Harmonizing the Narratives
of the Resurrection of Christ
and His Post-Resurrection Appearances

[Updated with an addendum -- 25 July, 2020]


Q.   Bro. Gan, regarding the events that took place on the day of Christ’s resurrection, could you please provide some enlightenment as to the timing of the resurrection and ascension of the Old Testament saints?

A.   Harmonizing the narratives of the resurrection of Christ and His post-resurrection appearances and all the events that took place on that day has proven a challenge to many Bible scholars.  Bible skeptics love to take potshot at it, trying to discredit that the Scripture is in-breathed of God, and therefore one cannot rely upon the Bible.  Let us be reminded that God could have all four Gospel writers record all the events exactly the same way but would that prove the skeptics wrong? Or would that prove the skeptics are right that the Gospel writers were in cahoots?

All four Gospel writers were under the inspiration of the Spirit of God to write the Gospel depicting the four aspects of the Life of Jesus Christ.  Matthew writes his gospel account to give us the view of Jesus as the King. Mark shows Christ as a Suffering Servant of God sent to pay a ransom for our sin. Luke depicts the Humanity of Christ whereas John depicts His Divinity.

Taking all events into account, the chronological order that took place would be as follows:

1.   Not less than 3 women, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, go to the tomb (Matt.28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1,10; John 20:1).

It is possible that they go not as a group but as two separate groups and meet at the tomb at slightly different times.  [Note: Being that the tomb belonged to a rich man, Joseph of Arimathaea, the area of the garden and the tomb must be a fairly large area, near the area of crucifixion (John 19:41).] Take note that Mary Magdalene is especially singled out by all the Gospel writers regarding this resurrection day.

2.   As the women make their way to the tomb, an angel of God descends from heaven and rolls the stone away. The earth quakes and the guards faint. The angel sits on the stone (Matt.28:2-4).

3.   Arriving at the tomb and finding it empty, Mary Magdalene immediately runs to tell the disciples (John 20:1-2). The other women remain behind.

4.   While Mary Magdalene runs off to find Peter and John, the women, still at the tomb, see two angels.  An angel shows them the empty tomb and tells them that Jesus Christ has risen.  The angels then instruct them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee (Matt.28:5-7; Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:1-8).

5.   Mary Magdalene returns with Peter and John just as the women set off to find the disciples to give them the instruction. She stands somewhere outside the tomb and weeps while the two disciples go in to see for themselves the empty tomb. After that Peter and John return to their home (John 20:2-11).

6.   Left alone weeping, Mary stoops down and looks into the tomb. She sees two angels sitting where Jesus had lain, one at the head and the other at the feet. They question her.  She replies, and as she turns around, she sees Jesus. Thinking that He is the gardener, she pleads with Him for the Body of Jesus. Then Jesus calls her name. Mary recognizes Him. She responds and reaches out to touch Jesus Who quickly cautions her saying, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Then Mary leaves to tell the disciples (John 20:11-18).

Now, this is the verse (John 20:17) most Bible believers have overlooked. They missed this “ascension” of Christ in which He must first present Himself pleasing before the Father.  Most Christians believe that there is only one ascension of Christ, and that it took place right after he had spent 40 days with His disciples following His resurrection (Acts 1:1-5,9). However John’s Gospel stipulates clearly Christ’s very words that He must not be touched by a human until He goes up to see His Father, our Father, His God, our God.


The answer lies in the fulfillment of the sacrifice carried out on the Day of Atonement (as recorded in the Book of Leviticus chapter 16) being the type of the one great propitiation. On that day, it was the one day of the year that the high priest was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood before the presence of God to cover the sins of the people.  The high priest was the only one who could do it – slay the bullock, take its blood and enter into the Holy of Holies.

As much as Christ was the Passover Lamb whose blood provided a covering such that Death had to pass over us, He also was as the High Priest who slain the young bullock and took its blood into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and sprinkled it upon the Mercy Seat before the presence of Yahweh.

Yes, alone and unassisted, the atonement had to be made by a solitary high priest. “And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel” (Lev.16:17). Truly, the one who could make an atonement is Christ, He alone. As a High Priest, Jesus laid down His life. He was the sacrificial young bullock. He took His own blood and went up in to the Holy Presence of Yahweh. And there He presented it before His Father, after which He came back out to where He first entered in.

But how long did it take our Lord to ascend and come back down?  It certainly did not take him long, not even many minutes. When Aaron, the high priest, took the blood into the Holy of Holies, he did not dilly-dally in that place. He sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat and came right back out. The occasion was extremely serious and nothing was done for granted.

Now, with this revelation we can see the events continue as follows:

7.   Mary Magdalene goes off to tell the disciples that she has seen the Lord (Mark 16:9) and Christ goes up (ascends) to His Father, His God, and then comes right back down again.

8.   By then the guards, having roused themselves, report the empty tomb to the authorities, who bribe the guards to say that the disciples have stolen the body (Matt.28:11-15).

9.   Jesus meets the women who are on their way to tell the disciples the news the angel has given them. Jesus greets them. They draw near and hold His feet and worship Him. (Note: Jesus could now be touched.) Jesus comforts them and reaffirms the instruction that the angel has given them (Matt.28:8-10).

10.   It is at this time that the Old Testament saints resurrect, and many go into the city of Jerusalem and appear to many (not all) of the disciples (Matt.27:52-53).

A note about Matthew 27:50-54:  The word “and” appears very frequently in the New Testament. This conjunction has many readers confused because of the way the Scriptures were translated and marked off into verses for ease of locating particular words or texts. The original written manuscripts is Greek. It did not separate words and it used no accent and punctuation marks. Even Luke 23:44-47 appear ambiguous and contradictory when compared to Matthew 27:50-54. Nevertheless the proper readings of the texts of the two passages are as follow:

·       Matthew 27:50-54:  After Jesus yielded up His spirit, there was an earthquake. At the same time the veil of the temple in Jerusalem was rent in two from top to bottom. Fear came upon the centurion and those watching the crucifixion. After the resurrection of Christ (on the third day), the graves were opened. [Remember there was also an earthquake when an angel descended to roll away the stone of the sepulcher (Matt.28:2-4).] The saints of old resurrected and many of them went into the city of Jerusalem and appeared unto many of the Disciples of Christ.

·       Luke 23:44-47:  From about the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over the land because the sun was darkened. And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst as Jesus gave up His spirit crying, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”. The centurion, seeing what took place, glorified God saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man”.

11.   Mary Magdalene and the women meet the disciples and relate to them what they have seen and heard (Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:9-11; John 20 18).

12.   Later the same day, Jesus appears to Peter (Luke 24:34 cf. 1Cor.15:5).

13.   In the late afternoon, Jesus joins Himself to Cleopas and another disciple who are on the road to the village of Emmaus, a distance of about 12 kilometres from Jerusalem. As evening shadows fall, they sit down to dine. Jesus breaks bread and the disciples recognize Him. They immediately return to the city and report the event to the Eleven and others who are with them that evening (Luke 24:13-35).

14.   Later in the night, Jesus appears to the disciples in a closed room. Thomas is missing (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25).

15.   After 8 days, Jesus appears again to His disciples in the same closed room; this time Thomas is present (John 20:26-31).

16.   Following that and over a period up to 40 days since His resurrection, Jesus appears a few more times to His disciples – to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-25); to about 500 disciples in Galilee and to His half-brother James (1Cor.15:6-7).

17.   While Jesus is with the disciples, He commissions His disciples. Jesus teaches His disciples the Scriptures and promises to send the Holy Spirit (Matt.28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-5).

18.   After 40 days Jesus ascends into heaven (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-12).  It is apparent that as He ascends, He takes the resurrected Old Testament saints up with Him for they are no longer the captivity of the Prince of darkness who has hold them in Sheol. By the power of His resurrection from the dead, these saints are now Christ’s captive. Jesus sets them free into Paradise as He ascends to sits in His Father’s Throne (Eph.4:8; Matt.27:52-53; Rom.1:4).



Points 13, 14 and 15 need a little more explanation as there are Christians who feel that Luke made a mistake in his record. The alleged ‘mistake’ is the phrase “the eleven” (Luke 24:33).  Luke stated that two disciples returned to Jerusalem after their meeting with the Lord. (Jesus had many other disciples beside the twelve whom He called at the beginning of His ministry.)  They “found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them” and gave an account to all present of the event that took place; and as they were speaking Jesus appeared in the midst of them (Luke 24:36).  It is these four verses (Luke 24:33-36) that some Christians believe Luke made the mistake of stating “the eleven” instead of just ten since Thomas was not present according to John’s account (John 20:19-25).

The misunderstanding arises on two counts. Firstly, the closing account of Luke is truncated. (So are those of Matthew and Mark, though their account differs; they viewed Christ from different perspectives.)  The sweeping mention of Christ’s visitation after His resurrection and then His Ascension, and coupled with the use of the word “and” at the beginning of almost every verse, gives an impression that all the events took place in that one evening through to the next day; after which Christ ascended to the Heaven. The word “and” (Heb: vav; Grk: kai) in the Scripture is not necessarily, and always, a conjunctive word, per se. The word VAV ו has the form of a hook.  It literally hooks the words of God together (as one would hook pieces of curtain together to form a continuous length). That is the reason why we see that a line of scripture always begins with the letter VAV ו. (For more understanding, read: IT IS FINISHED.)

Secondly, when Luke states “the eleven”, it may appear to readers that all the eleven disciples were present.  The usage of the term “the eleven” points to the specific group and not necessarily of that specific number of disciples. The term is a holdover status as a group title as is the term “the twelve”. When the Gospel writers, and even Paul, speak of “the twelve” they meant the group of the original disciples. “The eleven” points to “the twelve” that has lost one in the group. The group is then called “the eleven”

If you look up all these terms: “the eleven”, “the twelve”, “the eleven apostles” or “the twelve disciples” in the Scripture, you will notice some significance. When the word “disciples” or “apostles” is added to the term “the eleven” or “the twelve” it speaks specifically the exact number of them.  For example: “I saw the twelve disciples at the Temple” (counting twelve in all) versus “I heard the twelve are gathered at Mary’s home. Let me go and meet them” (that is, the twelve disciples may, or may not, all be there when I meet them).

For a better understanding of the usage of the different terms, let’s examine a few other verses from the Scripture.

Mat 28:16:  Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
It is all the eleven disciples, not one less.

Luk 22:14:  And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
It is an exact headcount of all the twelve apostles.

Mat 10:2-4:  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
3:  Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;
4:  Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
Matthew lists exactly twelve names, not eleven and not thirteen.

Mar 16:14:  Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
Notice that Mark very much condenses the events from the first day of the week when Christ resurrected to when Christ gave them the great commission. This one verse covers a period of eight days. The first day, in the evening after His resurrection, Christ appeared to the disciples behind closed door. But Thomas was not present. Eight days later, Christ again appeared to them in the evening, and this time Thomas was present. Mark briefly sums up  Christ’s two meetings with the eleven without a specific head count of the number of disciples in each of the meetings.

Act 1:26:  And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
With the death of Judas Iscariot, the number “twelve” had become “eleven” because of the shortfall of one. To bring back the number “twelve”, all the eleven apostles gathered together to seek out one other disciple of Christ, who is deemed worthy to be part of the inner circle called “the twelve”.  Matthias was chosen “and he was numbered with the eleven apostles, making a total of twelve apostles.

Act 2:14:  But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
Peter, standing up with the elevenis a clear indication that there is the total head count of twelve apostles even though the verse states “the eleven” and not “the eleven apostles”.  Acts 2:1 verifies the fact. After Matthias was chosen and “numbered with the eleven apostles(Act 1:26), “they were all with one accord in one place” at the temple area on the Day of Pentecost.

Act 6:2:  Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
After Pentecost the twelve apostles went about preaching the Gospel but they did not always go forth as a whole group.  Therefore “the twelve” in this verse may or may not be a specific head count of all the apostles being present.

Joh 20:24:  But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
Here John points out who Thomas was. Even though Judas Iscariot had gone to his place in the betrayal, John distinctively points out that Thomas, who “was not with them when Jesus came”, was one in the inner circle of the original twelve disciples that Jesus Christ had handpicked. Therefore, he cannot use the term “the eleven” and record “Thomas, one of the eleven.
In another place, John makes the same emphasis about Judas being a part of “the twelve”:
Joh 6:71:  He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.

There are twelve disciples, and each one is considered one of the twelve. If James and John are the only disciples left alive during the great persecution, we can say, in emphasis as to who they are, thus: “James, one of the twelve, is still alive. John, also one of the twelve, is imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos”.

Lastly, Paul writes:

1Co 15:5:  And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
Notice, Paul says that after Christ resurrected, Cephas (that is, Simon Peter) was the first of the apostles to see Him followed by the rest of the members of “the twelve”. Paul is not saying Peter plus twelve other apostles which would make thirteen. There is only Peter plus the rest of “the twelve” original disciples minus Judas Iscariot.