those of you who are familiar with the Gospels may have noticed that they differ quite a bit, on quite a number of details, in their accounts of what happened on Resurrection Sunday. this has long been a nagging question in my head, but i've just not taken the time to sit down and look at them to see how they fit together, until this morning.
i guess there are probably many ways different people may try to harmonize the four accounts, and perhaps we may never be able to know with 100% certainty exactly what happened that sunday. this, however, is my best guess at how events played out; and i'm reasonably satisfied with it.
if you've ever wondered why the accounts differ, perhaps my reconstruction of events might be helpful to you:
1. There was a violent earthquake. (Matt 28:2)
2. An angel descended, rolled back the stone, and sat on it. (Matt 28:2)
3. The angel's appearance was like lightning, his clothes white as snow. (Matt 28:3)
4. The guards were stupefied by fear of the angel. (Matt 28:4)
5. The guards later recover and run away. (Conjecture)
6. Very early on Sunday morning, while it's still dark, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb alone. (John 20:1)
- maybe she couldn't sleep, or was woken up by the earthquake. (Conjecture)
7. She sees that the stone has been rolled away. (John 20:1)
8. She tells Peter and John, and they race to the tomb. (John 20:2-9)
- Luke 24:12 says that Peter went to the tomb, without mentioning John.*
9. Peter and John leave, but Mary stays and cries. she looks into the tomb and sees 2 angels in white, seated at the head and foot of where the body had been. (John 20:10-12)
10. The angels ask her why she is crying, and she replies that Jesus body has been taken and she doesn't know where they have laid him. (John 20:13)
11. She turns and sees Jesus
- She recognizes Him only when he calls her name.
- He tells her not to hold Him, to go and tell the disciples. (John 20:14-17)
12. She goes to tell the disciples. (John 20:18)
- and she eventually does! but some things happen before that... (conjecture)
13. On the way back, she meets the other women who are going to the tomb and returns to the tomb with them. she doesn't say anything yet, maybe because she's still processing it all and can hardly believe it herself. (conjecture)
14. The women all go to the tomb together, with spices to anoint Jesus' body. (Matt 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1 and 10)
- Luke has the most complete list: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James, and others.
- Mark omits Joanna but includes Salome.*
- Matt mentions only Mary Magdalene and 'the other Mary'.*
- The two Marys are included in all three accounts, probably because they are the most important or well-known women in the list.
15. As they walked, they asked each other, "Who will roll away the stone?" (Mark 16:3)
- note that, as per point 13 above, Mary Magdalene is silent although she knows that the stone has been rolled away.
16. When they get to the tomb, they find that the stone is already rolled away. (Mark 16:4 and Luke 24:2)
- at this point, Matt goes into a flashback to explain why and how the stone has been rolled away (see points 1-5 above).
17. Some of the braver women enter the tomb first. (conjecture)
18. They find the body missing and are perplexed. (Luke 24:3-4)
19. Suddenly, 2 men (angels) in clothes that gleamed like lightning appear, standing beside them. (Luke 24:4)
20. The angels:
- ask why they look for the living amongst the dead
- proclaim that Jesus is risen
- remind the women that Jesus had said that He must be crucified and resurrected. (Luke 24:5-8)
21. As they speak, one of the angels walks to the right side of the tomb and sits down. (conjecture)
22. At the commotion of the angels appearing and speaking to the women in the tomb, the other women who did not enter the tomb at first come in. (conjecture)
23. The angel seated on the right tells all the women,
- Don't be afraid or alarmed
- Jesus has risen
- Come, see the play where He lay
- Go, tell the disciples (Mark adds, "and Peter")
- He is going before you to Galilee. (Matt 28:5-7, Mark 16:5-7)
Notes on point 23:
- I think that Mark doesn't mention the other angel because only the seated angel speaks at this point.*
- Previously, in his flashback, Matt has the angel sitting on the rolled-away stone. but he does not specify the angel's position at this speech, so we can go with Mark in this matter.
24. The women leave the tomb trembling and bewildered, and saying nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
25. However, Jesus Himself meets them on the way, and they worship Him. (Matt 28:9)
26. Jesus reinforces the angel's words:
- Don't be afraid
- Tell the disciples to meet me in Galilee. (Matthew 28:9-10)
27. While the women continued on their way, the guards who had earlier run away (see point 5 above) go to report to the Chief Priests. They are told to tell people that the disciples stole the body. (Matthew 28:11-15)
28. The women (including Mary Magdalene - see point 12 above) go back and tell the disciples everything, but are not fully believed (Luke 24:9-11) until later, after Jesus makes a few more appearances.
* these points with asterisks are examples of the principle, "an omission is not a contradiction". different accounts may omit certain details for reasons known only to the author; but when we read them together we get a clearer picture of the whole thing.
for example, let's say that while shopping in Jusco i bump into Mr. A and Mr. B. You are close friends with Mr. A, but you don't know Mr. B. Later when i meet you, i say, "guess who i bumped into in Jusco earlier! your good friend Mr. A!"
note that i am not lying to you by omitting Mr. B, although i bumped into him as well. i simply don't mention him because i don't think he's relevant to you. and later, if i meet someone else who does know Mr. B, i can well tell him that i bumped into Mr. B without contradicting my earlier statement to you that i had bumped into Mr. A.
with that principle in mind, i hope that we can see how the 4 gospel accounts of what happened on Resurrection Sunday can fit together to give us a more complete picture of that wonderful event. Moreover, i hope that seeing this will give us confidence to believe that He is indeed risen; and knowing the risen Christ will fill our lives with joy and hope, for He has conquered sin and death. =D