A Harmony of the Four Accounts of the Resurrection of Christ


William Blake - The Angel Rolling the Stone Away from the Sepulchre // larryhuntbiblecommentary.wordpress.com

William Blake The Angel Rolling the Stone Away from the Sepulchre

Victoria and Albert Museum, The William Blake Archive. Used with permission.

Below is my best attempt to harmonize the four gospel accounts of the resurrection of Christ.  In this harmony, I am assuming that the four writers do not contradict themselves but rather that each of them chose to compress or detail the events of that day to accomplish his own specific purpose in writing.  Among other things, this means that when any given account mentions only one person (for instance, Mary Magdalene, or one angel) I feel justified in interpreting this to mean either that there really was only one person or that that one person is representative of a group.

Mary Magdalene, “the other Mary,”[1] Salome, Joanna, and at least one other woman[2] set out[3] to visit Jesus’s tomb in the early morning, in the dark before sunrise (John 20:1), to anoint his body with spice (Mark 16:1).  Before they arrive at the tomb, a pure white angel descends like lightning from heaven, rolls back the great stone before the tomb, and sits on it.  His descent and appearance, which is accompanied by an earthquake, is so terrifying to the guards of the tomb that they pass out from fear and lie like dead men (Matthew 28:2).  If the women hear this earthquake, they are unaware of its significance; thus, as they journey to the tomb, they worry about how to move the great stone aside in order to approach Jesus’s body (Mark 16:3).  They arrive at the tomb just after the sun has risen (Mark 16:2), and only then do they realize that the stone has already been rolled away (Mark 16:4).  But the angel who had been sitting on the stone is no longer visible from the outside, and the women[4] conclude that Jesus’s body has been stolen.  In sadness and fear, they leave the tomb without entering it[5] and flee to tell Peter and John what they believe has happened (John 20:1-2).

When Peter and John hear the story, they both race to the tomb with Mary and the women following.[6] John outruns Peter, reaches the tomb first, and peers in from outside to see the linen burial wrappings, but he cannot bring himself to enter.  Peter actually enters first.  He too sees the wrappings, including the cloth which had bound Christ’s head and which now lies folded neatly in its own place.  Then John enters and finally accepts Mary Magdalene’s story that the body has been stolen.[7] Both men forsake the tomb for their homes, leaving Mary Magdalene weeping with the other women outside the tomb (John 20:3-10).

After they leave, Mary Magdalene peers into the tomb[8] and is stunned to see two young men[9] inside, both dressed in white and sitting on Jesus’s burial slab, one at the head and the other at the foot.  They ask[10] her why she is crying and she, not recognizing them as angels, answers that she is upset because Jesus’s body is missing (John 20:11-13).  The other women, surprised to hear Mary talking to someone inside what they thought was an empty tomb, enter the tomb and as they do so are startled (Mark 16:5) to find the two[11] men seated there. As they enter, however, something draws Mary Magdalene’s attention away from the tomb.  She turns and spies what she thinks is a gardener a little way off (John 20:14).  Believing that the other women will find out what they can from the two men inside, she goes to speak with this gardener to see if he knows anything about the body.  As she approaches the gardener, he sees her weeping and asks her why she is upset.  They then have a conversation in which she asks him if he knows where the body is so she can take it away and honor it.  At some point in this conversation, Jesus says one word: “Mary.”  She suddenly recognizes him as Jesus and is overcome with joy, falling at his feet, hugging his ankles, and calling him Master (John 20:15-17).

Meanwhile, the other women are inside the tomb puzzling over where the body could be and asking the two young men if they know anything, when suddenly the two angels who had been sitting are transfigured and appear standing beside them, their clothes dazzling.  The women are terrified, realizing now that the two men are angels, but the angels comfort them, telling them not to be afraid.  Then they answer the women’s question about the body by announcing the wonderful news that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  After that they tell the women to relay the good news to the other disciples (Luke 24:3-8).

All the women run out of the tomb in great joy and fear.  They are heading back to tell the disciples when suddenly Jesus calls out to them.  At that moment they see him standing there, with Mary Magdalene at his feet, and they all join her, rushing to him and grabbing his feet in an ecstasy of worship.  After a little while, however, Jesus says they must let him go because he still has some work to do before ascending to heaven, and they must go and tell the disciples all that they have seen (Matthew 28:8-10, John 20:17).  Then the women obey him.  They leave the garden, speaking to nobody (Mark 16:8) until they reach the disciples.  The disciples, however, dismiss their story as delusional.  Only Peter has second thoughts and returns to the tomb, amazed by the women’s story and wondering if it could be true (Luke 24:10-12).


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