What really happened Easter morning?
Critics of the New Testament think the events of Easter morning in the four gospels contradict wildly and therefore this proves the Bible is error, or fiction, or mere myth. Weird. They seem to think each account must be identical; that eyewitnesses will give identical stories in every detail as if they are quoting one another. Weird. Therefore, they reject attempts to reconcile the accounts into a single consistent story. But anyway, here's my view of what really happened.
I limit the focus to the women who visited the tomb and found it empty. The main events are...
- the women arrive at the tomb
- they see angels
- they see Jesus
- they tell the disciples, who don't believe them
- Peter and John were in Jerusalem on Easter morning
- The other disciples were further away (for purposes of discussion we'll say they were in Bethany)
It's reasonable to assume that Peter and John were still in Jerusalem for these reasons...
- they both witnessed the trial of Jesus (John 18:15-16)
- John witnessed the crucifixion (John 19:26)
- since Jesus died sometime after 3 P.M. and the Sabbath began at 6 P.M. it's likely that they stayed in Jerusalem until Sunday morning — the morning of the resurrection
- they must have been near to the tomb because they ran to see it (Luke 24:12, John 20:4)
- Mary Magdalene also ran when she went to tell Peter (John 20:2)
It's also reasonable to assume that the other disciples had fled Jerusalem for safety.
Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' (Matthew 26:31)
How many angels?
Some passages refer to one angel while others mention two angels. There were two angels but one of them must have had a dominant role so sometimes only he is mentioned.
How many women?
- At least five went to the tomb — Mary Magdalene was among them.
- At least two told Peter and John — Mary Magdalene was among them.
- At least two went to Bethany to tell the other disciples.
- Mary Magdalene may have been alone at the tomb after Peter and John left.
The events in chronological order. Later is the Biblical text with these numbers before each verse.
1 Five women arrive at the tomb
2 They see the stone is moved
3 They go inside and see that Jesus' body is not there
4 The angels talk to them
5 They split into two groups to tell the disciples
6 Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and John
7 Peter and John run to the tomb
8 Mary Magdalene follows them to the tomb
9 They go into the tomb
10 They see and believe that's it's empty (but not that Jesus rose)
11 Peter and John go to Bethany
12 Mary Magdalene weeps at the tomb
13 The angels talk to her again
14 Jesus appears to her
15 She goes to Bethany to tell the disciples she saw Jesus
16 Meanwhile, Jesus appears to the other women
17 They arrive in Bethany and tell the disciples they saw Jesus
18 The disciples don't believe the women
19 Mary Magdalene arrives in Bethany and tells them she saw Jesus
20 They don't believe her either
Bible passages are from the New International Version (NIV).
1 (Matthew 28:1) After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
Matthew 28:2-4 is a description of what the guards witnessed before the women arrived and introduces the angel.
(Matthew 28:2) 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.
(Matthew 28:3) His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
(Matthew 28:4) The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
4 (Matthew 28:5) The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified."
4 (Matthew 28:6) He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
4 (Matthew 28:7) 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."
5 and 6 (Matthew 28:8) So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
16 (Matthew 28:9) Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
16 (Matthew 28:10) Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
1 (Mark 16:2) Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
1 (Mark 16:3) and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"
2 (Mark 16:4) But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
3 (Mark 16:5) As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
4 (Mark 16:6) "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."
4 (Mark 16:7) 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."
5 (Mark 16:8) Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
14 (Mark 16:9) 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.
15 (Mark 16:10) She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.
19 and 20 (Mark 16:11) When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
1 (Luke 24:1) 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.
2 (Luke 24:2) They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
3 (Luke 24:3) but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 (Luke 24:4) While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
4 (Luke 24:5) 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?"
4 (Luke 24:6) He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
4 (Luke 24:7) The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.
4 (Luke 24:8) Then they remembered his words.
Luke 24:9-12 combines the narrative of both groups of women and both groups of disciples into one story. It is not strictly chronological as the other narratives are.
6, 17 and 19 (Luke 24:9) When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
6, 17 and 19 (Luke 24:10) It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
18 and 20 (Luke 24:11) But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
7, 9, 10 and 11 (Luke 24:12) 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.
1 (Luke 24:22) In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning
3 and 4 (Luke 24:23) but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.
7, 9 and 10 (Luke 24:24) Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.
1 and 2 (John 20:1) 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.
6 (John 20:2) 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!"
7 (John 20:3) So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.
7 (John 20:4) Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
9 (John 20:5) He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
9 (John 20:6) Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,
9 (John 20:7) as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.
9 (John 20:8) Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
10 (John 20:9) (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
11 (John 20:10) Then the disciples went back to their homes,
12 (John 20:11) but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb
13 (John 20:12) and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 (John 20:13) 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."
14 (John 20:14) At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
14 (John 20:15) "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."
14 (John 20:16) Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
14 (John 20:17) 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.'"
19 (John 20:18) 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.
The Appearances of Jesus
1 Corinthians 15:5a — He appeared to Peter
1 Corinthians 15:5b — And then to the Twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:6 — After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:7a — Then he appeared to James
1 Corinthians 15:7b — Then to all the apostles,
1 Corinthians 15:8 — And last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born.