Those of us who embrace Jesus as our Savior often take it for granted that, once Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they immediately recognized and believed that what he told them was true, namely, he would go to Jerusalem, and the authorities would arrest him, turn him over to the gentiles, and they would crucify him, but he would also be raised to life after three days. Nevertheless, if we do believe this, it isn’t so. Even after Jesus appeared to his Apostles and other disciples, most of them still didn’t believe he had risen from the dead. This is how great a power their previous worldview exercised over their accepting what their eyes and ears and hands clearly told them. They simply would not believe what the facts distinctly revealed. They kept making allowances for what contradicted what they still believed. Pretty much, this is exactly what we can expect of anyone who has had his worldview challenged by the Gospel. Folks simply do not want to give up what they believe about reality.
As the disciples spoke to one another, presumably denying Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:12-13), but wondering about the things that occurred that day (Luke 24:12), Jesus stood in the their midst (Luke 24:36), despite the doors being shut and locked (John 20:19). As he did so, he offered the normal Jewish greeting—“Shalom” or ‘Peace’ be unto you! Nevertheless, rather than rejoicing, Jesus’ disciples became terrified, because they supposed they were seeing a spirit (Luke 24:37).
Far from their receiving his peace, they seemed fretful and troubled, so Jesus asked them why they were so anxious and inwardly disturbed, or in other words: why they were so involved in reasoning and arguing (G1261) among themselves (Luke 24:38). The same Greek word is used in Romans 1:21 to describe men whose hearts were darkened, because they held vain thoughts about God. They presumed themselves wise (Romans 1:22) but foolishly corrupted the glory of God through their understanding (Romans 1:23), which thinking eventually expunged the true God from their knowledge (Romans 1:28). This same Greek word is used by Paul in 1Corinthians 3:20 to describe the thoughts of the wise men of this world, concluding those thoughts are idolatrous (vain). In other words, the disciples’ disputing among themselves was not to come to a better understanding of God, but, rather, they were rejecting the true knowledge of God in favor of false doctrine, which they embraced from their human teachers (1Corinthians 3:20), probably the Pharisees. If left to themselves, they would have rejected God altogether (cf. Romans 1:28).
Jesus’ response in Luke 24:39-40 shows that the disciples were still in unbelief. Notice that they presumed Jesus was a spirit. That is, they needed to place their fingers and hands into Jesus’ wounds (Luke 24:39-40; cf. John 20:25, 27) in order to believe he was truly resurrected. They didn’t trust what their eyes and ears told them. This is proof that the Apostles and those with them didn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead, anytime before he appeared to them. Therefore, the words in Luke 24:34 should be understood as coming from Cleopas (cf. Luke 24:18) and not the Apostles. In other words, Jesus had not appeared to Peter yet, and the Simon in Luke 24:34 must be Cleopas’ companion, not Peter, as is generally assumed. So, just as Jesus had shown the two in Emmaus his hands (Luke 24:30-31, 35), so he showed his Apostles and the others with them, so they could believe. Yet, even after this, they still persisted in their disbelief, thinking such a thing was simply too good to be true (Luke 24:41).