The resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28)

All four Gospels are clear in their teaching that Jesus arose bodily from the dead. They differ, however, in their accounts of the appearances of the risen Christ:

  • Matthew 28:9-10 notes an appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (verse 1) near the empty tomb, followed by a manifestation to the remaining 11 disciples in Galilee (verses 16-17).
  • The most ancient manuscripts of Mark, meanwhile, do not feature an account of the appearance of the risen Christ, although an angel assured the women at the tomb that the disciples would see Him in Galilee.
  • Luke’s narrative focuses on the vicinity of Jerusalem, with Jesus revealing Himself to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and later to larger groups of His followers in Jerusalem and Bethany.
  • John features an appearance to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb, two appearances (perhaps in Jerusalem) to the disciples – once with Thomas and once with this disciple present – and an eappearance by the Sea of Galilee to a number of disciples who were fishing.

Are these accounts in conflict, as some scholars have suggested? Most of them are left without specific time references, so there is no need to posit any chronological problems with the texts. Luke, however, has been understood to indicate that all happened on the same da, namely Easter Sunday, leaving no room for the manifestations recorded in Mattew and John. But is this really an insurmountable problem?

Luke was clearly interested in the Jerusalem appearances as a transition from his Gospel to the book of Acts. But while the appearances to the Emmaus travellers and to the rest of the disciples must have taken place on Easter Sunday (cf. Luke 24:13 with 33, 34), there is room for a chronological break either after Luke 24:43 (i.e. Jesus ate with the disciples, some undetermined time period ensued and then He spoke the words beginning in verse 44) or after verse 49 (i.e. Jesus met with the disciples and sometime later met with them again in Jerusalem, led them to Bethany and ascended to heaven).

Like many ancient writers, Luke was not concerned about giving an exhaustive, chronological account in his Gospel. It is difficult to imagine that he was unaware of traditions concerning Jesus’ appearances in Galilee, and we have no reason to suspect that he would have rejected them. It would appear that he simply wished to move his readers as smoothly as possible from his Gospel to the accounts in Atcs and that he carefully selected from among the postresurrection appearances of Jesus those centred in the Jerusalem area.

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