The Gospels record various appearances of Jesus after his death and resurrection. All of these appearances involve at least two aspects: sight and communication. Many appearances also include physical touch.
But Luke records a resurrection appearance that included something very unique: eating fish. The account is found in Luke 24:36-43:
“As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.”
The Nature of the Appearance
Let’s start with who was there. Verse 36 mentions a “they” and the preceding verses explain who they are. Two men on the road to Emmaus walked and talked with the risen Jesus. Once they realized who they were talking to, Luke says “they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together” (24:33). Those present at this appearance include these two men, the eleven apostles (minus Judas), and at least two other disciples as well. This adds up to at least 15 people.
When these disciples saw Jesus, he immediately recognized their disbelief. They thought Jesus was a ghost! Jesus responded “see…that it is I myself.” This indicates that all of these disciples saw and heard the same person. To provide more evidence, Jesus invited them to touch his body and examine his hands and feet. Presumably, at least some of the disciples did so. Jesus then assures them that they are not seeing a ghost, but a real human being with “flesh and bones.”
You may have heard the phrase “seeing is believing” but not this time! In fact, this account shows that seeing, hearing and touching is not believing! The disciples just couldn’t trust their own eyes, ears and hands and the moment. But who could blame them?
So Jesus does one more thing to prove that he is really there: he asks for something to eat. The disciples take a piece of fish and give it to Jesus. But this wasn’t just any fish; it was a fish that they had broiled. The disciples must have watched in amazement as Jesus ate the fish right in front of them. The fish that they had broiled completely disappeared before their eyes.
This piece of fish could have been a significant factor for their faith because Luke tells us that some of these disciples started to worship Jesus (Luke 24:52). They had become convinced that Jesus rose from the dead.
A Silver Bullet
This account in Luke is quite striking and blows holes through one of skeptics’ favorite explanations for Jesus’ appearances: the hallucination theory.
There were at least 15 people who had the same experience. These disciples saw, heard, and touched the same Jesus. They had plenty of time to talk with him, examine his hands and feet, and eat a meal with him. On top of this, they watched a physical piece of fish that they had cooked themselves disappear in front of them.
This leaves us with a few questions. Did these 15 (or more) disciples see, hear and touch the same hallucination? Did they all imagine cooking a piece of fish that wasn’t really there? I think not.
Instead, I’m inclined to believe that Luke’s account is accurate. Jesus physically appeared to the disciples and ate a piece of fish to prove it!