The last chapter of Luke’s gospel can leave the impression that Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, met with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, appeared to the other eleven later that evening, then led them out to Bethany and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24)
Here is Sunday’s gospel (Luke 24:44-53) in its entirety,
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.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 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, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. 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.’
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Then is the critical temporal adverb in this account. We tend to read it as, ‘next’ or ‘immediately after’ but it could also indicate a more expansive period of time such as ‘after that’ or 'in the days that followed'. Luke used the word two other times in this brief passage and one is left to wonder if opening of their minds was something that took place instantly or whether it happened over a period of days or weeks when the disciples could realize that Jesus had actually risen and they could consolidate all that he had to say to them.
The first chapter of Acts, also written by Luke, is the first reading of this day. It reads, After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. It leads us to think that Jesus did appear over an extended period of days.
As a significant part of his resurrection appearances Jesus confirmed the essential teaching of Hebrew scripture. He said, “… everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Since fulfillment of the prophecies is a proof-point of Jesus’ life and the Father’s validation, this part of the gospel seems to beg the question: what passages of the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms speak of the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection.
Some biblical scholars have looked at passages which foreshadowed Jesus' life and death and curated a list, organized according to the sequence of Jesus’ life.
• Isaiah 7:14, the virgin birth
• Micah 5:2, the Messiah will come from Bethlehem
• Exodus 16, the manna from heaven and the multiplication of the loaves
• Malachi 3:1, the messenger (John the Baptist) will prepare the way
• Zechariah 9:9, the Messiah’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem
• Zechariah 13:7, Christ will be abandoned by his disciples
• Isaiah 53:4-12, the Lord lays on Christ the iniquity of us
• Isaiah 60:3 the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will appear over you
• Psalm 16:9-11 God does not give me up to Sheol or let his faithful one see the pit.
• Psalm 22 which begins, My God why have you forsaken me…continues….from the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me… and concludes… the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord
The gospel continues,
You are witnesses of these things.
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.’
Another name for Christians might be witnesses. The disciples would ‘have seen and could testify to the truth’ (borrowing from the words of 1 John 1:2). The witnessing would have included the teaching, miracles, prayers, compassion and seeing the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Beyond retelling what they had seen, their witnessing would be in the way they lived…Love one another as I have loved you. By this will all know that you are my disciples (John 13:34) Jesus called on them…again…to internalize their experience of him and to transmit it to the world. As one of my friends said, “Christianity is about embodiment.”
Then he confirmed I am sending upon you what my Father promised.
Ironically, it is not until later, in Acts, that Luke developed the account of his promise when he wrote, After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them …and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ (Acts 1:3-5)
In John’s gospel, Jesus had said, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (16:7)