Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record the story of Jesus’ resurrection, and when we read them without careful comparison, they seem to be contradictory. However, upon closer examination, we see that all four Gospel writers told different details of the same event, and the four accounts can be reconciled.
There were at least three women, and Luke indicates that there were more (see Luke 24:10), who had agreed to meet together to anoint Jesus’ body at daybreak on the first Easter Sunday. They apparently did not all arrive at the tomb at the same time, and it seems that Mary Magdalene, either alone or with two other companions, arrived first while it was still dark (see John 20:1). Sometime before they arrived, however, an angel had moved the stone from the tomb’s entrance and sat upon it, paralyzing the Roman guards with fear. When Mary and her companions arrived, the angel had disappeared, but it’s very possible that the Roman soldiers were still lying unconscious on the ground. If that was the case, Mary may have assumed that they’d been killed.
Upon discovery that the stone had been rolled from the entrance to the tomb, Mary, apparently by herself, ran to tell Peter and John, while her companions remained at the tomb. They entered it and immediately saw an angel, who said to them, “Don’t be afraid! … I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has been raised from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come; see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples he has been raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember, I have told you” (Matthew 28:5-7). The two women immediately ran from the tomb to find the disciples.
Shortly thereafter, a second group of women arrived and found the same scene. They entered the tomb and immediately noticed Jesus’ body was missing and wondered what had happened. But suddenly, two angels appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and fell on their faces to the ground, and the angels said to them, “Why are you looking in a tomb for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He has risen from the dead! Don’t you remember he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again the third day?” (Luke 24:5-7). That second group of women also fled to tell Jesus’ disciples.
By that time, Mary Magdalene had found Peter and John, and told them, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2). Both men immediately ran to the tomb and, upon entry, saw the linen cloth that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had wrapped around Jesus’ body lying there. It was an empty cocoon, and John realized then that no one had stolen Jesus’ body! He had been raised from the dead. Peter, however, still had doubts (see Luke 24:12). They then went back to where they had been staying, while the other disciples were also being informed of what happened by the women who had seen the angels.
Shortly thereafter, Mary again arrived at the tomb and stood weeping at its entrance, still clueless about what had happened. Finally, she also stooped and peered into the tomb, and saw two angels sitting at the head and foot of where Jesus’ body had been lying. This time, either the angels didn’t appear as majestic as when the first women had seen them, or Mary was so emotionally distraught that what she was seeing didn’t fully register in her mind. They asked her, “Why are you crying?” and she responded, “Because they have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13). But they didn’t respond to her because the Lord Himself wanted to tell her the good news.
Mary glanced over her shoulder as she was still stooped down at the tomb’s entrance and saw someone standing behind her. He, too, asked her, “Why are your crying? …Who are you looking for?” (John 20:15).
Thinking He was the gardener, Mary said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:15).
Jesus then said, “Mary!” She turned toward Him, and realizing who He was, embraced Him, hardly believing what was happening. Jesus told her, “Don’t cling to me, for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God” (John 20:17). And so she headed back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples the good news. Apparently, on her way, another woman joined her, and Jesus appeared to them both. As they clasped His feet and worshiped Him, He instructed them to tell His disciples to go to Galilee where He would appear to them (see Matthew 28:9-10).
Unfortunately, none of the disciples, with the exception of John, believed the reports of any of the women. They were still mourning and weeping (see Mark 16:10-11) when they should have been rejoicing! But they, too, would soon be convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead!
Q. Jesus had told the repentant thief that they would be together that very day in paradise. But, three days later, Jesus told Mary that He had not yet ascended to the Father. Did Jesus lie to the repentant thief?
A. No, Jesus never lies. He told His disciples that He would spend three days and nights in the heart of the earth (see Matthew 12:40). Considering other scriptures, it is thought that there must have been a place called Paradise in the heart of the earth where Old Testament saints went when they died. It is also thought that Jesus emptied that place when He ascended into heaven. Now, when a Christian dies, he goes to heaven.
Q. The Jewish leaders bribed the guards to spread the story that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while they were asleep. What makes that story so difficult to believe?
A. First, why weren’t the guards awakened when the stone was rolled away? Second, what were they doing sleeping, when Roman law would execute guards if they were caught sleeping while on duty? Third, if they were sleeping, how did they know what had happened?
Application: Jesus’ resurrection was more than just a miracle. It was God’s ultimate proof that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, and a sign to us that the penalty for our sins has been fully paid and accepted by God.