The Resurrection account, recorded in all four Gospels, is one of the more challenging aspects of the Jesus’ story to harmonize.
Mark is the stenographer, it is believed, writing for the Apostle Peter. Peter was an eyewitness. He had run to see the empty tomb.
John is an eyewitness. He had outrun Peter, reaching the tomb first. He saw the rolled away stone, the empty tomb, and the grave clothes neatly folded.
Matthew didn’t see the empty tomb. He was with the others when the women came to report that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Did Peter and John run back to tell the others, corroborating their report?
Luke was the historian. He interviewed others to write his account. I wonder whose account he recorded for the resurrection? We assume he interviewed Mary, Jesus’ mother, because of stories regarding Jesus’ birth. Certainly John, who was given the responsibility of caring for Mary, would have told her what he had seen. Maybe Mary Magdalene had told her also. They were together at the cross. Eyewitness takes the position that Mary Magdalene was the sister of Jesus’ mother. If so, she certainly would have told Mary (though I believe there’s a stronger argument that Salome, the mother of James and John, was Mary’s sister). And maybe Luke interviewed Mary Magdalene himself. You would think he would, since no one had a better eyewitness account of the resurrection than Mary. She saw the empty tomb first, was spoken to by angels, and was spoken to by Jesus.
What challenges present themselves?
John records that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, found it empty, and ran to tell the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, Mary followed. They found it empty and left. Mary then encountered two angels, and then the risen Christ. She then went to tell the disciples, “I have seen the risen Lord!”
Luke records that “the women” went to the tomb. They found it empty, and while standing there, were told by two angels, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” The women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others) then went to tell the eleven, and Peter got up and ran to the tomb.
Mark records that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. They found it empty, and an angel spoke to them, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.” The women told no one because they were afraid. Mary Magdalene then told the disciples.
Matthew records that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb and found it empty. The guards had fled, fearing the angel who rolled away the stone. The angel told them, “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.” The women then ran to tell the disciples. As they left the tomb, Jesus met them. Falling at His feet, they worshipped Him.
To harmonize all of this, you have to take the perspective that just because someone is mentioned in the account doesn’t mean they are the only person there at that moment.
For instance, one angel or two? In Matthew and Mark, we read of only one angel. In Luke and John, we read of two. So we can assume that there were two, but Matthew and Mark only record the angel who spoke.
And how many women went to the tomb? Matthew mentions two, Mark three, Luke three plus others (he mentions Joanna while Mark refers to Salome), and John mentions only Mary Magdalene. So there are multiple women at the tomb, and possibly they get separated from one another when Jesus appears to them.
And how many disciples ran to the tomb? Luke records that Peter ran to the tomb, while John includes himself also, reminding us that he outran Peter.
Does Jesus appear to Mary Magdalene alone, or to her with several other women? John offers a compelling, intimate encounter that Mary has with the risen Christ, while Matthew records Mary Magdalene and the other Mary meeting Jesus. It seems these accounts would be one in the same, since both appear to be an initial encounter of the risen Christ for Mary Magdalene.
Did Mary and the women bring the report of the empty tomb, and then a second report that they’d seen the risen Christ? John, the only eyewitness who wrote an account himself, records it that way.
Eyewitness harmonizes the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection in a way that makes sense and reads easily. Others have harmonized it differently and offered a compelling perspective as well.
I don’t know that I have a lot of answers about questions that still present themselves regarding the chronology of the events with the four resurrection accounts, but I do have a growing appreciation for Mary Magdalene.
Can you imagine being the first to see the empty tomb? Can you imagine being told by angels, “He’s not here. He is risen!” Can you imagine being the first to meet, to speak with, the resurrected Christ? Why was Mary chosen for such an incredible honor? Does it have anything to do with her anointing Jesus and preparing Him for burial, showing her great love for her Savior?
If we do connect this honor to her love for the Savior, are there similar ways that the Savior meets us? When we become an intimate of His, does Jesus meet us in unique ways that He meets no one else?
Today, the thought of Mary Magdalene’s unique relationship with and intimate encounter of the risen Christ will drive me into His presence. Jesus, I want more of you. I want to be counted an intimate of yours!
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