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Interpreting Interpreter
Post-Ascension Visitations

This post is a summary of the article ““I Will Come to You”: An Investigation of Early Christian Beliefs about Post-Ascension Visitations of the Risen Jesus” by Timothy Gervais in Volume 57 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Gervais argues that biblical accounts of visitations by the resurrected Christ show that early Christians believed that such visits could continue after the Ascension, with these accounts reflecting the rhetorical emphasis of their specific authors.


The Summary

In this article, Timothy Gervais reviews the accounts of Christ’s post-resurrection visitations as recorded in the New Testament, highlighting what they teach us about how early Christians believed Christ would support his apostles in the period after his Ascension. Gervais sees these as countering the idea that there was a firm end to personal visitations prior to the Second Coming, and opening the door to additional direct ministrations from Christ in the intervening period.

Though he acknowledges a number of non-biblical documents purporting experiences with the resurrected Christ, Gervais focuses on biblical experiences with the risen Lord, outlining them within a framework of three general categories: (1) Easter experiences, associated with appearances immediately following the resurrection, (2) visionary experiences where Christ is seen in vision rather than being “present and corporeal”, and (3) non-visionary experiences, which share the corporeal characteristics of the Easter appearances while occurring after the Ascension. These are organized by book, as follows:

Mark. Gervais notes the abrupt nature of Mark’s original ending, with the women who find an empty tomb and an angelic promise of a future visitation in Galilee. He also describes the appearances in Mark’s longer ending, which appear to attempt to reconcile Mark with the additional and varied detail provided in other gospels, including an appearance to Mary Magdalene and on the road to Emmaus, as well as an account of the Ascension, after which Christ is described as “work[ing] together with them” in an active way.

Matthew. Despite showing literary dependence on Mark, Matthew’s accounts of Christ’s appearances have some notable differences, detailing attempts to discredit the resurrection, adding an appearance to Mary the mother of James. Gervais notes that Matthew’s descriptions of the appearance of the Lord are more subdued than for other heavenly manifestations, and that the Lord promises that he would be “with you always, to the end of the age”, emphasizing the resurrected Christ’s abiding presence.

Luke. As part of a preference for narrative cohesion, and a rhetorical focus on the authority of the apostles and the ministrations of the Spirit, Luke’s accounts grant primacy to the apostles’ corporeal experiences, with visitations to others being more charismatic and less physical. His is also the only gospel to conclude with Christ physically departing, perhaps emphasizing that he would not always be present with them.

John. Marked by the reintroduction of the appearance to Mary Magdalene and the account of Thomas as the apostolic doubter, John’s focus appears to be on the divinity of Christ. Like Mark, it has a longer ending, but with an additional appearance of Christ (by the sea of Tiberias) that’s widely considered consistent with the rest of the text. John’s conclusion that there “are also many things which Jesus did” which couldn’t be recorded, implying further interactions with Christ after the Ascension.

Acts. Gervais argues that the opening of Acts is describing two different visitations, rather than a restatement of a single experience, a return that the apostles may have mistaken for his triumphant return (or Parousia). He also suggests that these experiences with Christ serve, for Luke, as the basis of apostolic authority, qualifying Matthias for his eventual position. This stands in contrast with the martyrdom of Stephen, which, though seemingly more visionary, implies that he is looking upon or gazing at Christ, using a verb (θεωρέω) associated elsewhere with physical experiences. Gervais then describes the various accounts of Paul’s experiences with the risen Lord, which Paul frames as a visible manifestation, in contrast to Luke’s narrative of that event, which is more ambiguous. Gervais also describes the account of Ananias, who sees and converses with Christ. This is in contrast with the less visual experience of Paul and Silas with the “Spirit of Jesus”. Paul uses his experiences to verify his status as an appointed witness, which others appear to dispute due to their less corporeal nature.

Galatians. Paul’s first-hand account of his experience on the road to Damascus is framed by Gervais as buttressing his authority against detractors, paralleling the Easter visitations and claimed as being more than a “visionary” experience.

1 Corinthians. The narrative in 1 Corinthians parallels the narrative of Galatians in a number of ways, but also includes a listing or additional witnesses, including to “the twelve”, as well as to “five hundred brothers”, both of which Gervais believes may refer to unique experiences not otherwise recorded in the biblical canon. Though Paul suggests his experience was the “last of all”, Gervais argues that Paul still leaves room for future interactions with the risen Christ.

For Gervais, most of the Gospel accounts imply that Christ could continue to interact with his disciples, and most of the Post-Ascension and Pauline accounts denote the same. This leads him to conclude that early Christians saw great importance in direct interactions with Christ and that they may have expected those interactions to continue well into the future.


The Reflection

Gervais provides a helpful tour of experiences with the resurrected Christ, as well as an enlightening view into the perspectives and rhetorical goals of the New Testament authors. That his arguments also lay a (seemingly long-dormant) foundation for Christ’s appearances to Joseph Smith and modern apostles is icing on the cake. This isn’t necessarily the follow-up I would’ve expected to Gervais and Joyce’s eye-opening article on the Liahona from a couple years back, but I certainly can’t complain about the result.

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