Pp Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-11
1. Before they arrive
2. When they arrive
3. Going inside the tomb
4. Returning to the city
The first fruit offering
The ‘how’ of Scripture
The proof of the resurrection
Harmony of Matthew 28:1-15 with the other three Gospel records
When Friday drew to a close and Joseph of Arimathea had buried the body, the women had been sitting opposite the sepulchre watching (Mtw 27:56) so that a return to the same tomb at dusk on the Sunday following meant that they knew exactly where they were going.
The Synoptic Gospels run parallel very closely (with the addition of one or two unique records by each of the writers) but John’s Gospel seems to be at variance with the other three at this point. However, we should understand John 20:1-18 as viewing the morning events from the perspective of Mary Magdalene, with the incident recalling Peter and John’s trip to the tomb sandwiched in the middle.
Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to follow the women in general as they journeyed together to the tomb then, once Mary Magdalene returns to the disciples, continues with them when the two angels appear to them inside the tomb and, subsequently, Matthew alone notes that Jesus appears to the women on their journey home. Mark 16:9 (believed by many commentators to be ‘unoriginal) then notes the first resurrection appearance to Mary when she returns to the tomb but gives no details concerning it, presumably her return being at a much slower pace than both Peter and John who have gone before she arrives back (and this is only recorded by John).
When journeys are assessed in and around first century Jerusalem, we’re only looking at small distances between any two points so that, for instance, the routeway from the praetorium where Jesus was judged before Pilate to the place of the crucifixion could have been no more than half a mile and, if my previous reasoning is accurate, may have been at a much shorter distance and in full view of the soldiers’ barracks from which help could be quickly summoned should there be an attempt by many of the Jews to free those being executed.
We aren’t dealing with extensive periods of time, therefore, and shouldn’t think that the incidents here recorded span several hours.
The disciples seem to have remained in the city of Jerusalem after the Passover for Mary’s running to Peter and John is hardly possible if they’d returned to Bethany where Jesus and the band had been lodging during the week preceding the festival (Mtw 21:17, 26:6). They also presumably appear in the city in John 20:19ff where Jesus stands among them towards the evening of the first day of the week and eight days later (John 20:26).
Each of the four Gospel writers include different groups of women but, when they do, they don’t exclude or undermine the position of the other. John it is who follows the journey and experience solely of Mary Magdalene (John 20:1) who’s taken to have set off from wherever she was staying
‘...while it was still dark’
though what this actually means is difficult to be certain about. Mtw 28:1 speaks of the time period as being
‘...toward the dawn...’
while Luke 24:1 notes that it took place
‘...at early dawn’
It seems best to accept that the women journeyed to the sepulchre when the sun had already begun to lighten up the day but before the sun had risen. Mark 16:2’s statement, therefore, that they went to the tomb
‘...when the sun had risen’
should be taken as the time of day when they arrived. Johncar, however, offers the possibility that
‘...Mary Magdalene first approached the tomb alone and then with other women...’
presumably having discovered the rolled away stone on her initial visit, while Johnmor in a footnote comments that others infer that
‘...the women came in groups, all arriving about sunrise. Those who were a little earlier would have arrived in darkness and those a little later when the sun was up’
but it seems best to accept that the statements of time are used to denote various points in the morning as previously noted above and that the statements of the first three Gospel writers seem to cause the reader to infer that a single group of women journeyed together to the sepulchre and that they’d corporately come to see to the task of anointing the body of Jesus, something which Matthew omits from his record (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1).
Of the two possible alternative explanations offered above, however, Johnmor’s is the most likely because it would have been easy upon their departure on the Friday afternoon to arrange that they were to meet at first light at the tomb even if they were staying in different locations in Jerusalem - Having said that, Mark 16:3 seems to exclude the possibility for it puts all the women together and questioning amongst themselves as to how they would gain access to Jesus’ body.
While John’s Gospel mentions just Mary Magdalene, Mtw 28:1 includes
‘the other Mary’
who, from Mtw 27:56, seems to have been the mother of James and Joseph. Mark adds the name of Salome to these two making three while Luke 24:1’s statement that ‘they’ went to the tomb is dependent upon Luke 23:55 where the writer speaks about the
‘...women who had come with Him from Galilee’
which could indicate a much larger group than the three individuals mentioned by Mark. Each writer, then, seems to include just those women that they wish the reader to know about but, in the case of John, his mention only of Mary Magdalene is deliberately done so that he can follow her experience throughout the early hours of the morning without having to deal with the other women who were present.
It seems clear that the women knew nothing about the placing of the Roman guard at the entrance of the tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing the body for, as they journey to the tomb, they question amongst themselves who it might be that would move the stone from the tomb entrance (Mark 16:3).
1. Before they arrive
Matthew alone records the incident which must have taken place before the women ever reached the tomb (Mtw 28:2-4) and which seems to be caught up with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Matthew’s text doesn’t actually say that this was the point at which it happened but it’s normally taken to be one and the same because of the miraculous visitation of the angel who descends from Heaven and rolls away the stone of the sepulchre (Mtw 28:2). But no one is recorded as seeing Jesus walk from out of the tomb (even though artists down through the ages have chosen to depict it) and it’s best to see in Jesus’ resurrection only the evidence of the event (the empty tomb, the empty grave clothes) without insisting that Jesus’ body was forced to exit the sepulchre via the same route in which it entered.
We must remember that there was certainly no need for the stone to be rolled away if by it we see the reason being that Jesus had to be given access out from the tomb. John 20:19 clearly records that Jesus wasn’t in the room when the disciples met but that it was secured so that no one could get in - or, perhaps better, that no one would know that they were there - when Jesus suddenly appeared amongst them.
It would be wrong to assert that Jesus walked through the walls for nowhere do we read this - the Scripture simply infers that Jesus wasn’t there and then, moments later, He was. Not being restricted anymore by three-dimensional barriers meant that the rolling of the tomb stone away was irrelevant to the success of the resurrection.
Rather, it seems to be done to let men and women look in to see the event which has now taken place. The moving of the stone then becomes a sign of the event - and perhaps even an invitation for those close by to enter in and see the disappearance of Jesus’ body.
Quite naturally, the Roman guards reacted - by coming under immense fear and falling down like dead men. Mathag speaks of an irony that
‘...is not to be missed: the ones assigned to guard the dead themselves appear dead while the dead One has been made alive’
Their flight into the city will be dealt with by Matthew in the following section (Mtw 28:11-15) but the reader must assume that they recovered their composure enough to flee away to the city shortly after the incident here recorded and before the women arrive at the tomb, for Mark and Luke make no mention of the soldiers being witnessed by them (Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2 - though they ignore the presence of the guard throughout their narrative).
The impression one gets from the women’s arrival is that of a tranquil scene of birds hopping from branch to branch, of the sun beginning to warm up the ground once more as it rises above the horizon and of a gentle breeze blowing through the grass and trees. There’s no detail of a blinding light radiating out from an angelic form sat atop the stone and of prostrate soldiers cowering before him.
Matthew’s record follows directly on from his observations about the resurrection and makes it read as if the women witnessed the angel outside the tomb (Mtw 28:5) but it’s the other two writers who observe that he appeared to them when they went in to the tomb and not before (Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4).
Incidentally, some commentators equate the earthquake which occurs in Mtw 28:2 as being one and the same with Mtw 27:51 but it seems best to take each of these as separate events - I very briefly discussed this on a previous web page. We should certainly take the emergence of the OT believers from their tombs as occurring at this point (Mtw 27:53).
One thing that needs to be observed, though, is that an earthquake would not have been sufficient to move the stone away from the entrance of the tomb if the traditional understanding of a circular slab of rock is accepted as being rolled across the entrance way. This type of tomb seal rested in a groove which would have prevented all but the most severe of earthquakes dislodging it.
Besides, the Scriptures plainly say that the stone was ‘rolled away’ by an angel (Mtw 28:2, Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2) and not that it had fallen over through the vibration of the seismic shock. However, Johnmor notes that the Greek word employed in John 20:1
‘...is not the word we might have anticipated’
for it means something more like ‘lift up’ or ‘take up’ and that the author
‘...may imply violence...This seems to imply that the stone was lifted out of the groove in which it ran...’
Even so, this is some way from expecting the writers to be insisting that it had been rattled out of the groove, for then it would have needed to have been pushed ‘uphill’ to achieve the effect. This is something which, as far as I’m aware, is not possible for an earthquake to achieve where objects would be expected to fall ‘down’ not roll ‘up’ and it’s this motion which is being inferred here.
I’ve also briefly looked at the reason why an earthquake might have taken place in connection with Jesus’ death on a previous web page.
2. When they arrive
Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2
So, the scene which confronts the women is quite tranquil and calm - but perplexing, too, because the stone has been obviously rolled away with no sign of who might have done such a thing. As I’ve noted above, the women don’t appear to have been aware that a Roman guard had been placed at the tomb during the sabbath.
Perhaps one of the women ran ahead and looked into the tomb and announced that it was empty but this is doubtful. It seems more likely that, if a woman did run over to the entrance, she saw the evidence of the resurrection as John would do a little later from outside the tomb (John 20:4-5) and announced that
‘The body’s gone!’
which Mary Magdalene seems to have taken as a clear case of theft. This is pure supposition, I agree, but, for whatever reason, Mary now seems to turn about and runs to where she knows Peter and John are staying (John 20:2), probably thinking that the authorities had moved Jesus sometime in the night for she announces to them (my italics) that
‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid Him’
It seems her mind had been working overtime as she ran back to the disciples. John’s Gospel now traces the response which her words inspired in Peter and John before following her return to the tomb and the first resurrection appearance of Jesus (Mark 16:9).
3. Going inside the tomb
Mtw 28:5-7, Mark 16:5-7, Luke 24:3-8
With Mary’s departure, the women venture into the tomb (if that sort of thing had happened to me, I probably would have turned tail and run just like Mary - though for totally different reasons) and look around at what’s inside, but can’t find the body anywhere (Luke 24:3).
This doesn’t necessarily imply that the tomb was large and had numerous burial chambers off a main antechamber where the body might have been laid to decompose before being committed into an ossuary (see my previous notes on Jewish burial and the find of the tomb of Caiaphas for further details), but they certainly examine the contents of the tomb in case someone’s moved the body elsewhere inside. What they would have seen would have been the empty shell of bandages just as Peter and John were to witness in a few minutes’ time (John 20:6) and they’re naturally perplexed (Luke 24:4) about the entire matter - possibly even in the same way as Mary Magdalene had been.
They have the evidence in front of them, however, that all doesn’t appear the way their minds were interpreting it, for a hollow shell in the shape of a body points into a totally different direction than a removal of the body to another location.
I trust that the reader will allow me one moment of foolishness in my discussion of the scene for I’ve wondered for many years why, when Peter and John came to the tomb, they found (John 20:7)
‘...the napkin, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself’
whereas one would have expected it to have ‘fallen through’ the head when Jesus rose and be lying on the ‘headrest’ which some tombs have been observed to have. It occurs to me that what the two disciples saw was the product of the women’s puzzlement and that they’d lifted up the facecloth to make sure that the head wasn’t underneath it (there’s the possibility that, whereas the body was wrapped in linen cloths, the head was placed in a facecloth - see my notes on Jewish burial). Then, realising that the body had gone, one of them neatly rolled up the cloth and placed it down beside the other linen shell of cloths.
Having seen that the body wasn’t there, two angels appear to the women (Mtw 28:5-7, Mark 16:5-7, Luke 24:4-8). Matthew’s record infers that the angel who speaks to the women is the same one who sat upon the tomb stone once it had been rolled away (Mtw 28:4-5), sitting on the right hand side (the right hand side of what, though? It can’t be the right hand side as one went in to the tomb from the doorway or shaft for the were already inside. Perhaps the right side of where the body had been is best understood?) and dressed in white garments (Mark 16:5).
Luke records the existence of two figures in ‘dazzling apparel’ and that they were standing by them (Luke 24:4) as opposed to Mark’s one man being seated. There are numerous possible explanations at this point but it seems best to keep the personnel to a minimum here (or else the tomb would have started to have got extremely crowded!) and take it that the one angel who speaks to them is the one who initially appears to them as seated (or were they both initially seated?) but that he rises up in the course of his speech and stands beside them. Luke seems to record the total of the angels present whereas both Matthew and Mark record the one who spoke.
What the angel actually says to the women is variously recorded in all three Gospels (Mtw 28:5-7, Mark 16:5-7, Luke 24:5-7). Matthew and Mark follow very closely each other’s words and can clearly be seen to be two descriptions of the same speech. Luke’s seems altogether different but we have no way of knowing that the first two writers insist that this was all that the angel was thought to have said to them or that the second angel who goes unmentioned in the first two Gospels is the one responsible for the utterance recorded in the third.
Luke 24:5’s question
‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’
shouldn’t be taken as a rebuke but as something which was to bring the women to their senses of what had taken place recently at the tomb, for he continues to remind them of Jesus’ words concerning His death, burial and resurrection which had been announced to them even before they’d set out from Galilee to Jerusalem on that final journey.
Matthew and Mark’s record of the words firstly assures the women that they shouldn’t be afraid or amazed by what their eyes are telling them, and the angel points out the place where Jesus had been laid the Friday afternoon as if to reassure them that they’re looking in the right place even if what they see is not what they were expecting.
The last few words of the angel recorded by Matthew and Mark are initially puzzling. His statement that they should return to the disciples and tell them that Jesus has risen from the dead is almost obvious. This was something which they weren’t being permitted to remain silent about through fear of what might happen should they announce what they’ve seen evidence for.
But the angels’ command to have the band go to Galilee and that it would be there that they would see Him is strange seeing as John clearly notes His appearance in Jerusalem that evening (John 20:1) and, presumably, in the same house in Jerusalem some eight days’ later (John 20:26). Departing to Galilee shortly afterwards, presumably, they also meet with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (John chapter 20) but it’s to a mountain meeting that they’re directed (if we take Mtw 28:16 as being the evidence of their obedience to the command of the angel).
Mark 16:7 states clearly (my italics) that
‘...there you will see Him, as He told you’
which presupposes a previous instruction given to the disciples which has gone unrecorded by the Gospel writers though Mtw 26:32 and Mark 14:28 are the records of the first pronouncement of what’s being spoken of here. Paul, writing in I Corinthians chapter 15, notes some of the resurrection appearances of Jesus and, after His appearing to ‘the twelve’ (the title being used even though there were only eleven at that point), he writes that, after this
‘...He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive though some have fallen asleep’
so that it seems the more logical to accept that the command which the disciples would have received via the women would have been to assemble His disciples at a location which they had previously been told and to which they must now travel towards (even though they seem to have delayed in the city for numerous more days - John 20:26). Jesus is also recorded as instructing the women to tell ‘My brethren’ which must necessarily include a wider group than simply the eleven who were left of the inner twelve. Matcar speaks of the phrase as indicative of
‘...all those attached to His cause who were then in Jerusalem, most of whom had followed Him from Galilee to Jerusalem...’
and the fact, noted above, that the disciples still appear in the city some eight days later may be an indication that they were delaying returning to Galilee until they were content that everyone associated with Jesus would have had time to make it to the location when they arrived.
This doesn’t preclude resurrection appearances of Jesus to the inner band of disciples, therefore, and neither does it to the women - what’s being referred to is the demonstrative proof to a large company of men and women that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Galilee, in Matthew’s Gospel, represents the place that God chose to reveal the light of Jesus to His people. As the writer recalls from Is 9:1-2 (Mtw 4:16) at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the nation
‘...the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned’
so that a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus is necessary for all those who were committed to following Him. Jesus’ main following was in Galilee and it’s to Galilee, therefore, that the disciples must ultimately go to gather His followers together that they might witness the that which proves His power over death and supports the commissioning of His people into all the world to announce the Gospel to all mankind (Mtw 28:16-20).
4. Returning to the city
Mtw 28:8-10, Mark 16:8, Luke 24:9-11
Presumably, the angels now departed from the women, but it’s equally possible that they left after they’d exited from the tomb and were on their way back into the city (Mtw 28:8, Mark 16:8, Luke 24:9). While travelling back, Jesus Himself appeared to them (Mtw 28:9-10) and He repeats the command which they’d heard from the angel to
‘...tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me’
This appearance seems to have taken place after both Peter and John’s arrival at the tomb (John 20:3-10) and the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) for Mark 16:9 records specifically (my italics) that
‘...He appeared first to Mary Magdalene from whom He had cast out seven demons...’
Even though it was to be the disciples who He’d use to bring the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven to the earth, it was still the women who He chose to appear to first. After all, while the men had been hiding away from the possibility of reprisals (assumed), the women had been watching the crucifixion (Mtw 27:55-56) and following the body’s removal to the private tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mtw 27:61) only to finally return to the place to give Jesus honour in death once the sabbath was passed (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1).
Their faithfulness seems to have been rewarded in their being the first to see the One who, even in death, they hadn’t forsaken. Notice here that Matthew makes a point of observing that the women
‘...took hold of His feet...’
and, by so doing, proved that it was a bodily resurrection which was believed by the early Church and not some sort of mystical experience that didn’t rely on the absence of the crucified body from the tomb. I’ve dealt with Mark 16:8’s observation that
‘...they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid’
in the last section which deals with a harmony of all the events of that Sunday morning but, until Jesus began appearing to the disciples themselves (Luke 24:11), the witness of the women
‘...seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them’
One can’t help but understand their doubts of the truthfulness of the women’s words if they hadn’t seen it for themselves and even John and Peter may have doubted their authenticity for they’d seen nothing supernatural at the tomb even though John 20:9 notes that the former ‘believed’ - but what exactly did he believe? For John also notes that
‘...as yet they did not know the Scripture that He must rise from the dead’
There’s no reason to think that the apostles were persuaded by what the women said they’d found until Jesus began appearing to them as well (Luke 24:13-35, John 20:19-23, I Cor 15:5) - Thomas didn’t even believe once the disciples witnessed Jesus raised from the dead (John 20:24-25)!
But more evidence for the lack of credibility of female witnesses is given in the Mishnah by the comparison of Rosh Ha-shanah 1:8 with Sanhedrin 3:3 where it can be seen that women weren’t ‘qualified’ to act as either witnesses or judges in a court of law.
Josephus also records in Antiquities 4.8.15 when dealing with the type of society that Moses ordained for the nation of Israel that he supposedly commanded them
‘...let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives...let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex’
Some of this may have bled over into the disciples’ lives and caused them to refuse to accept their testimony simply on the grounds of their own cultural prejudices.
The first fruit offering
These notes have been redeveloped from my web page here
The first fruit offering commanded by God as observable by the nation of Israel (though it wasn’t one of the three festivals at which all the male Jews had to appear before YHWH at the place which He would choose - Ex 23:14-17) was to occur (Lev 23:11)
‘...on the morrow after the sabbath...’
but as to what exactly this meant was the subject of much discussion and argument between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The Sadducean view was that a sabbath always referred to a Saturday and, therefore, ‘the day after’ was always a Sunday. And this sabbath was defined as the first natural sabbath that fell during the seven-day festivities of Passover and Unleavened Bread (where the Passover plus Unleavened Bread would equal either seven or eight days depending upon your interpretation - see Appendix 1 in my notes on Passover).
The Pharisaic view, on the other hand, took the sabbath to refer to the first day of the festival of Passover that was proclaimed by the words ‘a holy convocation’ in the Law (Lev 23:7 - that is, the 15th of Nisan). The ‘day after’, according to the Pharisees, had to always refer to the second day of the festivities and was always on the same calendar date unlike the Sadducean interpretation (see Hagigah 2:4 and Menathoth 10:3 in the Mishnah where there are some very transparent words of the Rabbis here which put down the Sadducean interpretation. Danby comments on them in notes 12 and 1 under the respective verses).
It’s difficult to understand why the 16th of Nisan wasn’t specified in the Mosaic law if, like the Pharisees believed, the first fruits offering always occurred after the ‘holy convocation’ (that is, the 15th of Nisan when the Lamb was eaten). The Law gives us the impression that the feast was only fixed to the occurrence of a natural sabbath.
In the year of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Pharisaic interpretation would have fixed the waving of the ‘omer’ as Saturday, whereas the Sadducees would have seen Resurrection Sunday as the day. When the ‘fulfilment’ of the feast is considered, the Sadducean view is seen to be correct (and the natural reading of the Levitical Scriptures indicates this also) and therefore the correct interpretation of the phrase ‘the morrow after the sabbath’ becomes apparent (Lev 23:11).
It was on this day that the sheaf of the first fruit of the barley harvest was brought to the priest and was waved before the Lord so that the offerer would find acceptance (Lev 23:10-11). Though the festival may have been considered from the viewpoint of the single offering gaining national acceptance, the passage leaves us in no doubt that individual acceptance is what is here in mind and that there was the intention that many ‘wavings’ of different sheaves were expected to have taken place.
It’s significant, therefore, that Jesus is raised from the dead on the Biblical day on which the waving of the first fruits of barley took place, the NT writers being careful to note that the fulfilment of this festival can only be rightly seen in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The Sadducees, who interpreted the passage correctly (yet who, quite ironically, didn’t believe in the resurrection), would have celebrated the wave offering of the sheaf on the first day of the week (Sunday) when Jesus rose from the grave (even though it’s a possibility that the Pharisaic interpretation was that which was being observed in the Temple).
Though Friday was the crucifixion day and the fulfilment of the Passover (see my notes on Passover - especially Appendices 1 and 2) Sunday was the resurrection day and the fulfilment of the Festival of First Fruits.
Therefore, the NT writers clearly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ as being the first fruit offering to God. Paul writes (I Cor 15:20) that
‘...Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep’
John (Rev 1:5) that
‘...Jesus Christ...[is]...the first born from the dead...’
and Paul (Col 1:18) that Jesus is
‘...the first born from the dead...’
Just like the seed of barley that had fallen into the earth and had brought forth a sheaf, so the seed of Christ’s body had been sown into the earth and had brought forth new life as it was raised in power. But the NT writers go on from this starting point to say more about the implications of the resurrection for believers and Paul comments (I Cor 15:23) that
‘...Christ [is] the first fruits [from the dead] then at His coming those who belong to Christ’
Jesus’ resurrection is the anticipation of or the promise that the final harvest of resurrected believers will take place - just as the sheaf waved before the Lord was the promise of the future harvest so, too, the acceptance of Jesus into Heaven through the resurrection and ascension is the promise to all believers that there’s coming a time when all those who die as a part of Jesus’ body (His Church) will similarly be raised from the dead into new life and be acceptable to God.
This future harvest is dealt with in my notes on the Feast of Tabernacles as this final festival celebrated the reality of the final harvest that had been brought in. First Fruits, therefore, not only proclaimed a fulfilment in Christ through the resurrection from the dead, but it also pointed forward to see the final resurrection of all believers at the Feast of Tabernacles.
Jesus’ resurrection, therefore, is not just an incident that occurred randomly in Jesus’ life but is an integral part of the outworking of God’s purpose to bring about a complete work of redemption for all men.
The ‘how’ of Scripture
In the Scriptures, the reader doesn’t see Jesus getting up from where He laid (that is, coming back to life) and walking out through an opened tomb door. All the reader witnesses is a body which is reported as having gone from where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus placed it and a tomb stone rolled away to enable those that come to the tomb to look in and see that Jesus has gone.
Neither is the reader able to witness Jesus walking through walls (John 20:19,26), even though many hold fast to this interpretation. All that the Scriptures seem to say is that Jesus wasn’t in their midst but that He came and stood amongst them without giving any clue as to how He might have been able to manifest Himself in the place of His choosing and regardless of the physical circumstances (if this had been a page from a Star Trek script, someone would have come up with a whole series of words that sounded really technical that explained the phenomenon - but, even then, they wouldn’t have made too much sense as they never seem to do in that program!).
Again, all that we know of Jesus’ appearance to the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) is that in some way (Luke 24:16)
‘...their eyes were kept from recognising Him’
The means whereby this was made possible goes unexplained (for a similar occurrence see John 21:4). And (Luke 24:31) when He
‘...vanished out of their sight’
the reader isn’t told how it was possible but only that it happened.
It’s often the case in Scripture - though especially true with regard to the resurrection - that the reader isn’t informed about the ‘how’ of events which took place, even though the ‘why’ is often explained. To need to know ‘how’ before one can believe is a product of an analytical scientific mind and, quite rightly, it doesn’t spring from faith.
Faith - something which Thomas failed to exercise (John 20:24-29) - is that characteristic that believes the revelation that’s made to it without needing grounds for an acceptance of the fact or event. It’s only from that sort of faith that the reality or substance of what is believed will actually spring - though there are exceptions even to this as Thomas discovered. As Michael Card once wrote in the song ‘Could it be?’
‘You’ll never solve the mystery of this magnetic Man - for you must believe to understand’
for it’s only in an acknowledgement and acceptance of what can’t be fully understood that a perception comes that comprehends the unfathomable.
The proof of the resurrection
There have been numerous times in my own life when I’ve been asked to prove either the existence of God or some of the events recorded for us in the Gospel accounts. Others have simply declared that they won’t believe unless they have tangible proof of the existence of God - and this is often tied up with the expectation of a miracle on one of their family or friends so that they’ll be healed of a disease or have vast sums of money given to them to get them out of debt.
I used to wonder just what sort of proof one could present to these people to win them over to see the truth of the Gospel - even if they refused to accept it. But it occurred to me that the only real proof I have is that which I’ve experienced - that is, Jesus’ active involvement in my own life is all that can possibly prove that He’s alive.
There are many christians who hold fast to a belief that Jesus rose from the grave but in reality don’t see Him doing anything in their own lives and situation - and neither in the people around them. Unfortunately, such a belief is dead and a reflection of a God who appears to be impotent - Someone who breathed His last on the cross, never to live again.
But those who serve a living Jesus are those who are experiencing the life and dynamism of the resurrection in their everyday lives (not necessarily that they’ll perceive the power everyday) and it isn’t a matter of a simple belief in a historical event which is now past.
The only proof that can be offered for the resurrection is personal experience, then. I know that Jesus is raised from the dead because I experience Him living within.
Even though I’ve previously noted that there seems no way that anyone could doubt that there was an empty tomb on resurrection Sunday which there needed to be an explanation for by the Jewish authorities, it still takes a leap of faith to believe that the reason for it was through the act of God recorded in the Scriptures - there are plenty of other explanations given by people sceptical of the event while some seem to refuse to accept the certainty of the women’s discovery that Sunday morning.
There’s a christian ‘Classic’ called ‘Who moved the Stone?’ by Frank Morison in which the author started out by seeking to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ by the Gospel records and, eventually, was converted into a belief that it was the most logical explanation of what took place.
Even this belief needed revelation, for the testimony of eye witnesses can be rejected and numerous interpretations placed upon texts that don’t rightly belong to them.
The bottom line, though, is that no one can prove that the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place to anyone else through natural means, for it’s only a personal experience of Him that can persuade someone that He who was taken down from the cross is now alive and able to move throughout the earth in a way which is not demonstrably provable as science would demand.
Harmony of Matthew 28:1-15 with the other three Gospel records
The incident of the going of the religious leaders to Pilate in order for the body to be secured took place on the sabbath (Mtw 27:62-66) and, as it's the only event which is recorded as having taken place on that Saturday (apart from Luke 23:56b), it doesn't need to be harmonised with any of the other Gospel narratives.
But the accounts of what transpired shortly before dawn on the Sunday morning through to mid to late morning has drawn the attention of many commentators who have needed to bring the very different records together into some sort of harmony.
Although far from certain, the Gospels seem to indicate the following timetable of what transpired that morning, so that Paul's list of Jesus' appearances in I Cor 15:3-8 must be taken as by no means exhaustive.
There are notes below this chart relating to some of the events for a few of the statements need explaining.
||The women set out while it was still dark/dusk
||While the women were on their way, at first light Jesus rose from the
||The women arrived also at first light
||When Mary Magdalene saw that the stone had been rolled away, she ran
to Peter and John*
||The remaining women are spoken to by two angels within the tomb - one
who speaks and another who seems to remain silent**
||Mary Magdalene tells John and Peter what she thought had happened
||The remaining women leave the tomb
||John and Peter arrive at the tomb, look around and return home
||Mary Magdalene arrives once more at the tomb. This time she looks in
and Jesus appears to her
||The other women, returning from the tomb, have Jesus appear to them
||The Roman guard enter the city and meet with the Jewish leaders
||All the women become witnesses of the resurrection though they seem
to withhold some of the 'supernatural' events concerning the angels†
*John 20:2a clearly notes that Mary Magdalene rushed back to tell the disciples that the body of Jesus appeared to have been moved and, although John appears to relate that she'd journeyed to the tomb alone, John 20:2b records her words upon her return (my italics) as
'...we do not know where they have laid Him'
implying a group of women had been initially present. It seems fair, therefore, to see Mary's immediate return back into the city while the remaining women continue on to the tomb after initially observing that the stone had been rolled away.
As I’ve noted above, one of the women may also have announced that the body had gone when they first looked in and that this prompted her to return with all speed to the disciples in the city while the other women went on to investigate the scene further.
**Matthew causes the reader to think that the women were spoken to by an angel who was sat on top of the sealing stone (Mtw 28:2) but this is mentioned as part of the details of the resurrection which had taken place before the women arrived so that Mark 16:5 and Luke 24:4 should be taken as placing the angel which spoke to them within the tomb. Luke's record notes the existence of two angels but this isn't a problem for the first two writers seem to record the existence only of the one which spoke to them rather than the sum total of those present.
†This is the most puzzling of the details in the four Gospels. John 20:18 specifically relates Mary's witness to the resurrection (she was the first one to see the risen Jesus) but she wouldn't have been able to give the disciples the details concerning the angels which had appeared to the others as she'd returned at a time prior to the women entering the tomb (in my chronology of the events).
Luke 24:9-11 refers to all the women being witnesses of the things which had just happened though Mary Magdalene's inclusion here has to be taken to relate to the rolled away stone and her personal witnessing of Jesus risen from the dead.
Mark 15:10-11 confirms the witnessing of Mary Magdalene but Mark 15:8 records concerning the women who remained at the tomb and who saw the two angels inside the tomb that
'...they said nothing to any one for they were afraid'
while Mtw 28:8 speaks about them making haste
'...to tell His disciples'
but doesn't record them actually doing so - the inference by comparing Mtw 28:7,10 with Mtw 28:16, however, is that they may have done just that. While they're returning from the tomb, Jesus appears to them (Mtw 28:9-10) and it's only if Mary Magdalene wasn't with them at this point that the personal appearance of Jesus makes sense but, even so, His appearing to them isn't first chronologically (Mark 15:9) and Mary Magdalene presumably arrived at the tomb while they were returning.
But what of the women's silence recorded solely by Mark but seemingly refuted by Matthew and Luke? The only explanation that seems possible here is that the returning band of women (save Mary Magdalene) did indeed remain silent initially which is what Mark is recording but that, hearing Mary announce what she'd seen, they began to confirm parts of the story which substantiated her testimony. Even so, in the chart I've noted that they may have kept quiet concerning some of the events until much later.
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