Jesus still appears to people, y’know.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 September 2022

Several years after Jesus was raptured, Paul of Tarsus (sometimes referred to by his Hebrew name Saul) met him enroute to Damascus. Ac 9.1-9 He later retold that story to King Herod Agrippa 2.

Acts 26.13-16 NLT
13 “About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’
15 “ ‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.
“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future.”

Up to this point Paul was dead set on destroying Christianity—and he flipped hard. Preached Jesus with such fervor, his former backers wanted him dead. Went to his own death for Jesus.

That’s not the behavior of a man who merely changed his mind. Paul saw something—and for the rest of his life, claimed it was Christ Jesus.

Nearly all Christians accept Paul’s story without question. Not just ’cause Paul produced fruit of the Spirit from then on, and performed various miracles. Usually it’s because Paul wrote 13 books of the New Testament, particularly Romans, which spells out how the self-sacrifice of Jesus revealed God’s grace to the world.

But as far as further Jesus-sightings are concerned, they’re pretty certain Paul’s experience was a special circumstance. Only Paul got to have a special Jesus-appearance. Nobody else. Nobody since.

There I gotta disagree with them.

Didn’t happen just once in the bible.

Most of you are fully aware of a second “special” Jesus-appearance. If you forgot, I’ll jog your memory. John, one of the Twelve, had been exiled to Patmos, but managed to get out a letter to seven west Asian churches which began with this story:

Revelation 1.10-18 NLT
10 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. 11 It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. 13 And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”

“Okay,” naysayers will object, “but other than those two—”

Yeah, you already knew I got a third one.

Acts 7.55-56 NLT
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

“Okay, but other than those three—”

Acts 9.10-16 NLT
10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

“Oh that doesn’t count; it’s part of the first story. Again, other than those three—”

Acts 23.11 NLT
That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.”

“No, that doesn’t count; that’s Paul again.” As if Jesus’s multiple appearances to the same guy, or to multiple guys in the same story, don’t count as separate appearances.

I still say that’s five times Jesus appeared to people after his rapture. Y’might recall we Christians will sometimes base entire doctrines on one incident or verse. And here we’ve got five which clearly indicate Jesus has no hangup about appearing to his followers whenever he sees fit.

Being born was Jesus’s first coming; invading the earth will be his second. But Jesus isn’t limited to two, and only two, appearances on the earth. He isn’t obligated to stay in heaven till he returns in power. He can visit his followers whenever he chooses.

And not just in the New Testament. Apparently he does this a lot.

No, I’m not talking about tortillas.

Yep, you can get a toaster which burns Jesus into your bread. Christian Piatt

Every so often this makes the news: Somebody finds a stain on the wall which kinda resembles Jesus. Or they get a tortilla whose burn pattern, if you look at it in just the right angle and unfocus your eyes a bit, could be Jesus. Or a dog with Jesus-shaped patch of fur. Or a Jesus-shaped potato. And so on; you get the idea.

By “kinda” I mean they look like the traditional images of Jesus we see in western art: A man with longish hair and full beard. None of these folks know what Jesus literally looks like, but they’ve seen the White Jesus paintings in our churches, and any miraculously-appearing bearded guy must be Jesus. Not Moses, not Muhammad, not the Buddha. (Though most art depicts the Buddha as completely shaven—and frequently Chinese instead of Indian, ’cause they make the same mistake as our White Jesus paintings. But shaving is what Buddhist monks do now. Maybe the Buddha himself let it grow wild and free. You don’t know. But I digress.) Any bearded guy is supposedly Jesus, and it’s a sign. A miracle.

Unless there’s no beard. Then it’s just an interesting coincidence, not a miracle. Well, unless he looks like Elvis Presley.

Why do these “miraculous appearances” get so much attention? Because people really wanna see Jesus. They want him so bad, they’re willing to settle for coincidences and call them miracles. They’ll take what they can get. I don’t blame ’em.

But if you want a real Jesus sighting, they do actually happen.

Stories of Jesus-sightings (or as we theologians call ’em, christophanies) abound throughout Christianity. They appear to be happening on almost a daily basis. Sometimes it’s to Christians. Sometimes it’s to people who are on the fence about Christianity, but Jesus appears, which gives ’em a good hard shove in his direction. Sometimes it’s to people who have no clue they should be following Jesus (i.e. Paul and various Muslims) and he utterly turns them around.

How do we know these Jesus-sightings are the real thing? Same reason we know any revelation is the real thing: Look for fruit. When it’s really Jesus, he encourages his followers to repent, be humble, be encouraged, follow God better, have greater and stronger faith, and so forth.

When it’s fake, they sell toasters.

Now, I’m not knocking people who wanna sell novelty toasters. They’re fun; feel free to make all the Jesus toast you want. But I totally object to people who claim they saw Jesus, and didn’t really, and are hoping to make a quick buck off gullible followers. That’s why I point to fruit. Real Jesus-sightings produce real fruit.

Here’s a bit from “The Other Iranian Revolution,” Matthias Pankau and Uwe Siemon-Netto’s 17 July 2012 piece for Christianity Today. (You’ll find the whole article on Dr. Siemon-Netto’s blog, ’cause the CT article is locked behind a paywall.)

Some German clerics speak of a divinely scripted drama that includes countless reports by Muslims of having had visions of Jesus. According to [Rev. Gottfried] Martens and others interviewed for this article, most of these appearances follow a pattern reported by converts throughout the Islamic world: These Muslims see a figure of light, sometimes bearing the features of Christ, sometimes not. But they instantly know who he is. He always makes it clear that he is the Jesus of the Bible, not the “Isa” of the Quran, and he directs them to specific pastors, priests, congregations, or house churches where they will hear the gospel.

Thomas Schirrmacher, chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, comments on this pattern: “God sticks to the Reformation doctrine that faith comes by receiving the Word through Scripture and preaching. In these dreams, Jesus never engages in hocus-pocus, but sends these people to where the Word is faithfully proclaimed.” This is why Gottfried Martens says he cannot dismiss such narratives: “As a confessional Lutheran, I am not given to Schwärmerei,” he declares, using [Martin] Luther’s derogatory term for religious enthusiasm. “But these reports of visions sound very convincing.”

Cessationists will object, primarily because they lack the faith to imagine Jesus would continue to do such things in a world where it’s easier to send people a bible. To them, any such Jesus-sightings are a devilish hoax. Often their first skeptical question is, “So what’d he look like?” (As if they know.)

Remember, we’re looking for fruit. Jesus’s appearance proves nothing. John’s description in Revelation was that of a bronze man with white hair… but burning eyes, glowing feet, and a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. While it’s reasonable to figure Jesus in his late thirties was literally a bronze man with prematurely white hair, the sword indicates maybe we’re not meant to take John’s description literally. And since we already know the devil can look impressive if it likes 2Co 11.14 —the better to fool people—why’re we hung up on appearances anyway?

I’ll harp on it yet again: Fruit is what we’re looking for. Fruit is proof. Look for fruit. The Muslims who have visions of Jesus weren’t instructed to start their own churches, nor declare themselves prophets. They were sent to existing Christians who could explain Jesus to them. As was Paul when Jesus sent Ananias to him.

Discernment and Jesus-sightings.

Yes of course some reported Jesus-sightings are hoaxes. In those cases we don’t see fruit. We see people trying to get attention. Trying to start a money-making or power-grabbing scheme. Trying to sell books, or get on the lecture circuit. Trying to start a cult: Supposedly Jesus put ’em in charge, so follow them!

Doesn’t really matter whether they invented the hoax entirely on their own, or were tricked by some devil who took advantage of their greed. Plenty of heretics and cultists base their authority on “Jesus told me so; obey me or you’re not obeying him.” But their fruit sucks. No love, patience, kindness, self-control; plenty of others-control though. Plenty of threatening skeptics with damnation.

It’s precisely the same test we give fake prophets. A person who sees and hears God is gonna act like it. A person who never did (or rebels against what they saw and heard) isn’t. If anyone tells me they saw Jesus, and is kind of a jerk about it, I can’t believe them. Not just ’cause their lousy behavior makes me not want to believe them: Their fleshly activity speaks volumes against them. Even if they legitimately did see anything! 1Co 13.1-3 Lack of fruit always kills a testimony.

When a person tells me they saw Jesus, and consequently pursues him with all their heart, and has become substantially more mature in the Spirit, there’s every reason to believe them. The life reflects the testimony. When Jesus appeared to St. Francis of Assisi and told him, “Francis, go repair my house,” Francis’s subsequent life, utterly dedicated to Jesus, confirms his testimony. When Jesus appeared to St. Catherine of Siena and told her to leave her nunnery and care for the needy, she did. These are obvious examples of a Jesus-influenced life. Those who joined Francis and Catherine’s orders likewise demonstrate Jesus’s call on their lives.

So when cessationists ask, “What purpose does such an appearance serve?”—well, what purpose did Jesus’s appearance to Paul serve? It made him a substantial Christian. And his appearances to people nowadays have the very same goal.

Really, his appearances when he first became human had the same goal too. He didn’t just become human so he could die; he came to present us his life as an example, and point people to God. His appearances today do the very same thing.

After all, Jesus is in heaven, not prison. Why can’t he visit people whenever he likes, to get us to follow him better? (Or get us to follow him at all?)

So whenever you hear a Christian story or tradition about a Jesus-sighting—like the story of Peter seeing Jesus along his way to Rome; or of Francis or Catherine; or of Christians today who were about to give up and desperately cried out to God, and Jesus appeared to them; or of his many appearances to Muslims today—always look for fruit. Are these visionaries acting like people should act if they actually saw Jesus? Have they repented? Reformed? Transformed? Did Jesus tell them of the future, and is it coming true? Are these visionaries transforming others? Are they sharing Jesus? Are they encouraging and empowering their fellow Christians?

How ’bout you? Do you wanna see Jesus? Well, he may indeed appear to you. But if he does, be prepared to do everything he tells you. Be prepared to produce fruit. Be committed to obey him to the very end. That’s precisely the sort of person he wants to appear to:

John 14.21 NLT
“Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

In context, Jesus clearly wasn’t speaking of the second coming in this passage. Jn 14.22-23 He means he intends to interact with his followers. Now, not in the millennium. Jesus will reveal himself to us, his followers. Sometimes in powerful experiences. Sometimes in personal appearances. Follow him and see.