Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

“The Appearance of Christ at the Cenacle” by James Tissot

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“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.’

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you. Put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:19–31).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

I’m not sure why I had never read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas until about 20 years ago when it came out as the latest remake of dozens of motion pictures and television series. It’s not because of its length. I’ve read many other books that are just as long. It’s not its subject matter, either. The twelve hundred pages are a well-told tale of love, prison, escape, murder, justice, and revenge—some of my favorite subjects and settings.

Edmond Dantes is the central character. The entire plot is driven by what happens to him and what he does. Every single page is about Edmond Dantes. Since it was written nearly two hundred years ago, I don’t feel the need to issue a spoiler alert. Edmond Dantes was wronged, multiple times and in multiple ways. As a result, he bears the burden of trying to make things right. He alone bears the burden because no one else is in a position to restore order. So, he conceives and orchestrates a complicated scheme to bring about justice for many people. Then he patiently executes each phase of this plan. The entire story revolves around Edmond Dantes, every single page.[i]

But there’s an interesting thing about reading The Count of Monte Cristo: You can go dozens and even hundreds of pages without seeing or hearing from Edmond Dantes. It is a big book, set in many locations, with many characters and subplots. And there are huge sections where the name “Edmond Dantes” is nowhere to be found. But even those paragraphs, pages, and chapters in which the main character is not mentioned are all about Edmond Dantes and his plan to bring about justice.[ii]

Now you see him, now you don’t. He might not be speaking. People might not even know his name or his story. The character you are reading about might never have even heard of his existence. As a reader, there are times when you have no idea what he is doing. In fact, he might be acting through an agent or under an alias, but it is all about Edmond Dantes and what he is doing every step of the way.[iii] Once you realize this fact, that is when the story comes alive and begins to make sense!

We see this same thing happen in John 20. The disciples see Jesus, but then they do not. But then they do. Now you see Him, now you don’t. What we see over these eight days beginning on Easter is just what Jesus said would happen earlier. In John 7:32-36, the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest Him. Jesus told them and the crowds listening in: “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and you will not find Me. Where I am you cannot come.” His opponents couldn’t figure out what Jesus meant. In John 8:21-30, Jesus spoke to the crowd: “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” In both passages, Jesus told His audience about the nature of His presence with them, and His hiddenness. Now you see Him, now you don’t.

Following His resurrection, Mary Magdalene had been the first to see Jesus. She didn’t realize it at first but supposed Him to be the gardener. It wasn’t until He spoke her name that she recognized Him. At Jesus’ instruction, Mary Magdalene went to tell His disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:15f). The other women who had gone to the tomb had also seen the risen Jesus and they had run to tell the good news that He is risen (Matthew 28:9f). Cleopas and another disciple had met the risen Savior on the road to Emmaus. They were kept from recognizing Jesus until He broke the bread. Then, He vanished. Now you see Him, now you don’t.

So, in a confused and fearful state of mind, Jesus’ followers were gathered that evening behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. But locked doors do not keep out the risen Jesus. We don’t know much about His resurrected body, but we do know He left a sealed tomb with even the grave clothes still intact and then He appeared inside a locked room.

Jesus greeted the distraught disciples with the typical Hebrew greeting: “Peace be with you.” But on the lips of the risen Savior, it was much more than a casual wish. He brought them the peace that the world could not give (John 14:27), the peace that would sustain them through all earthly troubles (John 16:33). Every disciple can still read and apply this greeting personally. Jesus also says to you and me, “Peace be with you!”

The disciples reacted in their fear as if they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37-39). But Jesus’ resurrected body still bore the marks of the nails and the spear at the crucifixion, to which Jesus pointed to erase their last doubts. “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).

Jesus again spoke peace to them and commissioned them to continue His work. Although He had reserved a special outpouring of His Holy Spirit on them for Pentecost, He gave them the Holy Spirit here too, to sustain them in their mission of forgiving penitent sinners and holding the impenitent to their sins.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas, missed Jesus’ appearance on Easter Sunday night. When the others told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas didn’t believe. He demanded proof, not only visible proof (maybe they had seen a phantom image), but physical proof. He wanted to inspect the telltale wounds.

A week later, the disciples were again gathered behind locked doors. This time, Thomas was with them. Jesus offered the exact proof Thomas had demanded. Thomas didn’t have to examine further. He confessed his faith in Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” To which Jesus responded, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Many will not see the risen Christ in person, but will believe by the testimony of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.

Though John was referring explicitly to his own Gospel account of Jesus’ life, his words in 20:31 are true of all of Scripture: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” It is all about Jesus.

The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published as a serial in eighteen parts over the span of a few years, though today we can hold the whole narrative in a single volume. Similarly, we hold the fullness of God’s inspired revelation in a single volume, even though it was released serially over many hundreds of years.”[iv] And when we read the narrative, we do not always see the main protagonist. You can go dozens and even hundreds of pages without seeing or hearing the name “Jesus” or His title of “Christ.”

Now you see Him, now you don’t. He might not be speaking. People might not even know His name or His story. The person you are interacting with might never have even heard of His existence. There are times when you have no idea what He is doing. In fact, He might be acting through an agent or under an alias, but it is all about Jesus the Christ, every single moment. Once you realize this fact, that is when the story comes alive and begins to make more sense!

That’s what Jesus did when He traveled with the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). In both of their post-Easter encounters, John and Luke highlight how Jesus is the center of the story, even when we do not see Him.

You and I continue to live in this very same truth. Human history, as recorded in Scripture and lived out today in real time, is full of thousands of pages of love, betrayal, prison, escape, murder, revenge, and justice. Some of these are the ugly consequences of sin. But despite how broken it has been, is, and may become, God alone bears the burden of restoring order and executing justice.[v] And God brings all of this to completion in Jesus, “Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

“Whether we see Him as clearly as the disciples did on the evening of the first Easter, or whether He is hidden from our sight as He was from theirs for the following seven days, we have the Word.”[vi] And there, on every page, in every theme, in every major character and every major plot twist, we are invited to see God’s unfolding work to make all things new and whole in Jesus.

Jesus lived the perfect life you and I could not. He died on the cross in payment for our sins. He rose from the dead on the third day, giving us the sure and certain hope of our own bodily resurrection. He ascended into heaven where He rules all things for the good of His Church and His Christians. One day He will return to judge the living and the dead. He will take you and me and all believers to be with Him in His Kingdom for eternity.

In the meanwhile, Jesus continues to work in His Church today, often in hidden ways. In the Church, the pastor officiates publicly. He speaks the words of Absolution in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. He preaches the Gospel, all of which is about Christ. He baptizes and administers Holy Communion. In the family and with our neighbor, every Christian exercises forgiveness with Christ’s authority. We forgive those who sin against us. We assure each other of Christ’s forgiveness. We tell our children, our friends, our co-workers that Jesus’ death has given them eternal life.

But can that be true? Can we believe it? All we see is the pastor or another Christian. That’s not a very impressive picture! Can we believe we have Christ’s peace without seeing peace itself, without seeing Christ Himself? All we have is Christ’s Word. But we do have Christ’s Word! And Christ says, “When Pastor speaks My words of forgiveness, you’re hearing Me!” When you come to My Supper you receive My very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith. When Christians speak My Word of the Gospel to each other, you surely have everything My Word promises. You have Me with you, for even as I authorized My Church to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, and then ascended visibly to heaven, I promised, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ One day I will return just as I left and you will see Me visibly, face-to-face. Until then, be My mouth, My hands, My feet in this world. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-john-2019-31-easter-2-series-c-2.

[ii] Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-john-2019-31-easter-2-series-c-2.

[iii] Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-john-2019-31-easter-2-series-c-2.

[iv] Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-john-2019-31-easter-2-series-c-2.

[v] Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-john-2019-31-easter-2-series-c-2.

[vi] Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Easter 2: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-john-2019-31-easter-2-series-c-2.

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