Question: Why didn’t Christ stay with his disciples continually after the resurrection?
Answer: Scripture does not directly answer that question so what follows is simply an attempt to use the information from Scripture that we do have during that 40 day period to help us understand what his reason might have been.
In John 20:17 Jesus says to Mary at the sepulcher after his resurrection: “touch me not” (stop clinging or holding on to me). Why would he say this unless he wanted her to realize that the former circumstances in which Christ went from city to city preaching the Good News and healing people, with his disciples and others following him, was finished, his mission on earth was accomplished. The disciples and others would need to be convinced that he was alive also. Perhaps this is one of the reasons he appeared only intermittently and not continuously in that 40 day period between his resurrection and his ascension.
He seems to be affirming that idea when he then says to Mary: “…go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God.” Ascend is in the present tense. That might be called a “prophetic present”. That is, Christ is speaking prophetically- looking at a future event as if it has already happened. This would instruct the disciples not to expect that former life to proceed as before. “The work his father had given him was finished.” (John 17:4) He would in the near future leave them and ascend to his father.
The various appearances, of course, were vital in that they established the reality of his resurrection. So he appeared at different times and under different circumstances: to Peter, to the twelve, to James and to others, and more than 500 on one occasion. This would necessitate his appearing and disappearing at a number of times and in a number of different places (ie. road to Emmaus, the upper room, Sea of Galilee etc.) rather than remaining with the disciples continually. Christ was well aware that his resurrection would be the one event in his life and ministry contested far beyond any other, consequently he ate fish and honey in their presence, offered them the possibility of touching him (Luke 24:39 & 42-43, John 20:27) which I believe they did and that John is affirming it when he writes, “that…which our hands have handled of the Word of life;” (I John 1:1)so that there would be no doubt when in the very near future they would have to confess his resurrection in the face of death itself.
All of this would not only instruct the disciples that the relationship would no longer be physical as it had been, but spiritual, and would comfort them in the knowledge that he would still be with them, actually they could “see” him in the word and he would, in a sense, even touch them in the holy supper for their comfort and assurance.