The Harmony of the Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

By Pastor Kevin Lea
Resurrection Sunday 2011
Original April 24, 2011
This version April 20, 2014

This handout coincides with sermon S-912-KL given on April 24, 2011 (www.calvarypo.org)
Note: All Scriptures are from the New King James Translation unless otherwise indicated

For centuries, critics of the Bible have claimed that the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) contain contradictory accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which casts doubt on their reliability as witnesses to the resurrection. But are the four accounts contradictory? Or can the apparent inconsistencies be reconciled with a more careful reading of the texts? I believe the answer to the last question is a resounding yes! Here, I will show how these accounts can be logically reconciled to reveal a coherent, consistent, compelling, and accurate historic documentation of the greatest miracle of all time – the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The following table displays the four accounts of the resurrection side-by-side. My narration provides an explanation for the flow and sequencing of the accounts. As you will see, this format produces one complete historical record of what transpired in Jerusalem during resurrection Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago. Few would argue that the purported resurrection of Jesus has not impacted human history, and fewer still would deny that millions have testified (to their death) that a resurrected Jesus is the reason for their own transformation as they became biblical Christians. It is my prayer that those who read this chronology will respond to the Easter greeting of, “He is risen!” with a booming, “He is risen indeed!

 

 

Mathew Mark Luke John
Matthew 27:58-61: This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb. Mark 15:43-47: Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid. Luke 23:50-55: Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. John 19:38-42: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.

From these accounts we learn that a member of the ruling counsel of the Jews (Sanhedrin), a man named Joseph of Arimathea, was the one to place the body of Jesus into an unused tomb. Joseph, with the help of fellow counsel member Nicodemus, wrapped Jesus’ body with linen and spices according to the tradition of the day.
Jesus died on the Jewish Passover, the 14th Day of Nisan. In Jesus’ day, Nisan 14 was referred to as the Preparation Day (for Passover week). Earlier verses explained the urgency to bury Jesus, and it is important to know why.
The 15th day of Nisan was the beginning of the week-long Jewish feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:4-7). It began at sunset and was a special Sabbath day (High Sabbath – John 19:31) according to Jewish law. This first day of Unleavened Bread was also the beginning of Passover week, even though the literal Passover is on the day before the week-long feast. Joseph and Nicodemus knew that Jesus’ burial needed to be completed before sunset on Nisan 14 in order to avoid violating the Nissan 15 High Sabbath. Those who lack the understanding of Jewish Feasts and the special Sabbaths associated with those feasts have mistakenly assumed that Jesus died on Friday, the day before the traditional weekly (Saturday) Sabbath. He did not.
In the year that Jesus died, Nisan 14 was on a Wednesday for reasons explained below. So the Nisan 15 High Sabbath was on a Thursday (which began at sunset on Wednesday). Remember that this is the first day of Unleavened Bread but is also referred to as the beginning of the Passover week. Now read the following verses in Mark and Luke:

 

Mathew Mark Luke John
Mark16:1: Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Luke 23:56: Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

 

The women likely noticed that the men in their haste had not taken the time to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial. So they plan to return to the tomb to complete the customary burial preparations as soon as they could after the High Sabbath. But first they must leave the tomb to return to their homes before sunset to celebrate the High Sabbath of the first day of Unleavened Bread (Thursday) with their families.

When Friday (the day after the High Sabbath and a normal work day) arrives, the women go out to purchase spices in preparation for entering the tomb after the next day which is the customary Saturday Sabbath or as Luke describes, “the Sabbath according to the commandment”. The women did not attempt to enter the tomb on Friday because guards were stationed at the tomb as described in Matthew’s account below (According to this passage, it is logical to conclude that the guards would have kept everyone, including these women, from entering the tomb for the full three days and nights after Jesus’ burial.). Further, the women would not be able to do any work on the customary Saturday Sabbath and therefore would not have attempted to enter the tomb on Saturday. Therefore, Sunday was the earliest day they could have expected to be able to complete the burial practices of the Jews, so this becomes their plan.

Mark says the women bought/prepared spices after the Sabbath and Luke says they did so before the Sabbath. It is impossible to reconcile this apparent contradiction without the understanding that Mark is talking about the High Sabbath of Nissan 15 while Luke is talking about the normal Saturday Sabbath (as he says, “the Sabbath according to the commandment” – meaning the Ten Commandments); and the two Sabbaths are separated by a normal work day (Friday – which allowed the women to buy and prepare the spices). Therefore, a Thursday or Friday death of Jesus is problematic or impossible, Jesus must have died on a Wednesday.

Some reject the idea of a Wednesday crucifixion because in 33AD the Passover did not fall on a Wednesday, but instead was on Thursday. I would like to make two rebuttals to this argument.

(1) Jesus did not die in AD 33. People who hold to this view ignore the evidence that the Gregorian calendar is in error. There is strong evidence that Herod the Great died about 4 BC and Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was alive before Herod’s death (Jesus may have even been two years old based on Herod killing all the male children of Bethlehem who were two years old and under – Matthew 2:16). If Jesus began His ministry when He was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23), and as most will agree – ministered for three and a half years before being crucified, then Jesus’ death (at thirty three years old) was closer to AD 29. So when was the Passover on or about AD 29? The answer to this question is my second point.

(2) There is no way to positively know when Passover was on AD 29, or AD 33, or any year in great antiquity. The Jewish records of the Temple were destroyed in AD 70 and attempts to go back in time to reconstruct Passover dates cannot be assured with 100% certainty. After researching this question, Dr. David Reagan concluded that Jesus died on the Wednesday Passover of AD 31.1 This date is certainly much closer to the actual crucifixion date than AD 33, and if Passover was on Wednesday in that year, then I would agree with Dr. Reagan that this was the actual year of Jesus’ death.

 

 

Mathew Mark Luke John
Matthew 27:62-66: On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. Mark Luke John

 

Only Matthew records what the religious leaders were doing on Friday (the day after the Thursday High Sabbath) while the women were buying and preparing spices in preparation for going to the tomb on the day after the customary Saturday Sabbath.

 

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