Did Jesus Appear to the Disciples in Jerusalem or Galilee?

By Clement Harrold

V0034565 the Resurrected Christ Appears before Terrified Soldier - Edited

One of the more puzzling elements in the Gospel descriptions of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus is the fact that Matthew’s Gospel ends on a mountaintop in Galilee, while Luke’s account concludes near Bethany and the Mount of Olives, just a short distance from Jerusalem and almost a hundred miles south of Galilee.

To make matters worse, in Luke 24:49 Jesus is recorded as commanding His disciples to “stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” This is further corroborated by Acts 1:4: “And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father.”

Being clothed with power from on high and waiting for the promise of the Father seem to be allusions to the event of Pentecost, which took place in Jerusalem. But if the disciples were supposed to remain in Jerusalem until Pentecost, how do we reconcile this with Matthew (and Mark and John) informing us that the Resurrected Jesus met with His disciples in Galilee on multiple occasions before His Ascension?

Beginning with the problem of the Gospel endings, it seems probable that the famous Great Commission described at the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel is a separate event from the Ascension. Mountains held a special spiritual importance for Jesus, and so it is not surprising that it was on a mountain in Galilee that He delivered to His disciples a last will and testament of sorts. Upon their return to Jerusalem, however, He then appeared to them a final time before ascending into Heaven.

So far so good, but the bigger question still remains: Why were the disciples in Galilee if Jesus had ordered them to stay in Jerusalem? Admittedly, this is a bit of a conundrum. Nevertheless, a number of potential explanations exist.

One possibility is that Luke has merged certain sayings of Jesus together for literary reasons, or because he himself wasn’t entirely sure as to the sequence of events. If this is the case, then it could be that the words on the lips of Jesus in Luke 24:49—“stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high”—which seem to be connected to one of the earlier post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, are actually drawn from one of His final appearances. In any case, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, it seems that Luke wants to keep his post-Resurrection narrative focused on Jerusalem.

In historical actuality, we know that Jesus appeared to His followers in both Jerusalem and Galilee, which is what the Gospel of John clearly describes. It follows, then, that Jesus’s command to the disciples to stay in the city of Jerusalem must have occurred only after He had already encountered them in Galilee; it is once they have returned south to Jerusalem that He orders them not to leave again. At that time they are told to remain in Jerusalem and await the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost. Having given His disciples this final instruction, Jeus then leads them outside the city walls, blesses them, and ascends into Heaven (see Lk 24:50-53).

Clement Harrold is a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame. His writings have appeared in First ThingsChurch Life JournalCrisis Magazine, and the Washington Examiner. He earned his bachelor's degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2021.

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