Strange Encounters

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Discernment

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Do people really see Jesus today?

Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’.” John 20:29

Now and then, people claim to have physical sightings of, close encounters with, and mystical visions of Jesus. Once upon a time, evangelist Oral Roberts saw Him.

I felt an overwhelming holy presence all around me. When I opened my eyes, there he stood-some 900 feet tall, looking at me. . . . He stood a full 300 feet taller than the 600-foot-tall City of Faith. There I was face to face with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. [1]

Once upon a time, Jesus visited a Texas man in an Oklahoma motel room. “He looked like his picture,” said George Wood, “but when you’re talking to the man for three hours, you forget the details.” [2]

Another person reports her visionary experience.

Hello, My name is __________. I have had encounters with Jesus Christ . . . My first vision was when I woke one day. I looked over at my alarm clock and saw that I still had a minute left before the alarm was set to go off, so I closed my eyes and thought “great, I’ll get one more wink.” Then I felt sort of paralyzed and saw Jesus Christ’s eyes looking at me! They were his eyes only. They were green with a hint of yellow and twice the size of a human’s eyes. . . . I cannot say how long it lasted because it seemed that time had stopped. The next thing I know I opened my eyes and saw that my clock still had one minute left! [3]

These “close encounters” with Jesus Christ raise issues about the present nature and appearance of His body, its current location, and the meaning of His second coming.

Jesus is the sinless God-man (Philippians 2:5-8). A church father remarked, “He remained what He was. He became what we are.” In His humanity, Jesus stood a certain height, weighed a number of pounds, possessed particular color hair, eyes, and complexion, walked in a particular gait, and exercised mental faculties and bodily functions like those of the rest of humanity. But Isaiah wrote of the Messiah’s appearance, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2, NIV). In the body of His humility, and as the Lamb of God, Jesus suffered and died for our sins.

But Jesus the Son of God lives! His bodily resurrection is the sine qua non of the faith (1 Corinthians 15:12-23). The resurrection body of Jesus was both different from, and similar to, the body of His humiliation. It could pass through walls, yet bore the scars of crucifixion (John 20:25-27). No scriptural evidence exists that His appearance was drastically altered as a 900-foot-tall apparition, or as a pair of disembodied, enlarged, and serpentine-colored eyes, suggest. If Jesus veiled His glory, there is no reason to believe that an appearance of Christ today would differ from those recorded after His resurrection. If Jesus did not veil His glory, it is doubtful His body could be seen (Acts 9:7-8; 22:11; Compare Matthew 17:2.).

Two apostles recorded encounters with Jesus after His ascension. In four instances, Paul met Him on the road to Damascus, heard Him speak in both a vision and a moment of ecstasy, and was encouraged by Him after a heated debate with the Sanhedrin (Acts 9:5; 18:9-10; 22:17-18; 23:11). In another instance, John saw Jesus (Revelation 1:12-20).

In difference to those claiming visions and sightings of Jesus on earth, John saw and heard Him in heaven. Paul saw and heard Him from heaven. Acts 23:11 appears to record an exception when it says “the Lord stood by” Paul, but uses a Greek participle referring to His reassuring appearance to the apostle in a dream at night. After Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:9, there is no evidence that the Lord’s feet ever touched this terrestrial planet again.

The Bible teaches that the risen and glorified Christ has a corporeal presence, not on earth, but in heaven. According to the apostle Peter, Jesus Christ “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (I Peter 3:22, NIV). The author of Hebrews agrees (Hebrews 4:14; 8:1). Jesus said He was going to that place (John 14:2-3).

The Bible promises Jesus’ spiritual presence with believers on earth (Matthew 28:20), but precludes His earthly physical presence until His Second Advent, which will be personal, physical, visible, and public. At the time of His ascension, two men in white assured the disciples, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). This promise starkly contrasts with the report of a private and casual visit with Jesus in an Oklahoma motel room, to a personal vision of His 90 story high standing presence, and with the mystical apparition of a pair of ghoulish green-yellow eyes.

While they were facing adversity, the Apostle Peter encouraged suffering believers that though tested by trials, the “proof” of their faith will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (Italics mine, 1 Peter 1:6-9). To Peter, faith was not sight, believing was not seeing.

In light of Peter’s statement that Christians had not seen the ascended Lord Jesus Christ then, it can be deduced that people are not seeing Him now. In a post-resurrection encounter with doubting Thomas, Jesus asked him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?” But regarding the many others who would not, and did not, see Him, the Lord stated, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). In His statement to Thomas, Jesus set His divine approval upon believers who believe the One whom they have not seen. If this is the case, why would Jesus deny such blessing to believers by appearing, willy-nilly, to them?

We live in an increasingly irrational, experiential, and mystical age when people are fascinated with UFOs, ancient astronauts, extra-terrestrials, and visitors from outer space. Claims and reports of alleged sightings of Jesus condescends His person to the spirit of our day. At the time of Jesus Christ’s revelation, when He comes again, not only will Christian believers be personally constituted like and publicly identified with Him (Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:13; 1 John 3:2), but also “every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him” (Revelation 1:7).

I conclude that, if the New Testament’s language is authoritative and meaningful for our faith, and it is, reports of physical sightings and mystical experiences with Jesus are strange encounters of the incredible kind.

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ENDNOTES
[1] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 19-20, 1983.
[2] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 2, 1983.
[3] “Visions of Jesus Christ,” (http://www.angels-online.com/iso.html).

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