Final Preparations for Apostleship
When Jesus appeared to the disciples in the evening after His resurrection, at first they were startled and thought they were seeing a spirit. But Jesus reassured them and even proved to them that He was not a spirit (ghost). They could touch Him, and He could eat with them.
Once they were calm, He began to teach them why He had to be crucified and be raised on the third day. Luke 24:44, 45 says,
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
Jesus had told them earlier that He was to die and be raised on the third day. Yet as children of the blind Israelites (Deut. 29:4), they would not see until the prophecies were fulfilled. Under the Old Covenant, they could see the animal sacrifices but not how these prophesied of the true Lamb. They could read Isaiah 53, but not understand how it described the suffering of Christ. They could read Psalm 22 and 69 but could see only its application to King David. Their understanding was very limited.
But finally, when Jesus appeared to them, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Things that were hidden suddenly became a revelation to them. All that they had learned from the rabbis and priests since they were children was suddenly inadequate as New Covenant light and understanding was unveiled.
Luke 24:46, 47 continues,
46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
The New Covenant revelation of the Word, brought forth through the death and resurrection of Christ, became the foundational message that the disciples were to proclaim “to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem.” No doubt the disciples wondered how this gospel was to be spread to the world, since most of them had never traveled much beyond the border of their own country. They probably did not see how God would raise up persecution to drive them out into the nations.
Their lives were about to undergo a drastic change, but this was the purpose for which they had been trained. They were about to graduate from disciples to apostles, from trainees to ambassadors for Christ. They would be sent out, not only as messengers but as eyewitnesses of the cross and of His resurrection. Luke 24:48, 49 says,
48 “You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
We do not know if Jesus spoke these words in that first fellowship meeting or at a later meeting. Luke seems anxious to bring his letter to Theophilus to a conclusion, having reached the climax of the story. But we know that more meetings took place, for John speaks of them in the latter part of his gospel.
The Second Meeting
John 20:24-26 tells us,
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be with you.”
Thomas, then, had His encounter with Jesus “after eight days.” This was the Hebrew way to say that this meeting took place on the eighth day inclusive from the first encounter. John’s intent was to show us that this took place the following Sunday.
In this second encounter, John says, all eleven disciples were present, including Thomas. Jesus then imparted to them the Holy Spirit. John 20:22, 23 says,
22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
This meeting was not held on Pentecost, but yet Jesus imparted to them the Holy Spirit. This took place after the week of Unleavened Bread. Unleavened Bread had begun at Passover (Saturday, Abib 15) while Jesus was in the tomb. The seventh day of Unleavened Bread ended at sundown the next Friday, two days before Jesus’ second fellowship meeting. It seems that Jesus could not impart the Holy Spirit to them until the full end of the Passover season—that is, the week of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus then gave them authority in the divine court. The extent of this authority would be explained later when He appeared to more than five hundred people on the mountain in Galilee.
Such authority in the divine court would be misused by carnal minds, were it not for the fact that they had received the Holy Spirit. They were not called to render verdicts, but to be spokesmen for Christ Himself, who had been given authority to execute judgment (John 5:27). We are not called to render verdicts independently of Christ. We are called to put on the mind of Christ and to give voice to the verdicts that we hear Him render.
The problem with men’s justice is that verdicts are issued from their carnal minds. When men do not dispense justice according to the mind of Christ, they usurp His authority and change His rulings to suit their own understanding. Such people expect God to bear witness to their own will, rather than men bearing witness to God’s will.
Mark records Jesus’ instructions, including the Great Commission (Mark 16:15), but he does not tell us when Jesus spoke these words. Because his account is brief and does not distinguish between the various meetings, we are given the impression that all of this took place in that first meeting. Further, Mark 16:19 says,
19 So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
It is obvious from the other accounts that Jesus did not ascend immediately. The disciples had yet to meet Jesus in Galilee (Matt. 28:10) before returning to Jerusalem for Jesus’ ascension from the Mount of Olives. In Luke’s second book (The Acts of the Apostles) we learn that Jesus appeared to them on the fortieth day of the Pentecost cycle and ascended from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12). Meanwhile, after spending the week of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem, the disciples knew it was time to meet Jesus in Galilee, according to the word of the angels at the tomb.
The Third Meeting with the Disciples
From the wave sheaf offering (when Christ was raised) until the day of Pentecost was a period of seven weeks. The first week was spent in Jerusalem, and then the disciples returned to Galilee, as they had been instructed.
When the disciples went to Galilee, they understood that they were to meet Jesus at a specific location. Matt. 28:16 says,
16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.
No gospel writer gives any clue as to which mountain this was. Most likely, it was the same level hilltop on which He had spoken the Beatitudes. (See Book 2, Chapter 16.) Matt. 5:1 says it was a “mountain,” while Luke 6:17 says it was “a level place.” It was a level hilltop that could accommodate a large crowd of people.
We do not know when Jesus appeared to the crowd of five hundred, who had gathered on the designated hill to meet Jesus. That meeting is not dated in Scripture. But before that “mountain” meeting, Jesus appeared to some of the disciples in Galilee.
It seems that the old fishermen needed something to do while waiting for Jesus’ appearance, so they decided to go night fishing (John 21:3). They caught nothing all night. Then early in the morning Jesus called to them from shore, asking if they had caught any fish. No, they had not. Jesus then said, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch” (John 21:6). Then they brought in an abundance of fish.
John was the first to recognize Jesus, saying, “It is the Lord” (John 21:7). This was where Jesus told Peter to care for His lambs and sheep. John 21:14 then says,
14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
Jesus had already appeared twice to the disciples in Jerusalem. This was “the third time,” and it confirmed to the disciples that Jesus was really going to meet them at the designated mountain nearby. Perhaps the huge catch of fish caught the attention of the local people in Capernaum and served to advertise the coming meeting. Of course, the lesson was not about fishing, but about evangelism. It was perhaps the final exam to see if the disciples had learned to become “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19) during their three-year time of training.
The disciples learned that fishing from the left side of the boat (i.e., preaching judgment and condemnation) would yield no fish, but casting their nets on the right-hand side of the boat (i.e., preaching the love and mercy of God) would yield an abundance of fish. In fact, this would bring in 153 large fish (John 21:11).
The numerical value of “the sons of God” in the Hebrew language is precisely 153. Hence, being fishers of men was designed to help men and women grow into fully mature “sons of God.”
The Galilee Meeting
Matthew says that the Great Commission was given at the designated mountain in Galilee, and this is how his gospel ends. Matt. 28:16-20 reads,
16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Who were the “doubtful” ones? Surely not the eleven, who by this time had seen Jesus for themselves. It must have been others who still doubted. These were no doubt men and women who were seeing Him for the first time after His death and resurrection. This must have included a large crowd of Galileans who were drawn by the disciples’ testimonies. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:5, 6,
5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.
This appearance in Galilee no doubt was the occasion where Jesus appeared to a crowd of five hundred people “at one time.” This included women and even children, for among them was Ignatius, a child of about three years of age, who would later become the bishop of Antioch and died as a martyr in 113 A.D. (See Lessons from Church History, Vol. III, Chapter 6.)
After Paul tells us of Jesus’ appearance to the crowd in Galilee, he says in 1 Cor. 15:7,
7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
The “James” here is not the disciple, but Jesus’ brother who, until that time, had been an unbeliever (John 7:5). His encounter with the resurrected Christ changed his life. A decade later, when the disciples were forced to flee, James became the head of the Jerusalem church.
The Galilee meeting with the large crowd is the climax to Matthew’s gospel. Neither he nor John record Jesus’ ascension. Mark mentions it only briefly in Mark 16:19. Luke alone gives us any details of His ascension. Luke 24:50-53 is the conclusion of Luke’s gospel:
50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 And it came about that, while He was blessing them, He parted from them [and was carried up into heaven]. 52 And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple, praising God.
In some ancient manuscripts, the words in brackets (above) were in the text. Ivan Panin agrees, showing that these words are a necessary part of the text to make it numerically sound. Hence, he includes these words in his Numeric New Testament. This clarifies the text, showing that Luke was referring to Christ’s ascension.
Luke omits any reference to events taking place during the seven weeks of “counting the omer” (from the wave-sheaf offering to the feast of Pentecost). He says nothing about the disciples’ return to Galilee, the fishing trip, or the appearance to the crowd of over five hundred people. He skips immediately to the ascension of Christ which took place on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12).
Jesus’ Farewell to the Bethany Family
It appears that before Jesus’ ascension, He walked with the disciples from Jerusalem “as far as Bethany.” The only logical reason for them to go to Bethany would be to visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus one last time in the house where He had so often stayed. Did He want to say farewell to His friends? No doubt.
The disciples then went with Him back to the Mount of Olives, the place where the glory of God had last been seen (Ezekiel 11:23). There He ascended to heaven, taking with Him the glory that had been in Solomon’s temple, and which had departed on account of the lawlessness being done in that place six hundred years earlier.
The glory then returned ten days later on Pentecost to glorify the new Temple which Paul describes in Eph. 2:20-22.
Tarry in Jerusalem
Luke says that Jesus appeared to His disciples occasionally for 40 days (Acts 1:3), He met with the disciples one final time in Jerusalem before walking with them to Bethany and from there to the Mount where He ascended. Acts 1:4, 5 says,
4 And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Obviously, they had left Galilee and had gone back in Jerusalem, meeting Jesus on this 40th day, ten days before Pentecost. Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem until after Pentecost. Instead, they were to prepare their hearts for Pentecost. Jesus then reminded them of the prophecy of John the Baptist, who had said in Luke 3:16,
16 … As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
They could not have known yet how the Holy Spirit would be given or how this would affect them for the rest of their lives.
The gospel ends with the Father’s promise yet to be fulfilled. All the groundwork had been laid for the day of Pentecost, which was to open a new chapter in the history of the Kingdom. The disciples were trained, Jesus had died and had risen again to ratify the New Covenant, He had opened the eyes of the disciples to understand the Word, and He had commissioned them to take that Word to all nations. He had breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. All that was lacking was the actual equipping with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), which could come only at the appointed time at the feast of Pentecost.
Plans for the Second Book
When Luke finished his gospel, no doubt he was already formulating plans to write a second book, again addressed to Theophilus. Acts 1:1, 2 says,
1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.
This second book would give an account to Theophilus of the actual outworking of that which was recorded in the first book. Those “acts of the apostles” were not to end until the fulfillment of the third feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, at the end of the age.
We are now drawing near to the next climax of history, wherein we will see even greater works than those recorded in the Acts. During the Pentecostal Age, men and women everywhere have been discipled, according to Jesus’ instructions in Matt. 28:19, to prepare them for apostleship in the Tabernacles Age that is yet to come.
So let us allow Jesus to teach us His ways, so that we might be effective apostles as His Kingdom grows until it fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35).