Harmony of the Events from the Lord's Resurection until His Ascension
When harmonizing the 4 gospels, I like to 1st harmonize the 3 synoptic gospels, looking for seemingly insignificant differences as well as bigger ones. Then harmonize these with the gospel of John. John wrote ~40 yrs later than the other 3, and he mostly does not repeat what is in the other 3.  The 1st 3 gospels provide semi-independent witnesses about the Lord's life. John provides details that are not in the 1st 3 gospels, some of which could not be given while the people involved were alive.  John writes with the other 3 in view.

Matthew, Mark and Luke combine the experiences of the sisters into a group experience, whereas John singles out the exceptional experience of Mary Magdalene.
1. Reading just Matt's account, I would think that the earthquake occurred right after the sisters arrived. But this is not possible from the other gospels. Matthew mentions the sisters 1st because the emphasis is on the sisters' seeking and experience, not the great earthquake.
2-3. John says that Mary M got to the tomb while it was still dark, but Mark says clearly that they came when the sun had risen. I think the sisters arranged to meet at the tomb, and Mary M got there 1st.
4. It is evident from John's account that Mary M did not witness the angel telling them that Jesus had risen. But she was there with the other sisters, because John says "we" (v2b). John does not explain who the "we" is because he expects you to read the other 3 gospels.
I think when the sisters saw that the tomb was empty they sent Mary M to run to tell the apostles ASAP because she was the fastest and most concerned. Some among them may have been too old to run.
5. From Matt's account it seems that the angel was still sitting on the stone when he spoke to the sisters, but Matt vv 2-4 actually take place before v1. So there is a gap in time between v4 and v5 in Matt. During this time the angel appeared to the sisters in the tomb.
The angel in Mark and Matt says nearly the same thing.  Luke says there are 2 angels, so he may be combining Mary M's later angel experience with the others (John 20:12). It is possible that some of the sisters saw 2 angels, some 1, or that at 1st there was 1 angel and then another appeared.
6. Note that I skipped ahead to v12 in Luke to correspond to the detailed account in John. Peter ran to the tomb when Mary M told him about Jesus' body not being in the tomb, but Luke records it as though it happened after the group of sisters told the disciples about their encounter with angels. This is because Luke and Matt do not separate the experience of Mary M from the rest of the sisters.
7. Mark says clearly that He appeared to Mary M 1st. This has to be honored. John says that Jesus' appearance to Mary M. was extraordinary above His other appearances because He had not even ascended to the Father yet. It seems Jesus was touched with Mary's seeking heart so much that He delayed His ascension to the Father

If Matt 28:9-10 is a different appearance of Jesus than the one to Mary M, then Jesus would have made 2 appearances before ascending to the Father. But the Lord's appearance to Mary M is extraordinary compared to the other appearances. I do not believe He made any other appearances to humans before ascending to the Father's throne except for this one to Mary M.

Everyone that Jesus appeared to on this day needed help to believe that Jesus had resurrected. 1st Mary M, who had missed the appearance of the angel and was weeping, then the 2 sad brothers on the road to Emmaus, where He vanished once they realized who He was, then to Peter who was bewildered (Lk 24:12, 34), then to the gathering of the disciples.  But the group of sisters in Matt had already known that Jesus resurrected because the angel told them, and they believed, departing with fear and great joy (v8). Why would Jesus appear to them and tell them the same things that the angel had already told them? Because 1 of their number, Mary M, had missed the appearing of the angel, so He met her personally, and told her the same things that the angel had said, and additionally that they were His brothers.

In both John 20:17 & Matt 28:10, Jesus calls His disciples His brothers because at His resurrection we were all born again with the eternal life of God to be His brothers (1Pet 1:3).

Matt makes Mary M's experience that of the group. While the other sisters were on their way to tell the disciples, Jesus appeared to Mary M at the tomb. Matt uses the plural pronouns "them" and "they" because if one of the group did it, it could be considered that the group did it (Josh 7:1,11).

When the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus met Jesus, they told Him that some sisters had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was alive. If those sisters had seen Jesus, they would have said that they saw Jesus instead because the vision of angels would have been of no comparison to the appearance of Jesus, Himself.

Jesus told Mary not to "touch" Him in Joh 20:17, but here the sisters held him by the feet. The word "touch" in Joh 20:17 is continuous, so it means "hold" more than "touch". It could be translated, "Stop holding on to me." She apparently held onto Jesus' feet, and Jesus told her, Don't hold on to me because I haven't yet ascended ... .

Matt may not have mentioned that Jesus 1st appeared to Mary M individually because Matt wrote a  short time after Christ's resurrection, and this exaltation of Mary M, while she was young, may have been damaging to her (1Tim 3:6). Mark wrote about 20 years after Matt, and John wrote about 50 years after Matt.
8. The Lord ascended to the Father on the morning of His resurrection so that the Father would have the 1st enjoyment (Lev 23:10-11) to declare the man Jesus His Firstborn Son (Ps 2:7-8; Acts 13:33; Rom 1:3-4), to give Jesus all authority (Rev 5) and for Jesus to bring His blood into the Holy of Holies in heaven to clear up all problems in the universe (Heb 9:11-14, 23-24).

The Lord's words to Mary, "I have not yet ascended to the Father" (v17), indicate urgency, not something to happen 40 days later. This must refer to the Lord's ascending to the Father on the morning of His resurrection. This ascension is not mentioned directly in the gospels because the disciples did not witness it.

Rev 5 happened on the day of the Lord's resurrection when the "new song" was brand new, never sung before. This is where He received all authority from the Father, which He already had in Matt 28:18, before His public ascension.

Also Hebrews tells us that the Lord entered the Holy of Holies in the heavens for our redemption. Could this have waited until 40 days later?

Psalm 2:7 says that "Today", resurrection day, the Father declared the Man Jesus to be His Son.

This is typified by the firstfruits offered to God on the day after the Sabbath following the Passover, the exact day of the resurrection (Lev 23:10-16). This is the day from which 50 days are numbered to reach Pentecost.
10.Luke, like Matt combines the experiences of the sisters together. 1st the other sisters (without Mary M) reported to the disciples what the angels told them. Later Mary reported what the Lord Himself had told her. The disciples did not believe either of them. They should have believed different witnesses giving the same report from 2 independent events.
11. These 2 disciples testify that they had heard the sisters' testimony about the vision of angels and that brothers (Peter & John) had gone to the tomb and found it empty. But they did not hear that Mary M had seen the Lord. So they must have left after the sisters' report of angels and before Mary's report of seeing Jesus. If the 2 disciples had heard the report that Mary had seen Jesus alive, that would have much overshadowed a report of angels.

Notice the detail Luke records. The first amazing thing is that Jesus body was not there. This was reported by Mary M. The 2nd amazing thing is that  they "also" had seen a vision of angels saying He was alive. This was reported by the other sisters. This sounds like 2 reports.
13. Mark says "in a different form", different from His appearance to Mary M (Mk 16:9)  because He has ascended to the  Father and received all authority.
15-16. I separated 15 from 16 because Mk 16:13 says that the hearers did not believe them, but Lk 24:34 says that the majority of the 11 and those with them had already believed. This separation may not be needed because at least Thomas still did not believe.
17. Lk 24:33 says that the 2 from Emmaus testified to the 11, so Thomas was there. Then Lk 24:36 says that while they were still testifying, Jesus appeared. But John says clearly that when Jesus appeared, Thomas was not there. The only explanation that I can see is that Thomas left while the 2 bros. were speaking.
18. I do not include Mk 16:14 here because that verse says that Jesus appeared to the 11, and Thomas was not here.
19. Paul says that Jesus appeared to the 12, thus including Matthias (Acts  1:22,26).
21. I think this happened after the disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain specified by Jesus (Mt 28:16). Jesus said He was going there before them, but when they got to the mountain, Jesus didn't appear right away.  Peter, needing something to do, said, "I'm going fishing." I don't think Peter would have gone fishing on the way to mountain, because he was always zealous to obey the Lord's charge, and would not have been distracted from going to the mountain.

Actually Jesus was there at the mountain before the disciples got there as He had said in Matt 28:7 & Mk 16:7, but He did not make Himself visible right away.

After His resurrection, the Lord did not directly tell the disciples to go to Galilee, but through the sisters (Mat 28:7,10; Mk 14:7). The Lord had told them directly on the night of His death (Matt 26:32), but the disciples did not understand it. If the Lord delayed making Himself visible, Peter may have questioned within himself if they should have gone there, or questioned the timing.

Peter felt exposed when the Lord appeared (v7), and threw himself into the sea, apparently as a self-punishment. He "went up" (v10) when he obeyed the Lord's command to bring some of the fish, indicating that he was down. All this indicates that Peter had acted on his own in leaving the mountain to go fishing. This was the best training to him.
22.Luke does not mention going to Galilee in his account of the Lord's resurrection. Mark records that the angel commanded them to go to Galilee (v7), but does not record that they went there.  Matt records the going to Galilee in 3 places (vv7, 10, 16).

I placed 1Cor 15:6-7 here during the part of the 40 days in Galillee. I placed it here for 2 reasons:
1) Acts 1:3 says that these 40 days were the time that the Lord appeared to the disciples. After He ascended, it was a different dispensation, but He did appear last of all to Paul after that "as to one abnormally born" (1Cor 15:8).
2) Acts 1:14 says that Jesus' brothers were among the 120 praying in the upper room after returning from Galillee, and 1Cor 15:7 says that He appeared to James after He appeared to the 500 brothers at once. Since James was among the 120 praying, it is likely that he saw Jesus before that.
Note that Jesus appeared to "all the apostles" in 1Cor 15:7 after He appeared to the 12 in 1Cor 15:5. There were definitely other apostles besides the 12 and Paul. It appears that a qualification for being this type of apostle was to have seen the Lord after His resurrection (1Cor 9:1). However, Barnabas was an apostle (Acts 14:14), and it seems that he came to the Lord after Pentecost (Acts 4:36-37).
It may seem unlikely that there would have been 500 brothers together at one time on the mountain in Galillee since there were only 120 praying in the upper room in Jerusalem after returning from Galillee. I think the Lord did not call all of those who came to Him in Galillee to follow Him to Jerusalem.
23. I don't think that the disciples returned to Jerusalem until after Jesus ascended because the Bible does not mention them returning there until after that.
Luke v50 says that He "led them out" as far as Bethany, which seems like He led them out of Jerusalem to Bethany, but I think it means He led them out from Galilee to Bethany. The phrase "as far as" means that they had a little farther to go. He did not lead them the whole way to where they were going, which was Jerusalem. It also implies that they went a fairly far distance.

Jesus "led them out" implies that this was the direction the Lord commanded them to go, which was from Galilee to Jerusalem. But they were not to go from Jerusalem to Bethany, so "leading them out" seems inappropriate if that was the case. They were just accompanying the Lord to His ascension.

Acts 1:12 says "they returned to Jerusalem" after Jesus ascended, which sounds like they were in Jerusalem right before His ascension, but not necessarily. They were in Jerusalem before going to Galilee, so the "returning" here could be their returning from Galilee.

Acts 1:13 says that they had a place where they were staying in Jerusalem. This was probably the same place they had where Jesus appeared to them right after His resurrection. They had not given the place up while they were in Galilee.

Why does the same author, Luke, say Jesus "led them out as far as Bethany" and then ascended (v50), but in Acts, Luke writes that after Jesus ascended, the disciples returned to Jerusalem from the Mt of Olives? Bethany and the Mt of Olives are close, but not the same place. The Mt of Olives is east of Jerusalem, and Bethany is southeast of the Mt of Olives. Bethany is farther from Jerusalem than the Mt of Olives is, and it is also farther from Galilee than the Mt of Olives is.
Luke 24:50 says that He led them out as far as Bethany because that was the farthest point that He led them from Galilee. I think the Lord and His disciples spent the last night of this training time there in Bethany, and the next morning went to the Mt of Olives from which He ascended. It is clear that Jesus ascended from the Mt of Olives because He will return in the same way (Acts 1:11; Zec 14:4). Luke 24:50 says He led them out as far as Bethany, and then He ascended. This does not mean that He necessarily ascended from Bethany, but that Bethany was the farthest out that He led them, and then He ascended. Acts 1:9-12 says that they watched Jesus ascend and then returned to Jerusalem from the Mt of Olives. This should mean that Jesus ascended from the Mt of Olives.

If we understand it that Jesus led the disciples out from Jerusalem as far as Bethany, why did He lead them beyond the Mt of Olives to Bethany? It may be that He wanted to spend the last night with His beloved disciples in Bethany, but I do not know why He would have taken them to Jerusalem 1st.

-copyright Steve Miller 2011
written 4/16/2011
update 1/25/2015