After the Lord has left them, at “that very hour” the pair return to Jerusalem, presumably arriving later in the same evening, to find “the eleven and those who were with them gathered together [athroizō]” (24:33), already talking in amazement about the Lord having appeared by now to Simon Peter (24:34). And so Cleopas and the other tell their story too, notably “how he was known to them in the breaking of bread” (24:35).
But even while they are in this joyous exchange, flushed with the excitement and wonder of it all, suddenly Jesus is standing “in the midst of them” and saying, “Peace to you” (24:36).
Despite the collective witness of previous encounters with the risen Lord, they are “terrified and affrighted” (ptoeō and emphobos—the doubling indicates extremity of apprehensive emotion) and think he is a ghost (24:37).
As so often, he calms them down: “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (24:38). He points to his hands and his feet, inviting them to touch him, “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (24:39). When he does this (24:40), they can scarcely believe for their joy and wonderment (thaumazō has the sense we employ when we refer to something wonderful as “fantastic” or “incredible,” not meaning the word literally but hyperbolically for something so marvelous our minds cannot take it in).
Luke here is as emphatic about the physicality of the resurrected body of Jesus as Paul will be later (1 Cor. 15:35–49); it is of the essence of what he is showing to have happened that every expectation of mortal nature in death has been broken through, the corruptible body having been restored and now, recognizably flesh and bones, yet an entirely new phenomenon.
It can scarcely be overstressed how contrary Luke and Paul are to modernist metaphorizing and sidestepping of this absolute foundation of Christian faith and hope.
John Updike, himself a modern and no pietist, nevertheless underscores this point beautifully in a poem directed against the evasive liberalism of many theologians when he insists that Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the lynch-pin of any plausible Christian future: “if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules / reknit, the amino acids rekindle,” he says, “the Church will fall.”
©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.