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Jesus, Difficulty to Recognize the Risen Lord


On several instances those who saw the Risen Lord had difficulty recognizing him:

1. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, she thought he was a gardener (Jn 20:15) and recognized him only after he called her by name (Jn 20:14-17).

2. When Jesus appeared to the apostles on the first day of resurrection, “In their panic and fright they thought they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37).

3. Though Jesus joined and had a lengthy discussion with Cleopas and his companion on their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the Resurrection Sunday, they could not recognize him (Lk 24:16). Later, “when they were at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Lk 24:30- 31).

4. When the seven disciples, “Simon Peter, Thomas who was called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples” (Jn 21:2), were fishing at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee, they saw Jesus on the shore. They did not recognize him until they had a miraculous catch of fish at Jesus’ direction (Jn 21:1-14).

The reason for the difficulty in recognizing the Risen Jesus was because of his transformed body. Though Jesus raised Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44), the son of the widow in Nain (Lk 7:11-17), and Jairus’ daughter (Lk 8:49-56), they came back to life with their natural body. However, the risen body of Jesus was different and perfect without limitations of the physical laws. So, he could appear and disappear like angels and could enter through locked doors (Jn 20:19).

Christ’s resurrected body is a sign for the redeemed on how their imperfect earthly body would transform in the heavenly realm. According to 1 Corinthians 15:40-49, the heavenly bodies are bright, incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual, heavenly, and bear the image of the heavenly one. Though the risen bodies could be recognizable, they would be different and perfect.

The Risen Lord’s body differed in appearance and characteristics. However, he was also close to how he looked like during his public ministry. So the disciples, who misunderstood first, could recognize him.


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