If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#11) God Would Have Recorded the Places Inerrantly

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After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3

We have now come to what I believe is the most difficult of the resurrection issues. This has to do with the supposed contradictions associated with when and where Jesus met with the disciples and who was there. On the surface, it is understandable why some would charge that there are insurmountable inconsistencies here;

  • Matthew seems to say that both the angels and Jesus told the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where Jesus would meet them. The disciples seem to immediately do so and Jesus appears to them there and delivers the Great Commission.
  • Mark tells us the angels indeed told the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, but they were afraid and didn’t tell anyone.
  • Luke, instead, appears to tell us that everything from the resurrection to the ascension happened all in one day, and all in Jerusalem. Even worse, Luke says that Jesus charged the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until Pentecost, nearly 50 days hence, so they would have never gone to Galilee at all.
  • John, completely different, implies that Jesus ascended first after seeing Magdalene, then appeared to the disciples that evening, in Jerusalem, sans Thomas. Eight days later He appears to them again, with Thomas, still in Jerusalem. Then Jesus appears to seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, where they had gone back to fishing. John says this was the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples, whereas Matthew has only one; Mark has none; and Luke, if you stretch it, has two.

To be honest, one would have to admit that not only do these accounts appear problematic, they actually seem irreconcilable. How can Matthew be so clear that both the angels and Jesus were emphatic that the disciples were to go to Galilee where Jesus would meet them, when it appears Luke says they never went there at all? And John tells us that, instead of going to Galilee, they stayed in Jerusalem meeting with Jesus for more than a week. This certainly doesn’t match the angels charge … He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him (Matthew 28:7). It certainly doesn’t appear to match Jesus commanding them to “stay in the city” until the Holy Spirit would come on Pentecost, seven weeks away.

How do we handle all of this?

Well, we are first committed to the inerrancy of God’s Word, which means we search for the intervening puzzle pieces that bring the incongruent parts together. Take a look at any jigsaw puzzle, pull out two pieces and the odds are they will not fit together. Not only that, but you may look at them and say that they don’t even appear as if they belong in the same puzzle. One may show petals of a flower and the other spokes of a wheel. And yet, when the rest of the pieces are brought together, we find they both really do fit into the same larger picture. Many try to argue that because two accounts appear contradictory, we must assume the Scripture is wrong and unreliable. However, since we believe God’s Word is inerrant, rather than quitting and throwing it all out, we simply look for those joining pieces and explanations. And, we again use the fundamental things we have already learned, especially that a historical record is always selective and cannot be charged as false simply because it leaves out events that one thinks should be included. This principle is the key for us today, remembering John 21:25

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

So, where do we start? 

I think we begin with Luke’s opening statement that we quoted at the top. Remember, he wrote two books for Theophilus. The first was the Gospel of Luke and the second was The Acts of the Apostles, as we title them. This is important for several reasons: first because it is Luke that implies everything happened in one day, from resurrection to ascension. Well, if he rolls right into Acts with the statement that Jesus appeared to them over a period of forty days before His ascension, then it is obvious we have misunderstood what he said in the closing of his gospel. Applying our principle of the selective nature of historical narratives, it is easy for us to find that Luke has telescoped those events into what “appears” to be only one day. But it wasn’t, of course, for Luke makes it clear that it wasn’t, nor did he intend for it to be taken that way. This is a very, very important observation for us.

This now gives us a clue as to how we proceed to put the pieces together. It wouldn’t be inconsistent, then, among all four Gospel accounts if Jesus appeared to the disciples that first night, then eight days later, still in Jerusalem. Then the whole lot of them travelled to Galilee, where Jesus met with them “over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” The picture here is that after leaving Jerusalem, Jesus first meets with seven disciples on the shore and then spends a lot more time with all of them over the course of several weeks in Galilee. This would make sense. This is where He was raised, where He called them and where He spent most of His ministry. And, this is where, at some point, the resurrected Jesus met with the disciples and over five hundred assembled on a mountain. After this, He must have directed them to return to Jerusalem, where He tells them to remain in the city until Pentecost, and then leads them out to Bethany, to Olivet, and Jesus ascends into heaven.

All of this now fits perfectly together. Nothing is inconsistent or contradictory in the gospel accounts concerning these resurrection events or places.

There is one nagging thing, however—it is the issue of why did the disciples remain in Jerusalem in the beginning? If the angels and Jesus were emphatic about their going to Galilee, isn’t there something strange about them not doing so and instead, hanging around Jerusalem for a week? Maybe the answer is found in the fact that the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted one week, was still ongoing. Any command to “go to Galilee” would have been inherently understood to be after the festival was over. This, of course, is exactly what we see. 

Additionally, the notice that Jesus was going to Galilee could have well been intended primarily for the larger group of followers, over five hundred, who we see gathering in Galilee. When Jesus appeared to the women, He told them to tell “His brothers” that He was going to meet them in Galilee. This could be taken as the disciples, or the larger group of followers… or it could be taken as His real brothers. We learn from Paul that Jesus appeared to James which most likely happened there in Galilee.

Next time, we will attempt to harmonize the entire resurrection account into one so that we might see how God has indeed given us a consistent truth about the most amazing event in the history of man: Jesus conquered the grave and rose from the dead, just as He said.


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If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#1) the Seal Was Broken
We don’t spend much time talking about the seal that was placed upon the tomb, but I think it is significant. Here is the historical record: The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. Matthew 27:62-66 The historical account states that the chief priests and the Pharisees “made the tomb secure by sealing the stone…”.  This seal was most likely several ropes that were drawn across the stone and then affixed to the tomb walls with a soft clay imprinted with some symbol of authority. It was also likely that the ropes were also sealed at their juncture in front of the stone. In this way, no one could move the stone or the ropes without breaking the dried clay and destroying the “seal” affixed upon the clay.  The seal was there to “put on notice” that no one was to mess with the tomb. Rome could deal quite nastily with those who did so. Now, this doesn’t mean much to us today, for we are long past the norm of using “seals” as they were utilized in ancient times. but in those days, a seal was inviolable[1]. It represented authority, authenticity, and finality. No one messed with a seal. In the book of Esther, when King Ahasuerus issued the order to save the Jews, he commanded them to “seal it with the king's ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked.” (Esther 8:8) When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, “… a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel." (Daniel 6:17) In the vision concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the Scripture says this: And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Isaiah 29:11 The permanence of a seal against all who were unauthorized to break it was an inviolable part of their world.  It becomes even more apparent when John is caught up to heaven and there beholds the scroll with seven seals. John begins to weep because there was “no one worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (Revelation 5:4). Of course, we find that the Lamb, “standing as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6), was worthy to break the seals. And when each of those seals were broken, great calamity came upon the earth. Seals in the Scripture mean something. And John had wept, because the seal represented an inviolable wall to anyone who did not have the authority to break it. Seals show authority. They show authenticity. And they show finality for all except the one who had the authority to break them. And so, we now come back to the tomb. The seal, whether it was a Roman seal or the High Priest’s seal, represented a fixed closure that no one was allowed to breach. When it was set upon the tomb, there was a finality, a stamp of ultimate authority, that said, “this tomb is closed”. Ah, but God is not subject to the laws or seals of man. I can imagine that when the earth began to shake and the stone was rolled aside, that those clay seals with the authority of man impressed upon them broke into a thousand pieces and lay as trash littering the ground. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the seal of man, meant to keep Him in the grave, had been utterly and completely destroyed. But there is one more thing that must be mentioned regarding “seals”. It is important to note that God has given us this detail in the record to help substantiate the reality of the accounts of the empty tomb and the risen Lord Jesus. But it also brings our minds to something quite wonderful. In John 6:27, Jesus said this: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” If God seals something, it is sealed! In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:13 “… it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 1:21 This is God’s seal of authority, authenticity, and finality. You are His, sealed with His guarantee. Oh, my, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! How deep is the steadfast love of God that He should do such mighty things to secure us to Himself and then tell that He has put His own seal upon you and me. As David writes: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:6 [previous] [next]     [1]Inviolable /ĭn-vī′ə-lə-bəl/: never to be broken, infringed or dishonored; unassailable; secure from violation or assault or trespass
If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then... (#0)
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