Some of the earliest followers of the executed Jesus of Nazareth, (who died around 30 CE), firmly believed they’d seen him alive again. To say more, we need to understand that the New Testament is like an archeological dig. There’s earlier and later material built on each another, a process of development reflecting ever-ongoing thinking, and re-thinking.
The earliest information about Jesus is NOT in the Gospels, but in Paul’s letters (written around 50-60 CE). Paul never met the physical Jesus. What he had, as described in a letter, was a ‘visionary experience.’ When he later writes about resurrection, it’s not something physical. He says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”. A resurrection body, in other words, isn’t natural but spiritual and so, like his visionary experience, can appear from nowhere, and vanish into thin air.
The next source of information about Jesus is the Gospel of Mark, (70+ CE). Although ‘shorter’ and ‘longer’ endings were later added, the original stopped short at the empty tomb, with no appearances, visionary or otherwise.
Next we have the Gospel of Matthew, (80-85 CE), where we get the first, limited, indications of a move from the spiritual to the physical. Those who ‘saw’ Jesus, “held on to his feet and worshipped him.”
Then we have the Gospel of Luke, (85-90 CE), and physicality greatly increases. Jesus could walk, talk and eat with two disciples, before “he vanished out of their sight.” Later on, Jesus appears to all the disciples and, contrary to what Paul wrote, says, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones.”
Lastly we have the Gospel of John, (90-100 CE). Here Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene but, contrary to Luke, says, “Do NOT touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” That is itself contrary to what happens later, when Jesus, although still not ‘ascended to his Father’, invites Thomas the doubter to touch the wounds in his hands and side.
What seems to be going on here is a development of original visionary experiences. In the retelling, these became more and more physical, despite what Paul wrote about ‘flesh and blood’. Early Christians had as many different opinions as those of today, and that’s why we have these inconsistencies and contradictions. We must all do our own reading and thinking, and reach our own conclusions. There is, however, one thing we can be certain about. Anyone who claims to ‘know’ exactly what did, or didn’t happen, in Jerusalem, on a certain date around 30 CE, doesn’t !
And, arguably, that’s good. Sometimes when people ‘know’, their minds can have so many closed rooms, that they turn away visitors from whom they could have learned new things. ‘Lockdown’ should never apply to the human mind, which should rather display the sign, ‘Open House’.