The last description of Christ’s resurrection appearances is found in the very first part of Acts. As we celebrate His resurrection, we want to take care that we learn everything that the Scriptures teach us about it.
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3)
Summary of the Text
Luke is here introducing the second volume of his work. In the first, also composed for Theophilus, he had gathered up the accounts of eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, and set them out for us in the third gospel (Luke 1:1). He refers to that here as the “former treatise,” and it was about what Jesus began to do and teach (v. 1). What the Lord continues to do, He will do in and through His body, throughout this second treatise. What the Lord began to do, He did in Luke, and what He continues to do, He continues through the book of Acts. Jesus gave us a lived- out example and He also taught until the day of Ascension—which occurred right after He gave His commandments to the apostles through the Holy Spirit (v. 2). After the Lord’s passion, He showed Himself alive, and this showing was by “many infallible proofs (v. 3).” He was seen by them over the course of forty days, and during that time He taught them about the kingdom of God (v. 3).
A Sure Sign
The word translated here as “infallible proofs” is a word that is used only this once in the New Testament. But from the time of Aeschylus on down, it meant something from which a matter is “surely and plainly known”—it points to “indubitable evidence,” and establishes something beyond all reasonable doubt. And Luke here uses the plural, and says that there were many of these proofs.
This was after His passion, after His suffering. He had been taunted, tortured, flogged, and crucified. A spear had been run into His side to ensure He was really dead. Then He was taken down, wrapped in burial clothes, and placed in a cave for three days and three nights. A heavy rock was in front of the cave, and a guard was posted there. He was dead, and if the disciples knew anything, they knew He was dead.
What then, did these proofs consist of? Clearly, if the disciples knew that Jesus died, and they also knew the one in front of them was alive (moving, speaking, etc.), the thing that would need to be proven is that He was the same one who had died. “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). What is Jesus demonstrating here? What is He proving? Two things—that He is not a spirit or a ghost, and that “it is I,” the same one who had died. They could have touched His back to determine that He was not a ghost, but He shows them His hands and feet—the wounds still visible— in order to show them that the body in front of them was the same body they had seen on the cross. There was true historical continuity—that same body bridged the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection. When they found the tomb empty, it was because the one body that was there had been raised. God didn’t destroy one and create another. It was the same body. Neither did a ghost emanate from that one dead body. Christ’s body was always physical.
Jesus did this for the disciples over the course of forty days. He persuaded them with many proofs. On what basis are we persuaded? If we are persuaded because we are in the Christian line-up, then we are of Christ the same way the Pharisees were of Moses. Once a culture has started, it is pretty easy to stay in the groove—although it is very hard to grasp the spirit of those who made the groove in the first place. But if we are Christians by true, evangelical God-given faith, then two things will be true in our experience. First, we will understand that the resurrection is not so much something that needs to be proven as it is (for us) the proof itself. How do we know that Jesus is the Son of God? The resurrection shows us (Rom. 1:4). How do we know that Jesus will come to judge the world (Acts 17: 31)? We know because He rose from the dead. Add one more thing. The world will know because love has been raised from the dead in us (John 13:35). Resurrection life is here and now.
Words of the Kingdom
What did Jesus teach during this time? Luke tells us that He taught them about the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. This was His great theme throughout the gospels, He taught this after His resurrection, and His disciples taught the kingdom of God all the way through the book of Acts (e.g. Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23).The gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection cannot therefore be separated from a declaration of the crown rights of King Jesus. His resurrection was not ghostly. Why would His reign be?
What is this kingdom? What is it that we should be preaching and teaching? The kingdom of God refers to the rule and realm of the Lord Jesus Christ. His rule refers to His personal authority (John 14:15; 15:17). His realm refers to those places where His rule is legitimate, which is to say, everywhere (Ps. 72:8). The gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection cannot therefore be separated from a declaration of the crown rights of King Jesus. His resurrection was not ghostly. Why would His reign be?