Resurrection Morning

Helen Setterfield, updated June 2016

The Crucifixion and Resurrection were, without a doubt, the most important events in the history of the world.  The accounts differ, however, and for two very good reasons:  first, nothing was written down immediately.  Jesus was there, He showed Himself to a great many people, and in the shock and joy of the time, the disciples were just living it through, not writing about it.  Even after the Ascension there was every hope and expectation that Christ would return soon to set up His Kingdom.  It was not until several years had passed that the Gospels would be written.  Internal evidence indicates all four Gospels were written before 70 AD, as none mention the destruction of Jerusalem.  In fact, John’s Gospel, in John 5:2, says “Now there IS in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool….”  Had Jerusalem been destroyed by the time John wrote, he would have said “There WAS in Jerusalem….”  So the Gospels were not written immediately, but they all were written within about 35 years of the events.  Memories had been seared by the events, but for each person, different aspects appeared to stand out.

Second, these events were recounted by four different men.  Three were eyewitnesses to the risen Christ (Matthew, Mark, and John, though only John was at the Tomb that morning) and Luke was a Greek doctor who researched the events after the fact. It is very evident in his narrative that he paid attention to what the women saw and remembered, and he must have interviewed them rather extensively to get the material he did. Men don't always see things the way that women do, or remember the same sorts of things. That does not make either sort of account invalid -- they just remember different things. 

All the accounts are accurate as per the memories of the men recounting them. And all show lovely insights into their characters.

Please keep in mind some this analysis is conjecture, albeit based on other points brought out in Scripture, but I'll try to go through each account and then comment on it:

From Matthew 28:1-15

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

You know what is striking about this rendition? Matthew knew what happened to the soldiers, and told it from their point of view for the most part! How could that happen? Remember that Matthew had been a tax collector before. Jews who worked for the Roman government in that capacity were among the most despised of people. They were seen as betrayers of their own people and even their lives could be in danger. They often had Roman guards with them. Matthew would have been in a position, then, due to past friendships and business associations, to find out from the guards themselves what had happened.

Were the guards witnesses to Jesus' confrontation with the two Marys?
Possibly, but from Matthew’s report, the guards were so terrified of the risen Jesus that they shook and became as dead men.  In what way, Matthew doesn’t say.  He could have learned of the confrontation from the women or from the guards, or both.  That Matthew saw the risen Christ is not in doubt, but he was evidently not there at the tomb that morning.

Going into Mark, we read the Resurrection account in chapter 16. Here we run into a text note that is interesting, though. The first half of the story is in no dispute, but from verse 9 on, the text note reports, "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." I will type the chapter below, putting a dotted line where the break between verses 8 and 9 occurs:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?"

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.  See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

- - - - - - - - -

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to
two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them, either.

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he has risen.

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hand; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

The last part of Mark -- the part that is disputed -- is much more reminiscent of apocryphal literature than of the way any of the gospels is written. It seems to have been inserted in such a way as to combine fact with some very questionable material which is concentrating on miracles rather than the Lord or the message. It seems to begin the narrative again, by saying "When Jesus rose early the first day of the week...." The style is different from Mark's. Jesus is never recorded by any other writer as saying the things about snakes and poison and such. When the four narratives -- especially the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are in such agreement over so much of what was said and done otherwise, it is very hard to understand why they would not include such an assurance of the future miracle-working powers of those who would come later. Nor do we find anything like this related by Paul or encouraged by him. Therefore, we do not accept this as being original material. It appears to have been added later by some person or persons trying to divert attention from Jesus and onto miracles and such.

So, paying attention instead to the first 8 verses (those above the dotted line), we find the point of view of three women. It seems to correspond roughly with what the guards remembered in Matthew. Mark also puts Salome at the scene, however.  And I would guess, from the accounts that follow, that Salome did not enter the tomb itself, but stayed outside. Who was the young man?  It does not say “angel.”  Remember that there was also a “young man” who had fled naked from the scene of the arrest.  That is also recorded in Mark and nowhere else.  Was Mark the young man?  This young man was wearing a white robe, and that appears to be significant.  Were these night clothes, and thus a natural color or white? We really have no idea who this young man was. 

What we do know is that Mark writes the women were scared and said nothing when they went back to the disciples.  It may well have been Salome who told the story to Mark. This would explain why Mark writes that the women said nothing.  Evidently Salome was too frightened to tell. Was she somewhere else when the others told the disciples? Was Mark not with the disciples? Mark never mentions Peter and John running to the tomb, or what they found there. The very incompleteness of Mark's story seems to indicate that he was not an eyewitness to any of it.

Leaving that one, let's go on to Luke. I am only going to quote the first 12 verses of Luke 24, which is the Resurrection account itself, and not go into the walk to Emmaus.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

We learn some interesting things here. Luke, we know, got a good portion of what he learned from the women. But whereas Mark mentions three women who were then afraid to tell the disciples what they had seen, Luke mentions a group of women.  Had the three then told the other women, all of whom then went to the tomb?  This group did not see a young man in a white robe, but two beings in clothes that gleamed like lightning.  It’s a different episode.  It must be said, however, that it would have taken a brave person to approach, for if the seal had been broken, which it had, that meant that something illegal had happened and not many wanted to be associated with illegal activities with Herod around, especially in connection with the insurrections that were going on in Palestine.

We then understand the fear and the shock and even the disbelief of those involved early that morning. 

We know Peter, for one, ran to the tomb. That was typically Peter. He was impetuous and often did not regard his own danger, as when he went after the high priest's servant's head and, being typically Peter again, missed and simply sliced off the man's ear. If you check Peter throughout the gospels, you will see why one of the pastors I had years ago referred to him, casually, as "old sandal breath." His foot was always in his mouth. (It is, actually, in Peter himself, that we see the incredible change from almost foolish to being very wise and bold in the Lord as evidenced in Acts and his own two letters. The fact that it did not all happen at once is evidenced by the public correction he received from Paul).

At the last part of the account given by Luke, we see that Peter's reaction is simply what others saw of and in him. It was not from anything he would have told them. What he experienced is recorded in John, since John was with him when he went to the tomb.

Here is John's account, from the first 18 verses of John 20:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. he bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Jesus said to her, "Mary."

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said those thing to her.

John is the "disciple whom Jesus loved." So, for the first time, we have an eyewitness account of the tomb itself and not just what someone told someone else. What about the sequence of events? It looks like Mary Magdalene at least made three trips to the tomb that morning. One very early, starting even before sunrise (although evidently not arriving until after sunrise, or at least daybreak), one with the group of women later, and one following John and Peter.

So although I find a lot of fragments here, I do not find any contradictions, actually. It was an astounding event. Certain things would burn themselves upon people's memories. John remembered exactly where the headpiece was folded and laid.  Funny details like that are typical of that kind of incident which is so unbelievable all by itself.

In short, I think when people are looking at the "discrepancies" in the Resurrection narratives, they are assuming that each is somehow being told from a "God's-eye view." None of them are. They are accounts being told by the people themselves, and from all four we can get a pretty good idea of how that morning unfolded, who was there, and what they remember seeing and talked about seeing later.

It is the fragmentation and the so-called discrepancies themselves which lend the air of authenticity to the story of the Resurrection. If it were made-up, I would expect much more of a "God's-eye view" of the entire thing.

* * * * * * *

Prophecies of the Resurrection:

  1. Christ raised from the dead Is.53:9-10, Ps.16:10. Fulfilled Mat 28:1-20, 1 Cor. 15:4-6
  2. He ascends to right hand of God Ps.16:11, 68:18, 110:1. Fulfilled Acts 1:9, 7:55

Feasts of Israel – a form of Prophecy.

Feasts of Israel: Lev. 23 & Deut. 16. Israel came before Lord.  (The new moon starts a month)
1). Passover - Mar/Apr. On the 14th day of 1st month at even is the Lord’s Passover.   Lev. 23:5; Ex. 12:3-8. - Lamb of God John 1:29; - Christ our Passover 1 Cor. 5:6-8 . Messiah offered His sacrifice for sin at the same time as Passover was celebrated. Thus Passover symbolized what sinless Messiah was to do as a Lamb for the sin of world  - so no leaven.
2). Firstfruits - March/April  - On the day after the Passover Sabbath a sheaf of harvest firstfruits  is brought before the priest – Lev. 23:10-12 cf 1 Cor. 15:20, 23. Christ rose from the dead and became the firstfruits of them that slept. Christ sinless – so no leaven.
3). Pentecost - May  - Count 7 Sabbaths after the Firstfruits offering and on the day after the Sabbath (that is 50 days – Pentecost) an offering of two loaves  baked with leaven. Lev. 23:15-18. Holy Spirit  poured out on the disciples once Christ glorified in heaven (Jn.7:39). Since the believers were not sinless, leaven is included. Two loaves – Jew & Gentile believers.
4). Trumpets - (Sep.) – 5). Atonement (Sep.) – 6). Tabernacles (Sep/Oct) – Zech.14:16-19. Also birth of Christ – possibly circumcised on Atonement & Tabernacled amongst us Jn.1:14

All these events were fresh in the disciples mind as Acts begins 40 days after resurrection.