"Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them
with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which
had seen him after he was risen."
This morning, one cannot contemplate a more glorious scene than that last day when the resurrection comes, all the elect family of God are changed, and we stand before Him wholly (body, soul, and spirit) in righteousness are are satisfied. However, that day would not be possible without the glorious day when the firstfruits came forth: our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Without His resurrection, there would be no others. Without His coming forth, all of us would be without hope and of all men most miserable. (I Corinthians 15:19) Thankfully, we can look to that last day by faith with assurance that indeed it is coming, for the Firstfruits has been accepted by God. In God's eyes, it is as good as complete (Romans 8:30), and while our eyes have yet to behold it, we can "see" it by faith based on what those saints 2000 years ago saw with their natural eyes.
One of the truly amazing things to me about this verse is both the power of the gospel and the unbelief of man. We will focus our thoughts around these two topics (as brought out by this verse) and show that both can be seen in any of God's children, and at different seasons and places, in the same children of God. First let us consider the power of the gospel. While the gospel does not have life-giving ability (II Timothy 1:9-10), it does have great power. (Romans 1:16-17) The gospel enlightens us to what has been done for us through the merits of God's Dear Son, and it saves us here from ignorance and unrighteousness to live more Godly, God-honouring lives to Him for His glory and praise. Further, it strengthens the soul in ways that nothing else can. Should there be something that is equitable to the gospel's job, preaching would have less purpose (or no purpose at all). But, since God chose the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (I Corinthians 1:21), we understand that more wisdom, understanding, and enlightening comes from the preached word than individual study. This import of the gospel makes public worship and public assembly with the saints at God's house a paramount commandment as something is found there that is found no where else.
However, the gospel has no power at all if the dead rise not. Since Christ has risen from the dead, never to die again, the power of the gospel is seen in the earliest messages the saints delivered. Peter preached to the Gentiles for the first time in Acts 10, and they had never met Jesus or seen Him. While some may have heard the news of wondrous things happening in Galilee, they were not enlightened to the knowledge of what was happening. Peter informs them in that first sermon that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, the promised One, that has accomplished salvation, with the proof being that He rose from the dead. Since He has risen, we have undeniable, certifiable proof that He is indeed who He says He is. Should His body not have come forth, He would have been guilty of a lie, therefore not God, and therefore not able to save anybody. However, since the opposite is true, He is God and able to save exactly who He came to save
without the loss of one. The resurrection is the "proof of the pudding" to the gospel message that validates the work that Christ performed and accomplished on the cross of Calvary.
Those Gentiles had never heard of Jesus, probably knew less about the resurrection, and certainly had not seen it themselves. Yet, the gospel message of His resurrection stirred such a response that the minister asked, "Can any man forbid water?" Who could forbid water after such a glorious display? The day of Pentecost showed forth a resurrection sermon that stirred the hearers to say, "What must we do?" The power of the gospel is in the knowledge and heralding of this magnanimous event, which should kept firmly in view in our minds. By keeping this in view, all else becomes a light affliction and but for a moment when compared to a never-ending day of bliss and joy coupled with complete perfection and satisfaction. Many other sermons that the book of Acts records for us show that the resurrection was a chief subject to them, and the results were indeed miraculous and mysterious (I Timothy 3:16) when folks heard of something they had not yet heard about and/or understood.
Contrasting this power for a moment, let us examine the hardness of heart and man's unbelief. Who should have been the most receptive people to the knowledge and report of Christ's resurrection? Who should have rejoiced at the news of an empty grave? Who heard the most resurrection statements - pre-resurrection? The disciples that walked with Him should have been the most knowledgeable and receptive to the news. Yet, they showed more unbelief to the message than their hearers would later in the book of Acts. While not everyone believed their preaching later, there were many that did who were in far less of a position to believe than they were and yet responded more favourably than they did. Noticing that they showed complete disbelief for the report, we can draw several Scriptural conclusions about these two subjects as they relate in this verse.
The first conclusion that we can draw is that man can be in unbelief of the resurrection even after regeneration. The disciples showed, without a doubt, that they had experienced the new birth prior to this event, and yet they were still unmoved, spiritually, about the news of this blessed event. The second conclusion that we can draw is that there was no guarantee that their sight of this blessed event would remain with them (or us today) for the rest of their lives. Consider what they had been blessed to see and witness. They observed the heavens open, the voice of the Father proclaim, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," seen the feeding of the multitudes, witnessed the healing of the sick, observed the raising of the dead, heard His wonderful preaching, sat at His feet, communed with Him with bread and wine, had their feet washed by Him, and countless other circumstances and events that John even says the world could not contain the books were they to be printed. (John 21:25) After all this, they were found in unbelief, so what is the guarantee that they would keep this knowledge close to their heart in all seasons? Paul exhorts us to "sorrow not as others that have no hope," and should it be the case that we never could (after arriving at a particular state), this would be a redundant command.
Noting these two conclusions from these two subjects, let us today draw nigh with a pure heart in full assurance of these things. When the Saviour appeared unto them, He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart. Notice it does not say He upbraided them "for" those things but "with" those things. He pointed out exactly what they were doing. He pointed out their despondency about His presumed "failure" in their minds. He pointed out what they had been doing, and by doing so, pointed out that He was alive during that time to see them do those things. Were His body still in the tomb (with Him not being who He said He is), there would be no reasonable way that He could have known their actions and conduct. But, His life and knowledge is proven to them (once again) that His witness is true, His claim of Kingship is valid, and their hope should be restored.
Seeing then that their unbelief is proof that any of us could fall into the same, let us be diligent to add to our faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. By adding these things, we keep in memory the magnanimous work of Christ, sealed with the proof of His resurrection, and do not fall into the place of forgetting that we have been purged from our old sins. (II Peter 1) Considering all the things they saw that we did not, could we consider it impossible for us today to be capable of falling as they did? But, thanks be unto Him that when He appears unto us, spiritually at His judgment seat, He still shows us, as He did them that day, that He is alive and understands where we are and what we have been doing. While that is sometimes not a pleasant thought (when the rod of chastening is upon us), it is still proof to us - with our unbelief - that He is alive and sees all, knows all, and provides that correction as proof of our relationship to Him. May we take comfort in the knowledge of the resurrection and rejoice in its preaching. The Lord told Thomas "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29) We have not seen these things as they did, but it is a promised blessing when we believe them through the power of the preaching and heralding of this great message.