Order of Resurrection Morning Events in the Gospels
Despite negative commentary about supposed disagreement of Resurrect-ion-morning events in the four gospels, study shows that the events all fit properly into one sequence. We begin with seeming discord of visits of Peter and John to the tomb on Resurrection morning, and then integrate that into the overall sequence of events.
Disciples at the tomb after the Resurrection
20:3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
20:4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
20:5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
20:6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepul- chre…
20:8 Then went in also that other disciple…
24:12 Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed…
Now John (other disciple in John’s account) isn’t mentioned by Luke. We might ask if Luke knows John was present at the tomb. If we are at all serious as readers, we see that he does know, just by continuing to read in the account in Luke until we reach Luke 24:23,24. Here certain disciples speak of a report by women of their company that the tomb was empty, and angels were seen which said Jesus was alive. Here Luke notes the response of the disciples to this report and tells us he knows there was more than one disciple that went to the tomb. According to Luke the disciples say, Certain of them which were with us went to the sepulcher…but Him (Christ) they saw not. The plural-pronoun use shows that Luke knew Peter wasn’t the only disciple at the tomb. Perhaps Luke, knowing John was at the tomb, ignored him, focusing on Peter due to the latter's denial of the Lord.
Further, Luke’s account indicates Peter didn’t enter the tomb, but John’s account indicates he did, so perhaps Luke ignores some details. John’s Gospel gives details not noted in Luke, actions of both disciples, their run- ning together to the tomb and their entering the tomb. But John’s Gospel seems not to give all the detail. It shows John reverently pausing at the tomb entrance uncertain of whether to enter, while Peter seems to barge in. Add- ing Luke’s limited detail shows Peter pausing at the tomb entrance, then departing. Perhaps Luke ignores Peter’s entering of the tomb, speaking only of his pausing at the entrance and later departure. This might be meant to show us, as we compare accounts, that Peter did reverently pause at the en- trance before entering. Perhaps we must fit details of both accounts together to get the total picture of the incident so that we can learn that Peter was not so irreverent as we might think. This is plausible, but as we’ll see, study reveals another logical explanation as the correct one for seemingly different accounts in these passages.
The Resurrection, sacred in Christianity, is the crucial point in which faith must overrule skepticism. In such a matter, only faith will motivate us to seek the logic of accounts that seem disharmonious. We must piece together events in each gospel the same way a jigsaw puzzle is put together. Only then will Resurrection-morning events fall into a proper chronological & logical order. This seems to be one way God challenges us to study in order to know His Word.
The order in which each verse in each gospel fits into the overall sequence is listed by number below. The crucial point is that different groups of women in a party associated with Mary Magdalene arrive at the tomb at slightly diff- erent times and have individual encounters with various angels and the risen Lord. Only one small party is immediately associated with Mary. The groups notify the disciples who seem unable to lay aside their natural disbelief. Now we will learn details of the visits by John & Peter to the tomb.
Event numbers and accounts in chronological order.
#1. Accounts of women at the tomb begin with Mary Magdalene and her immediate group. One account names certain women not named in others, giving supplemental information.
Mt.28:1-4 Sunday at dawn (dark sky), as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary travel to the tomb, an angel rolls away the stone and sits on it. The keepers are so frightened by this they become as dead men, then recover, and flee to the city. There is a time-lapse between verses 4 & 5 in which the angel disappears from view, reappearing after the Mary Mag. group arrives.
Mk.16:1 After the Sabbath (on Sunday) Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James (the other Mary of Mt.28 is identified here), and Salome (first ac- knowledged here, not being noted in Matthew) prepare to come to the tomb.
Lk.24:1-2 Very early Sunday another group comes to the tomb and sees the stone removed. Luke does not name these women, and he summarizes the acts of the different groups, naming the key persons, including Mary Mag, Mary the mother of James, Joanna (not named elsewhere), and he notes that various unnamed others are present.
Jn.20:1 Mary Mag. comes to the tomb Sunday AM at dark and sees the stone moved. Mary ran to the tomb a little ahead of others in her immediate group, and this event is a composite with that of Mt.28:1 so that the other Mary is included with her in Mt.28:1 (my Herm. text, p106, explains this composite principle common to Matthew). Mary will leave this group and later meet the newly resurrected Lord first (Mk.16:9) when she is alone (Jn.20:11), and this group will have a second encounter with Him after that of Mary. As we’ll see, Mark doesn’t identify these women who met the Lord, while Luke simply summarizes all the meetings.
#2. Mary Magdalene reacts individually to the open tomb.
Jn.20:2 Mary Mag. turns and runs to tell the disciples that Christ’s body has been taken away (false assumption showing the need to learn all the facts before reporting). Thus she leaves before the angel sitting on the stone appears to the others in her immediate party, and she sees neither angels nor the Lord at this time.
#3. Those in Mary’s immediate group see the angel on the stone.
Mt.28:5-8 After Mary Mag. has gone, the angel on the stone appears to wo- men who were with her, and they are told to announce the Resurrection to the disciples. They depart to do so and to tell the disciples Christ will meet them in Galilee (The message of the Resurrection is now imparted for the first time).
#4. Another group arriving later meets angels: The fearful ones.
Mk.16:2-8 Superficial reading suggests that at first Mary Mag. and her immediate group entered the tomb and saw one angel inside, which would contradict other gospel accounts, including John’s which says Mary first left the tomb quickly without seeing an angel. Thus, neither Mary nor her imm- ediate group enter the tomb in Mk.16:5. Rather, there’s a time lapse between Mark 16:1 and 16:2, and events of other gospel accounts fit in the gap. These events include Mary departing from the tomb, followed by women of her immediate company seeing the angel on the stone. Thus, after a comment on Mary and others planning for a trip to the tomb in Mk.16:1, in 16:2, we switch to later events on other women who by now have gone to the tomb. They are one of the groups in a large Mary Mag. party that arrived at differ- ent times. By the time of their arrival, Mary has gone, as have those with her who saw the angel on the stone. This second party arrives a little later, as seen by the note on rising of the sun (first sky redness after the dark earlier hour when the first group arrived). Those in the second party are the Mark 16:2 unnamed they who enter the tomb in 16:5 and see an angel sitting inside. The angel declares the Resurrection to them, and tells them to tell the disciples they will see Christ in Galilee. But these women are frightened by these events, and say nothing to anyone (the folly of fear at the hour of triumph), and their anonymity is appropriate in view of their fearful faithless state.
This is the true passage analysis, for Mark 16:9 says Christ appeared first to Mary Mag, after which she told disciples of His Resurrection. If she had been in the Mark 16:2-8 group that entered the tomb and saw the angel sitting there, she would have been one of the ones so frightened by events they said nothing to anyone. Further, as the first to meet the risen Lord, she met Him alone, as in John’s Gospel, and wasn’t in the fearful group that didn’t see the Lord.
Luke 24:1-10 A final group arrives at early morning (sky slightly redder and still dark) who are last to enter the tomb. This group is not that of Mary Mag. and her immediate company. We know this since the stone has been rolled away and the angel who sat on it is gone. As they stand there perplex- ed, two angels appear beside them and announce the Resurrection.*
*Luke doesn’t name women in his group, but in 24:10 he summarizes various reports of Mary Mag. and the groups from the other incidents. He names some women from all other gospels, but not Salome who is named only by Mark, and he adds Joanna who’s not named by Matthew or Mark, so Luke didn’t copy from others, contrary to opinion of some scholars. The writers are independent ones given information by God such that details in each gospel mesh properly. Study of the Resurrection in parallel accounts, or any event in which the gospels provide parallel accounts, shows that the details mesh well. This results from division of information by God’s inerrant hand. The alternative is to imagine non-scholarly gospel writers dividing information among themselves in a complex fashion without error (Luke the physician would be one of the dispensers of medicine, ointment & bandages common to his time, and Mark, whom some see as skilled in language, shows no evidence of this, his tendency to give common Greek forms of Latin words suggesting a lack of literary skill). Or we can imagine one gospel writer precisely meshing details of his account with written details of another, followed by another writer precisely meshing his details with those of preceding gospels, to preserve all the details of the Resurrection accounts noted above. This is so unlikely as to be fantasy, and what we really see here is proof of the Divine Hand on the gospels.
#5. Meanwhile Mary Mag. has located, and brings to the tomb, John and Peter who see nothing. Later, when they have gone, she meets angels, and then the Lord Himself.
Jn.20:2-18 Mary Mag. reaches Peter, John & others, and announces the empty tomb. Peter and John come, look and depart, seeing no angel or the Lord. Mary lingers and looks into the tomb, seeing angels (two) for the first time, and they ask her why she weeps. She replies and turns away, where- upon she meets Christ, and recognizes Him belatedly. She’s told not to touch Him, but cannot refrain, needing to test His reality. The Lord tells her to inform the disciples of His return to heaven (the message of the Ascension is imparted). She is the first to meet the risen Lord, and she heads for the disciples again to report firsthand knowledge this time.
#6. Other women meet the Lord
Mt.28:9 Women who first came with Mary Mag. and saw the angel on the stone look for the disciples and meet the Lord (2nd meeting). They were delayed at the tomb by the angel after Mary went for Peter and John, and they were slow to find the disciples, but Mary evidently knew where Peter and John were. In their search for the disciples, they meet the Lord, which was after Mary returned to the tomb with Peter & John to meet the Lord first. They worship Him, being allowed to hold Him by the feet since Mary has already touched Him.* These women are told to tell the disciples they will see Him in Galilee (fulfillment of the promise is at hand).
*Mary was told by the resurrected Lord not to touch Him (Jn.20:17), but she could never have refrained, needing to test His reality, which led to others touching Him, including disciples in the upper room. In His resurrected state, Christ then had to purge Himself of the touch of sinners before ascending to the Father in heaven
The Lk.28:48 note on the repentant crucified thief being with Christ in paradise on the day of the Crucifixion refers to being with His Holy Spirit in heaven, which is the way Christ is with us today. Christ of the resurrection is eternal Christ, the second person of the Trinity now eternally embodied.
#7. The various women bring news to the disciples
Mk.16:9-10 Having seen the Lord personally, Mary Mag. returns to tell the disciples. She is not believed since Peter and John have already been to the tomb and didn’t see the Lord or angels.
Mt.28:10 The women who met the resurrected Lord after Mary were told to report to the disciples, and did so.
Lk.24:10-12 The last group of women, not including Mary Mag. and her immediate company (but Luke notes Mary & others at the tomb), are sent to notify the disciples. On hearing these reports, Peter returns to the tomb to be certain of the matter.
In succession, Mary Mag. & the others tell the disciples of the angels and the risen Lord. The disciples discount this, but Peter is stirred again, and is moved to return to the tomb. He finds no revelation, for curiosity, not faith, is what moves him. He looks into the tomb, but this time doesn’t enter, as expected for a second trip to the tomb. Luke combines and summarizes all of this and other pertinent gospel events in an overall account (Lk.24:1-12).
#8. Bribery used to hinder news of the Truth of the Resurrection (Satan desperately tries to suppress faith).
Mt.28:16 Tomb keepers are paid to be quiet about the Resurrection.
#9. Two disciples meet the Lord as He travels the Emmaus road. He appears before His announced Galilee meeting (We must always be ready since we never know the hour He will visit us – Mt. 24:44).
Mk.16:12 Meeting on the Emmaus road with two disciples in which He is made known to them despite their unbelief. This seems to be the first post-Resurrection meeting of male disciples with the Lord, though the Lord may have met Peter a little earlier (see Lk.24:34)
Lk.24:13-35 Emmaus road meeting repeated with more detail, including disciples telling all they heard from women at the tomb.
#10. The Lord meets several fearful disciples in the upper room before the Galilee meeting, likely because they show so little evidence of enough faith to go to Galilee to meet Him. Various accounts of the meeting convey different aspects of its purpose.
Mk.16:14 Meeting in the upper room (to correct fearfulness).
Lk.24:36-49 Meeting in the upper room (to instill lasting faith).
Jn.20:19-30 Meeting in upper room and later with Thomas (to empower them, and to ensure inclusion of even the most skeptical among them).
#11. Meeting with disciples in Galilee in accord with the Lord telling the women that the disciples would see Him in Galilee.
Jn.21:1-25 Meeting with a few select disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). At this point Peter has no word of reconciliation, and thinks his apostleship is over due to his denial of the Lord. At the start of his ministry, Peter was called from fishing to preach, but now has returned to fishing and has encouraged others to do so. Here Christ gives the disciples a miraculous catch of fish to remind them of the circumstances of the earlier call to leave fishing behind and preach, and Peter is re-commissioned as an apostle.
Mt.28:16 Meeting with many disciples at a mountain in Galilee.
#12. The final gathering of disciples.
Lk.24:50-51 Ascent of Christ to heaven from near Bethany.
Acts 1:12 In Acts the site of the Ascension is Mt. Olivet which is the general location, but from Luke 24:50-51, we know more specifically that it is near Bethany, which is on Mt. Olivet.
Each gospel account provides vital information regarding post-Resurrection events in a chronological order, but information in each is partial and must be integrated with all the gospels to see the true sequence. The aspects of Resurrection morning do combine in one overall account to show that de- tails in each gospel that seem discordant and contradictory actually mesh precisely. This cannot be the work of human intellect of independent gospel writers, being feasible only through divine oversight guiding them all as God divided information among them in a precise fashion.
And there were two visits to the tomb by Peter & John, one by both in John’s account and a later one by Peter alone in Luke’s account. In Luke 24:9-12, Peter reacted to the report of Mary Magdalene after she personally met the Lord, which was after she had brought Peter and John to the tomb with an incorrect report of removal of Christ’s body (Jn.20:1-10). The Holy Ghost directed each writer to cover one of the visits. As the one who denied the Lord, Peter would return, being anxious to know the truth.