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The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christian faith, symbolizing victory over death and the promise of eternal life. However, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus often involved moments of non-recognition by his closest followers. This phenomenon raises intriguing questions about the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body and the spiritual significance behind these encounters.


Mary Magdalene Mistakes Jesus for a Gardener

In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Jesus near the tomb but does not recognize him initially. She mistakes him for a gardener and only realizes who he is when he calls her by name: “She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. ‘Woman,’ he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)” (Jn 20:14-16).

The Apostles Mistake Jesus for a Ghost

On the evening of the first day of the week, Jesus appears to his disciples, who are hiding in fear. Their initial reaction is one of terror, thinking they are seeing a ghost: “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have'” (Le 24:37-39).

The Road to Emmaus

In another account, two disciples, Cleopas and another, are walking to Emmaus, deeply discussing the recent events of Jesus’ crucifixion and the reports of his resurrection. Jesus joins them and engages in conversation, but they do not recognize him until a specific moment: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Lk 24:30-31).

The Miraculous Catch of Fish

The disciples, including Peter, Thomas, and others, experience a similar moment of non-recognition while fishing at the Sea of Tiberias. It is only after Jesus orchestrates a miraculous catch of fish that they realize who he is: “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!'” (Jn 21:4-7).


The difficulty in recognizing the risen Jesus can be attributed to the transformed nature of his resurrected body. Unlike those Jesus had raised from the dead during his ministry – Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter – who returned to life in their natural, mortal bodies, Jesus’ resurrected body was glorified and perfect, transcending physical limitations.

Paul the Apostle offers insight into this transformation in his first letter to the Corinthians: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44).

Characteristics of the Resurrected Body

The resurrected body, as described by Paul, is incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. This aligns with the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances where he could appear and disappear suddenly (Lk 24:31), and enter locked rooms (Jn 20:19). Such a body, while retaining some recognizable aspects, was fundamentally different from a natural human body.


The moments of non-recognition highlight a deeper spiritual reality. They emphasize the necessity of faith and spiritual perception in recognizing the presence of Christ. These encounters illustrate that recognizing the Risen Lord requires more than just physical sight – it involves an opening of the spiritual eyes, a revelation granted by divine grace. As believers, we are called to deepen our relationship with Christ, seeking him with both physical and spiritual eyes.

The transformation of Jesus’ body is a powerful promise of what is to come for those who believe—a future where our own bodies will be transformed into glorious, incorruptible forms, fit for the heavenly realm. This reflection encourages us to live with the hope and assurance of the resurrection, continually seeking the presence of the risen Lord in our lives and the world around us.

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