Have you ever wondered why he didn’t simply go straight to heaven? Why did Jesus stick around for 40 days after his Resurrection?
It’s a great question to ponder, but also one with two simple answers.
- To demonstrate to the world that he was indeed alive— fully alive.
- To prepare all his disciples and Apostles to carry on his mission.
Fully & Gloriously Alive
Would the Resurrection have done as much good if Christ had gone straight to heaven?
Theologically speaking– yes. The fight was over, the battle won– the grace of salvation came exploding into this world and was available to all. However, if no one saw Jesus after his Resurrection because he left this world immediately, the grace would probably not have been as effective. How can one accept a gift they do not know exists? How can one believe in a Resurrected Christ and the grace he won if they do not know he and it exists?
As humans, we are both material and spiritual beings. We often need to experience things with our five senses in order to gain any sort of understanding of deeper truths. God knows this… he made us this way. That’s why he stuck around longer– to help us get a deeper sense of these mysterious events.
Jesus did everything he could to save us– including staying on this earth after his Resurrection to make sure we gained enough understanding about the event. In fact, these 40 Days between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension are actually a part of his Paschal Mystery — they are a part of our salvation!
From the testimony of the Gospels, we see that this Christ was not simply someone who had survived a crucifixion; he was someone who had survived death itself. There are theories out there that Jesus was only “mostly dead” when he was laid in the tomb; that he didn’t actually die on the cross and his Resurrection was really just a remarkable survival. This theory actually makes no sense and can be disproved in two distinct ways:
- The Roman guards pierced his side with a spear to make sure he was dead before they brought him down from the cross (John 19:34).
- There is no way that a man who had been tortured, beaten, and crucified would have been able to accomplish any of the things that Scripture tells us he did (for example, walking roughly 7 miles to Emmaus barely 48 hours after enduring these cruelties [see Luke 24:13-35]).
All in all, we know of twelve specific appearances of Christ after his Resurrection. Ten of these we see mentioned in Scripture itself and two of them come from Tradition– specifically the testimony and writings of the Early Church Fathers (guys who knew the Apostles personally). Later this week, I’ll dedicate a whole post to the specifics of those appearances. For now I’ll just say that these appearances made it very clear that this same man that they had watched die a brutal death, was no longer dead, but very much alive!
Christ’s Mission, Given to the Apostles
In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the Biblical significance of the number 40. It is used all throughout the Old Testament, as well as the New. It always signifies periods of trial, probation, redemption, and prosperity to come.
Before Jesus begins his public ministry, he spends 40 days in the desert. This time of trial and temptation strengthens and prepares him for his mission. After his Resurrection, Jesus spends 40 days with them, preparing them to carry on this mission after he returns to the Father. It makes sense that the Apostles need more specific preparation, after all, “…no servant is greater than his Master” (John 13:16). If Jesus needed 40 days of trial to strengthen himself, then so did his followers.
However, in the case of the Apostles, these 40 days were also a time period of redemption. All of them had abandoned Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Only Peter and John returned and followed him throughout his Passion– and Peter didn’t even make it through the whole day because he denied Christ three times. This time spent with Jesus was restorative for them– a perfect example of this is Jesus’ exchange with Peter (John 21:15-19).
On a related note, Jesus is also giving them his testimony about what took place over the course of those three days. How else would Matthew (an apostle who fled), Mark (a disciple who fled) and Luke (who did not know Jesus personally) have known what actually took place between the garden and the Resurrection if Jesus had not told them? Certainly other spectators could have told them some things (and in Luke’s case, he did rely on the testimonies of the Apostles and Mary to construct his Gospel), but no one would not have known all the details that Christ did.
Even though Scripture only mentions twelve appearances of the Resurrected Christ, the Church teaches that Jesus spent the days leading up to his Ascension with his Apostles… teaching and explaining everything that they had failed to understand about Christ and all the pieces of Scripture he fulfilled. And while we don’t know many specifics of how Jesus spent his last few weeks on earth, we certainly know that he was incredibly active…
“…There are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” ~John 21:25
While this verse in John’s Gospel is speaking about everything that Christ did during his lifetime, these 40 days certainly fall into that category. Most likely, Christ did and said way more after his Resurrection than to which Scripture makes us privy. I’m hoping to have those details filled in once we all get to heaven. For now, these are the things that are necessary for us to know; these are the things that were written, “…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ… and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31)
Check back in on Thursday for a more in-depth explanation of Jesus’ Twelve Post-Resurrection Appearances .
Hope you’re having a blessed Easter!