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John 20

11Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Luke 24

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles a from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him.

John 21

1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. a It happened this way: 2Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus b ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

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    Hi Debbie. Because my answer will not be based on Hermeneutics but rather Math, I thought of just posting it as a comment. If you want an explanation I'd consider putting it as an answer. I think the spirit realm where God (and spirits) dwell, is a higher dimension than ours and that a resurrected person with a glorified body will have the ability to interact in both the the way that Jesus did. When you understand the interaction of higher dimensional bodies in lower dimension it might give you a reasoned answer to your Q. Here is a suggested video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4URVJ3D8e8k – Pieter Rousseau Oct 28 '20 at 8:06
  • @PieterRousseau What you say is true of certain aspects, for example the vacation of the tomb by a physical body. But there are more practical reasons with which to answer this question. (See below.) – Nigel J Oct 28 '20 at 8:09
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    Hi Debbie, this is a great first question - welcome to BHSE. Please do take the Site Tour when you get a chance, which explains more about the scope of the site and how it all works. This question is at risk of being closed as a duplicate due to the significant overlap with this question as well as a few others. Can you please take a look and see what you think? – Steve Taylor Oct 28 '20 at 9:28
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    @SteveTaylor The previous question was not actually factual. It is not true that Jesus was 'consistently not recognised' and that question could not, actually, be answered, it could only be disproved. This question is more intelligent because it specifically asks about the three occasions which are relevant. And those occasions can, indeed, be quantified. The previous question was, also, never accepted by the OP. – Nigel J Oct 28 '20 at 9:52
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    All great points @NigelJ, thanks for checking all that over. There does seem to be a clear cluster around this topic with lots of tight overlap, so it's a shame so much of the work others have done on answering very similar questions hasn't really been recognised. – Steve Taylor Oct 28 '20 at 10:11
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In the first case, Mary was exceedingly upset. 'They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid him.' Grief overcame her. And frustration, that she could neither find Jesus nor lay him to rest. True, there were reasons that she should have known what would happen and what was yet to happen, but who can fault her as she wept in her love for the Lord ?

Tears and grief so overwhelmed her, that she probably did not even lift up her head when she became conscious of whom she supposed was the gardener.

Not until he spoke her name, did she realise whom it was.

On the second occasion we are told that, due to angelic or divine prevention, the two on the road to Emmaus were prevented from recognising Jesus. This was for a reason prompted by the Spirit of God. And it was to good purpose, as we can see as the passage unfolds.

Lastly, the disciples were in a boat off-shore, at a distance from land, in deep enough water to catch a shoal of fish. Calling across such a distance, with maybe echoes occuring from rock formations, would disguise the voice. And the distance would be sufficient not to recognise features. Had Jesus been moving, his gait may have been a clue. Often we recognise people by their posture, the way they hold themselves upright or by the way they walk and move their weight around.

But Jesus was by the fire, cooking. Probably inert.

Thus the reasons for the lack of recognition. And also, that noted in comment by @Michael Mior ... that seeing someone out of the usual context (and being deceased is surely an exemplary form of being 'out of context') one does not process the recognition.

On other occasions he was recognised. By five hundred brethren, as reported :

... he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve, After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. [1 Corinthians 15:6 KJV.]

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    Also worth noting that given that at least the first time He appeared to each person, Jesus would have been about the last person they expected to see. I know personally there have been times where I have encountered someone I know well in an unexpected setting and it took me a moment to recognize them. And these are people who I knew to still be living. – Michael Mior Oct 28 '20 at 15:43
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    @MichaelMior Yes, I agree. I have had the same experience, to see someone out of the normal context and on that account not to recognise them. I cannot, of course, add to that the experience of seeing someone, in the flesh, whom I knew to be dead. That also, must come as an inexplicable shock which even if faith understands the necessity of resurrection must cause the natural mind to blank out information which it cannot process. – Nigel J Oct 28 '20 at 15:48
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    @MichaelMior Was this within days of last seeing them or possibly months or even years? Aging plays a factor in the latter – Nihil Sine Deo Oct 28 '20 at 17:46
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    @NihilSineDeo Acts 1:3 indicates Jesus was on earth for only 40 days after the resurrection. – Michael Mior Oct 29 '20 at 17:03
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    @NihilSineDeo I was talking about people I see occasionally but sometimes I will see them in a place where I would not normally expect to see them. For example, seeing a friend from work walking around my neighbourhood at home. (Regardless, this is purely anecdotal.) – Michael Mior Oct 29 '20 at 19:49
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Because they had watched Him die.

Even if foretold, resurrection is very hard to believe. Just like moderns, the ancients tended to assume that the dead stay dead, and would have trouble recognizing anyone they knew was dead, even right in front of their eyes.

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  • I agree with your point (+1) because what Mary said supports that, “They have taken my Lord away.” On numerous times Jesus kept telling of their unbelief, “..., and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? (Luke 24:25)”. Eyes can NOT see when the sight of the heart is blanked in disbelief. – Tesfaye Wolde Oct 28 '20 at 19:56
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Means of identification

The biological body with five senses, touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing can identify a person.

The mind though immaterial is another means of identifying a person, key phrases, behaviors and/or mannerisms can bring into play memories which identify a person.

Morphing

Jesus Himself prior even to His resurrection transfigured or morphed.

“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:2‬

Of Lucifer it is said he morphs

“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭11:14‬

It’s important to note that at this point Jesus’ carnal/human biological body containing blood has been exchanged/replaced/upgraded

“It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:44, 52-53‬

Analysis

OP has highlighted three historical events whereby those close to Jesus did not recognize him.

John 20

Mary could rely on hearing, and sight to identify Jesus, as well as memory. We can establish that when Jesus called her by name He did not mask his voice and that instantly helped her identify Jesus by prior to that we are told she heard him, because they had conversation and she saw him because they were face to face. The language and wording would indicate they were close to each other.

Granted she was crying, this might have blurred her vision but His voice could not have been mistaken for another unless He had masked it by speaking in a different voice.

Logically it’s not a stretch to infer that Jesus looked different and/or sounded different that Mary did not know it was Him

Luke 24

The Road to Emmaus. Once again two men this time, in Jesus’ inner circle, maybe not two of the eleven but their remark about their “hearts burning inside” indicates that they were familiar with His preaching/teaching. They saw the man, he walked with them, so they could smell Him, they might have even touched Him when insisting He should stay with them for the night and share more Scriptures with them, they obviously heard Him and they had memories of Jesus.

And yet they didn’t recognize Him. While it’s possible that God blinded them from recognizing Jesus though Jesus was unchanged, it’s also possible they were not able to recognize Him because He was transfigured and unidentifiable to His former body

John 21

At the seaside. One thing that was most curious about this event is Jesus calls out to them and refers to them as “Children”. That phraseology is not typical of peers or men of similar age but of a senior to younger men. Even after John tells Peter it’s the Lord the text says something curious

“Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.” ‭‭John‬ ‭21:12‬

If someone is looking at a person that days earlier appeared in the room that was locked and He had a certain appearance and now they are looking at the same person but were thinking not to ask “who are you” because they knew it was the Lord, whatever gave away that it was the Lord wasn’t His appearance. He was clearly transfigured as looked and sounded like an older gentleman.

Conclusion

In simple understanding Jesus was not easily identifiable though His face was seen, His voice was heard because He was able to transfigure and take on different human appearances and speak with different voices.

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  • Yes! His body had spiritual’ life (No blood - and [physical] life is in the blood.) So ‘mans’ physical senses were what didn’t recognise Jesus. +1 – Dave Oct 28 '20 at 18:49
  • @Dave A body without blood is a corpse. The risen Christ was a living Person. – Nigel J Oct 29 '20 at 17:14
  • @NigelJ Are you arguing that Jesus had blood in his resurrected body? – Nihil Sine Deo Oct 29 '20 at 17:41
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    @Nigel J Yes, but (as you know) now we are entering a historic debate. Blood contains the ‘life’ for a physical body. Resurrected bodies have another source for life. The blood of Jesus was shed, [used elsewhere] - I appreciate this view is by no means universal, I am only outlining the position I took in my comment. – Dave Oct 29 '20 at 17:50
  • @Dave Then why eat fish and an honeycomb ? . . . If 'there is another source of life' ? But, as you say this is a debate and not the place for it. Regards. – Nigel J Oct 29 '20 at 18:12
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Acts 10:40-41 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. NASB

There is a clear sense that God was supervising the revealing of the re-born son.

(Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church ... the firstborn from the dead...)

It wasn't the state Jesus was in, but the eyes/mind of those who were firstly oblivious to who he was, and then later, they were 'granted' sight to clearly see and recognise him.

They thought he was another traveller. Mary thought he was the gardener - just another bloke. (Luke 24) Note, they weren't alarmed or puzzled by who they initially saw, so it adds depth to the reasoning that Jesus didn't look especially different from a normal person. There are many different interpretations/translations of the Acts passage, some are potentially misleading - suggesting that Jesus wasn't bodily present.

Luke 24:39 Touch me and see; a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.

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