All this is grounded in the crux, the high point and the turning point, of the gospel accounts of Christ.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke (we will consider John later), it is only through the Pascha of the Lord that the disciples came to know who he truly is.
Despite having been with Christ for a number of years, seeing him transfigured on Tabor and working miracles, hearing his teaching, and learning from his mother about the circumstances of his birth,
despite all this, the disciples abandon Christ at his Passion. Peter even denies him!
The only exception—Peter on the road to Caesarea Philippi (Mat 16)—is the exception that proves the rule.
When asked, Peter affirms: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Nonetheless, Christ points out that Peter did not know this by flesh and blood,
that is, by seeing and hearing Christ in the flesh.
It was by a revelation from the Father that Peter made his confession of faith—
Peter, the rock upon which Christ then declares that he will build his church, and that whatever Peter binds and looses, so it will be in heaven.
It is then, and only then, that Christ tells Peter, this supposed rock, that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer. Given that he has just been commended, it is perhaps understandable that Peter’s reply is: “That will never happen to you!”
And for this he gets the sharpest rebuke imaginable from Christ:
“Get behind me Satan!”
The paradox is absolute: the one, the only disciple to confess before the Passion that Christ is the Son of God, a few verses later is now called “Satan!” As Christ himself uses the term, “Satan” would apply to anyone who separates Christ from the Cross.
Before the Cross, the disciples simply do not understand who Christ is. But then, when they see him crucified they don’t understand either: they run in fear. Nor do they understand when they discover the empty tomb—for an empty tomb is, after all, ambiguous. Their reaction was to ask whether someone stole the body.
And even when we come to the encounters with the risen Christ, even there the disciples do not recognize him immediately. Each account of how they do come to recognize him has a particular point to make, that is, a point for us.
One of the most important and familiar is the encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). When the Risen Christ joins the disciples walking on the road, they do not recognize him.
It has only been a few days and yet they do not recognize him. In fact, they even start telling this “stranger” all that had happened and how some of their group had found the tomb empty … And they still don’t get it!
Clearly, a point is being made here.
The Risen Lord then opens the scriptures to show how Moses and all the Prophets had spoken of how the Christ had to suffer to enter into his glory. Only then do their hearts start to soften, and after persuading him to stay the night, their eyes were finally opened with the breaking of the bread.
However, at this point, he disappears from sight!
Once they finally recognize him, finally know him—the crucified and exalted Lord—to be the Son of God, he passes from their view. Hence, from the beginning, Christians have been waiting for his coming. The earliest Christian writings that now comprise the New Testament do not speak of a “second coming,” but instead describe more simply and directly how Christians await the coming of their Lord.
Christ was, is, and always remains the “coming one”—
whose coming, whose presence, whose parousia, coincides with his passage, his transitus, his exodus
—leaving us a trace of his presence and igniting a desire for him. As St Augustine wrote in his Confessions:
“Through him you sought us when we were not seeking you, but you sought us that we might begin to seek you.”
Considering how it is that the disciples come to know Christ, is important for two reasons.