Fear, then Peace in the Upper Room
The other disciples had earlier dismissed the women’s story as too preposterous. Yet it seems that even though the Lord had appeared to several people that day, and they realized that something amazing had happened, they were still afraid of the Sanhedrin, the broken seal, and the story that probably was even now circulating—that the chief priests had bribed the soldiers to tell—the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.
They were all (except for Thomas—where was he?) now gathered, fearfully, in a locked room in Jerusalem, not sure what to do, when something truly hair-raising happened.
Jesus came and was in the middle and said to them, “Peace to you.”John 20:19
Door locked. Disciples huddled. Jesus appears.
Out of nowhere.
Imagine how thick the room was with emotion, fear, overwrought anxiety, incredulity at some of the reports coming in, from Mary, from the other women, Cleopas and his companion (who was possibly Luke), and Peter. Now, suddenly, there Jesus was among them in spite of the locked door, saying Shalom.
That was a standard greeting in first century Palestine. But when Jesus said it, it was loaded with a lot more meaning. During their last supper together, Jesus had said
Peace I send forth to you, my peace I commit to you—not as the world delivers do I deliver. Do not let your hearts be troubled, stirred up, and agitated, neither let you all be afraid.
You all heard that I said to you, “I am going, then I am coming to you.” If you all were loving me you were having joy for me, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than me.
So, now I have laid forth to you in words before it comes to pass, in order that whenever it comes to pass, you would believe.John 14:27-28, 29
Later, Jesus had prepared them for what was about to happen
Then, a little [while] you all are not seeing me, then again a little [while] you will see me.
Amen, amen, I say to you, that you all will cry out in lament, in grief and sorrow, you yourselves will mourn, but the world will be rejoicing—you yourselves will be distressed, but your grief and sorrow will become joy.
And so now on the one hand you have grief and sorrow, but I will behold you again, and then your hearts will be rejoicing and not even one person will take your joy away from you.John 16:16, 20, 22
Then Jesus ended that part of his discourse by saying,
I have said these things to you in order that in me you will have peace.John 16:33
All of this was embedded in Jesus’s simple greeting, Peace to you. He had gone away in death, but now he had come back to them. Do not be afraid, do not be troubled, but instead be joyful and have shalom, that deep and satisfying contentedness in God.
And they were incredibly overjoyed that it really was Jesus and he really was alive, for he showed them his hands, where the great spikes had been driven through, and his side, where the centurion had thrust his spear.
Commissioning With the Spirit
Now that Jesus had completed his mission, it was time for the disciples to be given a mission to do, to be sent by the Lord into the world after they were filled with God the Holy Spirit.
So, Jesus again said to them, “Peace to you: as the Father has sent me, so also I am sending you.” Then, saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”20:21-22
Jesus breathing on them, giving them his Spirit was the only way they would be able to complete the work Jesus was giving them. This was a promise of the Spirit Who would come to them at Pentecost. Certainly, Jesus’s action was meant to echo what God did in Genesis by breathing God’s own life into humankind.
Jesus also told them,
“If whomever you all would forgive the sins they will be forgiven to them, if whatever you all retain they have been retained.”John 20:23
Since only God forgives sins, Jesus was not giving them permission or power to forgive sins. But they were given the commission to give out the gospel that people’s sins could be forgiven. For each person who received the gospel, the disciples could pronounce the truth that their sins were forgiven. But for the person who rejected the gospel, the disciples were commissioned to explain that one would remain under judgment for their sins.
(Some might balk at this language, however, this is the narrative of the whole of the Christian Testament. If we take these documents as they are presented to us, then we are left with this either/or place, with no grey in between).
Many Proofs of Life
Over the course of the next week Jesus appeared to all of the disciples (Thomas’s story comes tomorrow). At first, many doubted what they were seeing. They wondered if maybe Jesus was appearing in a sort of spirit form. Yet time and again, Jesus showed he had a body, the same body he had before he died, though also altered. Jesus’ human body had been transformed into a heavenly body.
As Luke had written, Jesus
…presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.in Acts 1:3 (NRSV)
It took eating with them, talking with them, letting them touch him, hear him teach, watch him do mundane, daily tasks like cooking breakfast and blessing bread to finally convince the disciples that Jesus was not some spirit, but he was physically raised from the dead.
The earliest creed in the church is found in one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the believers in Corinth: Jesus appeared to
- The twelve (that is to say, the eleven original disciples plus Matthias, who had been with them all along, and had been voted by lot to become the new twelfth after Judas died).
- Five hundred brothers and sisters at once.
- James the brother of Jesus.
- All the apostles (which meant, perhaps, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of Jesus, and perhaps Martha and Mary).
- And finally to Paul.
Only someone who is determined not to believe this would refuse the overwhelming evidence.
[Jesus appears in the upper room | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain]