The Resurrection Story
Beginning with John 20, verses 1 and 2
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!”
While John mentions that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, he never said or implied that she went alone. There were other women with her as confirmed in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Luke does not mention any of the women’s names until later in the account.
Matthew said there was a violent earthquake and that an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone at the entrance to the tomb. According to Mark, we know when it happened. It happened before the women arrived at the tomb because they found that the stone had already been rolled away, according to John.
Matthew’s account is not completely chronological. And in fact, none of the gospels are a second by second, minute by minute transcript of what took place that morning. Keep in mind too that it only takes us a few minutes to read about the Resurrection and everything that went on. In real time, all these events actually took place over a much longer period of time. There is no mention of Roman soldiers lying in front of the empty tomb pretending to be dead in any of the other gospels. Matthew is the only one who mentions that. As far we can tell, the soldiers apparently picked themselves up off the ground and were long gone when the women got there. Then the angel that had been sitting on the stone frightening the daylights out of the soldiers went inside the tomb, or disappeared, or whatever it is that angels do to keep from being seen.
At the end of the 23rd chapter of Luke, the scripture tells us how the women knew which tomb Jesus had been placed in. Verse 55: The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. This refutes modern day arguments against the resurrection of Jesus which claim that Jesus was not raised from the dead, but that the women merely went to the wrong tomb. They knew where Jesus was.
And at the beginning of Luke chapter 24, Luke continues: 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.
When the women went inside the tomb, they encountered two men in bright white clothing.
As Luke explained: While they (the women) 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 over to the hands of sinners, 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.
Remember the part of that passage that says, “In their fright, they bowed down with their faces to the ground.” We going to come back to that.
The parallel to this in Matthew’s gospel said they ran quickly from the tomb to go find the disciples. Matthew also said Jesus met them along the way and the women worshiped at His feet. But based on what we read from John’s gospel in the first paragraph, it seems that Mary Magdalene left the other women behind and continued on to go look for John and Peter. From Matthew’s account, it seems that the other women must have immediately recognized Jesus. But as we’ll see in a moment, John says later on in chapter 20 that Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener. So it’s most likely that she ran right by Jesus in her rush to go find John and Peter. In those disputed verses in Mark chapter 16 (verses 9 thru 20), verse 9 says that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. There is no indication that she immediately recognized Jesus, however.
When she found John and Peter, she told them about the empty tomb. Continuing with John 20 verse 3: So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He (speaking of John) bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then (verse 6) Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, 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 from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Most commentators agree that in verse 8 where it’s written that John saw and believed, it means he believed that the tomb was in fact, empty; NOT that Jesus had risen. The very next verse says they did not yet understand.
But if Mary Magdalene had seen and recognized the risen Lord, if she had seen Jesus and worshiped at His feet with the other women like Matthew described, it makes no sense that she would have told Peter and John that someone took His body. So it’s reasonable to conclude that she did indeed continue on to go look for John and Peter after she and the other women left the tomb.
We can conclude also that Mary returned to the tomb with Peter and John. Or at least, she wasn’t very far behind. In the very next verse, (John 20, verse 11), John said Mary stood outside the tomb crying. We can also conclude that she remained behind after Peter and John left. She is now alone.
John 20, verse 11 continues to tell us: 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.
This is not the angelic encounter described by Luke and Matthew. When we look closely at the gospels, we can conclude that this was her second visit to the tomb that morning. The fact that John did not mention the other women here is inconclusive because he didn’t mention them earlier either. John did say Mary saw two angels in white, but notice that he did not give any indication that she was frightened by them. Usually, whenever the Bible says someone saw an angel, the very next words are…..and they were afraid. And in fact, Luke did say the women, in fright, bowed at their feet. But John said nothing like that here, which leads me to believe that this was her second encounter with the two angels. The first time she saw them was when she first arrived at the tomb with the other women, as we’re told in the other gospel accounts.
This passage confirms then, that for whatever reason, when Jesus appeared to the group of women as they ran from the tomb, Mary did not immediately recognize Jesus. If she had recognized Him, why is she now asking about His body? The reason is this: Mary, like John and Peter, did not yet understand that Jesus had risen. Even though Jesus was standing right in front of her, the scripture says she mistook him for the gardener.
(Picking up in John 20 verse 15) Jesus asked her, “Woman, 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.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
I believe verses 11 through 18 are in chronological order. Some have suggested that verses 11-18 should follow verse 1 to be chronological. That makes no sense. Again, why would she then run to Peter and John and tell them someone took the body, if she had seen Him alive and recognized who He was?
So Mary returned to wherever it was Peter and John and the other disciples were gathered. She went to the disciples with the news I have seen the Lord. The disciples had probably been scattered prior to this time, with no more than two or three of them in the same place. Remember, Jesus predicted they would scatter when He quoted the prophecy from Ezekiel the night before His death. “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But now it appears that they’re all in one place. Luke’s gospel tells us what took place when Mary got there, and he now identifies the women by name.
Again, reading from Luke 24
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.
It seemed like nonsense because, according to John, they still did not understand what had happened. As I said previously, they all appear to have gathered in one place from what we just read in Luke. We know Jesus appeared to a large group of His disciples not long after this, and they were all in one place. It may have taken a while to get everyone together. When the other women went to look for the disciples to tell them this news, they may have had to split up because it’s very likely that the disciples had divided up into smaller groups.
Regardless of how it all came about, they told the Eleven that they had seen and talked to Jesus. This took place after the other women saw Jesus and worshiped at His feet after leaving the tomb, and after Mary finally recognized and spoke with Jesus.
Now we turn out attention to Peter. When the women told everyone they had seen Jesus, that got Peter’s attention. Luke said he got up and ran to the tomb when he heard what the women said. I think this was his second visit to the tomb that morning because Luke made no mention of John going with him. Luke also said nothing about Mary Magdalene running behind him. I don’t believe Luke would have missed those details. He was the only gospel writer to mention the repentance of the second criminal during the crucifixion. Plus, we’re told in John’s gospel that Mary first went to John and Peter which seems to imply that the other disciples were not present when she told them someone had taken Jesus’ body. So based on that and based on the movements of Mary Magdalene that morning, I believe Peter visited the tomb not once, but twice. The first time was when Mary Magdalene told him and John that Jesus’ body was missing, and the second time was when he heard all the women talking about having seen and spoken with Jesus as described by Luke.
It only makes sense that Peter was anxious to see Jesus. What happened three days before this? Peter denied Jesus, not once, but three times. So I think Peter was eager to see if it was really true. Because if it was really true, he needed to get right with Jesus. They didn’t part on good terms the night before Jesus was crucified.
How anxious was Peter to see Jesus again? In John chapter 21 beginning with verse 7 the scripture tells us just how eager he was:
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
I’d say if Peter was eager enough to see Jesus that he was willing to swim 100 yards to shore, he was eager enough to make two trips to the empty tomb.
In what you’ve just read, I’ve tried my best to take Biblical evidence and come to what I believe are logical conclusions. If I missed anything or made an error, as W.A. Criswell once said, we’ll settle it in Heaven!
The reason I’ve attempted to describe the resurrection in one single account is because – even though there are four gospels – there is only one truth. Jesus came into the world. He walked on the earth as man. He was crucified for our sins, but on the third day He rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven. That’s the truth. God could have easily inspired one writer to document the life of Jesus, but He didn’t. He inspired four, knowing full well that people would come along in ages to come and would claim that the four gospels contradict one another, or that they’re inconsistent, or that they contain errors. And it’s not just non-believers and critics who say this. There are Christians out there today saying the same thing. That does not surprise God any at all. The truth is, the gospels do not contradict each other. They complement one another. We praise God for inspiring four writers to write four accounts of the life of Jesus because it only makes us work that much harder and dig that much deeper into the scripture to find the truth about Jesus Christ!