EXEGESIS: MARK 16
Why Didn't Jesus Reveal Himself Right After His Resurrection?
Artist: Harold Copping
Concerning MARK 16
We're told at the end of the gospels that three women were the first to arrive at Jesus's tomb on the first day of the week, and they saw angels there, and the women ran away. (Mark 16:8) One of the women came back, out of emotional distress, and it was Mary Magdalene, and to Mary Jesus appeared. He told her to go and tell his disciples that he was risen and he would meet them in Galilee, but we're told that when she did this, the disciples did not believe her.
We're also told that Jesus, after he had risen, began to walk with two of his disciples along a road, and they did not recognize him. It wasn't until he chose to reveal himself to them that they saw it was Jesus, and they ran back to tell the others, but the disciples didn't believe them either. Then, Jesus appeared to the disciples without Thomas being there, and Thomas didn't believe them when they told him that Jesus was alive. Afterward, Jesus appeared to all of them and Thomas too, and he rebuked Thomas for his unbelief. But he had also rebuked the other disciples, saying, ". . . and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had arisen." Mark 16:14
When I first started to write this article, I stopped, and I thought: I can't write this article because I don't know why Jesus did what he did; why he didn't reveal himself at once. And the Holy Spirit said to me at that second, "Yes, you do." Therefore, I'll continue confidently with what I was going to write.
I believe Jesus did what he did because he was showing that even his closest disciples needed to have and exhibit faith in his resurrection. They may have been taught a great deal from God's word already, but it didn't stop them from being required to come to Jesus the same way everyone else has to come to him, and yes, even Mary his mother had to come to Jesus by faith, as she was a sinner like all the rest of us. We all must have faith, or we're not going to see, hear, or know Jesus. Not one person has gone into, or will get into, heaven without faith in Jesus: his life, his resurrection, and that he is the only begotten Son of God, our only Redeemer.
A few years ago, I had been praying and reading the Bible, but Jesus wasn't speaking to my heart as usual, and so, being in a pinch, I got frustrated with him, and I said, "Why won't you answer me? Even demons make noise, and kick me in the back, and knock on the wall, and terrorize the kitten, and move things and speak. Even demons let me know they're there." Jesus answered me then and said, "Demons don't require you to have faith. I do."
While we're in this world, Jesus requires us to have faith; and concerning his disciples, by revealing himself to first one person, namely Mary Magdalene, who among them would have been considered the least, he tested them by sending the least one to them, and they refused to believe her testimony. Then the two men came out of the country and said they had seen the Lord, but they didn't believe them either. When Jesus appeared to them without Thomas, he rebuked them for their lack of faith in the others' witness about him. But Thomas, even when the other ten disciples gave testimony about seeing Jesus, Thomas didn't even believe ALL of them. Jesus appeared then, and he rebuked Thomas for his unbelief.
So when Jesus finally revealed himself to his disciples, he came with a rebuke. He had tested the depth of their faith, and their faith had failed them. And when you consider that we cannot see or hear or know Jesus and his salvation without faith, then these people who were closest to Jesus were in a bad spot. Up until then, they had been with Jesus, and they could see him and his miracles with their own eyes, and they could hear his words with their physical ears. But now, Jesus was introducing the fact that he would not be around for them to see and hear physically anymore, and they were going to be required to have faith in him, for Jesus said to Thomas, "You believe now because you see me; blessed are those who will believe in me, though they do not see me." John 20:29
Jesus had already told them, before he died, that the Holy Spirit would be given, and the Spirit would convict the world concerning three things, but one of them was righteousness, "because I go to the Father, and you see me no more." John 16:10 How were people going to be made righteous just because Jesus was going to the Father and they would not see him anymore?
We're told that righteousness comes by faith, and therefore, righteousness would come to people because they could no longer see Jesus physically, and so, they'd have to take hold of Jesus by faith. It is this very faith in Jesus that gives us the righteousness of God. "But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, as attested by the Law and the Prophets. And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." Romans 3:21-22
It makes perfect sense for Jesus to come back to the disciples in the manner he did, if we understand that they, as well as we, must gain Jesus by faith in him, without seeing him. And too, the disciples would forever remember how they didn't immediately have faith in Jesus's resurrection, and they didn't immediately believe the testimony of those who had seen him. So, in the future, they could have patience and mercy on those who would hear their testimony but who would have a hard time believing and accepting it. For they too had once been unbelieving: they who should have been the first to believe, since Jesus had already warned them that he would die and rise again the third day. They had dismissed Jesus's previous words, and they had disbelieved Jesus's previous words. And when Jesus returned, that's where his disciples were: in unbelief and confusion.
Jesus appeared to the disciples, and they got to see him, but after Jesus was taken into heaven, the Holy Spirit was given, and it is now by the Holy Spirit that we, that anyone, has the power to believe in Jesus, though they cannot see him. The Holy Spirit now awakens our spiritual eyes to see Jesus, and hear him in our heart, and know him as our Lord. Jesus said, "The flesh profits nothing," and "Without me, you can do nothing." John 6:63 and 15:5 The Holy Spirit is the power that awakens us to Jesus. The disciples saw Jesus with their natural eyes, but we can only see him now through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, and so Jesus said, "Blessed are those who believe, though they do not see me." John 20:29
We are made righteous by our faith, and we are given that faith by the Holy Spirit, and so Jesus said, "It is good that I go away, because if I don't go away, the Holy Spirit will not come to you." John 16:7