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The following article is presented in response to the article Leave No Stone Unturned: An Easter Challenge For Christians posted on the "Internet Infidels" website.
The "challenge" is to develop a harmony of the six passages in Scripture that relate events starting on the first Easter morning on through to the Ascension. The passages are: Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21; Acts 1:3-12; and 1Cor 15:3-8.
Following is my harmony of the events in these passages. Scripture quotes are in quotation marks. Some are from the NKJV; others are my own translations. All tenses have been changed into present tenses in order to aid the flow of the harmony.
The Women and the Empty Tomb
Mary Magdalene "goes early to the tomb" (indicating the time she is leaving where she is staying), "while it was still dark" (about 5:30 a.m., about thirty minutes before sunrise - John 20:1). Mary meets up with "the other Mary" ("the mother of James"). The two of them "go to see the tomb" (again, indicating their time of departure, about 6:40 a.m.) It is now just starting to get light ("at the dawning" or when it "began to dawn" - Matt 28:1).
The two Marys meet up with Salome and other women (Mark 16:1). The women proceed to travel the two miles to the tomb. On the way they discuss how they will move the stone in front of the tomb (Mark 16:3).
As they travel, at the tomb, an angel in all his glory descends from heaven. An earthquake occurs. The angel rolls the stone away from the tombs entrance. His glorious appearance scares the guards and they become "like dead men" (Matt 28:-4). The angel then veils his glory so that he takes the appearance of a man. He then enters the tomb and sits in the back out of sight (or he disappears as angels are able to do).
The women then arrive at the tomb shortly after 6:00 a.m., "the sun having risen" (Mark 16:2) making it "still very early" in the morning (Luke 41:1). They notice that the stone has already been rolled away (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1). They enter the tomb and see the body is missing (Luke 24:3).
They then notice the angel sitting in the back "on the right side" of the tomb (or the angel reappears - Mark 16:5). He stands and walks by them and is joined by another angel in the appearance of a man (Luke 24:4). Even in their veiled states, the angels still frighten the women (Luke 24:5).
The women bow their faces to the earth. They apparently ask among themselves what all this means. The first angel answers and says to them, "Stop fearing." (Matt 28:5). The two angels then give various exhortations. Included among these is the command to tell the apostles, "He is risen" and for them to go to Galilee (Matt 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:5-6).
The women leave the tomb and begin to go to the apostles. Mary Magdalene runs ahead and goes to Peter and John and tells them about the empty tomb. The two apostles run towards the tomb. When they arrive, the angels have left. John looks in to the tomb and Peter enters it. They both then return to their homes (John 20:2-10)
Appearances in or near Jerusalem
Meanwhile, Mary had been following behind. When she arrives to the tomb, the angels have reappeared. They are sitting where Jesus had been lain and speak to Mary (John 20:11-13).
Jesus now appears behind her. Mary initially mistakes Him for the gardener (being tired and with tear-filled eyes). But when He speaks to her, she recognizes Him and clings to Him. Jesus tells her to, "Stop clinging to Me" (John 20:14-18). Thus Mary was the first to see the resurrected Christ (Mark 16:9).
Mary then begins to return to where the rest of the apostles were staying. On the way, she meets up with the other women as they are returning from the tomb. They are frightened and perplexed by the events that have happened. So they tell no one as they proceed towards the apostles (Mark 16:8).
But Jesus then appears to all of the women together. They hold His feet and worship Him. He tells them to "Stop fearing" and to tell the apostles to go to Galilee (Matt 28:9-10). The women then continue towards where the apostles are staying. When they arrive, they tell the apostles what they have experienced. But the apostles do not believe them (Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:9-11).
Later that same day, Cleopas and a companion begin walking into the country, towards Emmaeus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13). Jesus joins them. Initially, "their eyes are restrained" so that it appears to them that Jesus is "in another form" (Luke 24:16; Mark 16:12). Later, when Jesus breaks break, "their eyes are opened" and they recognize Jesus. He then disappears from heir sight. They then begin to return to Jerusalem (Luke 24:30-33).
Before they reach Jerusalem, Jesus appears to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1Cor 15:5). Cleopas and his companion then reach Jerusalem and where the apostles are staying. They are told about Jesus appearance to Peter (Luke 24:33-34). As they are relating their experiences, Thomas leaves the room (Luke 24:35; John 20:24).
Jesus then appears to the ten apostles and the other disciples with them. Since the doors were locked they "were terrified and frighten, and supposed they had seen a spirit" (Luke 24:36; John 20:19). To reassure them, Jesus shows them His hands, feet, and side and has them handle Him. He eats before them (Luke 24:38-42; John 20:20).
When Thomas returns he does not believe the other apostles report of seeing Jesus (John 20:24-25). So the apostles wait another week before setting off for Galilee. Eight days after His first appearance to the ten apostles, Jesus now appears to them with Thomas present. After seeing and touching Jesus, Thomas exclaims to Him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:26-28).
Jesus rebukes Thomas and the other disciples for not having believe in His resurrection based on the report of those who had saw Him first (Mark 16:14; John 20:29). [Note: It is this appearance that Paul probably refers to when he says that Jesus was seen "by the twelve" - 1Cor 15:5. Paul uses the term "the twelve" even though there was only eleven apostles at this time possibly because "the twelve" had become a Christian idiom for "the apostles." Or, Paul could be including Matthias since he would later be designated an apostle and was probably present at this gathering (Acts 1:21-26).]
Appearances in Galilee
Thomas now satisfied that Jesus had indeed risen, the apostles proceed to make the journey to Galilee. Once there, while waiting for Jesus to appear, Peter declares, "I am going fishing" (John 21:3). They go to the nearby "Sea of Tiberius" (also called the "Sea of Galilee" John 6:1; 21:1). Jesus then reveals Himself here to the apostles "the third time" (John 4-14).
When the apostles go "to the mountain which Jesus directed them" they are joined by "over five hundred brethren" (Matt 28:16; 1Cor 15:6). When Jesus appears on the mountain, He is worshipped by the apostles; but some of the 500 still have doubts (Matt 28:17). The apostles return to Jerusalem.
Jesus next appears to James, His half-brother (1Cor 15:6). It is this private appearance of Jesus to James that turns James from an unbeliever into a "pillar" of the early Church (John 7:5; Gal 2:9).
Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus now appears in Jerusalem "to all the apostles" one last time (Acts 1:3; 1Cor 15:6). He gives them various exhortations and "opens their understudying, that they might comprehend the Scriptures" (Luke 24:46). Most of all, He tells them He will, "send the Promise of My Father upon you" and further explains that this "Promise" is that they "shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4,5).
Jesus tells them that they shall be witness to Him "to the ends of the earth" (Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8). But they must first "stay in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). Jesus then leads the apostles out of Jerusalem "as far as Bethany" to "the mount called Olivet" (Luke 24:50; Acts 1:12).
On the mount, Jesus blesses the apostles and is "parted from them and carried up into heaven (MaRK 16:19; Luke 24:50,51; Acts 1:9). The apostles then return to Jerusalem and wait there as instructed (Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12).
The two main sources I used in developing the above harmony were: Kurt Alands Synopsis of the Four Gospels (United Bible Societies) and Jay Green's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. The former presents the four Gospels in parallel format using the Revised Standard Version. The latter has the Greek Text (Textus Receptus) with Green's word-for-word translation underneath and the LITV in the margin.
I wanted to see how difficult it would be for me to develop one on my own; so I avoided using the harmonies I have in books in my library [see Bible Difficulties?]. Using just the Greek text and the above English translations, it was not as difficult as I thought it would be. For a couple of minor points I consulted Expositor's Bible Commentary (Zondervan).
In the harmony, I tried to address as many points as possible from the "Easter Challenge" on the Internet Infidels site as I could, without getting too verbose. Now, it would take a quite of bit of time to explain and defend my translations and why I harmonized passages the way I did. The best way I could do so would be for me to write separate articles answering the questions posed at the end of the "Easter Challenge." Maybe I will do so sometime in the future.
In the meantime, I will close by saying that I personally find the above harmony satisfying. Of course, whether a die-hard atheist would do so would be another matter entirely. But I do believe the above demonstrates that a harmony of all relevant "Easter" passages is possible.
Easter Harmony. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article was posted on this website April 28, 1998.
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