The Resurrection of Jesus

The Resurrection of Jesus

After Jesus ate a final meal with His disciples, they moved from the upper room to the Mount of Olives. Along the way, Jesus prophesied that they would all fall away, would abandon Him before the night was over. Then He said, “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee,” (Matt. 26:32). In the hours before His death, Jesus had no doubt that the Father would raise Him from the dead.

In fact, it was impossible that Jesus, for whom, through and by whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:16,17), who upholds the universe by His word of power (Hebrews 1:3), would be held captive by death. It is impossible that death could contain the One of whom it is said, “All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life” (John 1:3,4).

Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, said, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24).

How could the tomb hold Him? The stones of that tomb consisted, at their molecular level, by the sovereign expression of God’s purpose in Christ. It was impossible that mere stones would hold captive their Creator.

The resurrection took place in the context of humanity’s rejection and hatred of God in human flesh. “He came to His own and those who were His own did not receive Him,” (John 1:11). There were a few men and women who recognized their Messiah and believed. But many were too blinded by religious prejudice or by the cares of this world. 

Then there were those who did recognize Him and rejected Him, not because they misunderstood or disbelieved the truth about His identity but because they loved darkness and hated the light. They knew who Jesus was and when He died and rose again, they did not doubt His resurrection. They did not believe in Him but they did not doubt the truth.

Note the criminal desperation of the power brokers — they used a traitor and a bribe to arrest Jesus, violated their own laws in trying Him, lied to and manipulated the Governor to obtain a death sentence and then bribed the guards to cover up the resurrection. How deeply they feared Jesus and the good news which He proclaimed. But they could not cover the truth any more than they could seal the tomb.  

The tomb failed to imprison. The lie failed to convince. The truth prevailed in the heart of all to whom God granted salvation. 

If the Easter stories are false, invented by early Christians, they would match in every detail. If a group of people are lying, they want to make sure their lies agree. But these stories do not agree in every detail. Instead, they provide the perspectives of different witnesses, each Gospel writer including a rich variety of details based on his own information interpreted as the Holy Spirit inspired him.

Furthermore, how could the early church have invented a resurrection story? It was beyond their comprehension. The disciples neither expected nor understood the death of Jesus. How much less did they expect a resurrection. They could not invent what they could not imagine.

Though Jesus had often spoken to His disciples about His death, they had neither believed nor understood Him. They could not equate death with what they knew to be true about Him. They correctly believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It was incomprehensible to them that He would die. While Jesus was setting His course to go to Jerusalem, preparing His soul for the cross, His disciples were competing for positions in what they assumed would be the soon appearance of the kingdom of God. 

If they did not believe Jesus would die, they could not possibly have imagined that He would rise from the dead. They were crushed when Jesus died, fled for their lives and were entirely disillusioned, terrified, discouraged and grief-struck. All they had believed had been destroyed. The idea that the resurrection of Jesus was invented by the church is absurd. They were not capable of inventing something that was beyond the realm of their faith and imagination. Only a literal, physical resurrection could have broken through their depression, grief and unbelief. 

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, David wrote, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay” (Psalm 16:10).  Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:26-30) and the Apostle Paul (in Acts 13:25) interpret this Scripture as prophetically referring to Jesus and literally, physically fulfilled.

Yet on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter denied that he even knew the Lord.  Broken by his failure of courage, crushed by the death of his Lord, how could he stand and preach with such boldness only seven weeks later, if he knew that his preaching was based on a lie fabricated by himself and the other disciples?  Paul, a violent persecutor of the followers of Jesus, attempting in his rage to destroy every trace of the church, became the great apostle of the gospel. 

There is no way to account for the transformation of these two men and the millions of men and women in every generation since then except for this: Jesus Christ rose from the dead and we have encountered a living Savior. The witnesses are many, the testimony is certain.

Resurrection Testimony According to Matthew

In Matthew 28:1-10 we read that Mary Magdalene and another Mary came to the tomb while it was still early. We know from Mark and Luke that there were other women present also. On Saturday evening they had purchased burial spices and ointments (Mark 16:1). It is the first day of the week and now they are coming to add their personal act of devotion to Christ’s burial. They are not coming to witness a resurrection but to honor the body of their Lord.

When they arrived, they found that the stone which had sealed the mouth of the tomb had been rolled away, the guards had fainted out of fear and an angel greeted them with the news that Jesus had risen. Luke and John record the presence of two angels. Matthew and Mark record only the angel who spoke.  (From John’s account, it seems that Magdalene had left to tell the apostles as soon as she saw the stone rolled away but before the appearance of the angel). 

The angel commanded the women to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen and on their way back to Jerusalem, Jesus met them. They recognized Him and fell down to worship Him. Now they know with certainty that the Lord has risen. They have heard the message of the angels. They have seen the empty tomb. But above all else, they have met and worshipped the Lord Himself. That which they could not imagine or believe is now a certainty and they are witnesses.

According to Mark

In the Gospel of Mark 16:1-11 we read that Mary Magdalen and another Mary set out for the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus (we know from other accounts that there were other women with them.)


They were wondering, “Who will roll the stone away for us?” They had no idea that it had been sealed or that a guard had been posted but they were intent only on honoring Jesus. They were expecting only to minister to a lifeless body. There was no expectation of a resurrection.

They arrive at the tomb and find that the stone has been rolled away. Entering the tomb, they encounter “a young man ... wearing a white robe” (16:5). From the other accounts, we know that this was an angel taking the form of a man. Mark notes only the angel who speaks, though other accounts say there were two. The angel informs them that “Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified,” has risen (16:6). He then instructs them to “go, tell” the disciples and Peter.

According to Luke

In the Gospel of Luke 24:1-12 we read, “At early dawn, they came bringing spices” (24:1). Luke does not identify who “they” are until verse ten, at which point we are told that they are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women.

Arriving at the tomb, they find the stone has been rolled away. When they enter, they do not find the body of Jesus.  Instead, they encountered two men “in dazzling clothing.” Luke calls them men, but their brilliant appearance is similar to Matthew’s description (28:3) of an angel. John also identifies them as angels (20:12). In other words, they are angels appearing in human form. Though there are two angels, only one spoke, which explains the emphasis of Matthew and Mark on the one angel.

As the women bow in terror, the angel asks, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here but He has risen” (24:5,6).  The angel reminds them that it was necessary that Jesus “be crucified and the third day rise again” (24:7).

The women went and reported these things to the disciples. Where were the disciples?  They were hiding, not outside the tomb nor in the Garden of Gethsemane awaiting the risen Jesus. They were not prepared to greet Him because they did not expect to meet Him.

Notice that the women had to be reminded of the teaching on resurrection. This could not have been a story anyone devised to add credibility to a struggling young church. No one had any expectation of resurrection nor did they even remember that Jesus had told them He would rise.  

From Matthew’s account, we know that Jesus appeared to the women, except for Magdalene, as they returned to Jerusalem (28:8,9). When we factor in John’s account of these events, we know that Mary Magdalene had been with the women, had left when she saw the tomb was empty, taking the news of the empty tomb. It is probable that at this moment she was returning to the tomb a second time, trailing Peter and John who were running. 

According to John

In the Gospel of John 20:1-18 we read only of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb. It may be that John omits the other women because he is telling the story through Mary’s experience. Or it may be that the other women became weary and stopped to rest, in which case Mary pushed on, arriving alone. 

John says that “it was still dark” when Mary arrived. Luke says it was “early dawn” (24:1). Mark says, “The sun had risen” (16:2). Matthew says, “As it began to dawn” (28:1). Possibly the sun was rising over the eastern desert and you might be able to see its glow over the Mount of Olives; but west of the mount would have been shadows. 

Different writers are telling the story from different perspectives according to different witnesses, as the Holy Spirit inspires them. The details of lighting vary, depending on when a witness arrived and where each was standing.

Mary saw the stone was “already taken away from the tomb” (20:1). She ran to tell Peter and John and it must be that the other women stayed at the tomb, at which point they encountered the angelic messenger(s). 

Notice Mary says to the apostles, “We do not know where they have laid Him,” (20:2). “We” tells us that the other women had been present with Mary at the tomb.

When Mary brings the news to Peter and John, she mentions only the empty tomb, supposing that someone had taken the body. Evidently, she had run back to Jerusalem as soon as she saw the stone removed from the tomb and before the angel spoke to the other women. Mary did not hear the angel say that Jesus had risen.


Having received the news from Mary, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John arrived first and stooped to look in. He saw only the linen wrappings. Peter arrived and, true to his impulsive nature, burst into the tomb, finding the linen wrappings and the face cloth “rolled up in a place by itself” (20:7). John then entered “and he saw and believed” that Jesus had risen (20:8). However, neither Peter nor John understood the Scripture, “That He must rise again from the dead” (20:9). They then returned to their homes.

Mary returns to the empty tomb but because she moved more slowly than Peter and John, and was surely weary, she arrived after they had departed. The other women had long since left. Mary is alone and weeping, heartbroken, exhausted, confused, despairing of all hope. She stoops to look inside the tomb and sees the two angels, though she does not recognize them as angels.

They asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:13). 

Her answer reveals her broken heart and her hopelessness, “Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him” (20:13). Notice again the complete absence of any hope or expectation that a resurrection would take place.

Something caused her to turn and she saw someone standing nearby but did not recognize Him. It could have been the early morning shadows and mist, or the rising sun in her eyes or her tears or her complete lack of expectancy. Possibly the hood of His robe covered His face. Or it may be that Jesus, in His glorified body, could only be recognized as He chose to reveal Himself.

The Stranger asks, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (20:15).  She assumes that He is the gardener and replies, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away.” 

Jesus said to her, “Mary” (20:16). She recognized Him instantly and replies, “Rabboni,” which means teacher.  How did she know Jesus? She recognizes Him as He calls her name. He revealed Himself in the way He said, “Mary.” 

We are reminded that Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). He knows us intimately, knows how to speak in a way that we can hear. Helen Keller, who could neither see nor hear, learned to communicate by tapping on the hand. A friend was tapping to her the good news of salvation in Jesus. She tapped back excitedly, “Oh I know Him, I just didn’t know His name.” Somehow, Jesus had reached through her silence and darkness. He knows how to speak in a way we can hear.

Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him, clinging to His feet so tightly that He had to command her to release Him, “For I have not yet ascended to my Father” (20:17). He then sends her to tell the others. She returned to the disciples and announces with the absolute confidence and assurance of a witness to the truth, “I have seen the Lord” (20:18).

As we have said, these accounts of the resurrection of Jesus differ in detail because different witnesses speaking to different writers provided different perspectives. This is further proof that the church did not invent the resurrection. If these stories were fabricated, the writers would eliminate any discrepancies, would insure that all accounts are in complete harmony. Instead, we have a rich variety of detail which, when they are combined, give a clear account of the resurrection of Jesus.

We will continue our discussion of the resurrection of Jesus in the next lesson.

Study Questions

1. According to Matthew 28:1-10, were the women coming to the tomb to witness a resurrection or to honor a dead body?

2. According to Luke 24:1-12, why did the angel have to remind the women of Jesus’ teaching on resurrection?

3. According to John 20:16, when did Mary recognize Jesus?