Luke 24:36–53: Jesus Appears to His Disciples, The Ascension
So far in this chapter the women have found Jesus’ tomb empty (and been told by angels that he had risen), and then Jesus appeared to a couple of His disciples. There is still a lot of confusion among the rest of His disciples, however; they don’t seem to know what is going on.
In this passage He appears among them again—this is the 11 Apostles along some of the other disciples—and greets them, but they’re startled and frightened, and think that He must be a ghost. So he shows them his hands and his feet (that is, where the wounds would be from the cross), and lets them touch him to prove that he’s flesh and blood. Which still doesn’t completely convince them so he eats some food, which must have finally convinced them since no further doubts are mentioned.
Jesus now does something that he’s been doing for quite a while: explains the sacrifice and resurrection to them. This time, however, they are finally ready to accept and understand his words, so he “opens their minds.”
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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (verses 44–49)
After this Jesus leads them out of Jerusalem to Bethany where he blesses them, and then ascends into heaven. The disciples worship Him, then go back to Jerusalem where they are continually in the temple blessing God. Presumably they’re also waiting for God to clothe them with power as Jesus had promised; Luke will pick this story up in the book of Acts, which is simply a continuation of the story that was started here in the book of Luke.
When the disciples see Jesus and assume that He’s a ghost, it’s not such a crazy assumption. They did, after all, see him die. And though part of his proof to them is that he eats some food—which he already did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, so in theory He’d already proven that he was alive—it’s easier to believe when you see something in person. Thomas could attest to that (though he isn’t mentioned specifically in Luke).
Once again, I have sympathy for the disciples. There’s a sense in which Jesus’ words in verses 44–49 are just a simple repetition of things he’s already told them, very explicitly, so they should have understood before now, but there’s also a sense in which they couldn’t possibly have understood before now, but actually seeing Jesus die and raise himself again was necessary in order to understand. When I say “there’s a sense in which they should have understood” I’m speaking spiritually, and when I say “there’s a sense in which they couldn’t possibly have understood” I’m speaking in human terms.
And this is the end of the book of Luke. The disciples are left behind, still culturally Jewish (since they’re still worshipping at the temple). In fact, not just culturally; I’m sure if you were to ask them what their religion was, they’d say Jewish. They see the worship of Jesus as a continuation and extension of what they’ve always believed—which it is! I don’t think they’ll see themselves as being anything other than Jewish for quite a while. As mentioned earlier, though, we’ll see that come to pass in the book of Acts.