Why didn't people recognize Jesus after His resurrection?
The gospels tell us that the disciples and others did not recognize Jesus after the resurrection. John 20:14 states that Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus the day He was resurrected. Luke 24:16, 31 tell us that two men did not recognize Jesus after the resurrection. John 21:4 says that the disciples did not recognize Jesus on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. So the question is, “Why didn’t people recognize Jesus after His resurrection?”
Some People Did Not Recognize Jesus
John 20:1-18 records what happened at Jesus’ tomb on the morning of the resurrection (3 April A. D. 33). The other three gospels also give us additional information (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24). John 20:14 states that Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus that morning when Jesus spoke to her. John 20:14 says,
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. John 20:14 (NASB)
Why did she not recognize Jesus? We are not given a reason in any of the gospels.
John 21:1-23 tells us that later Jesus and some of the disciples were on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. Verse 4 says the group did not recognize Him, but we are not told why.
But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. John 21:4 (NASB)
But John 21:7 reveals that the apostle John then recognized Jesus later.
So, why did Mary Magdalene not recognize Jesus, and why did the disciples not recognize Jesus? We are not given any reasons on both of those occasions.
Two Disciples Did Not Recognize Jesus
If we back up to the day of Jesus’ resurrection, we are told about two disciples who were walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Verse 15 says that Jesus joined them and began walking with them. Luke 24:16 says the two disciples did not recognize Jesus.
But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. Luke 24:16 (NASB)
Here we are given the reason why they did not recognize Jesus on this occasion either. Verse 31 adds that people did recognize Jesus later when they were eating a meal. Now “Why didn’t people recognize Jesus after His resurrection?” This account explains the reason two times.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. Luke 24:31 (NASB)
They could not recognize Jesus because they were prevented from recognizing Him. God had “blinded their eyes.” Then later He allowed them to recognize Him. Why did He do this? We are not given the specific reason.
A number of times we are told in the gospels that people were prevented from understanding things that Christ taught. John 12:39-40 says that some people did not believe in Christ because their eyes were blinded and their hearts were hardened, even though He had performed many miracles.
Matthew 13:10-17 reveals that Jesus taught parables so that the people would not understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Verses 13-15 reveal that Jesus did that as an act of judgment on the crowd. They were already rejecting Him.
Mark 6:52 is another passage that states the apostles did not understand the significance of Jesus walking on the water. The reason was that their hearts were hardened. Hearts are hardened due to sin (Hebrews 3:13).
So, people did not recognize Jesus after His resurrection because God prevented them for His own reasons.