(#13) The Resurrection Story (Harmonized)

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[If I were to tell my children and grandchildren the resurrection story, harmonizing all of the accounts and adding some intervening puzzle pieces and some color it would go something like this. I would also do it with a map, pointing out the places and routes as we go along. You may want to see the preface... these are some of the asides I would say along the way.]

The Resurrection Story actually starts a long time ago, back when God created everything: the sun, the moon and the stars; the plants, the animals and Adam and Eve. God told them to take care of all of it, but there was one boundary. He had drawn a line in the sand and told them there would be grave consequences if they crossed it. Well, they did and all of those consequences happened just as God said they would happen. Death, decay and sin entered the world. It must have looked like all was lost to Adam and Eve, but instead of taking in a deep breath and letting out a roar of antihalation, evaporating everything and starting over, God took in a deep breath and breathed out a promise that a savior would come one day to make it all right again.

In the meantime, God said there would be a continual war between the seed line of Satan and the seed line of the Messiah. And what a war that was… and is! Many times, it looked as if Satan had won and the seed line of the Messiah was defeated. But God would not let that happen and He continued to nurture and protect that seed line until the time was just right. 

That is when Jesus came into the world and He began to push back at those consequences. He healed the sick and the diseased, He cast out demons and evil spirits, He made blind men see and the lame to walk. He even raised Lazarus from the dead.

And He spoke truth into a world that didn’t want to hear it. Increasingly, those who thought they had power began to try to find a way to do away with Him, and they finally thought they had. Jesus was arrested, brutally beaten, and hung on a cross to die… though He had done no wrong, they killed Him. His body was wrapped up and put in a cold tomb (A) and a huge stone was rolled in front of the entrance. 

Now, Jesus had predicted that He would rise again after three days, so the rulers wanted to make sure the disciples didn’t try to fool anyone by stealing the body. They had the Roman soldiers seal the tomb and then stand guard to make sure no one tampered with it.

The followers of Jesus were dazed by what had happened and filled with grief. Not only that, they were afraid for their own lives and had gone into hiding. 

But not the women. 

There were many women who had been following Jesus during His ministry, caring for Him and supporting Him. Many of them had followed Him to Jerusalem and had gone through the agony of watching the soldiers crucify Him. And they were there when Joseph and Nicodemus laid His body in the tomb and it was there they decided they would make spices to anoint His body. They all agreed to meet at the tomb first thing Sunday morning.

Then, they waited and mourned. It was a tough time for all of them—the women and the men. They had been with Jesus constantly, seeing Him heal people, hearing Him say words that burned deep in their souls, and watching Him stand up to the rulers, overturn tables in the temple, yet hold children in His arms. There never was a man like Jesus. They all had their own ideas of grandeur, of where this was going to lead, maybe even their place with Jesus in all of this.

And then, just like that, it was over. He was gone. Dead. Wrapped up in a cold tomb. The silence and loneliness must have been crushing.

On Saturday night, most of the disciples had locked themselves in the Upper Room (B). Peter, who was too ashamed to be with them, was staying at a home in the Lower City (C). John had taken Mary to Bethany to stay in the home of Lazarus (D), where Aunt Mary and her companions were also (D). But John was concerned about the depressed and miserable Peter, so had hunted him down and was staying the night with him (B). Magdalene, with her companions, were also staying in the Lower City (E) while Salome was staying in the Upper City with Joanna (F). 

And then came the morning.

At astronomical twilight, Magdalene and her companions headed out, winding their way through the streets of the Lower City, heading towards the Garden Gate (1). She was hoping to get to the tomb early enough so she could spend some time in prayer before the others groups arrived.

At nautical twilight, a great earthquake shook the ground, clapping its hands as Jesus rose from the dead. A dazzling angel appeared and rolled away the stone and then sat on it, staring at the guards. I don’t know if angels smile, but this one just might have been grinning at them. This was a triumphant moment. Jesus had just made the crowning blow of the war: He had defeated death itself! The guards were so terrified, they froze up like popsicles. The angel didn’t say “Fear not” like most angels do… he just let them shake. After a few more minutes of grinning, he departed and the soldiers slowly began to recover. They checked out the empty tomb and then they checked out—fled the scene, shocked and panicked.

In Bethany, just after the earthquake subsided, Aunt Mary and her companions started their journey to the tomb (2). 

Magdalene and her companions, who had been caught halfway by the earthquake, finally stopped holding on to each other and continued on (1), arriving at the tomb at civil twilight. To their surprise, the stone had been rolled away, but no one was in sight, for by now, the soldiers had fled and the angel had departed. What shocked them, though, was when they looked inside. The tomb was empty! Jesus’ body was gone! What had happened?  As the adrenaline surged in Magdalene, she yelled to her companions to wait there for the others and then she ran as fast as her legs could carry her to tell Peter (3)—no doubt a thousand thoughts of dread pounding in her mind.

Just then, Joanna and Salome (F) depart for the tomb (4), carrying their spices. They, too, were headed for the Garden Gate, but since they were coming from the Upper City, they miss Magdalene as she is running to tell Peter.

By full dawn, Aunt Mary and those with her arrive at the tomb from Bethany (2) and join up with Magdalene’s companions, who are now filled with dread and fear. Sitting alone in front of the tomb, they have been contemplating the terrible things that might have happened to Jesus’ body and what could also be in store for all of them. But, they all step into the tomb as Aunt Mary now sees the empty tomb and the vacant grave clothes. But this time is different, for frightfully they now see an angel sitting there. He speaks to them, telling them that Jesus has risen and that they are to go and tell His disciples.

It’s hard for us to imagine the emotions that must have been stirred up by all of this. Some were filled with great joy and some were filled with deeper fear. Magdalene’s companions were already stressed and this put them over the top. They decided to head back to Galilee (5) and tell no one. Aunt Mary was overjoyed and she and those with her went the fastest route they knew to the Upper Room, which was outside the city walls and in through the Essene Gate (6).

Not long after they departed, Joanne and Salome arrive at the tomb. They also see the stone rolled away and after they enter, two angels appear to them. They, of course, are filled with fear and bow down with their faces to the ground. The angels speak to them, saying that Jesus had risen and to go tell the disciples, which they quickly obeyed. But, they took the familiar route back through the Upper City (7).

The sun had now well risen, when Magdalen arrived at where Peter and John were staying. She was out of breath from running the entire distance, nearly a mile, but she blurts out to them that the tomb was empty… the Lord’s body was gone! Both Peter and John immediately begin running to the tomb. Magdalene was already spent, but she follows them, trailing behind (8).

Peter and John arrive at the tomb and find it just as Magdalene said. The grave clothes, the head cloth… and no corpse. Peter also wonders if the soldiers had done something corrupt to His body. John, though, seeing it all, knew something miraculous had happened.

Magdalene, finally catches up and arrives at the tomb, now doubly spent. When she asks Peter where they have taken the Lord’s body, all he can do is shake his head, with a blank look, for it has not yet dawned on him that Jesus had risen. Peter and John leave her there and begin to slowly make their way back (8), each caught up in their own thoughts.

Left now alone at the empty tomb and totally empty herself, the weight of everything begins to crash down upon her—Jesus being put to death, His body now possibly desecrated and thrown who knows where. She had thought things couldn’t get worse, and yet they had… and with that, she broke down and wept deeply. As she was sobbing, she aimlessly looked back into the tomb and saw two angels sitting where Jesus had lain. In her grief, she didn’t understand who they were and cried out asking where His body was. Jesus then appeared behind her and gently speaks her name and she turns around… and there He is! Alive! Oh, my! What a day! I suppose no one can truly imagine what this interaction must have been like. Afterwards, Jesus tells her to go tell His brothers and then He departs. Magdalene then sits on the ground and begins to laugh with joy and begins to weep again, but they are now tears of joy. Eventually, she gets up and begins to head to the Upper Room (10)… no longer running, but now almost skipping.

At the time all of this is happening, Aunt Mary and her companions breathlessly arrive at the Upper Room (6) and explode with the news. All four women begin talking at the same time to the nine disciples about “an angel” and “an empty tomb”. The disciples look at them as if they are crazy. 

But then it gets crazier.

Joanna and Salome then burst into the room. They, too, are wild-eyed with excitement, gushing with details of an empty tomb and “two” angels. Aunt Mary and her companions, had stopped to hear all of this, but now break loose to Joanna and Salome all they had seen and heard and the room was immediately filled with their excited voices and bouncing up and down and hugging… who can blame them? And the disciples are watching all of this shaking their heads.  

There then ensued a great deal of confusion and talking as the women all tried to convince the disciples. 

Now, while this was going on, Peter and John, were on their way over to the Upper Room (9). During their long talk on the way back from the tomb, John had convinced Peter that they needed to go tell the disciples, despite Peter’s shame. So, in the midst of the loud conversation between nine disciples and almost as many women, Peter and John walk in and everything stops dead. All eyes turn to Peter and while he looks around at the gathering, one of the disciples tells him that the women are mad. Ignoring him, Peter calmly says “John and I went to the tomb. It’s empty.” There is a moment of stunned silence and then the room erupts again as the women begin to tell their stories now to Peter. 

After a while, the conversation begins to subside as there is nothing left to tell and each began to ponder all of this, some in quiet side conversations. Aunt Mary decides she needs to go back to Bethany to tell Mary the news and she and her companions leave. They go out the Essene Gate and take the route outside the walls (11). Cleopas and another of those that were gathered with the disciples, feeling there was nothing else, headed home to Emmaus via the Garden Gate (12).

But then, just when everything had started to calm down, Magdalene arrives at the Upper Room, her face aglow. Everyone gets quiet as she stands there. Then she says breathlessly: “I’ve just seen Jesus.” And everyone just stands there looking at her in astonishment. Magdalene looks back at them and begins to joyously laugh and says “He’s alive! I touched Him!” And the room erupts again as question upon question are fired at her from both the men and women, who then begin to relate their experience to Magdalene as well.

Peter, though, is quietly taking all of this in. He then turns and walks out, heading back to the tomb (10). While there, he takes his time, examining again the shroud and the head cloth and thinking through all that the women and Magdalene had been saying. It was beginning to dawn on him. After a long time sitting in the tomb, Peter begins a slow walk home (8), lost in thought.

Meanwhile, Aunt Mary, and the women with her, have gone out the Essene Gate and had travelled a short way outside the city walls on their trip back to Bethany (11). Everything they had seen and now Magdalene’s story had them all lost in thought. Then, out of nowhere, Jesus appears (G). In the midst of their astonishment and joy, they are overwhelmed with the deep reality of who He truly was. They fall down and worship Him. This, too, must have been quite a moment. At the end of it, Jesus then tells them that He will see them all in Galilee and to go back and tell His brothers.

It is late morning when Aunt Mary and the other women rush back into the Upper Room (11), their faces glowing as well. It is impossible to contain them as each gush forth the news that they, too, have now seen Jesus. They had touched Him. He had talked to them. This time the disciples were listening for they were finally beginning to think that something incredibly amazing was going on. 

After a while, Aunt Mary and those with her head out to Bethany again (11), now with incredible news for Mary.

It is now late morning and it is hard to imagine all that has happened since the early rays of the sun began to wake the world up on this day.

For a moment, though, we must move our attention back to the soldiers. Sometime later, after fleeing the tomb, they began to realize that their only hope of escaping death for a failed mission was to report what had happened to the Jewish leaders. When they did, they were bribed to say that the disciples had come and stolen the body. That lie still persists even to this very day.

By noon, Cleopas and his companion were well on their way to Emmaus (12), when they, too, encountered the risen Jesus, although they didn’t know it at first. He opened the Scripture to them and when they stopped to eat and Jesus broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they knew it was Him. In the early afternoon, they abort their trip and head back to Jerusalem as fast as they can go.

In the early evening, as Peter is sitting in his room (C), trying to contemplate all that has happened and in deep prayer, Jesus appears to him. What an amazing reunion that must have been! How Peter must have been filled with both joy and grief—so sorry for denying the Lord, yet so overjoyed to see Him. What grace and love must have been shown to Peter and the beginning of the healing of a man that the Lord was going to use for the Kingdom. After Jesus departs and Peter’s shame was now removed by the forgiveness of the Lord, he rushes to the Upper Room to tell his brothers (9). And as he tells them, the disciples are in rapt attention, finally beginning to believe. Their questions are now measured, contemplative.

Then, as the questions die down and they are again lost in their thoughts, in bursts Cleopas, totally exhausted from a hurried trip of nearly seven miles, yet his face still lit up with the experience they had with Jesus. As he relates everything to those present, the disciples begin to catch the reality of what was happening and along with it, a growing joy.

I imagine that all of those who experienced these things surely thought that no one in the history of man had witnessed a day like this. But, it was not over, for all of a sudden Jesus was standing there in their midst. Jesus. Alive. Right there. And He talked with them and even ate some fish! Oh my! What a day!

Several days later, Thomas, who had not been there that night, met with some of the disciples who were telling him all that had happened. Thomas, having not been through the experiences of that day, was skeptical of it all. He had to put his finger in the nail holes before he would believe.

Well, a few days after that, while all of them were again in the Upper Room, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. Jesus had Thomas touch the nail prints in His hands and where He had been pierced by the sword in His side and Thomas cried out “My Lord and my God!” What a night that must have been!

The Feast of Unleavened Bread had now come to an end, so the disciples, as Jesus had told them, headed up to Galilee. As the days passed waiting for Him, seven of the disciples decided to go fishing. It was there that Jesus appeared again, sitting on the shore, preforming a miracle with the catch of fish, sharing a meal with them… it must have been another incredible time with the Lord, and especially for Peter.

We don’t know how many times Jesus met with them over the next several weeks, but Luke says He appeared to them many times over a period of forty days. The main event, however, was on a mountain top, where the disciples and over 500 had gathered on an appointed day. Jesus appeared to all of them and it is here Jesus issued what we have come to know as the Great Commission. Afterwards, Jesus told His disciples to return to Jerusalem.

Now somewhere during this time in Galilee, Jesus appeared to his younger brother, James. This is quite amazing for none of His brothers had believed in Him. But now, James had a moment with the risen Lord, his Lord, and was radically changed. James eventually became a pillar in the church.

Back in Jerusalem, some days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples, taught them a few final things and then told them to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. He then led them to the top of Olivet, and after some parting words, ascended into heaven. While they were standing there gawking, two angels appeared and told them, basically, to “get on with it”. 

Probably wise words for us, too.

I suppose we should extend the resurrection story another week or so, when, on Pentecost, the disciples and Mary and the women and Jesus’ brothers (catch that?) were all together when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The disciples were never the same again, most eventually put to death for their testimony of the risen Jesus. In fact, it is safe to say that the Resurrection Story changed the history of mankind forever.

I hope it changes you, too!

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This is also plausible because a Roman guard who failed in his mission was subject to a horrible death and wouldn’t want to report it to Pilate.  Third, we have the complicating statement by the Jewish leaders to the guards who reported back to them:  “…if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” One might rightly think this tips in favor of the guard being Roman. I agree. But, on the other hand, Matthew tells us that the guards were bribed to say that the disciples had come and stolen Jesus body while they were asleep. No money would be enough for a Roman guard to confess to falling asleep on duty, for he would be executed (some say crucified upside down). The Temple Guard, however, if found asleep, were merely beaten and their clothes burned. (I know, but it's better than what the Roman soldier would get.) So, we can’t be absolutely sure. But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The Temple Guard were professionals as well, armed and trained. I’m not sure that anyone would want to bet on who would win if you pitted a Roman guard against a Temple guard. (Think of David's mighty men, like Benaiah, who slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day) The point here is that there was an armed, professional unit assigned to guard the tomb of Jesus. Now, try to imagine what this would have been like for these men. If they were Roman guards, they each had a designated, small area of ground to defend and they were stationed in a line to defend their charge. They remained diligent in position until relieved by a fresh guard. The morning was about to break, all was calm and then the earth begins to roll beneath their feet. Matthew calls it a “severe earthquake”. This in itself is disarming to anyone. But as the ground begins to return to normal, they see an angel descending whose appearance “was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow”. Encounters of finite man and angelic beings almost always result in the finite on their knees in fear. Which the guards did and “became as dead men”… in other words, frozen with fear. Not unconscious, though, for they reported it all. The guards obviously knew something big had happened.  We now come to our final question. Did they know that Jesus had risen from the dead? Here we must speculate a little, but not much, because when they reported everything to the Jewish leaders, that report had to include that the tomb was empty. Otherwise, there would have been no bribery for them to lie that the disciples had stolen the body.  Here is the speculation, however. The guard had been ordered to secure the tomb because of the prediction that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day. They were charged to make sure the disciples did not come and steal the body. I believe they must have been counting off the days. When the morning of the third day was about to break, my guess is there had to be some anxiety. It is not impossible that what had happened during the crucifixion had already spread through the ranks. When Jesus was crucified and the sky grew dark for three hours and the earth quaked and the Roman centurion declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God”, this had to be in their minds. In fact, it is also plausible, that the Roman soldiers that were assigned to arrest Jesus were still on assignment at the cross and they saw all of this and they were now guarding His tomb. And, for three days, they were pondering all that they had seen and heard about Him. And now the earth begins to shake again, fiercely. No man can remain fearless when the earth beneath him turns liquid. But, on top of that, the heart-stopping lightning of an angel appears. Did they overhear the angels speaking to the women? Did they examine the tomb after the angel left? That would certainly seem reasonable. Either way, the guards had to have known the tomb was empty. And, when they were able to flee, they had to have known that they had witnessed something beyond extraordinary. In reality, these men had been privileged to be present at the greatest historical event in the history of man. I’ve often wondered if some of the guards became early converts. That wouldn’t surprise me.  Because they knew. [previous] [next] (If you are interested in reading more of a detailed apologetic regarding the guard, William Lane Craig has done a masterful job of defending this to the literary critics and I would commend you to that if you desire: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-guard-at-the-tomb/)