After his death, Jesus showed himself alive by many undeniable proofs. For forty days, he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. — Acts 3:1 Frank Ball paraphrase
During the Easter season, we hear a lot about resurrection morning, but little is said about the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. What happened during that time?
Jesus was first seen by Mary Magdalene.
She saw him from a distance but didn’t recognize him as she ran to tell Peter and John that Jesus’ body was missing.
All the women who had been to the empty tomb didn’t understand what the angel meant when he said, “He is risen.” That statement was beyond their comprehension because (1) no one had ever risen from the dead before and (2) they hadn’t heard any Easter sermons. The only reasonable conclusion was that someone broke into the tomb and stole his body.
Peter and John believed only what they saw.
How could someone have stolen the body? This seemed impossible, so they ran to the tomb to see if what Mary had told them could be true. They believed, but not in the resurrection. Why? For the same reason the women couldn’t believe. They didn’t know it was possible.
Mary Magdalene didn’t believe until she met Jesus.
She trailed behind Peter and John and remained at the tomb, crying, after they left to tell the shocking news to the other disciples. The body was gone. Finally, when Mary saw Jesus, talked to him, and embraced him, she knew he had risen from the dead. The other women believed in the resurrection after talking to Jesus on their walk from the tomb.
The disciples believed the body had been stolen.
The women’s stories seemed just too far-fetched to be true. Why couldn’t they believe? Answer: it’s almost impossible to believe anything that we’re sure can’t happen. After Cleopas and Simon (not Peter) on the way to Emmaus walked with Jesus, talked with him, and ate with him, the disciples couldn’t accept their stories. By law, the matching testimonies of two or three witnesses established the truth, but not for them.
With eyes to see, we believe.
As soon as Thomas saw Jesus, he believed. That was not true for the other disciples. When they saw him, they assumed he had to be some kind of spiritual apparition. They did finally believe, but only after he sat and ate fish with them. Since ghosts can’t eat food, they saw and believed. Jesus really had risen from the dead.
What did Jesus say and do in the forty days after he rose from the dead?
We know that Jesus saw hundreds of people. The apostle Paul tells us that five hundred saw him at one time. Perhaps his messages were much like what is recorded about the two on the way to Emmaus. Of one thing we may be certain: he wanted everyone to know he is alive, and we need to believe it, whether we see him or not.