He Has Risen! The Gospels Tell the True Story

cross against the sky

It is often argued that the Gospels are contradictory and cannot be trusted. In fact, the resurrection accounts are given frequently as an example of the unreliability of the New Testament. On the contrary, the Gospels give us reliable eyewitness reports of the most important event in human history, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Below is one possible way to harmonize the gospel accounts of the resurrection. While there are other ways to harmonize the details of the gospels, what is most important is not the particular way the Gospels are harmonized but the fact that the Gospels can be harmonized and thus present the truth of the resurrection. [1]

  1. Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene and other women begin walking to the tomb (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1, John 20:1-2; In John 20:1, only Mary Magdalene is mentioned, but in John 20:2, Mary’s testimony to Peter and John indicates that she wasn’t alone).
  1. An earthquake occurs with an angel moving away the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb. In fear, the guards pass out and eventually flee (Matthew 28:2-4).
  1. On the way to the tomb, the ladies discuss who will move the stone for them so they can anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 16:3). Late Friday afternoon, some ladies prepare their own spices and ointments (Luke 23:55-56), and Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome bought spices after the Sabbath on Saturday night (Mark 16:1).
  1. As the sun rises, they arrive at the tomb and notice the stone has been rolled away (Mark 16:3-4, Luke 24:2).
  1. When Mary Magdalene sees that the stone is gone, she quickly leaves to tell Peter and John (John 20:2).
  1. The angels appear to the remaining ladies, announcing Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:5, Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4-6). While Luke and John mention two messengers, Matthew and Mark mention only one. It is possible that one of these messengers spoke, and for this reason, Matthew and Mark mention only this one. Neither Matthew nor Mark report that only one messenger appeared. Mark mentions one young man while Luke mentions two men. In Scripture, angels frequently appear in human form, so these messengers are angels who appear as men. In fact, Luke later refers to these messengers as angels (Luke 24:23).
  1. Briefly, the ladies are afraid and don’t tell anyone (Mark 16:8).
  1. The ladies rush back to the disciples and first tell Peter and John what they experienced and then travel to meet with the rest of the disciples who doubted their testimony (Matt 28:8, Luke 24:9, 11).
  1. Peter and John rush to the empty tomb after Mary Magdalene and the other ladies report the missing body. They may have passed Mary Magdalene or taken a different route to the tomb. After seeing the empty tomb, Peter and John return to their homes (Luke 24:9, 12; John 20:2-10). Luke mentions only Peter going to the tomb, but later mentions more than one person (Luke 24:12, 24).
  1. Mary Magdalene makes her way back to the empty tomb, filled with sorrow. As she looks into the tomb, the two angels appear to her and ask her why she is weeping. She turns around and sees the risen Christ (John 20:11-17).
  1. The guards who fled from the tomb meet with Jewish religious leaders and accept a bribe from the religious leaders to lie and report that Jesus’ body had been stolen (Matt 28:11-15).
  1. The ladies continue their journey to meet with the rest of the disciples and along the way encounter the risen Christ and worship Him (Matthew 28:8-9).

For Further Thought…
The gospel accounts of the resurrection are complementary, not contradictory. If the church had conspired in concocting the resurrection, then certainly they would have exercised care in developing very uniform accounts. Instead the resurrection reports provide just what is expected of multiple eyewitness accounts, varied and corroborating details.

The gospel accounts provide compelling internal evidence for reliability. For example, in the ancient world the testimony of women was customarily discounted in legal matters. If the resurrection had been fabricated, the first eyewitnesses of Jesus would certainly have been men.

External evidence reinforces the resurrection accounts. For instance, how do you account for the revolutionary and sweeping spread of Christianity? By AD 64, Christians had so permeated the Roman Empire that Nero could blame Christians for the fire of Rome.

[1] I have used the following resource to assist me in this synopsis: Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).