Jesus appears to his disciples

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses[d] of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

The world of the author’s community

The world at the time of the text

Geography of the text

Questions for the teacher

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Luke.

The World of the Text

Text and Textual features

This passage is the penultimate section of the gospel according to Luke. It is part of the group of passages in Chapter 24 of post-resurrection appearances, the most well known of which is the ‘Road to Emmaus’. This commentary addresses two passages: the Road to Emmaus and the Appearance.

Both passages, individually and combined, are very clearly narratives full of characters, settings, movement and dialogue. The Road to Emmaus is well used in classrooms across Australia as it is easy to dramatise and play with as a strong piece of literature. The many contrasts within the passage highlight the transformative nature of the resurrection.

  1. Jesus appears to his disciples (verses 36-43)

A number of phrases from the Road to Emmaus lead into the Appearance section: ‘they returned to Jerusalem’ (v 33), where the Eleven were assembled and recounted what had happened ‘on the road’ and that they had recognised him in the ‘breaking of the bread’ (v. 35).

When Jesus ‘stood among them’, and in spite of him saying ‘Peace’, they are variously described as ‘startled and terrified’ (NRSV), ‘staggered and frightened’ (RNJB) and ‘terrified and frightened’ (McKinnon). They thought they were seeing a ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’. Jesus asks why they are frightened and have ‘doubts’ or ‘misgivings’. They are then invited to ‘touch and see’. Luke wanted to emphasise beyond doubt that Jesus was not a shadowy spirit or ghost. Why hands and feet? Interestingly, the crucifixion account does not actually mention nailing hands and feet.

Other significant words in this passage are ‘joy’, ‘disbelieving’ and ‘still wondering’. At this point, Jesus asks for something to eat – and they gave him ‘grilled fish’, and he ‘ate it’.  The commentary of the RNJB notes this as the only time in the gospels that the risen Lord is said to eat. (Revised New Jerusalem Bible, DLT, 2019. p 1998)

A version of this appearance is also in John 20:19-23.

  1. Final Instructions (verses 44-49)

Note here the words used by Jesus to show his connection to the Old Testament: the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms; and that they will be fulfilled. They are reminded that Jesus as the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. Their task is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations – a significant theme in this gospel.

The prophet Joel had recorded the divine promise to ‘pour out the Spirit’ (Joel 3:1-5), and John the Baptist had prophesied that the ‘more powerful One’ would baptise with the Holy Spirit (Lk 3:16).

Characters and Setting


According to Luke, Emmaus is a day’s walk from Jerusalem. Evidence, even ruin of it, has never been found. The role of the city may simply be to provide a destination from which the disciples may turn back from and thus back towards Jerusalem, once their eyes have been opened. It thus provides a physical movement of away/return, representative of the symbolic movement from despair to excitement.  

The Eleven and companions – in Jerusalem, sharing stories of their experience of the risen Jesus, who suddenly appears among them. Note that the two on the road are disciples who are NOT part of the inner circle of 12. This is an excellent reminder that the discipleship group was larger than just 12.

Jesus – suddenly stood among them, shows them his hands and feet – it is usually assumed to show the holes from the nails (certainly this is the case in most artworks of this event). Or is it just to see he is human? In other gospels he shows his side – where the lance pierced him and asks for something to eat. Regardless of the interaction, the purpose is to show him as truly human and not a spirit or ghost.

In vv 44-49 Jesus summarises their mission – he ‘opens their minds to understand the scriptures’ – how his life, death and resurrection was part of the Messiah’s story. When they believe in Jesus, they will go forth and preach in his name about repentance and forgiveness, to ALL NATIONS. They are to wait in Jerusalem until the Father’s promise of the Spirit is fulfilled. This will be fulfilled by Luke in Acts when the Eleven and the women, including Jesus’ mother, wait in the upper room ‘devoting themselves constantly to prayer’ (Acts 1:12-14).

Karris points out (Invitation to the Gospels, Garratt, 2002. p. 318) that Jesus’ new community will be formed in God’s Holy City, Jerusalem, to show that it, as the reconstituted people of God, is heir to God’s promises to Israel (Lk 24:49). For Luke in particular, Jerusalem is the centre of the ministry and mission of Jesus and the emerging Church.

Questions for the teacher:

What am I wondering about the text?
What of this information is important to share with the students?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text?
What might they already know about (from their study of literacy)?
What might they wonder about?

World in Front of the Text

Questions for the teacher:

How does the information assist you in understanding the text?
What else do you need to know?
How might Matthew’s community have reacted to this text?
What else might the students need to know? What could be some questions the students might ask?

Meaning for today/challenges

How are we today to proclaim/preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all nations?

What might it mean for us to be ‘clothed with power from on high’?

How are we to cope with difficult situations and doubts?

Brendan Byrne notes that Jesus’ ministry in Luke had always been ‘universal’ (The Hospitality of God, p. 191) – in the way it constantly reached out to those on the margins of society. This became the mission of the Church, in the name of Jesus, and to take this way of acting to ‘all nations’ (v. 48).

The follow-up to The Gospel According to Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, shows how Jesus’ Spirit will guide the new community in carrying out Jesus’ mission: with the descent of the Spirit (Acts 1 and 2), with Peter’s account of the Holy Spirit in his mission to the Gentiles (Acts 11:15) and the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28).

These appearances of Jesus (24:36-49) gave new heart and life to the disciples. God can be trusted. The whole section shows disciples moving from perplexity to faith and joy.

Fulfilment of promise is a significant theme of chapter 24 (Karris, p. 320).

The gospel prologue stated that the writer wanted to tell of ‘the events that have been fulfilled among us’ (Lk 1:1).

This final chapter (24) notes ‘they remembered his words’ (v. 5-8), he ‘interpreted what referred to him in the scriptures’ (v. 25-28) and he ‘opened their minds to understand the scriptures’ (v. 44-45).

Jesus’ church can be confident in the Father who has promised to be with them as they continue the Messiah’s mission in troubled times (24:49). McKinnon ( ) notes that it is usually more difficult for community witness, as a result of sin. The proclamation of human repentance and divine forgiveness of sins would take place in the name of Jesus, informed by all he had said and done.  

Liturgical usage

The passage is read on Easter Thursday and the 3rd Sunday of Easter in Year B.