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resurrection confusion

According to some critics, the contradictory accounts of Jesus’ resurrection found in the four Gospels discredit the story. But if you understand that more than one small group of women trekked to Jesus’ tomb Sunday morning, most of the contradictions clear away.
Only a handful of women witnessed Jesus’ rushed burial, hurriedly accomplished because it was late afternoon, labor had to cease when Sabbath began at sundown. Witnessing that there was no time for many of the customary burial decencies, a few women agreed to supply what was missing, although it’d have to be done after Sabbath. (According to Alfred Edersheim, 1st century Jewish mourners customarily re-entered a tomb for 2-3 days.) While some women lingered near the tomb, others hurried off to buy the burial mix of myrrh and aloes before Sabbath shuddered the markets. Before separating, however, the women agreed to gather at the tomb first thing Sunday morning.

Sunday morning separate groups of women from different parts of Jerusalem walked to Jesus’ tomb. Likely rumors of their plan to honor Jesus’ body had spread, prompting more women to participate. Without clocks (sun-dials are useless before dawn) the women could not have set a precise time to meet at Jesus’ tomb. New Testament writers indicate at least some of the women began their journey before first light, others departed later. And the separate groups of women didn’t know who would participate.

A first small group of women approached the garden tomb with the rays of the sunlight. Before they were within sight of the tomb, an earthquake struck, an angel appeared at Jesus’ tomb, rolled away the stone and sat on it. The guard, stationed at Jesus’ tomb to prevent mischief, suffered traumatizing fear.

Before the first group of women arrived the angel entered the empty tomb. Discovering the tomb opened, the women went inside and were alarmed by an angel who informed them that the crucified Jesus had risen. Having found the tomb empty—no body but no risen Jesus—the stunned, panicked, and confused women left the tomb and ran back to Jerusalem; initially saying nothing to anyone.

After that first group of women fled, the guard recovered enough from their trauma to escape the area. Later that day some of the guard reported to the temple rulers, who bribed them to broadcast
fake news.

Soon after the guard departed the tomb a second group of women arrived, ignorant that a first group of women had already come and gone. The angel, too, was gone. The area was deserted. The tomb, however, was open. Entering they found Jesus’ body gone. Overcome with emotion Mary Magdalene panicked and immediately ran alone back into Jerusalem.

The remaining women, stunned and bewildered, speculated what to make of the empty tomb. Two angels suddenly appeared (Matthew and Mark identify only the speaking angel). Awestruck, they bow before the angels, who instruct the women to go and tell Jesus’ disciples that He has risen. Confused, fearful, yet full of joy, the women hurry from the tomb and nearly ran over Jesus, who was apparently wandering about the garden. He greeted the women, told them not to be afraid, and instructed them to inform His disciples.

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene, who had run away from the second group of women before the angels or Jesus appeared, found Peter and John. She could tell them only what she knew—Jesus’ body was missing. Peter and John ran to the tomb. Before the men got to the tomb the second group of women departed, as had Jesus and the angels.

John outran Peter but only looked into the tomb. Peter ran straight inside. Following Peter into the tomb, John believed Jesus was alive; Peter, not so much. While Peter and John were inside the tomb Mary Magdalene arrived a second time. She stayed outside weeping, remaining there after Peter and John departed. At some point she looked into the tomb and saw two angels. The angels, knowing Jesus was alive, asked why she wept. Without processing who it was questioning her and ignorant of Jesus’ resurrection, Mary explained that she was looking for her Lord’s body.

Frantically looking around the garden Mary saw, but didn’t recognize Jesus standing nearby. Perhaps He looked different, or tears clouded her sight, or her mind simply couldn’t process Jesus alive. Regardless, Mary assumed Jesus was a gardener until He speaks her name. Overjoyed, Mary acknowledges and clings to Jesus until He commands her to inform His disciples.

When Mary brought her report to Jesus’ disciples the second group of women were reporting their own encounter with Jesus. But the disciples didn’t believe them (they were, after all, only men). Before the end of the day all the women who went to the tomb were reporting what they had seen, and learning what others had seen.

Somewhere that day Jesus met Peter. Perhaps after leaving the empty tomb Peter wandered the garden in a state of bewildered confusion, and stumbled into Jesus. There’s no account of the meeting, but both
Luke and the apostle Paul reference this private meeting. Jesus also met two others on the road from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. After sundown on Resurrection Sunday, Jesus appeared to the rest of His disciples. One disciple, however, was missing. ~

Dan Nygaard