recognize who I was. I asked them what they were discussing, and they told me about the enormity of my crucifixion three days ago, and the strange news the women had brought of the empty tomb. I suggested they should have known this had to happen (Luke 24:13-27). As we approached the village, I walked on, but they insisted I come and eat with them. And it was only when I gave my characteristic blessing and broke the bread that they recognized me (Luke 24:28-31).
I also met with Simon Peter (Luke 24:34), though he was still very sore about having failed me in the Garden of Gethsemane and denied he ever knew me. By the time the two disciples arrived back from Emmaus, and told their story, the whole group of apostles had gathered. I came to join them with the greeting "Peace be with you" (Luke 24:36). I let them see and touch my hands and feet to assure them I wasn't a ghost. And then I ate some fish with them (Luke 24:37-43). It didn't taste nearly as good as our Sea of Galilee fish, but it made clear to them that eating is still an important part of heaven.
As the Father, the Spirit, and I went over the events of that Sunday, we decided I would join my inner circle of disciples on five successive Sundays (see "Eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost"). The break of six days each week would get them used to the fact that I would not keep appearing in visible form (Acts 1:3). This pattern would also establish the idea that the normal family gathering of my followers would be on the first day of each week. That would be the day for them, whenever possible, to eat and drink with me as I had instructed them.
During that week I could see my disciples beginning to have doubts. Was it just a wonderful hallucination? How could a person leave his dead body and appear in such a different resurrection form? And Thomas, who was not with the others when I came to them the previous Sunday, maintained that "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).
On the second Sunday afternoon (John 20:26) they had gathered behind locked doors to discuss what they should do. Again I said "Peace be with you" as I stood among them. Thomas' faced dropped and his eyes were wide open as I said, "Put your finger here and see my hands." Then I made him put his hand into my side, where the spear had gone in. The wounds were still there but of course without any pain, only as marks of triumphant glory. He had always been doubting Thomas, but now he cried out "My Lord and my God!" and I could tell he would never doubt again. I will tell you later how he made two missionary journeys to India.
I had told the eleven that I would meet them in Galilee, and they had organized their families to leave the next morning. But the men decided to start the long walk north immediately that evening, leaving the women and children and older parents to follow more slowly. Walking half the night and all day, they arrived just in time for the sabbath in Capernaum. When they told their story in the synagogue, people were skeptical and asked when they would get back to work. So by the Saturday evening Peter was impatient to get back to fishing, and six of the others joined him. They kept pulling in the nets all night, and never caught a minnow (John 21:1-3).
For my third day of meeting with them (John 21:14) I decided to surprise them. So I cooked breakfast on a charcoal brazier just like the one Peter had warmed his hand on when he denied me. Then as they sailed in towards the shore empty-handed, I told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. The Holy Spirit moved a hundred and fifty-three very large fish into their net. They were too heavy to haul into the boat, so they dragged the net to shore. You can imagine their astonishment when they saw breakfast cooking, and I told them to fillet two of the fish and add them on the barbecue. Then I gave thanks for the bread and the fish just as I had done when we fed five thousand families (John 21:1-13).
Peter ate in gloomy silence, but finally he accepted the fact that I still loved him as much as ever, and I was able to recommission him for the leadership of our church (John 21:15-19).
I then made a rendez-vous to meet with my eleven disciples on the mountain above Magdala where I had often taught (Matthew 28:16). All morning I drilled them in what they were going to do in our mission throughout the world. They would continue baptizing (John 4:1) men and women to be disciples (Acts 5:14) as I had done. It was not to be a superstitious rite, but rather a means of enrolling those who wanted to be taught. Baptism would be in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as they had already been doing. Immediately after the baptism they should begin teaching about the love of God the Father, and his forgiveness and acceptance. They should explain about the power of the Holy Spirit to perfect the new disciples in love, and inspire and empower them in every situation of their new life. I would of course be with them as their Messiah and friend, and they could talk to me anytime (Matthew 28:18-19).
There was no need to check on the sincerity, commitment or performance of the new disciples before baptism. The Spirit is happy to take anyone in hand just as they are. That meant that baptism could be immediate, and they should not be concerned if large numbers dropped away, as in the parable of the Sower. They would remember the many disciples who turned away from me (John 6:66). But there would be sufficient good fruit for the Kingdom to do its work.
By the afternoon a group of women and children, who had by then made it slowly up from Jerusalem, came to join us, including of course Mary Magdalene. She had attended her synagogue in Magdala on the previous day, and told everyone about my appearances in Jerusalem.
Immediately after I told the eleven to go back to Jerusalem, and organize our first Messianic convention there on the first day of the week. Five hundred gathered for that fifth Sunday (1 Corinthians 15:6). It was a great occasion, and I was glad to see some of the apostles and other disciples effectively teaching those who had gathered. But I told them not to move out into their apostolic work until the Holy Spirit filled them to begin functioning as a church there (Acts 1:4-5).
By then my appearances were being talked about, not only among my disciples but also among the people of Jerusalem. My own brothers were however still skeptical, as they had been throughout my ministry on earth (John 7:5). By the seventh Sunday I could see that my older brother James' curiosity was beginning to overcome his prejudice. He was a devout believer in Jewish law and traditions. Early that morning he was reading the scrolls in the synagogue in Capernaum, and I came and stood by him (1 Corinthians 15:7). I said I wanted him on board to act as leader of our new Messianic synagogue (see Acts 6:9) in what would soon become a difficult situation in Jerusalem. He immediately agreed to go and join himself to them. I was glad he would be able to speak for the more traditional believers, keep the new ones from wild excitement, and give very solid teaching (see his Epistle of James).
I had now been meeting each Sunday with my disciples for forty days (Acts 1:3). And it was time to make clear that I would no longer appear among them in that way.. So on the fortieth day, which was a Thursday, I took them out to the Mount of Olives, and they saw me ascend into the clouds and disappear from view. They were used to me disappearing after I had been with them each Sunday, but this time I told them I would not be doing that again. The Father, the Spirit and I had decided that if I kept appearing here and there with my resurrection body, people would begin counting my sightings and drawing all sorts of wrong conclusions. So I sent the two angelic messengers, who had spoken to the women in the tomb, to reinforce the fact that I would be coming again and again to be present with them (Matthew 18:20), but no longer in the visible form of the past forty days (Acts 1:10,11).
That week the eleven seemed to get the idea that they were now responsible for the church that would form as soon as the Holy Spirit gave the signal to begin. So Peter met with about a hundred and twenty disciples (Acts 1:15) for a preparatory business meeting. And the first item on the agenda was to replace Judas. They needed a twelfth witness to the resurrection, and it had to be someone who had been present from the day when John had baptized me (Acts 1:21-23). That excluded Mary Magdalene who by then had already demonstrated tremendous spiritual leadership. And anyway since the main qualification was to be a witness to my life and death and resurrection, she would not qualify among Jews as a woman.
Finally they settled on two obvious male candidates, and they asked me to make the choice as they cast lots. I chose Matthias (Acts 1:24-26) without needing to give a reason. That way the other candidate did not feel outvoted. Not that there was going to be any financial advantage, or great honor, for these twelve men. They would face a huge amount of opposition and cross questioning, and it would end in martyrdom for most of them.
Chapter 15 .....