Jesus still appears to people, y’know.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 May

No, he didn’t stop doing it in bible times.

Several years after Jesus ascended to heaven, Paul of Tarsus (also known by his Hebrew name Saul) met him enroute to Damascus. He later retold that story to his king:

Acts 26.13-20 KWL
13 “In midday on the road I saw, King, a light from heaven brighter than the sun
shining round me and those going with me. 14 We all fell down to the ground.
I heard a voice telling me in the Hebraic dialect, ‘Saul! Saul!
Why are you pursuing me? Isn’t it harsh of you to jab your spurs?’
15 I said, ‘Who are you, Master?’ and the Master said ‘I’m Jesus, whom you’re pursuing.
16 But get up and stand on your feet. You’re seeing me for this reason:
I’m taking charge of you, as my assistant and witness, who saw and will see me.
17 I separate you to myself from the people, from the gentiles to whom I’m sending you,
18 to open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, from Satan’s power to God.
To take forgiveness from sin to them, a place among those made holy by trusting in me.‘
19 Therefore, King Agrippa, I wasn’t about to become disobedient to a heavenly vision,
20 but to the Damascenes first, then Jerusalemites, the whole province of Judea, and the gentiles,
I declared repentance and return to God,
and doing good works consistent with repentance.”

Paul was dead set on destroying Christianity, but 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 revelation and self-sacrifice of Jesus brought grace into 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, and nobody else. Nobody since.

There I’d have to disagree with them. And most of you already know about this second “special” Jesus-appearance:

Revelation 1.9-18 KWL
9 I’m John, your fellow Christian, experiencing the tribulation with you—
and the kingdom, and the patient endurance of Jesus.
I was put on the island called Patmos because of God’s word and my witness of Jesus.
10 In spirit, I saw the Day of the Lord.
I heard a great voice behind me, like a war trumpet, 11 saying,
“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches—
to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
12 I turned round to see the voice speaking with me,
and in so doing I saw seven gold lampstands;
13 in the middle of the lampstands, one like the Son of Man,
clad in a full-length robe with a gold belt wrapped round his chest.
14 His head and hair: White, like white wool, like snow. His eyes like fiery flames.
15 His feet the same: White bronze, refined in a furnace. His voice: Like the sound of many waters.
16 He had seven stars in his right hand. From his mouth came a sharp, double-edged saber.
His face: Like the sun, shining in its power.
17 Once I saw the Son of Man, I fell to his feet like a dead man.
He placed his right hand on me, saying, “Don’t fear!
I’m the First and the Last 18 and the Living. I became a dead man and look: I’m living!
Forever and ever. I have the keys to death and the afterlife.”

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

Yeah, you already knew I got a third one.

Acts 7.55-56 KWL
55 Becoming full of the Holy Spirit, staring into the sky,
Stephen saw God’s glory, and Jesus standing at God’s right.
56 Stephen said, “Look! I see the skies opened, and the Son of Man standing at God’s right!”

“Okay, but other than those three—”

Acts 9.10-16 KWL
10 There was a student in Damascus named Ananias, and the Master spoke to him in a vision: “Ananias!”
Ananias said, “Look at me, Master.”
11 The Master told him, “Get up and go to the street called Evtheían.
Look in Judah’s house for Saul, called ‘the Tarsean.’
Look, he’s praying: 12 He foresaw a man called Ananias who entered,
and laid hands on him so he might receive sight.”
13 Ananias replied, “Master, I heard from many people about this man—
so much evil he did in Jerusalem to your saints, 14 which is why he’s here:
He has power from the head priests to bind everybody who calls on your name.”
15 The Master told Ananias, “Go, because he’s my chosen vessel.
This man is to carry my name before gentiles, kings, and Israel’s descendants.
16 I’ll reveal to him how much he must suffer for my name.”

“Okay, but other than those four—”

Acts 23.11 KWL
Night fell. Coming to Paul, the Master said, “Courage.
For just as you testified about me in Jerusalem, so you have to testify in Rome.”

“No, that doesn’t count; that’s Paul again.” As if Jesus’s future appearances to the same person don’t count as separate appearances.

Still, that’s four times Jesus appeared to people after his rapture. Y’realize we Christians will base entire doctrines on one incident. Here we’ve got four 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 don’t mean tortillas.

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

Every so often it makes the news: Somebody finds a stain on the wall which sorta kinda resembles Jesus. Or 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 “sorta 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, although they’ve seen some of the white Jesus paintings in our churches. They see a bearded guy; they figure it’s Jesus. It’s a sign. A miracle.

Now, if there’s no beard, it’s not a miracle. Just a coincidence. 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, and Jesus appears to give ’em a full-on shove in his direction. Sometimes it’s to people who have no clue they should be following Jesus (i.e. Paul) and he utterly turns them around.

How do we know they’re 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. And we do. When it’s fake, they sell toasters.

Now, I’m not knocking people who wanna sell novelty toasters. 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. The real thing produces 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 GoodReads, ’cause the CT article is now 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 Qur’an, 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 a thing 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 saber coming out of his mouth. Not sure we’re meant to take that literally. 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 see 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.

Yeah of course some reported Jesus-sightings are hoaxes. Like I said, we don’t see fruit: We see people trying to get attention. Trying to start a money-making or power-making scheme. Supposedly Jesus put ’em in charge, so follow them!

Doesn’t really matter whether they invented this hoax entirely on their own, or were tricked by some devil who took advantage of their greed. Plenty of heretics and cult leaders 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 to 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, but is kind of a jerk about it, I can’t believe them. Not just ’cause I don’t wanna; their fruitless behavior speaks against them, even if they legitimately did see something. 1Co 13.1-3 Lack of fruit always kills a testimony.

Whereas if a person tells me they saw Jesus, and 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, proved 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, there we are. It serves the very same purpose as Jesus’s incarnation: He didn’t just become human so he could die. He came to give us his life as an example, and to 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 them to follow him better? (Or 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 they acting like people would act if they truly 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 KWL
“Those who have my commands and keep them: These are the ones who love me.
Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I’ll love them. I’ll show myself to them.”

In context he clearly wasn’t talking about the End. Jn 14.22-23 Jesus will reveal himself to us, his followers. Sometimes in powerful experiences. Sometimes in personal appearances. Follow him and see.