Have you ever wondered about the seemingly contradictive accounts of Jesus’ resurrection within the four Gospels? When read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s description of the events surrounding the resurrection, they seem to contradict in many places. There are many questions that come up when comparing the four Gospels. Who was present at the discovery of the empty tomb? How many angels were present? When did everything happen? To answer these and more, all we have to do is look at the account as a whole with each Gospel providing additional, instead of conflicting, details. This is where the tool of a Gospel Harmony can really come in handy. For this study, we will be using excerpts from my Gospel Harmony entitled Peck’s Harmony of the Gospels: A Chronological Gospel Harmony from the King James Version Bible (available at www.ministudyministry.com). This Gospel harmony is separated by text-emphasis rather than parallel columns to make it easier to read and sort out the events. Matthew is in regular text, Mark is underlined, Luke is italicized, and John is in bold text.

 We can begin by looking at Matthew’s account. Matthew 28:1-2 reads…

1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

What we learn here is simple enough and can provide a framework for the rest of the accounts. At dawn, Mark Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the sepulchre in which Jesus was buried. At some point, there was an earthquake and the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone. After the angel moved the stone, he sat upon it.

What is interesting here is that this angel is described as “the angel of the Lord”. There are many times throughout the Old Testament that this phrase is used and seems to be referring to God Himself as well as pre-incarnate Jesus. This is further supported when we read the angel’s description. Matthew 28:3-4 reads…

His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

This is the same type of description that is used for Jesus in the book of Revelation. What is perhaps even more interesting is what the angel actually says. Matthew 28:5-7 reads…

And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

The angel, who is called the angel of the Lord (as opposed to an angel of the Lord), who bears the same physical description of Jesus Himself in Heaven from the book of Revelation, is talking about Jesus (quite possibly Himself) in the third person. This angel even bears the same description as God, such as in Daniel 7:9, which reads…

“I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;

This type of meshing between God, Jesus, and the angel of the Lord is nothing new to the Bible. This actually happens quite frequently in the Old and New Testament. For an example of this, we can look at a few comparative passages. First, consider Exodus 23:20-22, which reads…

20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.

In this passage, God is explaining specific instructions for entering the Promised Land. Notice the odd language God uses here. God says that He is going to send His angel. In verse 21, He warns not to provoke the angels because “he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him”. If only God Himself can pardon transgressions, essentially meaning to forgive sins, why does He feel He needs to remind the recipients of this message? It isn’t that the angel isn’t able to pardon transgressions; it’s that he chooses not to. It says the angel “will not”. It does not say the angel “cannot”.

We also learn that the name of the Lord is in the angel. When we do an in-depth study of what the “name of the Lord” actually refers to in the Old Testament, we discover that it is not merely talking about the four letter name of God (YHWH). We learn it is talking about His essence. To say the name of the Lord is here is to say the Lord Himself is present. (Deut. 12:11)

In verse 22, God uses some very interesting grammar. He says “if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak”. If you obey his voice and do all I speak … this is very peculiar indeed. The angel of the Lord and God Himself are the same being, yet somehow separate and different. As Christians, we can identify with this when we think of the Trinity. Sometimes it seems we tend to think the Trinity is a New Testament doctrine, but it is truly the nature of God. We should expect to see it in the Old Testament as well. Cleary, we do. So how does Jesus tie into all of this?

We have just read that it was the angel of the Lord who brought the children of Israel to the Promised Land in the last passage. Now consider Deuteronomy 4:35-38, which reads…

35 Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him.

36 Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.

37 And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt;

38 To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day.

Here, we find out that God Himself is claiming to be the one who led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land. This further shows the complex relationship between the angel of the Lord and the Lord. They are one in the same, yet different. To further complicate the matter, consider Judges 2:1-5, which reads…

1 And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.

And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?

Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

And it came to pass, when the angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept.

And they called the name of that place Bochim: and they sacrificed there unto the Lord.

What is really interesting is that it says, in verse 1, an angel of the Lord and not the angel. This shows that there is no perfect formula for identifying the speaker. We need to take it in context. Sometime an angel of the Lord is the same as the angel of the Lord. What is also interesting is this angel of the Lord is making the same claims as God in the previous passage. The angel of the Lord is an angel of the Lord is the Lord Himself. Of course, this gets a bit confusing, but it also shows us how impossibly far above us God really is.

As if it weren’t already enough, let’s complicate this even more. Jude 1:4-5 reads…

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.

By looking at the original Greek, we can determine that the “Lord” spoken of in verse 5 is Jesus Christ. We know this because the word for “Lord” in verse 5 is the same word for “Lord” in verse 4 when referencing Jesus. It is a different Greek word used altogether than that which is used for “Lord God” in verse 4. 1 Therefore, according to Jude, it was Jesus Christ who saved the people out of Egypt. We have the angel of the Lord, an angel of the Lord, the Lord, and Jesus Christ all claiming responsibility of this one event. Every single one of them is correct because, as we well know, we serve only one God. Again, remember the Trinity. Our singular God can be more than one while remaining singular. It’s weird and it’s pretty much impossible to understand, but that is what makes our God so amazing.

Now, if we look at the angel of the Lord as described in Matthew again, it should not surprise us that the angel of the Lord, who looks exactly like God, and is the same description as Jesus, who essentially probably is Jesus, would speak of Jesus in the third person. This is something God does quite often throughout the Old Testament. There are many, many more examples of this we could look at, but for our purposes here, we will now get back to the resurrection of Jesus.

Reading the rest of this passage, Matthew 28:8-10 reads…

And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

We learn that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary departed quickly with fear and joy to tell the other disciples what had happened. While on their way (we are not told how far they got), Jesus met up with them (meaning Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, for in reading the text closely, it is clear they had not arrived to the disciples as of yet). Mary Magdalene and the other Mary worshipped Jesus. Then Jesus told them to not be afraid, to tell His brethren to go to Galilee, and that they would see Him there. This provides the basic layout, framework, and foundation for the story that we can build upon with the details from the other Gospels.

At first read, when we look at Mark’s account, there will seem to be inconsistencies. In reality, it is by understanding the usage of a single word that we can understand what is being said. Mark 16:1-3 reads…

1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

Normally, when we see the word and, we tend to treat is as and then. We tend to read an account, such as this, as a chain of events. This, however, is not always the way in which it was meant to be read. A good example of this is the book of Revelation. If we were to read every and as if it meant and then (and visa versa), all common sense would be lost throughout the book. There is the day of the Lord in the 6th chapter and then events would seem to repeat themselves afterwards. It just doesn’t work.

However, if we look at and as an additional thought and not necessarily chronological, things start to make more sense.  For example, let’s say I was telling you about my day. I went to work. I left for home. I ran a red light and got pulled over. It is simple enough to understand the chain of events even though they may seem to be listed out of order. First, I mentioned going to work. Second, I mentioned coming home. Third, I mentioned getting pulled over. It is obvious that I did not get pulled over once I was home, so logically we would make the distinction that I got pulled over on my way home from work. This is the same type of thing we are seeing in this passage of Mark. This is the source of a lot of confusion.

Verse 1 tells us that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and the Salome, bought spices to anoint the body of Jesus. Verse 2 tells us that they left for the sepulchre when the sun was rising. Verse 3 tells us they were talking about who would roll away the stone. They key to understanding this is the word and. These are three separate descriptions of events and are not necessarily chronological. They were not talking about who would roll the stone away once they arrived at the sepulchre. They talked about it while they were on their way to the sepulchre. To show this further, consider Mark 16:4, which reads…

And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

They were not there to see the stone rolled away. When they arrived, the stone was already rolled away. This seems inconsistent with the account of Matthew until we apply what we learned about the word and. Backtracking a bit, Matthew 28:1-5 reads…

1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

Verse 1 tells us that Mary and the other Mary started on their way to the sepulchre. Notice that it does not yet say they arrived, just that they came to see it. Now, verse 2 starts telling another story that is occurring at a different time, apart from when Mary and the other Mary are on their way to the sepulchre. Verses 2-4 tell us how the angel rolled away the stone before Mary and the other Mary arrived, actually even before they left, as we will soon see. Verse 5 picks up where verse 1 left off. It has introduced the angel and now is telling us what he said. Now, when we pick up where we left off in Mark, we learn of some more events that happened after Mary and the other Mary arrived at the sepulchre, yet before the angel starts speaking.

Mark 16:5 reads…

And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.

This “young man” is the very same angel that rolled away the stone. At first glance, it would seem incongruent because Matthew says the angel was sitting on the stone, yet Mark says the angel was inside the sepulchre. Remember, that passage in Matthew happened before they arrived to the sepulchre.

Here is the chain of events so far. Mary and the other Mary start their journey toward the sepulchre. Sometime before this (as we will see, even before Mary and the other Mary left together), the angel of the Lord comes down, rolls away the stone, sits upon it, and the keepers became frightened. Then the angel moves from the stone to inside the sepulchre. After that, Mary and the other Mary arrive. They see the stone had been rolled away. They both look inside the sepulchre and see the angel. This is when the angel speaks to them. The angel speaks in Mark 16:6-7, which reads…

And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

After this, we are given the rest of the story. Mark 16:8-11 reads…

And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

This corroborates what Matthew 28:7-10 states. The women fled. Jesus met them on their way to the disciples. Jesus told them to go tell the disciples what had happened. Now verse 9 of Mark might read as a bit confusing because it makes it sounds like Mary Magdalene was alone while Matthew says the other Mary was present. We will see, when we look at the Gospel of John, that this is referring to an event that happened before Mary Magdalene and the other Mary left for the sepulchre. Verses 9-11 happened much earlier, in which John expands upon. It seems likely that after Mary Magdalene first told “they that had been with him”, and after they didn’t believe, this was when she met up with the other Mary and travelled to the sepulchre. This would be the other Mary’s first trip that day, but it would have been Mary Magdalene’s second. We will delve into this further when we look into John’s account, but first, we will look at Luke’s.

Luke 24:1-3 reads…

1 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

We have the same basic story here but with one added detail. We are told that there were “certain others with them”. As we discover, Mary and the other Mary were not alone in their trip to the sepulchre with the spices.

Matthew and Mark did not say they were alone, they only chose not to mention the others because they were not central to their perspectives of the story they were telling. To put this into perspective, let’s say I am telling you about a family reunion I attended. To you, I might tell a few stories about my cousins and siblings. To another, I might focus on stories of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents without mentioning my cousins and siblings. It doesn’t mean they weren’t there. It only means I chose not to include them depending on the type of story-teller I am, who I am talking to, and what point I am trying to get across.

Many times, when the Bible mentions one or two of something, we tend to think that there is only one or two of that thing present. This is not always the case. Maintaining this line of thinking can cause us to believe there are inaccuracies and incongruences within the Bible, especially within the Gospel accounts. This is important to keep in mind while moving forward.

Luke 24:4 reads…

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

This time, we are told that there were to “men” (meaning angels) standing inside the sepulchre. Matthew and Mark only make mention of one. Again, Mark did not say there was only one angel. They only make mention of one. Luke says there were two. Another possibility is what we learned earlier about God’s ability to be one yet two yet still one. This could be an example of that as both angels might represent Jesus who, as we have discovered, was already somewhere else entirely. However, for sake of keeping things as smooth and simple as possible, the best way to look at this is to realize that there were two present, but Matthew and Mark only wrote about one of the two.

Next, we find out what the angels said. Luke 24:5-8 reads…

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

This is the same thing the angel in Mark and Matthew stated. What is interesting is it says “they said” meaning both angels said the same thing. Whether they were speaking in unison or whether there is another two yet one yet two thing going on here, I have no idea, but it is interesting to consider.

The last part of Luke’s account of this event, Luke 24:9-12, reads…

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

10 It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

12 Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Verse 9 tells us that they went to tell the others. Verse 10 tells us who all was present (interesting to note, they were all women). Verse 11 tells us the disciples did not believe the women. Lastly, verse 12 tells us Peter arose and ran to the sepulchre. As we will discover, this was actually the second time Peter ran to the sepulchre that day to look at the empty sepulchre and clothes.

To fully understand the timing of everything, we need to look at John as the beginning of events for this account. We get that idea from the very first verse of chapter 20, which states…

John 20:1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

It is a subtle clue, but it is everything in figuring out the timing of this whole account. We are told that Mary Magdalene went to the sepulchre early, when it was yet dark. Remember, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out, it mentioned it was during the rising sun. John is giving an account of something that happened before that, while it was still dark. Mary Magdalene went out while it was still dark, very early in the day, and saw the stone was taken away from the sepulchre. This would mean the angel rolled the stone away sometime before Mary Magdalene left while it was still dark.

After Mary Magdalene sees the stone was taken away, we find out what happened next. John 20:2-10 reads…

Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

This all happened before Peter ran out to the sepulchre in Luke’s account. That is why I said that this was Peter’s second trip to the sepulchre that day. John’s account is telling us of Peter’s first trip to the sepulchre. Keep in mind that verse 10 tells us they went home afterwards. Yet, as we find out, Mary Magdalene remained. John 20:11-13 reads…

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

This is the very first appearance of the two angels. This account of the appearance of two angels and Luke’s account are not talking about the same event. Mary Magdalene saw the two angels first, before she made the trip to the sepulchre with the other Mary and the other women. Then Mary Magdalene saw them again while it was everyone else’s first time seeing them.

 Next, we read is John 20: 14-18…

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, 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.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

This picks up where we left off in our passage in Mark where it is said that Jesus met Mary Magdalene first. This is the expanded account of that event.

All of this taken into account, let’s review the basic chain of events of the story. At some time very early in the morning, while still dark, the angel of the Lord came down and rolled the stone away, sat upon the stone while the keepers saw and feared him, then moved into the sepulchre at some point. Mary Magdalene made her way to the sepulchre by herself, saw the stone had been rolled away, and ran to tell Peter and another disciple. Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb with Mary Magdalene to see what had happened. They both see the empty tomb and the linens. Peter and the other disciple then leave to go back home but Mary Magdalene stays. After they leave, Mary Magdalene sees two angels in the sepulchre. She speaks with them, turns around, and sees someone else standing there. She talks to Him, realizes He is Jesus, and speaks with Him some more. Jesus tells her to go and tell the other disciples, which she does, and they don’t believe. Sometime after that, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and some other women make a trip to the sepulchre. The other women ask amongst themselves who will roll back the stone covering the sepulchre. Mary Magdalene would not have been asking this as she already knew the answer. The women get to the sepulchre, see the stone had been removed, enter into the tomb, and see two angels inside. These are probably the same two angels Mary Magdalene had talked to earlier that day. All the women leave the sepulchre to tell the disciples what had happened. On their way back, Jesus meets up with the women to tell them to go and tell the disciples to meet Him in Galilee. The women tell the disciples everything that had happened but they do not believe them. Then Peter goes to the sepulchre for the second time that day, looks upon the linens again, starts to make his way back home, and wonders what had really happened that day.

This is vastly different, in many ways, from the traditional way this account is told. Having a Gospel Harmony handy really helps us to round out these seemingly inconsistent details to get at the real heart of what happened within the proper chronological order. It is a lot to take in and take many times of reading to get the entire scope of it, but it is well worth the time.

For more information on this and other similar stories, check out my books at the links below. Sorting Out the Resurrection and Ascensions of Christ goes into detail about the resurrection and ascensions (there was more than one) of Jesus Christ into Heaven. Ministudy Anthology I is a collection of the first five Ministudy books, including What Loving God Really Means, a previously unreleased title, plus extra bonus writings. The Ministudy books are $5.99 separately, so at only $18.99, Ministudy Anthology I is the best deal to have access to all the books available. Click on the links below for ordering information. For more information about Ministudy Ministry and the many other products available, check out www.ministudyministry.com.

Take care and God bless!

Josh Peck