Commentary on Acts 3-4 (Peter and John Arrested)

Sometime after Pentecost, Peter and John, who have been living in Jerusalem, walk to the temple around 3 pm for one of the daily prayer times. John Polhill, in vol. 26, Acts, The New American Commentary , observes that it

was also the time of the evening Tamid, one of the two sacrifices held daily in the temple. These had become prescribed times of prayer, and people would come to the temple at the sacrifice times to observe the ceremony and pray. The largest crowds would thus have been found at the times of sacrifice, as Peter and John must have been well aware; for they went to the temple for prayer and for witness.

As they approach one of the massive gates that connect an outer court to an inner court of the temple complex, a crippled man is begging for money. The text informs us that the man has been disabled since birth and we later learn that he is forty years old.

The gate at which the man begs is called the Beautiful Gate in the text. Polhill provides background on the gate:

Josephus spoke of ten gates in the sanctuary. Nine, he said, were overlaid with silver and gold; but the tenth ‘was of Corinthian bronze and far exceeded in value those plated with silver and set in gold.’ So massive was this gate that when it was closed each evening, it ‘could scarcely be moved by twenty men.’ This seems to be the same gate identified in the rabbinic literature as the Nicanor gate.

There is some discrepancy between the sources about the exact location of this gate. Josephus placed it at the far eastern access to the sanctuary, leading from the court of the Gentiles (the outer courtyard) into the court of the women. The rabbinic sources place it at the eastern access to the court of the men of Israel, thus between the court of the women and that of the men. Many scholars see Josephus as giving the correct location, since he was writing from living memory, whereas the rabbinic writings date from a period long after the destruction of the temple. This seems to be the most likely spot for Peter’s encounter with the lame man. He lay at the beautiful gate with its magnificent doors of Corinthian bronze, begging at the entrance to, but still definitely outside, the sanctuary.

When the crippled man asks Peter and John for money, they stop and ask him to look at them. Peter tells the man that they do not have money to give him, but they have something else. Peter heals the man and performs the healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Peter pulls the man up from the ground on his newly strengthened feet, and the man follows Peter and John into the inner court of the temple. Since disabled people are not allowed into the inner court of the temple, the man had never been here before (see Lev 21:17–20; 2 Sam 5:8). Luke reports that he walked, leaped, and praised God. All the people in the temple courts were amazed at the miracle that had just occurred.

We skip now to chapter 4.  Peter and John have been preaching and teaching about the resurrection of Jesus in the inner courts of the temple, and they have attracted a large crowd because of the miraculous healing of the lame beggar.  While they are preaching, some Levite priests, the Levite captain in charge of security in the temple, and some members of the Sadducees confront and arrest them. They leave them in prison overnight because the Sanhedrin is not allowed to convene until daylight. Luke notes that at this point in their ministry five thousand Jewish men have come to believe in Jesus.

Why would the Sadducees arrest Peter and John? Polhill explains that the

Sadducees were clearly the powers behind the arrest of the two. Josephus listed them as one of the three ‘schools of thought’ among the Jews of the first century, along with the Pharisees and Essenes (Ant. 13.171). The origin of their name is disputed but may go back to Zadok, the high priest in Solomon’s day. The Sadducees of the first century represented the ‘conservative’ viewpoint. They rejected the oral traditions of the Pharisees and considered only the written Torah of the Pentateuch as valid. They considered the concepts of demons and angels, immortality and resurrection as innovations, believing in no life beyond this life.

More important than their theology, however, was their political orientation. Coming largely from the landed aristocracy, they were accommodationists with regard to the Roman occupation of Israel. Possessing considerable economic interests, their concern was to make peace with the Romans, preserve the status quo, and thus protect their own holdings. In return the Romans accorded the Sadducees considerable power, invariably appointing the high priest from their ranks, who was the most powerful political figure among the Jews in that day. The prime concern of the Sadducean aristocracy, of whom the high priest was the chief spokesman, was the preservation of order, the avoidance at all costs of any confrontation with the Roman authorities.

But the question remains: how does the preaching of Peter and John threaten peace with the Romans? Polhill continues:

Note the wording in v. 2: not ‘they were proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus’ but ‘they were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.’ The idea of a general resurrection was an apocalyptic concept with all sorts of messianic overtones. Messianic ideas among the Jews of that day meant revolt, overthrow of the foreign overlords, and restoration of the Davidic kingdom. There had been such movements before (cf. 5:36–37), and the Romans had put them down. There would be many more in the future. In fact, the worst fears of the Sadducees were indeed realized when war broke out with the Romans in a.d. 66, with terrible consequences for the Jews. Here, with the large crowds surrounding Peter and John, their fears were aroused. The notes of Peter’s sermon alarmed them: resurrection, Author of life, a new Moses. These were revolutionary ideas. The movement must not spread. It must be nipped in the bud.

The next morning the Sanhedrin gathers together to question Peter and John. They ask them by what power or name they healed the lame beggar. Peter’s response is bold and confident because the Holy Spirit is guiding him, just as Jesus promised (see Matt. 10:19–20; Luke 12:11–12; 21:15).

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Peter proclaims that the name by which the lame beggar was healed is the name of Jesus, the very man they had sent to Pilate for crucifixion. Peter then refers to Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Jesus is the chief cornerstone and the Jewish leadership are the builders. Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament , notes that “Peter learned this use of Psalm 118:22, cited here in verse 11, from Jesus; see Luke 20:17.”

Finally, Peter’s speech climaxes with an exclusive claim. Not only was Jesus’ name responsible for the healing of the beggar, but Jesus’ name is the only name by which any person can be saved from the day of judgment.

The Jewish council members are astonished that men with no formal religious education are speaking so openly and boldly about the things of God. Given the fact that the forty-year-old man was clearly healed by Peter and John, the council members are unable to say anything in response.

Their only recourse is to threaten Peter and John if they continue to preach about Jesus. Peter and John, however, respond that given a choice between obeying the Sanhedrin and following God, they must choose to obey God. Given the public nature of the healing miracle, the Sanhedrin cannot hold Peter and John any longer, for they are simply too popular. The council dismisses them.

Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?

In Peter’s Pentecost sermon, Peter tells the assembled crowd, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Some Christians have taken this verse to mean that baptism is essential for salvation. If a person repents, but does not get baptized, they are not saved.

Stanley Toussaint, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , analyzes three different views biblical scholars have proposed for the command to be baptized in Acts 2.

A problem revolves around the command ‘be baptized’ and its connection with the remainder of 2:38. There are several views: (1) One is that both repentance and baptism result in remission of sins. In this view, baptism is essential for salvation. The problem with this interpretation is that elsewhere in Scripture forgiveness of sins is based on faith alone (John 3:16, 36; Rom. 4:1–17; 11:6; Gal. 3:8–9; Eph. 2:8–9; etc.). Furthermore Peter, the same speaker, later promised forgiveness of sins on the basis of faith alone (Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18).

(2) A second interpretation translates 2:38, ‘Be baptized … on the basis of the remission of your sins.’ The preposition used here is eis which, with the accusative case, may mean ‘on account of, on the basis of.’ It is used in this way in Matthew 3:11; 12:41; and Mark 1:4. Though it is possible for this construction to mean ‘on the basis of,’ this is not its normal meaning; eis with the accusative case usually describes purpose or direction.

(3) A third view takes the clause and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ as parenthetical. Several factors support this interpretation: (a) The verb makes a distinction between singular and plural verbs and nouns. The verb ‘repent’ is plural and so is the pronoun ‘your’ in the clause so that your sins may be forgiven (lit., ‘unto the remission of your sins,’ eis aphesin tōn hamartiōn hymōn). Therefore the verb ‘repent’ must go with the purpose of forgiveness of sins. On the other hand the imperative ‘be baptized’ is singular, setting it off from the rest of the sentence. (b) This concept fits with Peter’s proclamation in Acts 10:43 in which the same expression ‘sins may be forgiven’ (aphesin hamartiōn) occurs. There it is granted on the basis of faith alone. (c) In Luke 24:47 and Acts 5:31 the same writer, Luke, indicates that repentance results in remission of sins.

Darrell Bock, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible) , also argues that baptism is not essential to salvation:

Despite later controversy about whether one must believe and be baptized in order to be saved, what Peter says here and in his own later epistle shows that the key is the response to God, not the rite per se. This response and its cleansing effect are what the rite signifies, not what the rite accomplishes. The act of baptism portrays a washing and signifies what faith produces, cleansing. Peter explains this in 1 Peter 3: 21: ‘Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ The rite is not magical but symbolizes what repentance is asking God to do, to give forgiveness (Acts 5: 31; 10: 43; 13: 38; 26: 18). To undertake baptism is to affirm in public what the heart has privately done to come into relationship with God. ‘Baptism is a natural part of the much more important conversion’ and a ‘self-evident expression of conversion’ (Schweizer, TDNT 6: 413– 14). Thus, baptism is the representation of the cleansing that belongs to salvation.

Commentary on Acts 2 (Peter’s First Sermon)

As the crowd of Jews listens to the disciples of Jesus praise God in a dozen different languages, some of the crowd accuse the disciples of being drunk. Peter then stands up, with the eleven, and begins to explain to the crowd what exactly is happening.

Peter calls out to the crowd to listen carefully to what he is about to say. As it is only 9 am, the accusation of drunkenness is nonsensical. Instead, what the crowd is witnessing was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel. Peter then quotes Joel 2:28-32, where God promises that He will pour out His spirit on all of Israel – men, women, sons, daughters, and even slaves. The reason that the disciples of Jesus are miraculously able to speak in foreign languages, proclaiming the glory of God to the assembled crowds in Jerusalem, is because God has poured out the Holy Spirit on them.

Joel’s prophecy indicated that the pouring out of the Spirit would occur before God would bring judgment on the world for her sins. That judgment day is known as the “day of the Lord.” Those who are proclaimed not guilty before God on judgment day would then populate the ensuing messianic kingdom.

Peter is telling the crowd that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit has initiated the “last days.” The clock has started ticking on the “last days.” At the end of the last days, God will come in judgment, and then the messianic kingdom will begin. Joel 2:30-31 (cited in Acts 2:19-20) refers to the future cosmic signs that will manifestly herald the day of the Lord. Pay close attention to Acts 2:21 where Peter, quoting Joel, reminds the crowd that only those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved from God’s judgment and enter the messianic kingdom. More on this later.

Now that Peter has explained that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Jesus’ disciples, Peter quickly moves to the person of Jesus. First, Peter reminds the crowd that they all witnessed for themselves the public miracles that Jesus performed. These miracles were the evidence that Jesus was commissioned by God.

Jesus was killed by the Jewish leadership, Pilate, and indirectly Herod. The Jews in Jerusalem who shouted for him to be crucified by Pilate were also culpable. It is likely that many of those Jews were standing in the crowd listening to Peter. Jesus’ death was not a surprise to God, but was part of God’s plan all along. What was also part of God’s plan was to raise Jesus from the dead, and that is exactly what He did.

Peter then quotes Psalm 16:8-11, where David is speaking of a person who would not be abandoned to Hades (death) and whose body would not see corruption. It was commonly thought in first century Palestine that David was talking about himself in Psalm 16, but Peter offers a corrective.

Peter argues that David did not escape Hades because his body is still in the tomb where he was buried one thousand years prior. David’s tomb was located in Jerusalem and was well-known by all who lived there. So, Psalm 16 could not be talking about David. Instead, David, when he was prophetically writing Psalm 16, was writing about his descendant, the Messiah, who was promised to David in 2 Samuel 7.

So who did escape Hades? Whose body did not see corruption? Jesus of Nazareth. The disciples of Jesus, Peter argues, were eyewitnesses of his bodily resurrection, so Jesus must be the Messiah whom David wrote about in Psalm 16.

This same Jesus, whom Peter has shown is the promised Messiah, is also Lord. Peter tells the crowd that Jesus ascended into heaven and was exalted to a unique position of power at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus then sent the Holy Spirit, as promised by the Father, to his followers on that very day.

Peter notes that David never ascended to heaven, but instead wrote about someone who would be given all authority by God the Father in Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” The Lord to whom David refers in this Psalm is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Not only is Jesus Messiah, but Jesus is also Lord.

Psalm 110:1 is the most cited Old Testament verse by New Testament writers. John Polhill, in Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary , explains that

Psalm 110:1 was a favorite text for the early church. According to Mark 12:35–37, it was first used of the Messiah by Jesus himself to attack the usual political understanding of a Davidic Messiah. It reappears throughout the New Testament, in 1 Cor 15:25; Heb 1:13; 10:13 and with strong allusions in Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20, 22; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. Originally it may have been an enthronement psalm acknowledging the earthly king as God’s representative. For the early Christians it became the basis for the affirmation that Jesus has been exalted to God’s right hand. For Peter it served as a natural transition from the confession of Jesus as Messiah, the dominant concept to this point, to the ultimate confession that Jesus is Lord.

The climax of Peter’s sermon is verse 36: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Clinton Arnold writes, in John, Acts: Volume Two (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary) : “As Messiah, he is the fulfillment of Israel’s expectations for a descendant of David to come and sit on the throne. As Lord, Jesus is at the right hand of God and is the sovereign.”

Remember that Peter cited Joel, who said that those who call on the name of the Lord would be saved from God’s judgment. All Jews had understood the Lord to be God the Father. Peter has now argued that the Lord, the name to be called upon, is instead Jesus. Jesus has the same authority as God the Father!

Thousands of people in the crowd are shocked into the reality of their guilt before God. They have been a party to the murder of the Lord and Messiah, the one who was sent by God Himself, the One who is God. The crowd asks Peter and apostles what they are to do?

Peter responds with a four-part answer that would be become the basis for all conversions to Christianity: 1) repentance, 2) baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, 3) forgiveness of sins, and 4) receipt of the Spirit. John Polhill warns, however, that we are not to read this four-part answer as a mechanistic pattern:

These four generally form a single complex throughout Luke-Acts. They are the normative ingredients of conversion. There is no set, mechanistic pattern by which the various components come into play, particularly baptism and the receipt of the Spirit. The connection of the Spirit with baptism is depicted in various sequences through Acts. Here the Spirit seems to be promised immediately following or as a concomitant of baptism, whereas in 10:44–48 the coming of the Spirit seems to have preceded water baptism. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized, but receipt of the Spirit was not mentioned (8:38), though his resulting joy was a gift of the Spirit. Baptism and the gift of the Spirit are separated by some interval of time for the Samaritans (8:12, 17). The disciples of John at Ephesus were rebaptized and immediately received the Spirit (19:5–6). The Spirit cannot be tied down to a set pattern. Clearly, however, both baptism and receipt of the Spirit are normative to the experience of becoming a Christian believer.

Repentance is the critical first step to conversion, for without repentance a person is not saved. Clinton Arnold explains what repentance is:

Repentance (metanoia) involves primarily a radical change in a person’s central affections, convictions, and life direction. It signifies a recognition that one’s life has been oriented around self and sinful pursuits and an embracing of God’s will and priorities. The call to repent is a continuation of Jesus’ own ministry introduced by John the Baptist with his call to repentance (Luke 3:3) and repeatedly urged by Jesus himself in his earthly ministry (Luke 13:3, 5; 24:47).

Peter also adds that this four-fold pattern applies to future generations and to anyone whom God calls from that day forward. As the church spread in the early years, this would even come to include Gentiles. This conversion process was to become universal across time and place.

Luke records that Peter’s sermon included many more words of exhortation, but Luke’s purpose – capturing the highlights of the address – has been accomplished. Peter’s first sermon attracts three thousand souls to Jesus. When Jesus told the disciples they would do greater works than him, this is exactly the kind of thing to which he was referring!

Darrell Bock, in , summarizes the importance of Peter’s Pentecost sermon:

The speech thus shows how God’s activity through Jesus stands at the core of the Christian message. Jesus’s resurrection means far more than merely that there is life after death. It is a vindication of Jesus’s life and mission, a demonstration that Jesus lives and still rules, and a reflection that Jesus is a unique person, sharing the precious presence and glory of God in a unique way. Christ’s death led to Christ’s victory and rule (Fernando 1998: 108–9). The reality of the resurrection transformed the apostles from those who were timid to those who were bold to share Jesus with others. Peter also makes clear that the sin of rejecting God’s unique messenger stands at the base of why Jesus had to die and that forgiveness and the Spirit are what the gospel offers, as the next unit will show. The Spirit’s central place in the promise of God also is highlighted here. The Spirit is the evidence that Jesus is raised and reigns with God. The believer’s changed life is a testimony to Jesus’s current activity in the world and enables the mission. So God works through the Son and gives the Spirit. Undergirding the salvation message is the united work of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Did Luke Write the Book of Acts?

The testimony of the early Christian church is virtually unanimous in ascribing the authorship of Acts to Luke, the companion of Paul and writer of the third Gospel. Some skeptics, however, claim that Luke is probably not the author of Acts because the theology of Paul, as presented in Acts, does not agree with the theology of Paul, as presented in Paul’s own letters. If Luke was Paul’s companion, how could he have so badly misrepresented Paul’s theology?

Darrell Bock, in , presents the skeptical case and then argues why the skeptical case is, in fact, not convincing.

The mismatch is said to involve issues of natural law, Jewish law, Christology, and eschatology (Vielhauer 1966). First, some pit Acts 17 and its openness to seeing God in creation against Romans 1, which seems to imply the revelation of God in creation is only enough to form a basis of our guilt before God. Second, they contrast Luke’s lack of discussion about the role of the cross in salvation with Paul’s emphasis on it. Third, critics say Luke has an adoptionistic Christology, where Jesus becomes Son of God during his earthly life. Fourth, some note how little Luke speaks about the end times, in contrast to Paul who emphasizes it.

Responses to this line of argument are plentiful (Ellis 1974, 45– 47; Bruce 1976; Fitzmyer 1998, 145– 47). First, Romans 1 no less than Acts 17 says creation testifies to God, but the issue is that Romans 1 points out that people (in this case, polytheists) resist this testimony and refuse to glorify God or show him gratitude (Rom 1: 21). The different settings of these two passages are important; Acts 17 represents Paul’s reaching out in an evangelistic setting, asking people to consider God, while in Romans 1 he is concerned with explaining the rejection of God and humanity’s guilt.

Second, Luke does note the cross briefly in two texts (Acts 20: 28; Luke 22: 18– 20). The second text is disputed in terms of textual criticism, but the disputed portion is likely original.

Third, Luke’s Christology is not adoptionistic (Moule 1966, 159– 86; Gathercole 2006). Jesus appears as Son from the very start of Luke (Luke 1: 30– 35).

Fourth, Luke has an end-time theology, as the Acts 3 speech shows.

Finally, the issue of how the law is viewed between Luke-Acts and Paul’s writings is more complex, but the key is to see what Paul himself says, namely that he is a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks (1 Cor 9: 19– 23). So his approach varied depending on the circumstance, and this may account for different approaches seen between these bodies of writing.

Bock notes that there are also non-theological differences between Acts and Paul’s letters that are used to argue against Lucan authorship.

“One such challenge to Lucan authorship notes that Paul presents himself as an apostle (e.g., Rom 1: 1), while Luke does not name him in this light (Haenchen 1987, 112– 6). Another says Luke presents Paul as a miracle worker and great orator, whereas Paul does not present himself as either of these things. However, Paul is a miracle worker according to his own material (Rom 15: 18– 19; 1 Cor 5: 4– 5; 2 Cor 4: 7; 12: 9, 12; 1 Thess 1: 5). While he lays no claims to being an orator, his letters are evidence of his rhetorical skills. In addition, Heanchen’s description of Luke’s portrayal of Paul as an orator is exaggerated; Luke has Paul failing to persuade the Athenians (Acts 17), failing to keep Eutychus awake (20: 7– 12), and giving Festus the impression that he has lost his mind (26: 24). Paul’s hesitancy about his own gifts in spots reflects his humility (Eph 3: 1– 9).

Finally, critics claim that the cause of Paul’s persecution differs between Acts and the Pauline epistles. They say that in the book of Acts, Paul is persecuted over the issue of resurrection, while in the Gospel of Luke it is because he rejects the Law. However, this ignores the cause of Paul’s arrest in Acts 20 and also reflects a reductionism that highlights only one key reason from each work. Also, the different emphases may indicate a difference between the point Paul most wanted to stress and the point an interested observer (Luke) most wanted to stress. These differences of emphasis give depth to the portrait of Paul and his ministry and do not indicate a contradiction. In his letters Paul focuses on how Jesus saves through justification by faith, while Luke focuses on who does the saving in Acts. Nonetheless, Luke clearly has Paul speak of salvation through faith in Christ during his Pisidean speech (see Acts 13: 13– 41, esp. vv. 38– 39).

One final issue is the lack of citation of Paul’s letters in Acts. Bruce (1990, 52– 59) argues that Acts was written too close to the time of Paul’s letters for them to have been used, and that the issues about missions that are prevalent in Acts are distinct from the issues treated in Paul’s letters. Two issues that do overlap are circumcision and Paul’s relationship to the community in Jerusalem. These accounts also can be reconciled, especially if one sees Acts 15 taking place after Galatians 2 (Witherington 1998, 88– 97).

So, given these arguments, is there substantial doubt as to Luke’s authorship of Acts? Not in Bocks’ opinion.

In conclusion, the strongest point in the case for Luke being the author of Luke-Acts is the evidence of early church testimony. The issues that arise from a comparison of Luke-Acts to the Pauline letters do not reach the level of overturning this testimony. In fact, explaining how the early church came to mention Luke consistently as the author when other, better-known candidates existed suggests it must have had a strong reason for identifying him as author.

Commentary on Acts 1-2 (Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost)

In verses 1-11 of Acts 1, Luke reviews where he left off in his Gospel. Luke reminds Theophilus, his likely Roman sponsor (or patron), that Jesus appeared to the disciples, after his resurrection, for a period of forty days. During these forty days, the disciples saw proof (physical evidence) that Jesus indeed rose bodily from the dead. Jesus also continued to speak to them about the kingdom of God, which was the focus of his three-year public ministry.

Near the end of the forty-day period, Jesus commands the disciples to stay put in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit is given to them, as the Father had promised. John the Baptist had baptized with water, but they would soon be baptized by the Spirit of God.

The disciples, upon hearing of the imminent gift of the Holy Spirit, assume that the messianic kingdom will be inaugurated shortly thereafter. They ask Jesus when this will occur. Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament , writes, “This question was the most natural one for the disciples to ask Jesus. He had been talking about the kingdom (1:3), and the references to the outpouring of the Spirit in the Old Testament were all in the context of Israel’s restoration (Is 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25–28; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28–3:1).”

Jesus tells them that only God the Father knows when the messianic kingdom will begin, and that they are not to focus on the date. Instead, they are to use the power of the Holy Spirit to be “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The disciples are to take the message of Jesus first to the people of Jerusalem, and then the surrounding lands of Judea and Samaria, and then ultimately to Rome and the rest of the world. The Book of Acts, itself, will begin in Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), and then move to Judea and Samaria (chapters 8-11), and then move through Asia Minor, Greece, and ultimately to Rome (chapters 12-28).

Luke likely has in mind Isaiah 49:6. Speaking of the future Suffering Servant (the Messiah), God says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Even though Acts ends in Rome, it seems clear from Old Testament prophecies that God’s goal is the evangelization of all nations and all ethnicities. Darrell Bock, in Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament , writes that

this commission describes the church’s key assignment of what to do until the Lord returns. The priority for the church until Jesus returns, a mission of which the community must never lose sight, is to witness to Jesus to the end of the earth. The church exists, in major part, to extend the apostolic witness to Jesus everywhere. In fact, the church does not have a mission; it is to be missional and is a mission.

To what exactly are the disciples of Jesus supposed to witness? John Polhill, in vol. 26, Acts, The New American Commentary , explains, “In Acts the apostles’ main role is depicted as witnessing to the earthly ministry of Jesus, above all to his resurrection (cf. 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39, 41). As eyewitnesses only they were in the position to be guarantors of the resurrection.” The resurrection, therefore, is a fundamental component of the church’s witness to the world.

While standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem to the west, a bright cloud then surrounds Jesus and carries him up into the sky. Jesus ascends back to his Father in heaven and his earthly ministry officially comes to an end. While the disciples are still looking into the sky, two angels appear and inform them that Jesus will one day return to earth to the very same place, on the Mount of Olives, carried by clouds.

John Polhill recalls how the ascension reflects earlier biblical events:

The ascension narrative evokes rich biblical reminiscences—the translations of Enoch and Elijah, the cloud that enveloped Mt. Sinai. Indeed, clouds are often associated with theophanies. One particularly thinks of the transfiguration narrative of Luke 9:28–36. The picture in Acts 1:9 is that of a cloud enveloping Jesus as he disappeared from sight, just as in Luke 9:34–36 the appearance of the cloud led to the disappearance of Moses and Elijah. The vivid pictorial depiction of Jesus’ ascension into heaven serves to give tangible form to the apostles’ testimony to the exaltation of Christ. Indeed, Luke stressed this by referring to their seeing and looking intently no fewer than five times in vv. 9–11, and he returned to the importance of their eyewitness in v. 22.

Stanley Toussaint, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , remarks that

the Ascension meant that the continuing work of Christ on earth was now placed in the hands of His disciples (Acts 1:1–2, 8). It was imperative that the Ascension occur so that the promised Comforter could come (cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Acts 2:33–36). The Holy Spirit would empower the disciples as they ministered the gospel and waited for the kingdom.

In the remainder of chapter one, the disciples remain in Jerusalem, praying and waiting for the appearance of the Holy Spirit. During this time, they pick a disciple named Matthias to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot.

As chapter two begins, the disciples are in a house together on the day of Pentecost. According to Clinton Arnold, in John, Acts: Volume Two (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary) ,

The term ‘Pentecost’ is a transliteration of the Greek word pentēkostē, which means ‘fiftieth.’ It referred to the fiftieth day after the Passover festival when the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks—the annual harvest festival (see Lev. 23:15-21 and Deut. 16:9-12). This was the second of three festivals (the others being Passover and Tabernacles) that all Jewish males were required to attend in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16). It occurred in early summer after the conclusion of the grain harvest. This was a joyous occasion when the Israelites expressed their thanks to God for his provisions through the year and renewed their commitment to him.

The Holy Spirit’s arrival is described in terms of a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire that settle on all of the disciples in the house. The immediate effect of the Spirit’s indwelling of the disciples is that they are each able to speak the local languages of the Jews who are spread out all over the world of that time.

Wind and fire are both commonly used in the Old Testament to describe the presence of God. With regard to wind, John Polhill writes:

Wind phenomena often accompany an appearance by God in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Kgs 19:11; Isa 66:15). In Greek pneuma has the double connotation of both wind and Spirit, and that connection is to be seen here. As in Ezekiel the wind, the breath of Yahweh, is God’s Spirit, which brings life in the vision of the dry bones (Ezek 37:9–14).

With regard to fire, Darrell Bock writes, “God’s presence comes with fire in the burning bush of Exod. 3:2 (Acts 7:30), the pillar of the fire in Exod. 13:21 (Deut. 4:33; 5:24–26; 18:16), before Elijah (1 Kings 18:38), and in association with Ezekiel’s call (Ezek. 1:13–14, 27). God is described as a consuming fire in Deut. 4:24 and 9:3 as an image of judgment.”

The disciples most likely pour out of the house and rush over to the crowded temple precincts. When they arrive, they loudly and ecstatically praise God in at least a dozen languages. The disciples attract a large crowd. Jews who are visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, and possibly Jews who have moved to Jerusalem, but who were born in other parts of the world, are able to understand the words of these Galilean men in their own native languages. Galileans would not naturally know these languages, and so the crowd is amazed at what is happening.

There are two reactions to the disciples: 1) amazement and curiosity and 2) ridicule and accusations of drunkenness. In our next lesson, the apostle Peter will stand before the crowd and deliver his first-ever sermon about the resurrected Jesus.

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Physical Resurrection? Part 2

Some skeptics of orthodox Christianity argue that the New Testament writers never meant to communicate that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus rose in a spiritual and immaterial sense. But can this point of view be defended from Scripture? Theologian Norman Geisler does not think so. He continues his case from the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics :

 

Jesus’ Body Was Recognized. The usual words for ‘seeing’ (horao, theoreo) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginosko) physical objects were used over and over again of Christ in his resurrection state (see Matt. 28:7, 17; Mark 16:7; Luke 24:24; John 20:14; 1 Cor. 9:1). Occasionally Jesus was not initially recognized by some of the disciples, some perhaps supernatural. Luke says of one occasion that ‘their eyes were prevented from recognizing him’ (24:16) and later ‘their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ (vs. 31). However, often there were purely natural factors, such as their perplexity (Luke 24:17–21), sorrow (John 20:11–15), the dimness of the light (John 20:14–15), the visual distance (John 21:4), the suddenness of Jesus’ appearance (Luke 24:36–37), the different clothes he had on (John 19:23–24; 20:6–8), or their spiritual dullness (Luke 24:25–26) and disbelief (John 20:24–25). In every case the difficulty was temporary. Before the appearances were over there remained absolutely no doubts in their minds that Christ had arisen in a literal, material body.

Jesus’ Body Could Be Seen and Heard. Jesus’ resurrection body could not only be touched and handled, it could also be seen and heard. Matthew says that ‘when they saw him, they worshiped him’ (Matt. 28:17). The Emmaus disciples recognized him while eating together (Luke 24:31), perhaps from his bodily movements (cf. vs. 35). The Greek term for recognize (epiginosko) means ‘to know, to understand, or to recognize.’ It is a normal term for recognizing a physical object (Mark 6:33, 54; Acts 3:10). Mary may have recognized Jesus from the tone of his voice (John 20:15–16). Thomas recognized him, probably even before he touched the crucifixion scars (John 20:27–28). During the forty-day period, all the disciples saw and heard him, and experienced the ‘convincing proofs’ that he was alive (Acts 1:3; cf. 4:2, 20).

Resurrection Is Out from among Dead. Resurrection in the New Testament is often described as ‘from (ek) the dead’ (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; 1 Cor. 15:12). Literally, this Greek word ek means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29–30). These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard. As Gundry correctly noted, ‘for one who had been a Pharisee, such phraseology could carry only one meaning—physical resurrection’ (Gundry, 177).

Sōma Always Means a Physical Body. When used of an individual human being, the word body (sōma) always means a physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament. Paul uses sōma of the resurrection body of Christ (1 Cor. 15:42–44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body. The definitive exegetical work on sōma was done by Gundry (ibid.). As evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body, he points to ‘Paul’s exceptionless use of sōma for a physical body’ (Gundry, 168). Thus he concludes that ‘the consistent and exclusive use of sōma for the physical body in anthropological contexts resists dematerialization of the resurrection, whether by idealism or by existentialism’ (ibid.).

For those who think Paul should have used another word to express physical resurrection, Robert Gundry responds: ‘Paul uses sōma precisely because the physicality of the resurrection is central to his soteriology’ (Gundry, 169). This consistent use of the word sōma for a physical body is one more confirmation that the resurrection body of Christ was a literal, material body.

The Tomb Was Vacated. Joined with the appearances of the same crucified Jesus, the empty tomb provides strong support of the physical nature of the resurrection body of Christ. The angels declared, ‘he is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay’ (Matt. 28:6). Since it was a literal, material body that was placed there, and since that same physical body had come alive, it follows that the resurrection body was that same material body that died.

The Grave Clothes Were Unwrapped. When Peter entered the tomb he ‘saw strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen’ (John 20:6–7). Certainly, if thieves had stolen it, they would not have taken time to take off and fold the head cloth. Nor if Jesus had vaporized through the grave clothes would the head cloth have been in a separate place all folded up by itself. These details reveal the truth that the material body of Jesus that had once laid there had been restored to life (Acts 13:29–30). John was so convinced by this evidence of a physical resurrection that when he saw it he believed Jesus had risen, though he had not yet seen him (John 20:8).

More can be said, but it seems abundantly clear that the New Testament writers definitely had a physical resurrection in mind. Making the opposite case requires a person to ignore or distort numerous New Testament passages beyond recognition.

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Physical Resurrection? Part 1

Some skeptics of orthodox Christianity argue that the New Testament writers never meant to communicate that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Instead, Jesus rose in a spiritual and immaterial sense. But can this point of view be defended from Scripture? Theologian Norman Geisler does not think so. He presents his case in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics :

Jesus Was Touched by Human Hands. Jesus challenged Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side’ (John 20:27). Thomas responded, ‘My Lord and My God!’ (vs. 28). Likewise, when Mary clung to Jesus after his resurrection he commanded, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father’ (John 20:17). Matthew adds that the women clasped Jesus’ feet and worshiped him (Matt. 28:9). Later, when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples he said, ‘look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see’ (Luke 24:39). Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical body that could be touched, including the nail and spear prints.

Jesus’ Body Had Flesh and Bones. Perhaps the strongest evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body is that Jesus said emphatically ‘Touch me and see; a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have’ (Luke 24:39). Then to prove his point he asked for something to eat and ‘They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence’ (vss. 41–42).

Paul correctly noted that corruptible ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 15:50), but Jesus did not have corruptible flesh; he was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). He was fleshy but not fleshly. He did not have sinful human flesh (Heb. 4:15); nevertheless, he died and rose from the dead in actual human flesh (sarx, Acts 2:31). John stressed Jesus’ continuing incarnation in flesh, when he warned: ‘Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming [and remaining] in the flesh, have gone out into the world’ (2 John 7). The use of the present participle in Greek means Christ remained in the flesh even while this was written. The claim that it was physical flesh before the resurrection but non-physical flesh after is a form of Gnosticism or docetism.

Jesus Ate Physical Food. Another evidence Jesus offered of the physical, tangible nature of his resurrection body was the ability to eat, which he did on at least four occasions (Luke 24:30, 41–43; John 21:12–13; Acts 1:4). Acts 10:40 indicates that Jesus ate often with the disciples after his resurrection, speaking of the apostles who ‘ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead.’

Unlike angels, Jesus’ resurrection body was material by nature (Luke 24:39). Given this context, it would have been sheer deception by Jesus to have shown his flesh and bones and offered his ability to eat physical food as proof of his physical body, if he had not been resurrected in a physical body.

Jesus’ Body Has His Wounds. Another unmistakable evidence of the physical nature of the resurrection body was that it possessed the physical wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion. No so-called ‘spiritual’ or immaterial body would have physical scars (John 20:27). Indeed, in this same physical body Jesus ascended into heaven where he is still seen as ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain’ (Rev. 5:6). And when Christ returns, it will be ‘this same Jesus, who has been taken away from you into heaven’ (Acts 1:11). These same physical scars of his crucifixion will be visible at his second coming, for John declared: ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’ (Rev. 1:7).

Geisler continues his analysis in part 2.

 

Commentary on John 20b (Jesus Appears to the Twelve)

The Sunday evening of Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples are gathered in a house in Jerusalem, with the doors locked because they are afraid the Jewish leadership will find and arrest them. Jesus suddenly appears in the room with them and says “Peace be with you,” a common Jewish greeting, but filled with deeper meaning. D. A. Carson, in The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary , explains:

Though a common word, šâlōm was also the embracing term used to denote the unqualified well-being that would characterize the people of God once the eschatological kingdom had dawned. Jesus’ ‘” Shalom!” on Easter evening is the complement of “it is finished” on the cross, for the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted … Not surprisingly it is included, along with “grace,” in the greeting of every epistle of Paul in the NT’ (Beasley-Murray, p. 379).

To prove that his body was physical, and not ghostly or immaterial, Jesus invites the disciples to look at the wounds in his hands and his side. Once they realize that he is physically present with them, the disciples are filled with joy.

Jesus then commissions them to continue his ministry after he is gone. He promises them the Holy Spirit as a seal on their authority to be his apostles (messengers). Jesus instructs them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus is here referring to evangelism. Gerald Borchert, in John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary , explains:

Thus one could say that Jesus’ followers are to make the Gospel so clear that it is evident where people stand on the nature of sin. When these texts are understood in this perspective, it should become clear that Jesus’ commission to his followers is not one of privileged judgment but of weighty responsibility to represent the will of God in Christ with extreme faithfulness and to be honest and authentic about their evaluations or judgments.

This statement by Jesus would have been especially comforting to believers in the first century because the traditional Jewish authorities in the local synagogues had been the arbiters of God’s demands. First-century believers had mostly been excommunicated from synagogues, so John is making clear to them that Jesus’ followers have become God’s messengers, not the Jewish religious institutions of the day.

Edwin Blum, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , adds:

Forgiveness of sins is one of the major benefits of the death of Jesus. It is the essence of the New Covenant (cf. Matt. 26:28; Jer. 31:31–34). Proclaiming the forgiveness of sins was the prominent feature of the apostolic preaching in the Book of Acts. Jesus was giving the Apostles (and by extension, the church) the privilege of announcing heaven’s terms on how a person can receive forgiveness. If one believes in Jesus, then a Christian has the right to announce his forgiveness. If a person rejects Jesus’ sacrifice, then a Christian can announce that that person is not forgiven.

In verse 24, we learn that the disciple Thomas was not present on Resurrection Sunday when Jesus appeared before the Twelve. When the rest of the Twelve tell Thomas they saw Jesus, he is skeptical that Jesus is really alive. He likely believes that they saw a ghost or a spirit. Thomas needs to physically touch Jesus’ wounds before he believes that Jesus has risen from the dead.

One week later, the disciples are again gathered in the same house, and this time Thomas is with them. Again Jesus appears in a locked room among them. Jesus invites Thomas to inspect his hands and his side so that Thomas will believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. We are not sure if Thomas does touch Jesus, but regardless, he has seen enough!

In verse 28, Thomas exclaims the climactic confession of the Gospel: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas, the most skeptical of the Twelve, has proclaimed that Jesus is God, thus affirming the words of John in the prologue of his Gospel. D. A. Carson writes:

The thoughtful reader of this Gospel immediately recognizes certain connections: (1) Thomas’ confession is the climactic exemplification of what it means to honour the Son as the Father is honoured (5:23). It is the crowning display of how human faith has come to recognize the truth set out in the Prologue: ‘The Word was God …; the Word became flesh’ (1:1, 14). (2) At the same time, Jesus’ deity does not exhaust deity; Jesus can still talk about his God and Father in the third person. After all, this confession is set within a chapter where the resurrected Jesus himself refers to ‘my Father … my God’ (v. 17). This is entirely in accord with the careful way he delineates the nature of his unique sonship (5:16–30). (3) The reader is expected to articulate the same confession, as the next verse implies. John’s readers, like Thomas, need to come to faith; and this is what coming to faith looks like.

Jesus (and John) both recognize that virtually everyone who hears about Jesus after his resurrection will not have the physical evidence that Thomas had. John’s readers, and certainly all of us living today, must believe based on the testimony of others. We will not be able to see Jesus’ physical body standing right in front of us. To John’s readers and us, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Everyone who comes to faith in Jesus, not having seen him with their own eyes, is blessed by Jesus himself!

In the final two verses of chapter twenty, John clearly presents the purpose of his Gospel. John first notes that Jesus performed many other miracles (signs) while he was on earth, a probable acknowledgment on his part that he is aware of the twenty-plus other miracles reported in the Synoptic Gospels. John, we learn, specifically chose to highlight seven miracles (signs) in chapters 2-12, and then, even more importantly, the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, so that readers would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

How Do Women Eyewitnesses Lend Credibility to the Resurrection Accounts?

In Matthew, Mark, and John, women disciples of Jesus are reported as the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus. Many biblical scholars have argued that this lends historical credibility to these Gospel accounts. Why?

Michael Licona, in The Resurrection of Jesus , provides an explanation.

The main argument posited for the historicity of the appearance to the women, and the empty tomb for that matter, is that the early Christians would not have invented the story, since the low view of women in first-century century Mediterranean society would raise problems of credibility. Bauckham provides evidence that in the Greco-Roman world educated men regarded women as ‘gullible in religious matters and especially prone to superstitious fantasy and excessive in religious practices.’ A number of Jewish sources indicating the low view of women in Jewish culture may likewise be cited, although those from the Talmud are admittedly later. We may also note Luke 24:11.

Precisely because of the low view of women in antiquity, many see the appearance to the women, and to Mary Magdalene especially, as historical given the criterion of embarrassment. It seems unlikely that the Evangelists, especially Mark, would either invent or adjust existing testimonies to make the women the first witnesses of the risen Jesus if that is not what was remembered in the earliest traditions.

Why fabricate a report of Jesus’ resurrection that already would have been difficult for many to believe and compound that difficulty by adding women as the first witnesses? If [the Gospel authors] originated the story of the appearance to the women disciples, it seems far more likely that [they] would have depicted men as being the first to see the risen Jesus . . . . Why not list Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, and avoid the female issue altogether? Thus, as Bauckham assesses, the reason for the report’s lack of credibility in the first century is a reason for its credibility in the twenty-first: ‘Since these narratives do not seem well designed to carry conviction at the time, they are likely to be historical, that is, believable by people with a historically critical mind-set today.’ Accordingly, the most plausible explanations for the inclusion of women witnesses in the resurrection narratives is that the remembrance of the tradition was so strong and widespread that it had to be included.

Put simply, legendary accounts of Jesus’ risen body would have featured men, not women, as the first eyewitnesses. Accounts featuring men would have been far more persuasive to a first-century audience, and the Gospels are all written to first-century communities in the Roman Empire.

The only reason to assert women as the first eyewitnesses is because that was what actually happened, and the oral traditions of the women were so well-known that even if the Gospel authors wanted men to be the eyewitnesses, they could not have succeeded in lying about it.

Commentary on John 20a (Jesus’ Resurrection)

Early Sunday morning, a woman named Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and sees that the stone that was rolled in front of the tomb has been rolled back. This is the same Mary who has been a disciple of Jesus since he cast seven demons out of her (see Luke 8:2). She runs to tell Peter and John that someone has removed Jesus’ body from the tomb. D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary , writes,

The robbing of graves was a crime sufficiently common that the Emperor Claudius (ad 41–54) eventually ordered capital punishment to be meted out to those convicted of destroying tombs, removing bodies or even displacing the sealing stones. John records no hint of the Jewish allegation that Jesus’ disciples were the ones who stole Jesus’ body (cf. Mt. 28:13–15), but the fact that such a charge could be levelled demonstrates that grave robbery was not uncommon. So it is not surprising that the sight of the removed stone prompted Mary Magdalene to draw the conclusion she did. In distress she ran to report her news to two of the most prominent of Jesus’ disciples, to Peter and the beloved disciple.

Peter and John run to the tomb, but John arrives first. He peers inside and sees that the linens which covered Jesus’ body are still there. Peter arrives and goes straight into the tomb and sees that not only the linens have been left behind, but the separate cloth that covered Jesus’ face has been folded neatly and placed a short distance away from the other linens. Carson remarks:

What seems clearest is the contrast with the resurrection of Lazarus (11:44). Lazarus came from the tomb wearing his grave-clothes, the additional burial cloth still wrapped around his head. Jesus’ resurrection body apparently passed through his grave-clothes, spices and all, in much the same way that he later appeared in a locked room (vv. 19, 26). The description of the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head does not suggest that it still retained the shape of the corpse, but that it had been neatly rolled up and set to one side by the one who no longer had any use for it. The description is powerful and vivid, not the sort of thing that would have been dreamed up; and the fact that two men saw it (v. 8) makes their evidence admissible in a Jewish court (Dt. 19:15).

John follows Peter into the tomb and based on the linens and face cloth being left behind, he believes that Jesus has risen from the dead. John mentions, parenthetically, that none of the disciples, at this point, understand that Scripture had predicted that Jesus must rise from the dead. At this point, Peter does not seem to have come to the same belief as John. Both of them return to the houses in Jerusalem where they are staying during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Mary Magdalene stays behind at the tomb (or comes back later to visit by herself) and weeps because she believes Jesus’ body has been stolen from the tomb. Mary peers into the tomb and sees two angels who ask her why she is crying. Mary laments that someone has stolen the body, but she then turns around and sees a man whom she does not recognize. The man also asks her why she is weeping and, also, whom she is seeking. She assumes he is a gardener, taking care of the grounds, and she begs him to tell her where the body of Jesus lies.

The man then calls her name and she immediately realizes that the gardener is not a gardener at all, but Jesus, risen from the dead. Mary probably falls to the ground and wraps her arms around Jesus’ feet and legs. She doesn’t want to lose him again, but she has misunderstood Jesus’ mission, for he is not going to resume his role as the earthly rabbi whom Mary had followed. He must return to heaven to reign with God the father and it is Mary’s job to tell the disciples. It is in this light that Jesus says to Mary, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’”

Edwin Blum, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , remarks,

That a woman would be the first to see Him is an evidence of Jesus’ electing love as well as a mark of the narrative’s historicity. No Jewish author in the ancient world would have invented a story with a woman as the first witness to this most important event. Furthermore, Jesus may have introduced Himself to Mary first because she had so earnestly sought Him. She was at the cross while He was dying (John 19:25), and she went to His tomb early on Sunday morning (20:1).

Mary does exactly as Jesus commands her. She finds the disciples in Jerusalem and tells them that she has just seen Jesus, face to face, and that he is ascending to his Father.

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