Why did the disciples sometimes not recognize Jesus after His resurrection?


Hello all,
I was hoping to get a better understanding as to why the disciples sometimes didn’t recognize the Lord after His resurrection. I got to thinking about this at Easter and was wondering what the Catholic perspective on this might be. I realize this is not a major point and it doesn’t affect my faith one way or the other, but I was just a little puzzled by it.

I was mainly just wondering if it was out of shock from seeing Him alive again or whether Jesus’s appearance was slightly different after His resurrection

1)In John 20:15, Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for the gardener

  1. In John 21:4, the disciples were fishing on the Lake of Galilee and they didn’t know who Jesus was when he told them from the shore to toss their nets on the other side of the boat, where they caught a bunch of fish.
  2. In **Luke 24 **on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was actually walking alongside two of the disciples and they still weren’t able to recognize Him.

In the first two cases, I speculated that it might’ve been the time of day or perhaps the amount distance between His followers and Jesus, especially in the case of John 21:4 when they were fishing, but in Example 3 above on the road to Emmaus Jesus was actually walking alongside them and they still didn’t recognize Him until later on when they broke bread.

Any assistance would be appreciated. Thanks.


Luke 24:16 “But their eyes were held, that they should not know him.”

St. Theophylact: “He appeared to them in a different form, in which they were not permitted to know Him … in order truly that they may reveal their entirely doubtful conceptions, and uncovering their wound may receive a cure …”

St. Gregory: “to them as they talked of Him He exhibited His presence, but as they doubted of Him He concealed the appearance which they knew.”

St. Bede: “in reality He was a stranger to them, from the infirmity of whose natures, now that He had obtained the glory of the resurrection, He was far removed, and to whose faith, as yet ignorant of His resurrection, He remained foreign.”

Source: Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas.


Thanks, Ad Orientem. If I understood the quotes from St. Theophylact,St. Gregory, and St Bede correctly, Jesus’ physical appearance changed to that of His glorified body after the resurrection. Am I understanding that correctly?


Maybe Jesus deliberately was aiming / intending for maximum SHOCK effect.

HE intended to create a teachable moment.

HE took a mundane occurrence and created something we are still dissecting and analyzing 2000 years later!


Thank you Tommy999, very thoughtful.

  • 1, except that I wouldn’t call resurrection from death “mundane”!!!




Some thoughts I had on this issue from a few years back:

There are 2 factors here:

First of all, the pneumatikon soma, although designed around the template of the original human body, is different in some ways. Saint Paul said that what is “sown in weakness…is raised in power; [what is] sown in dishonor…is raised in glory…sown a natural body…raised a spiritual body [pneumatikon soma].” While we are not told in detail what the changes will be, clearly the bodies are not exactly the same, and so failure of recognition is hardly inexplicable.

But also, HIS disciples had just seen him die. One of the brutal facts about human death is you don’t get that person back. So the disciples were probably in a state of mental block when they saw HIM.




After the resurrection, it seems like Jesus revealed himself to the apostles the same way he revealed the word of God to them during his ministry. He did it gradually and with care. Sometimes the apostles knew exactly who He was. Sometimes they didn’t have a clue until later on and they had time to ‘chew’ on the experience.

He was the Word made flesh.


Thanks, GEddie. This is cool stuff. I like your insights a lot and that really helps answer my question. :tiphat:


Thanks for this, 1Lord1Faith. It makes sense. I have a clearer picture now. Thanks to everyone for the replies.


Read the transfiguration accounts (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9) and notice that Jesus appeared in His glory, and that His appearance was changed. Peter, James and John received a vision of the resurrection (and of the Kingdom of God). Not only that, they were the only humans in 1250 years to be privileged to both see and hear the deliverer Moses and the only humans in 800-900 years to both see and hear the prophet Elijah. Little wonder that Peter began babbling at random.

Luke 9:27 and the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark are mysterious until one realizes that our Lord spoke of the transfiguration, for it follows immediately. Glorified bodies have a different physical appearance.


Yes. you’re right. The glorified body is not exactly like the earthly body prior to death. St. Paul said there was continuity and discontinuity. He compared the earthly body prior to death and the glorified body to a seed planted in the ground and the flower or fruit that grows from that seed.

There were similarities in Christ’s glorified appearance, but there were dissimilarities, as well, enough so that the disciples did not immediately recognize him, at least not until he spoke their name. And of course, the disciples were not expecting to see him again. Whereas Christ had raised some from the dead to continue life in their earthly body, no one had ever been resurrected in a glorified body before. Sadly, but understandably, after Christ’s death, the disciples, until Christ’s Resurrection, might have feared he was yet another false messiah.


Hi, Tommy!

…I’m sure the previous posts offered enough… still, here’s my 2s:

Jesus warned that:

19 In a short time the world will no longer see me; but you will see that I live and you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. 21 Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him.’ 22 Judas – not Judas Iscariot – said to him, ‘Lord, what has happened, that you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ 23 Jesus replied: Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him. 24 Anyone who does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not my own: it is the word of the Father who sent me. 25 I have said these things to you while still with you; 26 but the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. (St. John 14:19-26)

I believe that Jesus’ Resurrection is that turning point… the world would no longer see and recognize Jesus–even if He appeared in the midst of them… only through the Holy Spirit would He be Known… the Twelve, or rather the Eleven, would see Him and Know Him because they were separated from the world and had received the Grace of the Holy Spirit… still, as with Saul, only till Jesus Speaks or Searches them would most of His disciples come to see Him and Know Him, in the Holy Spirit.

Maran atha!



Thank you very much for the insight, jcrichton. That was very helpful.


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