The Gospels and the Book of Acts are written by four different men. Each human writer supplies different details of the events which surrounded Jesus rising from the dead. I have always been a little challenged to make sense of the chronology of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus so, with a little online research, I am posting below what I believe to be the most accurate order of Jesus’ appearances to the women, the Apostles and to others in the forty days after He emerged victorious from the tomb. Take a few minutes to walk through it yourself. Be impacted at these multiple eyewitness accounts of the Savior who proved Himself to be alive after everyone had watched Him die. Truly, He is alive!
- The Morning of Resurrection Sunday
- A. Very early in the morning a group of several women, including Mary Magdalene, go to the tomb to complete Jewish burial customs on behalf of Jesus (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; John 20:1).
- B. They see the tomb opened, with the stone moved away, and they are alarmed.
- C. Mary Magdalene seems to immediately run to where Peter and John were with alarming news (John 20:2)
- D. The women who remain near the tomb encounter an angel who declares to them that Jesus had risen, and that they should tell this to the men (Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; Matthew 28:5).
- E. The women are filled with fear at first and depart from the tomb, afraid to speak (Mk 16:8)
- F. Recovering their courage they decide to go to the Apostles. (Luke 24:9; Matt 28:8)
- G. Meanwhile, Peter and John have gone to the tomb to investigate Mary’s claim. Mary Magdalene followed them back out to the tomb, arriving there before the two men left. Peter and John discover the tomb empty, though they personally encounter no angel. John here believes in the resurrection.
- H. The other women have now reported to the other Apostles what the angels have said. Peter and John have not yet returned, and these remaining apostles are dismissive of the women’s story at first (Luke 24:9-11).
- I. Mary, lingering at the tomb alone, weeps and is fearful. Peering into the tomb, she sees two angels who ask her why she weeps. Jesus then approaches her from behind. Not clearly seeing the face of Jesus, she mistakenly supposes him to be the gardener. Then Jesus calls her by name, and Mary, recognizing his voice, turns and sees him. Filled with joy, she clings to him.(John 20:16)
- J. Jesus sends Mary back to the Apostles with the news to prepare them for his appearance later that day. (John 20:17)
- K. The other women have left the Apostles and are on their way possibly back home. Jesus then appears to them (Matthew 28:9) after he had dispatched Mary. He also sends them back to the Apostles with the news that he had risen and that he would see them later.
- The Afternoon & Evening of Day One.
- A. Later that day, two disciples on their way to Emmaus are pondering what they have heard about rumors of his resurrection. Jesus comes up behind them, but they are supernaturally prevented from recognizing him. First, Jesus speaks from the Scriptures to them, then he sits at a table with them to break bread. Here, their eyes are supernaturally opened, and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. He vanishes from their sight. (Luke 24:13-30)
- B. The two disciples returned quickly that evening to Jerusalem and find the Apostles. At first the men disbelieved them just as they had the women (Mark 16:13). Nevertheless, the two disciples continue to assert what they had experienced on the road to Emmaus. At some point Peter draws apart from the others, and the Lord appears to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5) who informs the other ten, who then believe for themselves. Thus, the disciples from Emmaus (still lingering with the apostles) were now believed that it was in indeed true that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:34).
- C. Almost at this same moment, Jesus appears to the gathering of Apostles and the two disciples from Emmaus. Thomas was absent from this meeting. They are startled but Jesus reassures them and opens the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:36ff).
- Interlude 1
- A. There is no biblical testimony that Jesus appeared to them at all during the week that followed. The next account of the Resurrection narrative says, “eight days later”, namely the following Sunday.
- B. We do know that the apostles surely witnessed to Thomas that they had seen the Lord, but Thomas refused to believe it. (John 20:24-26)
- One Week Later, Sunday #2.
- A. Jesus appears once again to the Apostles gathered. This time, Thomas is with them. Jesus calls Thomas to faith, who now confesses Jesus to be Lord and God. (John 20:24-29). At this point, all of the key leaders were convinced of the physical resurrection of Jesus.
- Interlude 2
- A. The Apostles received some instructions to return to Galilee (Matthew 28:10; Mark 16:7) where they would see Jesus. Thus, they spent some of the week journeying 60 miles to the north. This would have taken some time. We can safely assume them making the journey sometime during the intervening days.
- Sometime later (exact timeframe unspecified)
- A. The time frame of the next appearance is somewhat vague. John merely says, “After this.” Likely it is a matter of days or a week at best. The scene is at the Sea of Galilee. Not all of the Twelve are present. They have gone fishing under Peter’s leadership, and Jesus summons them from the lakeside where He is standing in the early morning. They come to shore and see him again as they ear. Peter has a private discussion with Jesus in this appearance, and he is recommissioned to tend the flock of believers (John 21).
- B. Next is the appearance to 500 witnesses at the same time. Of all the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, you might think that this one would have been recorded in some detail since it was the most widely experienced appearance, yet there is no account of it other than it did, in fact, happen. This testimony is found in 1 Corinthians 15:6 which says, “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” Where did this take place? What was it like? What was the reaction? We simply do not know.
- C. Then there is also a private appearance to James. Here again we do not have a description of this appearance, but only a remark by Paul that it did in fact happen: 1Corinthians 15:7– “Then he appeared to James.” The time frame is not clear. We are told only that it happened after the appearance to the five hundred, and before the final appearance to the Apostles.
- The Rest of the Forty Days.
- A. We can safely assume that Jesus had subsequent appearances with his disciples. Luke attests to this in Acts when he writes: Acts 1:3, “To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.”
- B. There is perhaps the one appearance we can attribute to this time period as recorded by Matthew (28:16ff) and Mark (16:14ff).It takes place on “a mountaintop in Galilee.” Mark adds that they were reclining at table. It is here that he gives the great commission. Although Mark’s text may seem to imply that Jesus was taken up from this mountain, such a conclusion is risky since Mark only indicates that Jesus ascended only “after he had spoken to them” (Mark 16:19).
- C. Evidently Jesus had also summoned them back to Jerusalem, at least toward the end of the period of the forty days. There they would be present for the feast of Pentecost. We can imagine frequent appearances with on-going instruction for Luke records that Jesus “stayed with them.” Most of these appearances and dialogues are not recorded. Luke writes in Acts: “And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4)
- The Final Appearance & Ascension:
- A. After forty days of appearances and instructions, we have a final account of the last appearance when he led them out to a place near Bethany, gave them final instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was sent. And then Jesus was taken up to heaven in plain sight. (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1)
- The Second Coming
- No person on earth currently knows the exact timing of this monumental event. Everyone will know it when it occurs. Jesus will be making a grand entrance. Every eye will behold Him. Every knee will bow to Him. Every tongue will confess that He is Lord of all.
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