In my last two Blogs, I presented the apparent differences in the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus and provided a foundation for creating a timeline. In this article, I will provide a time bar that perfectly fits all the events in the biblical descriptions with no contradictions.
Before beginning, understand living was much more difficult in biblical days than today. Obtaining food, cooking meals, and washing clothes were difficult, time-consuming events. In order to allow Jesus and His disciples with sufficient time to teach and preach the Gospel, numerous women accompanied them to minister to them.
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. (Matt 27:55).
Since Mary Magdalene so loved Jesus, it is easy to believe she was the leader of this band of women.
So the resurrection story really starts in Matt 27:61. Mary Magdalene and Mary (mother of James and Joseph – Matt 27:56) are sitting opposite the tomb watching Joseph of Arimathea wrap Jesus’ body in a linen cloth (Matt 27:59).
In biblical times, only men could prepare men’s bodies for burial, but women could do both sexes. Since Joseph was a rich man, it is unlikely he had fixed many bodies for burial, if any at all.
It’s highly likely Mary Magdalene didn’t think Joseph was doing a good job. She left before Nicodemus arrived with spices (John 19: 39, 40). She organized the other women to meet early the morning after the night the Sabbath ended and they would all go to the tomb to properly bury Jesus. But Mary Magdalene had to wait until after the Sabbath to obtain the things she wanted to use for His burial.
The record began after the Sabbath (Sat night after about 6:00 PM). Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome purchased spices to anoint Jesus’ body (Mk 16:1). After they bought them, it was too dark to go to the tomb, so they decided to wait until the morning hours of the first day of the week (which started at about 6:00 PM that night).
A quick check of the times provided by the Bible reveals the four Gospel accounts are NOT describing the same event, but four different ones occurring at four different times of the resurrection morning.
John 20: 1-18
John’s Gospel provides the first visit by stating Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was still dark. Maybe she just couldn’t sleep and felt she needed to go to the tomb without the others. Perhaps she heard it would be guarded and decided to use her womanly wiles to distract them. Or maybe she just wanted to scope out the tomb. But for whatever reason, she went to the tomb alone while it was still dark. She saw the tomb was open, but didn’t even look in. She quickly concluded someone had stolen the body.
Mary ran to the Upper Room and awakened Peter and John to tell them someone stole the body. She used a particular technique that I have used and have heard repeatedly used by others to add credibility to their statement. That is rather than use the singular person; she used a plural form (John 20:2). This gives force to the statement. She had just awakened two people with the incredible fact “we do not know where they laid Him”, when in fact; she was the only one who did not know.
Peter and John believed her enough to investigate. They both took off sprinting, greatly outdistancing Mary. John was the young one, so he arrived at the tomb first and looked in. It was still dark, so even though he could see the burial wrappings, he didn’t get the full impact of the sight.
Peter arrived and immediately went in. John followed him and saw an incredible sight. When people were entombed during those days, the body had linen strips on them. The head had smaller linen strips wrapped around and around it. The final action was a long, linen cloth placed under the body and folded over the top, much like a blanket.
Peter and John saw the folded linen with no body under it. But, Jesus had made sure the small linen strips wrapped around and around His head were no longer under the folded “blanket”, but were in a different place. The wrappings were untouched, but no head was inside. This sight would make it clear the body had disappeared from within miraculously; not stolen.
They decided to tell Mary, mother of Jesus about the empty tomb and began walking toward Bethany; a different route than what Mary would be using to go to the tomb. After a while, Peter decided to let John relate the story alone and they both went back to where they were lodging; Peter to the Upper Room, John to Bethany.
Finally, after Peter and John had left, Mary arrived back at the tomb. She looked into it and saw two angels who asked why she was crying. As she answered, she saw another man. She didn’t recognize Him, either because she was sobbing or because Jesus had made His glorified body unrecognizable as He did with the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:17-31).
When Mary finally recognized Jesus, He told her to not cling to Him, for He had not yet ascended to the Father. He also instructed her to tell the disciples He was going to the Father immediately.
She ran back to the Upper Room to tell the disciples she had seen Jesus alive.
Luke 24: 1-12
The Bible moves the account a little farther in time and states it was early dawn (right before sunrise). James’s mother, Joanna, and some other women had met at the proper place with the spices, probably at the time agreed upon. Mary Magdalene was not there. They decided to go to the tomb anyway (maybe they thought that was where she had already gone). Upon arriving, they found it open, went inside, and saw Jesus’ body was gone. Their purpose there was to properly prepare the body, but it was nowhere. As they tried to decide what to do, two men (they could be angels, for angels had appeared to people in the Old Testament as men – Gen 19: 2 & 5) suddenly stood by them.
They told the women Jesus had risen and instructed them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to see Him. The women then went to where the disciples were (the Upper Room) arriving shortly after Mary Magdalene returned from seeing Jesus. They all described what happened and Mary Magdalene even told them she saw Jesus alive.
None of the disciples believed the women, but Peter (John had gone to Bethany) went back to the tomb a second time. He probably hoped to see Jesus. However, he looked in and saw the linen cloths just as they were the first time. He left marveling at what had happened and what he had heard (Luke 24: 10 – 12).
Mark 16: 1-11
Now the Bible says it is after the sun had risen. The remainder of women who had agreed to meet at the designated location arrived late. They knew they were late. assumed the others had gone to the tomb, and decided to go by themselves. The original plan involved enough women to be able to remove the stone cover. However, the number of this last set of women was so small they wondered if they would be able to move it.
When they arrived, however, the tomb was open. They went inside and encountered a single young man. They were so startled by a living person being there they bolted and ran away from the tomb terrified. The young man was probably yelling at them as they ran away and told them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee. This group of women was so afraid they said nothing about the encounter to anyone.
Matt 28: 1-10
The timeline ends when Mary Magdalene and James’ mother decided to go back to the tomb together. They each had already seen it separately, but it’s easy to understand why they would like to revisit it. The Bible sets the time as near dawn which can be right before or right after dawn. Therefore, right after dawn, the sun had risen and it was completely light.
Note the Bible states the two went to take a look at the tomb … not to take spices, for they already knew Jesus had risen. When they arrived, they saw a single angel sitting on the tombstone. He told them Jesus had risen, offered them to look in the tomb, and directed they tell the disciples He will be in Galilee. They left hastily (without looking in the tomb … they already knew it was empty) with fear and great joy for they were finally beginning to realize the meaning of the resurrection.
They didn’t go far until Jesus met them. He, by then, had ascended to His Father and returned, so when the two clasped his feet, He allowed it. This time He told them to tell the brethren to go to Galilee to see Him there.
In conclusion, this harmonization explains away every apparent contradiction in the four Gospel accounts in a logical, probable manner. As always, though, when using inductive reasoning, one cannot be dogmatic about this description being the actual truth. However, since it is a reasonable explanation which eliminates discrepancies, the real events could hardly be contradictory.