But after I shall be risen again, I will go before you into Galilee (Matthew 26:32).
And going quickly, tell ye his disciples that he is risen: and behold he will go before you into Galilee; there you shall see him. Lo, I have foretold it to you (Matthew 28:7).
Then Jesus said to them: Fear not. Go, tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, there they shall see me (Matthew 28:10).
And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them (Matthew 28:16).
The question came to me over the Easter days while reading the Gospels: Why did Our Lord say after His Resurrection (and even before this at the Last Supper) that His Apostles would see Him in Galilee? We know that He did appear to them before that in Jerusalem very soon after His Resurrection. The first apparition in Galilee, which is recorded in Saint John’s Gospel, was on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, which is that of Galilee (John 21: 1-23). Here, Jesus appeared to the rudderless Apostles while they were fishing, apparently hoping that He would come to Galilee, as He promised, fortify them, and give them direction. John, of course, was there, with Peter, James the Greater, Thomas, Nathanael (who is Bartholomew) and two other unmentioned Apostles.
As usual I turn to Cornelius a Lapide’s commentary to shed light on this question. His explanation, garnered from the Fathers of the Church, is simple.
“He mentioned Galilee,” says Saint John Chrysostom, “to deliver them from fear of the Jews, and induce them [the Apostles] the more readily to listen to Him.”
This was especially so prior to His Passion, when their fear would be the greatest. It was at the Last Supper when Jesus first mentioned that He would see them (publicly, that is) after His Resurrection in Galilee; for in Galilee, prior to Pentecost and the infusion of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, they would feel safe at home.
Hear a Lapide’s reasons for this: “First, because Galilee was the native country of the Apostles, to which, after the death of Jesus, they were purposing to return, that they might live more safely among their own relations. Secondly, because in Galilee Christ willed to show Himself openly to all His assembled disciples. For the Jews would not have permitted them to assemble in Judæa. Thirdly, because in Galilee Christ had for the most part preached, and had performed very many miracles.”
Note that in Mark’s Gospel, the angel added Peter by name in his message to the women at the tomb: “Tell ye his disciples and Peter that he is risen . . .”
Saint Peter was afflicted in grief and sorrow for his denials. Jesus, wishing to lift him from his sorrow, has His angel single out Peter by name, and, shortly thereafter, as we read in Luke’s Gospel, the Savior would appear to Peter alone to forgive him and console him.
Continuing with a Lapide: “There they shall see Me. In Galilee they shall see Me frequently and openly, and talk with Me face to face, but not so in Judæa, although even there I shall appear to them sometimes. For in Judæa on the day of His resurrection Christ appeared six times. First, He appeared to His mother, as S. Ambrose, S. Anselm, and others teach, and this is the common opinion of the Doctors and of the faithful. Secondly, He appeared to the Magdalene at the sepulchre (Mark xvi. 9). Thirdly, He appeared to her again with the other women as they returned to Jerusalem (Matt. xxviii. 9). Fourthly, He appeared to Peter (Luke xxiv. 34). Fifthly, to the two disciples as they went to Emmaus (Luke xxiv.). Sixthly, to all—that is, to ten of the Apostles, for Thomas was not with them, and Judas had hanged himself. After the day of the resurrection He appeared, first, to the eleven Apostles, when Thomas was with them, on the eighth day (John xx. 26). Secondly, He appeared to eleven (sic) disciples, among whom were Peter and John, as they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee (John xxi.). Thirdly, He appeared on a mountain in Galilee to many—that is, to more than five hundred (Matt. xxviii. 10; 1 Cor. xv. 6). Fourthly, He appeared to James the brother of the Lord in the same place. Fifthly, He appeared to all the Apostles, and to others of the faithful, on the Mount of Olives, when He was going to ascend into Heaven (Acts i. 9). Sixthly, He appeared to Saul when He made him Paul. Christ appeared often on other occasions, which are not mentioned by the Evangelists.”
Finally, near the end of the Gospel, Matthew makes note of Our Lord’s apparition to the eleven Apostles and to His “brethren,” the other disciples, on the mountain in Galilee. A Lapide thinks that this mountain was Thabor, where the Tranfiguration took place. Saint Paul mentions this apparition, which he says was to more than five hundred, and another to James the Less alone, in his epistle to the Corinthians (15:6).
There, I have my answer. Our Lord appeared to His Apostles in Jerusalem, secretly as it were, in the Cenacle, the doors being closed, whereas He would appear to many, and openly so, in Galilee.