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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Testament Tales - Life after Death

Life after Death
1. How long did Jesus stay with the disciples after his resurrection?
2. What’s the biggest number of people the Bible records seeing Jesus after his resurrection?
3. What supernatural things did Jesus do after his resurrection?
4. What natural things did Jesus do after his resurrection?
5. What did Thomas do besides doubting?
6. Where did Jesus first appear after his death?
7. Where did Jesus last appear in the Bible after his death?
8. Who walked to Emmaus?
9. How long after the ascension was Pentecost?
10. Who is the thirteenth disciple?

According to Acts (1:3) Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days after his resurrection. It’s not clear if anyone was keeping count, or if forty days was another way of saying “for a few weeks,” but forty is a number often used in the Bible – Noah’s flood, Jesus’ time in the desert, etc. Paul records Jesus appearing to 500 people at once (1 Cor 15:6), a pretty wild claim and one that would be easily disproved if false, but there’s no record of where or when. (It’s interesting to wonder, just how many people would Elvis have to appear to all at once for a story from nowheresville to become so popular the American President declared it to be true. Stories of Jesus’ resurrection did eventually convince the Roman Emperor.)

Some theories suggest people saw what they wanted to see after Jesus’ death, a sort of mass hysteria. But mass hysteria doesn’t usually result in people seeing what they least expect, and stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances make it clear his closest followers had no idea what was coming. They even make themselves appear foolish for doubting rather than wise and ready to lead. Other theories say Jesus wasn’t actually dead, though the description of his death is pretty graphic, and the Romans were generally good at killing people.

Jesus appears and disappears (John 20:16, 19), has holes in his body (John 20:27), finds fish (John 21:6), prophesies (John 21:18, Acts 1:8), and ascends into the clouds (Acts 1:9, Luke 24:50) after his death. He also walks and talks and eats, and does “many other things” (John 21:25) which are not recorded.

According to John, Jesus’ first resurrection appearance was to the disciples in an upper room. In Luke the first recorded appearance is to Cleopas and another unnamed follower on the road to Emmaus. Interestingly, Luke’s gospel story ends with Jesus ascending into the clouds at Bethany, while his book of Acts starts with the ascension from the Mount of Olives (which is between Jerusalem and Bethany). And when Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10) prophesies the removal of God’s visible presence from the Temple, the presence is last seen to the East – the same place again. (Note, Jesus does appear after the ascension, to Saul and to John.)

In John’s account, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto his disciples. In Acts, the disciples return to Jerusalem between the ascension and Pentecost (50 days after the resurrection, therefore 10 after the ascension) for the Holy Spirit to appear as fire (a frequent image for God’s presence). Passover was when the Jews celebrated their escape from Egypt. Three days later they made a “wave offering” of first fruits (Lev 23: and Jesus is the firstfruit of the dead). 50 days later is Pentecost, another Jewish feast.

While they hid in the upper room (the disciples and Mary mother of Jesus), a new apostle was chosen to replace Judas. The vote was between Joseph Justus (Barsabas) and Matthias. Matthias won. Tradition claims Joseph as one of the seventy, Bishop of Eleutheropolis, and a martyr. Matthias’ remains may be in Georgia or Trier, Germany. Meanwhile Thomas, best remembered for doubting, is also the apostle who bravely said “Let us go… die with him,” (John 11:16) and who confesses he doesn’t know where Jesus is going (John 14:5). Tradition has him preaching in India but mystically transported to Mary’s tomb to view her ascension, after which he is the believer who convinces others by showing her girdle.

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