The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ -
What Really Happened?
There are some who dispute the Gospel record of Jesus' miraculous resurrection from the dead. In attempts to discredit the event, skeptics point to what they perceive as discrepancies in the accounts and to them this is a proof that the resurrection did not actually occur. They fail to take into consideration that all four Gospels record the same information – Jesus was killed, placed in a tomb and was seen alive again by many eyewitnesses. While some details in the accounts may vary, all four Gospels agree on the main events of the historical record.
What some have regarded as discrepancies can actually be reconciled for the most part. As we look at the Biblical pattern of prophecies regarding the Messiah’s coming, we observe that they are scattered throughout the Old Testament and they do not paint a complete picture until they are all assembled together. Likewise, when we look at the Gospels, the accounts of what actually happened on that first Sunday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion, and we begin to interlock the bits and pieces together like individual pieces of a puzzle, we can begin to see how most of those apparent discrepancies are explained.
Let’s picture in our minds all the Scriptures pertaining to the resurrection scattered before us on our mental table. As we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will fit them together until the actual events all merge together as one and the picture is complete.
We will begin at the foot of the cross where we stand with the Apostle John as he witnesses the centurion pierce Jesus’ side with His spear. –
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith there came out blood and water.
And he that saw it (John) bore record, and his record is true: and he knows what he said is true, that you might believe. – John 19:34, 35
Here we have an eyewitness account of what John thought was water coming out from the wound in Jesus’ side. Not being a physician, he did not know that what he actually saw was the clear fluid from the heart’s pericardial sac. When that sac is pierced there can be no hope of resuscitation. Jesus was clearly dead, which also puts to death those skeptic's rationalizations that somehow Jesus was not killed and revived in the tomb.
We continue by examining the puzzle parts contained in Matthew’s gospel. -
In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher. – Matthew 28:1
Mark tells us the name of the other Mary as well and adds this detail, she is the mother of James, and also adds the name Salome. –
And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him. – Mark 16:1
Luke’s account is generalized and he does not provide individual names initially, but corroborates the previous accounts, that the women who saw where Jesus’ body was laid, prepared spices to anoint His corpse, rested on the Sabbath, and came to the tomb very early in the morning; (Luke 22:55, 56;24:1).
Later on in his account we are shown that he adds the name Joanna to his record of the women who were there, corroborates that the other Mary is the mother of James, and adds the phrase “other women that were with them.” (Luke 24:10).
We know that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who saw where Jesus’ body was laid and also visited the tomb on the first day of the week. John’s account also affirms that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on the first day of the week, and informs us that she came “early” when it was still dark. –
The first day of the week came Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher, and saw the stone taken away from the sepulcher. – John 20:1
So we have learned that while Mary Magdalene was one of the women who came to the tomb, she arrived ahead of the other women. Mary Magdalene came while it was still dark, the other women arrived as the sun was rising, (Mark 2:2), very early in the morning, (Mark 2:2, Luke24:1), as it began to dawn (Matthew 28:1).
We thus are able to reconcile the differences in John’s account and the other Gospel records. While Matthew’s account incudes Mary Magdalene as being among the women who visited the tomb, we see that she did visit the tomb but at a different time. Adding all the pieces of this puzzle together we conclude that there was a small group of women that came to the tomb, Mary Magdalene arrived first while it was still dark after the stone had been removed, and the other women arrived afterward as the sun was rising. All four Gospels record that women came to the sepulcher and saw that the stone was no longer blocking the entrance to Jesus’ tomb.
Matthew proceeds to give us some details. –
And, behold there was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came down, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightening, and his raiment white as snow; and for fear of him the guards did shake and became as dead men. (In other words – they passed out). – Matthew 28:2-4
As we survey the pieces of the puzzle we have put together so far, we conclude that the earthquake occurred in the dark before sunrise and before Mary Magdalen arrived to see that the stone had been rolled away. Because the guards are not mentioned as being present in the other accounts, they revived and left to tell the Pharisees what they had seen (Mathew 28:11-15) before Mary and the other women arrived, or they remained inoperable by the Lord so the women could enter the tomb without being harassed.
We are told that Mary saw that the stone had been removed and ran and told the disciples. –
Then she ran, and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him.” – John 20:2
Mary was apparently not allowed to see that first angel, who was made visible to the other women who arrived after her as the sun was rising. Thus it is from these women that Matthew received His description of the angel’s overwhelming supernatural appearance.
The angel proceeds to speak to them as recorded in Matthew 28: 5 ,6 and 7 –
And the angel answered and said to the women, “Feat not: 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 His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and behold, He goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him: lo, I have told you.”
Matthew’s account does not give us the details of what happened when the women obeyed the angel’s command to “see where the Lord lay.” We will find this information in Mark’s account, where we are told that before the women arrived at the tomb they were wondering “Who shall roll away the stone for us from the door of the sepulcher? (Verse 3). Apparently they did not know that guards had been appointed to prevent anyone from entering the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). Mark’s account tells us that the women entered the sepulcher as they were instructed by the angel in Matthew’s account.
And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were afraid.
And he said to them, “Be not afraid: you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: He is risen; He is not here; behold the place where they laid Him.” – Mark 16:5,6.
We note the difference in the descriptions of the angels in these narrations. The angel of the Lord is described as having a countenance like lightening, while the angel in the tomb appears as an ordinary man. The term “Angel of the Lord” designates the status of that particular angel. Angels are representatives, and this angel is the Lord’s, therefore this angel represents Jesus and this is why his appearance is glorified.
Returning to our place with the women in the tomb, we realize that it was very important for the women to actually enter the tomb and see for themselves that Jesus was no longer there. Luke confirms for us that these women entered the tomb, did not see Jesus body, and that two men appeared to them in shining garments. -
And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. - Luke 24:3,4
Skeptics and non-believers have noted the apparent discrepancies in these accounts; was there one angel or two? As one theologian has put it, “Where there are two angels there is also one,” which is quite true, but let’s study the pieces of this puzzle a bit more closely.
Mark has shown us that the women faced a young man who was sitting on “the right side.” Luke tells us that while the women were perplexed “two men stood by them in shining garments.” So we conclude that while the women were facing the first sitting angel, two additional angels appeared to them suddenly. This instant supernatural angelic manifestation, apparently brought them to their knees with their faces to the ground as the angels spoke. –
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? – Luke 24:5. (I assume the angels were smiling when they said this, after all it was a joyful occasion and God does have a sense of humor, this is a great line). He is not here, but is risen: remember how He spoke to you when He was yet in Galilee, saying, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again?”
And they remembered His words. - Luke 24:5-8
So to reconcile the different accounts regarding the appearances of the angels at the tomb we conclude, that there were actually four angels involved, the grand “angel of the Lord” at the entrance, the angel they first saw sitting on the right, and the two that appeared to them suddenly. Each of these angels declared the victory of the risen Savior and I believe that these four angels represent the four Gospels that would also declare this message to the four corners of the world.
We return to Mark’s account and he tells us this. –
And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher, for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they anything to any man, for they were afraid. – Mark 16:8
Apparently these women did not do what they were told immediately, that they were to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection to His disciples. These women had just been plunged into a supernatural realm, and I imagine that they were experiencing some shock and were hesitating as they were trying to adjust. This would be a normal reaction, and they also might be wondering how they might be received, would people think that they were making it up? Would they be believed?
In the meantime while they were trying to assimilate all that they had experienced, Mark affirms John’s account that it was indeed Mary Magdalene who actually saw the risen Lord first. –
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalen, out of whom He had cast seven devils. – Mark 16:9
We let his statement return us to John’s description. After Mary had witnessed that the tomb door had been moved, she assumed the body had been stolen and immediately ran to tell Peter and John. –
The first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early while it was yet dark and saw that the stone was taken away from the sepulcher. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we don’t know where they have laid Him.”
So they both ran together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher.
And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet did not go in.
Then came Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and saw the linen clothes, and the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple went in also, who arrived first at the sepulcher, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture that He must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own home. – John 20:2-10.
We learn from John’s detailed eyewitness account that the disciples came to the tomb, saw the empty burial clothes and left; but Mary remained behind. –
But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher. – John 20:11
It is here that Mary is treated to her first angelic visitation. Two of the angels that had greeted the women who had previously left and were still adjusting, were allowed to appear to Mary and she saw–
two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.”
And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if you have taken Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned herself, and said to Him, “Rabboni,” which is to say, Master.
Jesus said to her, “Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren and say to them; I ascend to My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.” – John 20:11-17.
Mary must have been about to lunge at Him for joy, and was instructed not to touch Him until He ascended to His Father. He arose in His earthly body and would be presented to the Father untouched by human hands. In the presence of the Father He would receive His glorified body, the one that is promised to all those who believe.
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her. – John 20:18
In the meantime, the other women who were still recuperating from their encounter with the supernatural, and as not yet been obedient to the commands they received from the angels to go tell what they had heard and seen, apparently required some further encouragement.
Matthew tells us that the women had departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy; and did run to bring His disciples word. – Matthew 28:8
They would indeed eventually “run” to bring His disciple’s word, but correlating this with Mark’s account of their apparent initial hesitation, it was at the point in time when they had summoned the courage to go find the disciples that Jesus appeared to them.
And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying “All hail!” (The Greek equivalent of this greeting is “rejoice!”) And they came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him. – Matthew 28:9
Jesus had told Mary Magdalene that He was going to ascend to His Father, which He apparently did in the period of earth time that transpired between His encounter with her and His subsequent appearance to the other women. They were now permitted to touch Him after He had been presented to the Father and had received His glorified body.
Then said Jesus unto them, “Be not afraid, go tell My brethren that they should go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me.” – Matthew 28:10
Here Jesus repeats the instructions that were given to them by the angel (Mark 16:7). The disciples would eventually have their meeting with Him on that mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16), where they would be given more time to commune with Him, but first He would appear to them before they left Jerusalem.
As we recall, Mary Magdalene had seen the Lord, and told them what He had relayed to her. This was after Peter and John had gone to the tomb to verify for themselves that the Lord’s body was no longer there. After she had relayed to the disciples that she had seen Him alive, she was joined by the other women, who by now had also seen Him and collaborated her testimony.
Luke records –
It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things to the apostles. - Luke 24:10
At this point all the women were seen by the disciples together and the men knew that these women had been to the tomb, but as incredulous as it may seem we are told that –
Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. – Luke 24:11
But Peter, who was still mourning his betrayal of His Lord (Luke 22:55-62), went to the tomb a second time alone, without John, to maybe ponder if what the woman had said was really true. -
Then arose Peter, and ran to the sepulcher, and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass. – Luke 24:12
We are told through the Apostle Paul’s account that of all the apostles it was Peter who saw Him first (I Corinthians 15:5). Was it while he was departing, wondering if the women’s testimony was true that he experienced this reunion? Was it here on his way back from viewing the empty tomb that Peter heard the Lord say “you are forgiven” before the fisherman even had a chance to articulate the words in his soul that begged for that forgiveness?
In the meantime two of Jesus’ followers were on the road to Emmaus as the Scriptures record in Luke 24: 13-35. Jesus appeared to them and they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened. John’s and Luke’s testimonies concur (John 20: 19-23, Luke 24:36-49) that Jesus appeared to them that same day. However, Thomas was not present with the other disciples at this first appearance as John describes (John 20:24-29). It was a full eight days later when Jesus appeared to them again and this time Thomas was present, and saw the Lord for Himself.
Jesus told him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” - John 20:29
Considering that the other disciples were present when Jesus said this, I wonder if they recalled their own disbelief when the women first brought them the news that Jesus had risen from the dead?
At the conclusion of John’s account of Jesus’ initial appearance to His disciples in Jerusalem, John takes us back to Galilee, specifically to Tiberius, a town located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, (John 21:1-24).
Luke’s description of the events chronicled in the book he wrote called “Acts,” tells us that there was a period of forty days that Jesus continued to appear to His disciples and others (Acts 1:3). Apparently, it was sometime during this forty day period that the disciples obeyed the Lord’s initial commands to them to return to Galilee. Then they must have returned to Jerusalem and it was in the suburb of Bethany that they witnessed His public ascension as recorded in Acts 1:9, Mark 16:19, and Luke 24:50, 51.
John concludes his eyewitness account with this statement. –
This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that His testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. – John 21:24,25.
All the pieces of this glorious picture are now lying completed upon our thoughts and we see that what at first appeared to be contradictions, were merely different accounts recorded by people who included what to them were the most essential elements of the story. Fitting them all together, we can celebrate the truth of the greatest event in the history of mankind – the Son of God, as a Man rose from the dead to give the same assurance of eternal life to all who believe.
“Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”
copyright 2014 by H.D. Shively