Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 24:36b-48
3rd Sunday of Easter - Year B

Other texts:


This is the second resurrection appearance in Luke -- both in the Jerusalem area on the day of resurrection. There are many similarities between the first appearance on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35) and in Jerusalem/Bethany (24:36-53).

Jesus appears on the road
disciples fail to recognize him
Jesus scolds them for not believing
Jesus instructs them from scripture
Food is shared 

disciples' eyes are opened
Jesus disappears
 Jesus appears in their midst
disciples assume it is a ghost
Jesus scolds them for doubting

Food is shared 
Jesus instructs them 
disciples' minds are opened 
Jesus ascends into heaven
"blindness" to sight  doubting to worship

The second appearance in and around Jerusalem also introduces some unique themes: 

The ending in the temple in Jerusalem forms a sense of bookends with temple scenes at the beginning of the Gospel: 


As we read through these verses, we need to remember that Jesus just suddenly appeared in their midst. He didn't come knocking at the door. Although he had said that he would be raised (9:22; 18:33), and there had a been a report by the women of the empty tomb (24:10), and the report by the two from Emmaus (24:35), and one by Peter (24:34), they were not prepared to have Jesus just appear in their midst as they were talking with one another. Jesus hadn't given them any warning that he would show up right then in that place. Even though we have been through centuries of talking about and believing in Christ's resurrection, how would we react if he suddenly physically appeared in our worship service (beyond his presence in Word and Sacrament)?

The disciples are "startled (ptoeomai) and terrified (emphobos)," because they think that they are seeing a ghost. I believe that verses 37 & 39 are the only places where pneuma (spirit) is translated "ghost".

Their terror (emphobos) is consistent with seeing an angel. That is the reaction of the women at the tomb at seeing the "two men in dazzling clothes" appearing before them (Luke 24:5) and the reaction of Cornelius at seeing a vision of an angel of God coming to him (Acts 10:4).

When an angel appeared to Zechariah, he is terrified (tarasso) (1:12), the same word Jesus uses of the disciples, "Why are you frightened (24:38).

In contrast to the popular notion of a comforting guardian angel, the presence of these divine beings produced great terror and fear in those who saw them. Except for coming to Jesus in the garden (22:43), every other time angels (aggelos) appear, they say, "Don't be afraid" -- to Zechariah (1:13); to Mary (1:30); and to the Shepherds (2:10).


Jesus offers two proofs that he is not a ghost.

(1) Seeing his hands and his feet, and touching him. 
(2) Eating in front of them.

Proof #1 may counter the Greek notion of an immortal, indestructible, disembodied soul, which comes into the body at birth and returns to God at death. The Christian confession is that the body is resurrected.

Proof #1 may also imply that the risen Jesus is known by his crucifixion wounds. Although Luke Timothy Johnson (Luke, Sacra Pagina) writes: "in John's appearance accounts (John 20:20, 25, 27), Jesus shows his hands and feet to show the marks of the nails. Luke makes no mention of this, just as he does not of the fact that Jesus was nailed to the cross in the first place. If the reader stays within Luke's version, therefore, the feet and the hands serve to demonstrate the physical reality ('flesh and bones'), but not necessarily the marks of crucifixion" [p. 401]. I'm inclined to go with Johnson's interpretation. Seeing and touching his body were indications of his physicality. There were not seeing a ghost.

Note added by MGVHoffman

For confirmation that the point of Jesus showing his hands and feet to demonstrate that he has “bones,” since spirits / ghosts do not have bones, note the following texts (from my dissertation on Ps 22 and the Crucifixion of Jesus):

“Why, moreover, does He offer His hands and His feet for their examination--limbs which consist of bones--if He had no bones? ... While they still believed not, He asked them for some meat, for the express purpose of showing them that He had teeth."
Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 5 and Against Marcion 4.43

Why do you doubt and are you not believing? I am he who spoke to you concerning my flesh, my death, and my resurrection. And that you may know that it is I, lay your hand (and your finger), Peter, in the nailprint of my hands; and you, Thomas, in my side; and also you, Andrew, see whether my foot steps on the ground and leaves a footprint. For it is written in the prophet, `But a ghost, a demon, leaves no print on the ground.‘
But now we felt him, that he had truly risen in the flesh. 
Epistula Apostolorum 11-12 
(Hennecke and Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 197)

However, proof #1 does not produce faith, but continued unbelief (apisteo) and amazement (thaumazo). Then we have this very strange reason or source of their unbelief and amazement -- "from the joy"!! The Revised English Bible interprets this phrase as, "for it seemed too good to be true." That may be the best way to understand the irony of their continuing unbelief because of joy. NOTE: The same word is used in 24:52, with the disciples returning to Jerusalem with "great joy." Their unbelief is gone.

The other instance of "not believing" (apisteo) in Luke occurs when the women tell the disciples about their experiences at the empty tomb. "These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them" (24:11). In the next verse, after Peter has been to the empty tomb, he goes home, "amazed (thaumazo) at what had happened."

Both the empty tomb and, so far, this appearance of Jesus produced only unbelief and amazement -- two emotions that seem to get in the way of believing.

Proof #2 is presented with much fewer words and with no response from the disciples. Jesus eats in their presence. However, if we look back to the previous appearance story in Emmaus, we know that Jesus eating with the disciples opened up their eyes to see the truth about Jesus.


While both appearance accounts in Luke 24 include the sharing of food and Bible study, in the first account (13-35) study comes before the food. In the second account (36-49) the study comes after the food.

I remember reading that a similarity between Lutherans and Baptists is that both see the need for instruction to go together with baptism. Lutherans have usually baptized first with promises by parents and sponsors for future instruction in the faith. Baptists have usually given instructions in the faith prior to baptism.

Perhaps these two accounts in Luke 24 might suggest the same thing about Holy Communion. Sometimes instruction comes before the meal (e.g., confirmation or early communion classes before reception) and sometimes it may come after (e.g., the communing of very young children with promises of future instruction).

Jesus' instructions include two major sources: (1) my words; and (2) the three parts of the Hebrew scriptures: the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms (representing the writings).

Jesus also indicates that the message of the scriptures is not self-evident. It requires the opening of one's mind by Jesus to properly understand the scriptures. I'm not sure people can come to faith by just reading scriptures without a guide to help them properly understand and interpret them.

In good sermonic fashion, the grammar of vv. 46-47 indicates three parts of his instructions about what has been written. (I will try and translate these in a way the reflects the order of the Greek words which all start with the verb.)

  1. He is to suffer -- the messiah.
  2. He is to be raised from the dead on the third day. 
  3. It is to be proclaimed in his name
        (a) repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins
        (b) to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, neither Jesus (nor Luke) gives us the scripture references for these truths. However, this teaching stemming from the old scriptures indicates that what happened to Jesus was not something brand new, but had been part of God's plan all along.


I don't care much for the NRSV's translation of this phrase: "repentance and forgiveness of sins." The Greek word kai (= "and") is not between "repentance" and "forgiveness," but the preposition eis. (Although there are variant readings that use kai rather than eis.)

eis generally means movement towards or into. It can refer to going to or into some place, but it can also refer to the movement towards a specific goal. Thus I translated the phrase: "repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins." The Revised English Bible translates the phrase: "repentance bringing the forgiveness of sins." The Contemporary English Version translates the first part of v. 47: "They also say that all people of every nation must be told in my name to turn to God, in order to be forgiven."

The goal or purpose of proclaiming repentance is that sins might be forgiven. Every time hamartia (= "sin") is used in Luke, it is with apheimi (= "forgiveness"). Our goal in pointing out sin and calling for repentance has to be the forgiveness of sins.

Another important observation about the phrase "leading to the forgiveness of sins" is that the exact same phrase is used by Luke concerning the preaching of John the Baptist (3:3) and of Peter (Acts 2:38). I had traditionally been taught that Luke presents three eras: 

(1) the time of the prophets, including John; 
(2) the time of Jesus; and 
(3) the time of the church. 

While there is some truth in this three-part division, Tannehill (The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts) writes: "The result is a story which is not just the story of Jesus. It is the story of a purpose of God that is being realized both through Jesus and his witnesses" [page 294].

There is a unity of God's purpose written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms; and proclaimed by John the Baptist, by Jesus, and by the early church -- namely, that the offer of repentance leading to forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations.

Tannehill also writes: "...the Gospel of Luke can be read in two ways: as the story of Jesus, which is now over; as the story of the saving purpose of God, which is not over, for it has far to go to reach its goal" [page 298].

As the Book of Acts illustrates, the church has never had an easy job of accepting "all nations" into the fellowship without distinction -- and that continues to be a struggle for Christians today. In Luke-Acts, the mission to "all nations" was part of God's plan from the beginning and the book of Acts recounts the human struggles to fulfill this plan of God.

A sermon theme that I once used is: "What We Must Proclaim." A couple of thoughts from that sermon.

People can believe that Jesus lived, suffered, died, and was raised without experiencing the forgiving and freeing power of that life.

While the church is a place of judgment -- a place to point out, to recognize and repent of sins, it is even more important that it be a place of forgiveness. That is what we *must* proclaim.

The church will preach morality. We need to tell the world what is right and wrong. Our ELCA struggles to write faithful social statements about sexuality, racism, economic justice, capital punishment, care for our planet, abortion, etc. Members of the church may or may not agree with these statements. People may or may not agree with our moral proclamations. That's OK, morality is not at the heart of our Christian faith -- repentance that leads to forgiveness in Jesus' name is.

I am pleased when people say that they leave our services with a good feeling. I hope that it is more than just an emotional high. I hope that it comes from an inner cleansing.... You leave here not just feeling good, but feeling and actually being forgiven and cleansed. You walk out of here as reborn and resurrected children of God.

From another sermon:

One of the common complaints leveled against the Lutheran church is that we are wishy-washy on social and moral issues. That may be true; but it stems from the fact that we are called to stand strong and firm on the biblical proclamation of repentance that leads to the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name.

I have frequently quoted Robert Capon's comments that the church is not in the morals business. The world does a pretty good job of that. What the world can't get right is the forgiveness business which is the church's proper job.

From a slightly different angle, he writes in Between Noon and Three:

Morality, by its very nature, must be concerned with norms, with standards; whereas grace, by definition, is concerned with persons: it is a refusal to allow the standards to become the basis of their reconciliation or condemnation. Thus the conflict: morality tells you the standard you need to meet in order to be properly alive; grace tells you that all you ultimately need is to be dead – which is either the world's lowest standard or no standard at all.

Grace and morality, therefore, are two different kettles of fish. Morality deals with virtue and vice, with what is strengthening or weakening for human nature considered as an operational possibility. Grace, however, deals with sin, with a condition in which human nature has ceased to be an operational possibility and has ended up a lost cause. Grace is, to say it once again, about raising the dead. In the Bible the opposite of sin is not virtue; it is faith – faith in God who raises the dead.

All this talk about morality, therefore, is misleading. When we get far enough into it we begin to convince ourselves that the preaching of the moral law will, if done energetically enough, lead people to lead good lives and so make them more like what they ought to be. But that's not biblical. St. Paul says that the purpose of the law was not to do that at all, but to bring us to the awareness of sin. We sit here talking as if proper moral instruction to fifteen-year-olds will somehow keep them clear of sin. But St. Paul says that Scripture has concluded – locked up – all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. [pp. 157-8]

The goal of our preaching is not more moral behaviors, but forgiveness. I have often said that the primary purpose of sermons is absolution. While there may be instructions, and illustrations, and jokes, etc., if the forgiveness of sins through Jesus is not proclaimed in some way, I think that the sermon (and the church) has failed in its God-given purpose.


This is not a command telling us what to do so much as a statement about who we are. We are witnesses of these things. We may be good witnesses or bad witnesses, but we are witnesses.

To what are we to be witnesses? The ongoing plan of God revealed in scripture, carried out by John, Jesus, Peter, and others. Namely, the suffering of the Messiah; the resurrection from the dead after three days; and the proclamation of repentance that leads to forgiveness of sins in Jesus name. In order to be effective witnesses, (1) we need to have experienced the repentance that leads to forgiveness of sins in Jesus name. One can't witness to what one hasn't experienced. In order to be effective witnesses, (2) we need to take our witness to all nations -- but it begins right where we are now. In Luke-Acts, the public witness begins in Jerusalem -- the place where the disciples were at, but it cannot and does not remain in Jerusalem.


Although not part of the pericope, vv. 49-53 might be included. This ending of Luke is only read on Ascension Day -- so there may be a few people who have never heard it.

Jesus has appeared to his disciples. He indicates that he is not a ghost. He teaches them about God's plan as revealed in scripture that includes proclaiming to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem. Jesus gives them a wonderful pep talk, but then he tells them to wait a while before they do anything. Jesus will send to them the promised power from on high. (I have not found any place where God had promised them power from on high, though.)

I will close with a quote from Culpepper in Luke from the New Interpreters Bible.

Where the Lord's physical hands and feet are no longer present, the ministry of the hands of countless saints in simple and sincere ministries continues to bear witness to the Lord's living presence. Although he may not appear in our midst to eat broiled fish, his presence is tangible in soup kitchens, around the kitchen table, and around the altar table. We see him "in the breaking of bread." As in the first century so now the most convincing proof of the resurrection is the daily testimony of the faithful that the Christ still lives and the work of his kingdom continues.

For this reason, the movement from proofs to commissioning is natural.... The believer who affirms that the Lord is risen, therefore, should consider next what it is that the Lord has sent him or her to do. The uniqueness of the Easter message is that it invariably changes the lives of those who find themselves touched by it. [page 490]

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901