The events following the resurrection of Christ are recorded in each of the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Like any report of anything, each contains only a partial report of the events. We are seeing a story reported by four different people. Looking at them, it is very hard to believe that they consulted together about what to put in the New Testament. This in fact, can be a good reason to believe the whole thing was not just cooked up for the deception of the masses.
Here is one way you could see these events fitting together my wife and I worked out. We found out later it is not original. Also, there are other ways to reconstruct the events – some more satisfactory than others. Search through http://www.webcom.com/ctt/ordorise.html towards the end of the file.
Our way of seeing it:
1. The first thing that happened was the earthquake reported in Matthew 28:2-4. An earthquake took place. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and rolled the heavy stone from the door, and sat on it. The Roman guards shook for fear of them, and became like dead men.
A question skeptics should answer, is: “If the angel did not move the heavy stone away, then who did?” The Roman guards? The disciples while the guards were watching? The Pharisees? One thing is clear: the stone was moved and the guards knew it. After reporting these things, they were paid to say that the disciples stole the body. But how would the disciples have pulled this off?
Mary Magdelene and the other women may have been on the way to the tomb when the earthquake happened (Matthew 28:1) or it may have happened before they started.
2. Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, the mother of James (Mark 16:1), Salome (Mark 16:1), and other women (Luke 24:1) went down to the tomb with spices hoping to anoint the body of Jesus. We know that Mary Magdalene left while it was still dark (John 20:1). She and the other women had been asking, “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb for us?” (Mark 16:3). They came to the tomb when the sun was risen.
3. Mary Magdalene (and the other women – Mark 16:4) saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1). Then she (Mary Magdalene – not the other women) ran and came to Simon Peter, and John and said, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him”.
4. While all this was happening, the other women had remained behind at the tomb. They did not come with Mary Magdalene to Peter and John. The Bible tells us what happened to these women at that point.
5. The other women entered the tomb (Mark 16:5), and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus (Luke 24:3). While they were wondering about this, two men stood by them in shining garments (Luke 24:4). These men were angels. At this point the event described in Matthew 28:5 took place. One of the men (angels) said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell the disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7). The same basic instructions were given in Mark 16:6-7 and Luke 24:5-7. Putting these three accounts together, we have a consistent and more complete idea of the actual words spoken at that time.
6. These women (but not Mary Magdalene) then ran off from the tomb. Luke 24:9 tells us that they returned from the tomb. At that stage they were afraid and said nothing to anybody (Mark 16:8) but later they told the disciples, after the women met Jesus.
7. While they were heading towards the disciples, Peter and John were on their way to the tomb. (John 20:3). They were running fast. (John 20:4). John stopped and looked. Peter ran in. They did not see the angels. John saw and believed what Mary Magdalene had said. They saw the empty graveclothes, and then they went back to their own homes (John 20:10).
8. Mary Magdalene came back to the tomb, following Peter and John. She stood outside the tomb weeping, and looked into the tomb (vs John 20:11). The other women were still heading for the disciples. Mary Magdalene then sees the two angels and has a conversation with them (see John 20:12,13).
9. Mary turns around and sees Jesus, but does not recognize that it is Jesus, until Jesus says to her, “Mary” in a voice she recognized (John 20:14-16). Mary Magdalene clings to Jesus’ feet, and Jesus tells her not to cling to Him, and that He is ascending to the Father. (John 20:14-17).
10. Mary Magdalene is thus the first person who saw the Lord Jesus after his resurrection. (Mark 16:9). She then leaves to tell the disciples (John 20:18). All these events with Mary Magdalene and Jesus could have happened fairly quickly.
11. Right after that, Jesus appears to the other women who are on the way back to the disciples to report what the angel said. We see this is Matthew 28:9. “And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.”. Jesus then instructs them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Him.
12. And so all of the women, including Mary Magdalene, end up reporting these things to the apostles (Luke 24:10) after they arrived back. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first, then the other women saw Him. They all went back, not all at once, and told the disciples, but the disciples did not believe them at that time. Their reports back are summarized in one verse here.
13. After that Jesus appeared in another form to two men on the road to Emmaus. (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-33). It is clear that Jesus in His resurrection body had powers that were far greater than that of a normal mortal body. He could appear in different forms, instantly move to a desired location, and many other things.
14. These men went to tell the apostles again. As they were telling these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said, “Peace to you.” (Luke 24:36). Luke reports that the disciples doubted when they saw Him. What they saw was obviously not because they were expecting to see it. Even after Jesus talked with them and they touched Him, “they still did not believe for joy.” (Luke 24:41). This is true to human nature, and it certainly is not the sort of thing you write about the pillars of the church to impress people about their great faith.
Peter and John had seen the empty tomb and empty graveclothes. They heard the reports of the women, and then later of the men who were travelling on the road to Emmaus. They should have believed based on that evidence alone. But they did not. This is why later, at one of the times when Jesus did speak with the apostles face to face he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, “because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.” (Mark 16:14)
I believe it took a number of such appearances before the disciples were fully convinced of the fact of the resurrection of Christ. Acts 1:3 tells us that Jesus presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
Friend, you may not have had all the evidence before your face that the disciples had for believing. But if you want to know the truth, seek God with all your heart. Then He promises that you will find Him.
Even today people testify of seeing the resurrected Christ. Persecutors, Islamic priests, Jewish rabbis and others who had no preconception that the gospel of Jesus Christ was the truth have testified in growing numbers of seeing the risen Saviour.
Don’t take your chances. Once we are sure that Jesus did rise from the dead, we have to take seriously His ability to get His message through to us and more importantly, we should live as if His words to us are true. He said we would be judged according to His words.
The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9) It is time for the believers to rise up and confess Christ as Lord over all, in all places and in all seasons.