Resurrection Harmony

Resurrection Harmony

Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna and Salome began their journey to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where Jesus had been buried. They began their journey to see the tomb from the house in Jerusalem, and also planned on rewrapping Jesus' body with additional spices beyond those which Nicodemus and Joseph had already used on Friday. This was necessary to adequately complete the burial rites which had been hurried up on Friday because of the short time before the Sabbath, and they had bought the additional spices with their own money (Mark 16:1).

As the women were traveling (before they arrived at the tomb), there was an earthquake, during which an angel descended from heaven and removed the stone which was in front of Jesus' tomb. He then sat on the stone in his majestic splendor, frightening the guard and making it clear that no one could replace the stone. After recovering from the shock, the guards fled in fear. The angel then became invisible, so as not to frighten the women unnecessarily when they arrived.

By the time the women reached the tomb, the sun had risen and it waslight (Mark 16:2). They had been wondering, as they were traveling, who would roll away the large stone for them, only to look up and see that the stone had already been rolled away. Mary Magdalene jumped to the conclusion that the body had been stolen and therefore immediately ran back to tell Peter and John, while the other women remained.[1]

After a few moments of bewilderment, Salome led Mary the mother of James and Joanna into the tomb. Not finding the body, the women were very perplexed. At this point, as the women stood bewildered in the tomb, the angel who had rolled away the stone again made himself visible, along with a companion.[2] They appeared in a sitting position[3] --one at the head, one at the feet of where the body should have been lying.

The angels[4] at this point delivered their message to the terrified women, who were bowing their faces into the ground: "Do not be afraid; for I know you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen, just as He said. Here is the place He was lying. Remember how He spoke to you while in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again? And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you" (Luke 24:5-8; Matt. 28: 5-8; Mark 16:6-8).

The women remembered Jesus' words and were gripped with astonishment, trembling, and joy. Led by Joanna, they all rushed back into the city to tell the disciples. On their way back, because of their fear, they did not speak to anyone about the events, as Mark 16:8 says: "and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid."

By this time, Peter and John were well on their way to the tomb, having been informed by Mary Magdalene that the body was gone. They had set off on the most direct course--through the Gennath Gate--and were running, whereas the other women were returning to the house via a longer path.[5] Mary Magdalene followed behind Peter and John at a slower pace (this being her second trip to the tomb). During their run for the tomb, John passed Peter and arrived first, but did not immediately enter. Instead, he stooped and looked into the tomb, seeing the linen wrappings lying there. The ambitious Peter, when he arrived, entered ahead of John and saw the linen wrappings and the face-cloth--which had been on Jesus' head--rolled up by itself apart from the wrappings. John then entered, and he saw and believed. But, they did not yet understand the Scripture, that Jesus must rise again.

As they returned home marveling at what had happened, Mary Magdalene lingered behind, weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels sitting in white, one at the head and one at the feet where Jesus had been lying.

The angels asked Mary why she was crying, and she responded that it was because someone had taken away Jesus' body, and she did not know where they had put Him. The angels did not need to respond to this, for they could see Jesus standing behind her. When Mary turned around, she at first mistook Jesus for the gardener, but recognized Him when He addressed her by name.

Jesus told her to "Stop clinging to Me" (John 20:17). The Greek indicates the discontinuity of an action already begun. Jesus was not saying that He should not ever be touched, but (among other things) perhaps giving her assurance that she need not fear to leave Him because He is not going to immediately leave again--His ascension to the Father is not yet. So, she was free to go and tell the news to the others, and proceeded to John's house. Also, Jesus' statement "Go tell my brethren I ascend to My Father and your Father...'" called attention back to the promise he made before the crucifixion that the disciples would have peace and rejoice after the resurrection (John 14:27-28) so that "when it comes to pass, [they] may believe" (John 14:29).

In the meantime, immediately after Mary had departed from her encounter with Jesus, Jesus appeared to the other women--Mary the mother of James and Salome--as they were returning to tell the disciples.[6] They took hold of His feet and worshipped Him, and He greeted them and told them not to fear, but to take word to the disciples that they are to go to Galilee. This did not imply that the disciples were to leave immediately for Galilee; this would have been quite contrary to what was expected of a devout Jew, who would have stayed in Jerusalem to observe the several days remaining in the feast of unleavened bread. This was more the announcement of a thrilling promise than the issuing of a precise command. It implied that the divine triumph had begun and that Galilee was to be the place where they would re-form their ranks (as we will see later), calling attention back to Jesus prediction of His resurrection and promise of victory in Matthew 26:31-32: "You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.' But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."

As the women continued on their way back, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests what had happened. After the chief priests and the elders had counseled together, they gave the soldiers a bribe, telling them to say that Jesus' disciples stole His body at night while they slept, assuring them that if the governor heard about it, they would keep them out of trouble. So, the guards took the money and did what they were told, and this story of the stolen body was spread widely among the Jews, up to the day that Matthew's gospel was written, to explain away the empty tomb.

When Mary returned to John's house, she announced to the disciples there (who were mourning and weeping) that she had seen Jesus and told them what He had said. The other women had returned before Mary, and were also there "telling these things to the apostles" (Luke 24:10). The women's words seemed like nonsense to the apostles, and they refused to believe, but Peter arose again and returned to the tomb to investigate once more (perhaps he would encounter Jesus as well). He saw the linen wrappings again, and then returned to his home, marveling at what had happened.[7]

The next appearance of Jesus is briefly mentioned in Mark 16:12, but the full story is told in Luke 24:13-34. Later that morning, Cleopas and his companion were traveling to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they traveled, Jesus approached them. Not knowing who He was, they discussed the events of the previous week, and Jesus explained all the things about Himself in the Old Testament. When they reached the village, it appeared to them as if Jesus was going to continue on, so they persuaded Him to join them for the afternoon meal. As they were breaking bread, He made Himself known to them, and then disappeared.

This prompted the two (Cleopas and his companion) to return to the house in Jerusalem where ten of the apostles were gathered (Thomas was absent). When they arrived, they were greeted with the news "The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon" (Luke 24:34). Luke's record of this point may seem to contradict Mark's statement that their report was greeted with unbelief (Mark 16:13), however it should be noted that a few verses later, when Jesus is present, Luke himself says, "they still disbelieved for joy." Most surely, the ten apostles present were in various states of part-belief and part-unbelief. John's faith had begun to recover at seeing the grave clothes, and Peter had come to believe through his afternoon meeting with Jesus. The appearance to Peter during that Sunday afternoon, which happened after Jesus' appearance to the Emmaus disciples but before they returned to Jerusalem, is in line with what Paul relates in 1 Cor. 15:5.

Paul went on to say that Jesus next appeared to "the twelve."[8] The details of this appearance are recorded in Luke 24:36-49 and John 20: 19-24: As the Emmaus disciples were continuing to relate their experience, Jesus suddenly stood among them (though the doors were locked) and said to them "Peace be with you" (John 20:19). They were startled and frightened at first, thinking that they were seeing a spirit. Jesus gently reproached them for their unbelief, saying "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). He then showed them His hands, feet, and side. While they were marveling over this, still not entirely convinced and wondering if it was too good to be true, Jesus offered further proof by eating a piece of broiled fish in their presence.

Jesus then proceeded to explain to them, as Luke records in 24:44-49, that the amazing events of the past week were predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures and fulfilled by Him, and opened their mind so that they would understand. After summarizing what was written, "that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day," Jesus naturally led into the earliest pronouncement of the Great Commission. He told His disciples that beginning in Jerusalem, repentance for forgiveness of sins should be preached to all nations in His name, and that they were eyewitnesses with a special responsibility to carry out this message.[9]

He then reconfirmed their role as witnesses, saying "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21). Then He breathed on them, giving them a filling of the Spirit for strength until the Church was born on Pentecost, when they and all believers from then on would be permanently indwelt with the Spirit. Through the Spirit, they would bring forgiveness to those who accepted the gospel, and condemnation to those who rejected it (John 20:23).

Later on when the disciples told Thomas that they saw the Lord, he said he would not believe unless he saw the nail prints in Jesus' hands and side. The next Sunday, Thomas got to eat his words when Jesus again appeared to His disciples, this time when he was present (John 20:26-29). This led Thomas to His confident affirmation of faith in Jesus, "My Lord and my God!"

Over the next few weeks, there were many other times of fellowship between Jesus and His apostles. John 21:1-25 tells us about Jesus' third appearance to the disciples as a group, when He appeared to seven of them by the Lake of Tiberias (possibly commanding them at this point to organize a meeting with the 500).

The appearance to more than 500, recorded in 1 Cor 15:6, was possibly the appearance recorded in Matthew 28:16-20 in the hills of Galilee (since 500 people would require such a large, outdoor meeting spot), when Jesus gave the Great Commission. This was in fulfillment of Jesus' command of His disciples to go to Galilee. Here, they reformed their ranks for the awesome task of making the gospel known to the whole world. It is also possible that the appearance to the 500 was a separate appearance which occurred at some other time. However, the statement in Matthew 28:17 that some were doubtful seems to imply a greater group of disciples than just the inner twelve. Since this was the first time for the larger group to see Jesus, it is not unreasonable to believe that some of them would have doubted, while most of the disciples (but not necessarily all) would have been confident by now that Jesus had really risen.

The next appearance of Jesus was to His brother James, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:7. Because of this meeting, Jesus' previously skeptical brother came to believe and went on to be the head of the Jerusalem church.

Jesus' final appearance was forty days after His resurrection to the eleven. Paul says: "Then [He appeared] to all the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:7). Mark 16:15-20, Luke 24:50-53, and Acts 1:1-12 give the details of this final appearance.

Jesus appeared to His disciples while they were in Jerusalem, most likely as they were gathered together in the house. Perhaps He appeared the night before and they talked through the night, or perhaps early in the morning. No doubt Jesus must have told them many things, including the commission recorded in Mark 16:15-18 to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation..."[10]

Jesus then led His disciples "out of the city gate, down into the Kidron valley, past the Garden of Gethsemane, up the Mount of Olives, and finally Tout as far as Bethany." "As far as Bethany" is the translation of an unusual expression, which may perhaps be better rendered "as far as the path to Bethany." E.E.F. Bishop says that it "would appear to mean the Mount of Olives at the summit where the descent to Bethany comes into view" (John Wenham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict?, p. 121). The ascension occurred at the Mount of Olives, which is about 1,200 yards from Jerusalem on the path to Bethany.

Jesus' last words were spoken on the Mount of Olives and are recorded in Acts 1:4-8. After He had spoken to them, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He ascended. As the disciples were looking on, they saw a cloud finally take Jesus out of their sight and He was then "received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19). As the disciples remained gazing up into the sky, two angels in white clothing stood beside them and informed them that Jesus would return in exactly the same way that He left.

1. We know that Mary was not alone in John 20:1 because it is said to have been dark when she left, and a woman would not have ventured alone in the dark. Also, her statement in 20:2 when she returned to the disciples clearly indicates the presence of others: "they have taken the Lord's body from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him" When read carefully, no one can therefore hold that John is teaching that Mary went to the tomb alone.

2. John Wenham points out that the translation in Luke that the angel "stood by" the women cannot be insisted upon. The word is frequently used to mean "to appear to," implying suddenness, but not any specific position. The angels appeared in a sitting position, as Mark 16:5 says, to minimize the alarm of their sudden presence. Also, they must not have fully manifested themselves to the women until they entered, otherwise their majestic presence might have made the women too fearful to approach and enter the tomb.

3. It needs to be made clear that the mention by one gospel of two angels and by another of one is in no way a contradiction. If there were two, there was one. In the case, as we have here, where one person is the chief speaker it would often be perfectly natural not to make reference to the chief individual's companion.

4. Luke and Mark both do not use the term angel in their accounts but rather "men" or "young man." This does not contradict Matthew, who is clear to use the term "angel." In the Bible, angels are depicted in the form of men, not winged creatures. In Mark, the awe and fear of the scene, as well as the man's white robe, make it clear that he was a supernatural young man, and therefore angel. Also, the description in 24:4 of their "dazzling apparel" imply that these are supernatural beings. Later on in Luke's gospel it is confirmed that the men were in fact angels--the women's encounter at the tomb is described as a "vision of angels" (Luke 24:23).

5. John, a local resident, knew the most direct route to the tomb (the Gennath Gate). Joanna, on the other hand, was only an occasional visitor to the city, and would have been less sure in her sense of direction, and so would have led her party back the way they had come--the Ephraim gate (which was a longer way back to John's house).

6. We must remember that Jesus' body had the capability of traveling at the speed of thought, and so was not hindered by travel time. Also, as we saw earlier, the women were returning to tell the disciples on the same long path that they took to the tomb. This would allow more than enough time for Jesus to appear to them before they made it back to John's house.

7. It is possible that Luke 24:12, which records Peter's second return to the tomb, is not a part of the original gospel of Luke, because it is not present in most early Greek manuscripts.

8. Paul's use of "the twelve" is a way of referring to the apostolic bodycollectively, as a group, not an exact numerical computation. The apostles were known collectively as the twelve. It is also highly likely that the man who would later take Judas's office as apostle was present at this appearance (confer Acts 1:21-22).

9. Luke is not packing all of the events related in his gospel into one day, as his fuller account in Acts makes clear. Acts 1:3 says that Jesus was on earth for forty days before ascending and demonstrates that Luke did not, in his gospel, have the intention of giving a complete account of Jesus' actions after the resurrection, but rather a highly condensed and telescoped account that he expanded in his second book, Acts. In his gospel, Luke is laying side by side a highly condensed account of Jesus' teaching on Easter Sunday (which continued over the next 50 days)--namely, His opening their minds and pre-commissioning them (Luke 24:44-49)--with a short account of the events of Ascension Day--the ascension and the disciples conduct following the ascension (Luke 24:50-53).

While Luke's concluding paragraph in verse 50 begins with "Then, he led them out...," seeming to imply that the ascension directly followed Jesus' appearance on Easter Sunday in the room, this "then" gives "a much sharper suggestion of chronological continuity than the Greek justifies. The paragraphs are linked by a weak connective non-temporal particle (de) which would be better left untranslated" (Wenham, p.107). Thus, we can safely conclude that Luke is not packing all of these events into one day.

In addition, since the gospel of Luke and Acts were written by the same author, those who conclude that the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts contradict are not following Aristotle's Dictum that "the benefit of the doubt is to be delegated to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself." We should let Luke clarify his own writings rather than try and force him into contradicting himself. Recognizing that the gospel of Luke is not placing a ll of the events it records in the same day simply negates an assumption, not any statement in the text.

10. The account in Mark 16:1-20 spans the whole period from Easter Sunday to Ascension Day. The commission which he records in 16:15-18 was given on Ascension Day, and the events recorded in 16:1-14 happened before Ascension day. Mark begins this Ascension day commission in v. 15 with "And He said to them..." Some translations render this "and" as "then," thus placing the commission and ascension on Easter Sunday. This is, however, reading too much into Mark's story. As John Wenham says, "The and' does not necessarily tie what follows to what has gone before. In fact it is quite a habit of Mark to start a new paragraph with an and' which in idiomatic English is often best left untranslated. It would seem best to regard 15-20 as a single unit, telling of the final instructions to the eleven immediately before the ascension and of their mighty preaching afterwards" (John Wenham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict?, 1984).

Conclusion: This harmonization of each detail of the resurrection accounts recorded in the four gospels and 1 Corinthians shows that the apparent contradictions can be harmonized. While there are many differences, these differences are not mutually exclusive and actually show lack of collusion on the part of the gospel writers. The differences are testimony that the accounts have not been fabricated, for multiple accounts of an invented story would be betrayed by complete similarity. Thus, the differing resurrection accounts are actually good evidence for the resurrection, not against it.

Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), pp. 347-356.
John Wenham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984 & 1992).

All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.


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