• Elaine Kelly

Sequence of Resurrection Appearances

Updated: May 16

As we approach Easter, I have been thinking about the sequence of Jesus's resurrection appearances. How do we reconcile the slightly different sequence of resurrection appearances in the Gospels, in Acts and in 1 Corinthians 15? Why did Jesus appear first to Mary Magdalene and many other women? Why are the descriptions of what 'the women' saw slightly different in each Gospel? Why are Jesus's appearances to the women not mentioned in Paul's letter in 1 Corinthians? Did the disciples go to Galilee after being told to remain in Jerusalem? Did the apostles receive the Holy Spirit when the risen Jesus first appeared to them, or forty days later at Pentecost? For my biblical fiction Forgotten Followers (from Broken to Bold), I created two handy charts showing a sequence of Jesus’s resurrection appearances consistent with all biblical accounts.


Image: my trip to Cusco, Peru, 2019

My solution involves the group of 'many women' divided up, allowing different groups of women to experience the appearances as described in various gospels. In the same way, my solution for the disciples going to Galilee or staying in Jerusalem involves the men dividing up, allowing different groups of men to experience the appearances as discribed in various gospels. In Matthew 28, angels appear to the women at the tomb, and then Jesus appears to the women and instructs them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee. In Mark 16, angels appear to the women at the tomb, and then in an alternate ending, it says Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene and then to the two disciples on the road out of Jerusalem (Clopas en route to Emmaus), and that when they reported to the disciples, the disciples did not believe. In Luke 24, angels appear to the women at the tomb and Jesus appears to Clopas and his companion. While this pair is reporting to the disciples who are in Jerusalem, some reply that Jesus has appeared to Simon (Peter). However, when Jesus appears they are frightened and think it is a ghost. He convinces them he is real and instructs them to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. Luke continues this message in Acts 1:4 telling them to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. In John 20:19-22, as soon as Jesus appears to the disciples they are immediately overjoyed and immediately receive the Holy Spirit. Peter is already reinstated as a disciple in John 20, yet Jesus does not reinstate him until John 21. John's Gospel is not written in chronological sequence; rather, in a thematic sequence to emphasize symbolic messages. It finishes with John 21, where the disciples who are fishing in Galilee move from fear and doubt to acceptance and faith. John ends his Gospel showing Peter is forgiven and restored, as we can also be, and Jesus instructs Peter to 'feed my sheep', meaning spread Jesus's message, as we can also do, and foreshadowing persecution for some of the disciples. However, if the events of John 21 are put in chronological order, they would appear before Jesus reinstates Peter, while the disciples are fearful and unbelieving. Then the joyful, confident response to Jesus appearing in John 20:19-29 is credible.


Many analysts show the disciples going to Galilee later, at some point during the forty days the resurrected Jesus was on earth. The opening line 'Afterwards' in John 21:1 ' could refer to 'After Jesus appeared to the women'. The summary "this was the third time" in John 21:14 seems more of a symbolic summary. As John 21 opens, Peter is not yet reinstated as a disciple, the disciples were still fearful and unbelieving, and act like their work with Jesus is done and return to fishing. In Matthew, Jesus instructed them to go to Galilee to meet him. In Luke, Jesus instructs them to stay in Jerusalem and not leave the city until they receive the Holy Spirit. For this reason, I hypothesize some disciples (including John and Peter) heading out to Galilee to participate in the John 20 appearance, while other disciples remain in Jerusalem to participate in the Luke 24 appearance (which John does not record). In Galilee, Jesus restores Peter as a disciple and the disciples move from doubt to faith which explains their response in John 20 being joyful and unafraid and remaining in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit.


Whether you believe the women saw the angels, and then the risen Jesus, is the pinnacle of the story of Jesus. When Thomas realized Jesus had risen, Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Your thoughts and beliefs on this event are critical to your faith decisions.


Below are two charts showing a consolidated sequence of resurrection appearances.

Image: pexels-sevenstorm-juhaszimrus-1604849

Early Sunday, Jerusalem

Angels appear to Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, Salome, Joanna, Susannah, Mariamne (other women). Angel says he is risen and to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus will meet you in Galilee.

Matthew 28:1-7, Mark 16:1-4

Mary Magdalene runs to Peter/John; Mary of Clopas and Salome enter the tomb, see more angels, return to tell the disciples that they said to go to Galilee to meet Jesus; Joanna/Susannah/Mariamne flee in terror and say nothing

John 20:1-2, Mark 16:5-7, Luke 24:1-12, Mark 16:8

1

Early Sunday, Jerusalem

Appearance to Mary Magdalene in the garden

John 20:11-18, Mark 16:9-11

2

Early Sunday, Jerusalem

Appearance to Joanna, Susannah, Mariamne

Matthew 28:9-10, Luke 24:10

3

Sunday Afternoon, Judea

Simon Peter

Luke 24:34 1 Corinthians 15:5

4

Sunday Afternoon, Judea

Clopas and his companion walking to Emmaus. See Note 1.

Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24: 13-33

5

Sunday Late Evening, Jerusalem

Clopas and his companion rush back to report to disciples. Mark says they didn’t believe them. While they’re still talking, Jesus appears. Luke says the disciples are frightened. Jesus eats a fish and they believe he is alive. Jesus rebukes them for not believing those who had seen him. He instructs them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.

See Note 2

Mark 16:13-14, Luke 24:36-49

6

Galilee

Disciples in Galilee; Jesus appears and some worship while others still doubt see Note 3

Matthew 28:16-17

7

Galilee

Seven disciples: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Philip, James, John, Andrew are at Sea of Galilee and move from fear to belief that Jesus is risen. Peter is restored as a disciple (after being disowned by his denial).

See Note 3

John 21:1-24

8

Jerusalem

Disciples except Thomas in Jerusalem; Jesus appears, and they respond with gladness, not fear or doubt. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them.

See Note 4

John 20:19-22

9

8 days later, Jerusalem

Disciples including Thomas gathered behind locked doors in Jerusalem, Jesus appears and shows his wounds to Thomas

John 20:24-29

1 Corinthians 15:5

Acts 1:3-5

10

During 40 days after Passover

Jesus appears to 500 disciples at once;

Jesus and disciples are on a Galilean mountain and he gives them the Great commission

1 Corinthians 15:6

Matthew 28:16-20

11

During 40 days

Jesus appears to James, his brother, likely in Nazareth, Galilee

1 Corinthians 15:7

12

During 40 days

Jesus appears to all the apostles

1 Corinthians 15:7

13

Day 40

Jesus at Mount of Olives, blesses them, tells them to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit; Jesus ascends to heaven

Mark 16:15-19 Luke 24:49-53 Acts 1:6-11

14

Later

Paul on road to Damascus

1 Corinthians 15:8

Note 1:

Theologians debate who was with Clopas on the road to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection. Some say it was Simon, because when they report back to the disciples, they say in Luke that Jesus has appeared to Cephas (Simon). Most believe the appearance to the apostle Simon Peter was a separate occasion so it could be Simon the Zealot or Simon the son of Clopas. Some say Cephas’s companion was one of the seventy-two disciples, or his wife, Mary of Clopas.

Mark’s gospel says the disciples don’t believe the two travellers and Luke says they already know because Jesus already appeared to Cephas. It sounds like Cephas is not present in the room for this conversation. Perhaps some disciples returned to Galilee because (a) they don’t believe the women or they have doubts about Jesus so they return to fishing (b) they believe the angel who tells them to go to Galilee where Jesus will meet them (c) Galilee is their home, and they want to return to their people (d) they were not there when Jesus appears and tells the believers to stay in Jerusalem.

They would not return to fishing after they see Jesus, believe in him and he tells them to stay in Jerusalem. Peter is not restored as a disciple until John 21. It appears that John tells what happened in Galilee, where he was an eyewitness, and was not present when the travellers to Emmaus returned to Jerusalem. In 1 Corinthians 15:5 Paul knows the order of appearances told by John and Peter, not by Mark and Luke’s source. Mark and Luke talk about when the travellers to Emmaus reported back.


Note 2:

This appearance is written by John Mark, the writer of Mark, and Luke, and possibly his source was Joanna. It was already nearly evening when Clopas and his companion invited Jesus into their home to supper. After Jesus broke the bread, walking the seven miles back to Jerusalem would have taken at least two hours, so it was likely past ten in the evening when they arrived in Jerusalem. Mark reports that the disciples did not believe Clopas and his companion. Luke reports that those who hear from Clopas and his companion reply it is true; they know because Jesus has already appeared to Cephas. Then Luke goes on to say that the disciples are startled and afraid and think it’s a ghost. After Jesus eats some fish, they believe. Luke refers to Cephas (apostle Simon Peter) in the third person, implying he is absent. John may also be absent, as he does not record this event in his gospel. John also states that Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the group in Jerusalem. Paul does not include Clopas and his companion in the sequence of those seeing Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:5. Paul gives the order as: (1) Cephas (2) the Twelve (3) 500 brothers and sisters. This could be because his information comes from John/Peter who were not there when the travellers returned


Note 3:

I position these two Galilean appearances here in the sequence because Jesus instructs the disciples to return to Galilee several times, and later instructs them to remain in Jerusalem and wait until they receive the Holy Spirit. The Bible says there are seven disciples in Galilee and names Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, and John. I believe the other two are Philip (who brought Nathanael to Jesus, and Andrew, Peter’s brother). We made an argument in Note 2 that Peter, Thomas, and John were likely not present for the late Sunday evening appearance in Jerusalem. During this time in Galilee, these disciples come to believe that Jesus is risen, and Peter is restored as a disciple (after being disowned by his denial). The appearances in Galilee show the disciples transforming from fear and doubt to belief, so they must occur before the appearances which show the disciples with only joy. Many commentators place these two Galilean appearances with the others during the 40 days after Passover.


Note 4:

John writes that this appearance happened on Sunday evening, with some disciples not including Thomas. Many would place it immediately after or at the same time as the appearance described in Mark/Luke (5). It would be difficult to place it after the events in Mark and Luke because the appearance while Clopas and his companion are with the disciples is just before midnight. It is also difficult to say it is describing the same appearance as in Mark and Luke because of the significant differences in the description in John:

· in John’s version, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit while in Mark and Luke Jesus tells them to wait in the city for the Holy Spirit.

· In John’s version, the disciples rejoice gladly while in Mark and Luke, the disciples are unbelieving, startled and frightened

· In John’s version, the disciples already believe Jesus has risen while in Mark and Luke the disciples need to be convinced to overcome doubt.

For these reasons, the appearance described in John 20:19-22 may be describing the appearance of (5) that happened to some of the disciples while John, Peter, and some of their friends were in Galilee or it may be describing an appearance on a different Sunday evening, after the disciples come to believe at the Sea of Galilee and Peter is restored as a disciple, and before the appearance to all disciples including Thomas (9).


Simplified Sequence of Resurrection Appearances

The sequence of appearances Paul lists in 1 Corinthians is simple, yet sufficient to reinforce the belief that Jesus rose from the dead.

This sequence omits the accounts of the women seeing the resurrected Jesus. While women were not recognized individually as legal witnesses, two women together were legal witnesses at the time. Luke 28:30 indicates that Luke finished writing both Luke and Acts before Paul's death. If Mark and Luke wrote their gospels during Paul’s lifetime, Paul would have been aware of these accounts of the women as first witnesses.

The 1 Corinthians sequence also omits Clopas and his companion, possibly because it is assumed they are included in the 500 brothers and sisters. However, the appearance to the large group is at a later date. It is possible that John and Peter were not present when Clopas and his companion reported back to the disciples in Jerusalem and so the account of these travelling companions was not as widely spread.

However, the 1 Corinthians sequence inserts Peter as the first disciple to whom Jesus appeared. The appearance of Jesus to Peter is referred to but not detailed in the Bible, so it can be hypothesized that Peter goes alone to pray and sees Jesus, but cannot believe his eyes and doesn't tell the others until later. It could also be hypothesized that the mention of Simon (Peter) was added in Luke 24:34 at a later date. It seems inconsistent that in Luke 24:34 the disciples respond with yes it's true we already know Jesus has risen because he appeared to Simon. While in contrast in Luke 24:37-41, they respond with terror, fright and disbelief. Peter is traditionally the first bishop of Rome, the Pope, and the primacy of the bishop of Rome over other bishops rests in part on Peter being honoured as first among the apostles to see the risen Jesus.


It is possible that in the sequence in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is quoting a creed that he did not write, one that was widely known and recited. The sequence of resurrection appearances may honour Peter in deference to the believers who said Peter founded the church in Rome and to those in Corinth who were loyal to Peter. From 1 Corinthians 1:12, we know that some of the believers in Corinthians had more loyalty to Peter, some to Apollos, and some to Paul. Paul then builds on the existing creed by adding his own name to the end of the creed. Placing his name here shows himself as the last and least important of the apostles. It also elevates Paul to the list of those to whom Jesus appeared personally and shows that, like the twelve apostles, Paul was called and authorized to be an apostle directly by Jesus. It is possible the 1 Corinthians sequence lacks the detail of the various times Jesus appeared to various people because it was written as a creed or simple statement of faith. Perhaps omitting the women's stories avoided controversy about the creed, or perhaps the women's accounts weren't considered necessary for the purpose of reinforcing their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Being kept simple would make it easy to memorize and repeat together at gatherings of believers.

1

Early Sunday

Mary Magdalene

John 20:11-18, Mark 16:9-11

2

Early Sunday

Other women

Matthew 28:9-10, Luke 24:10

3

Sunday Afternoon

Cephas (Simon Peter)

Luke 24:34

1 Corinthians 15:5

1

4

Sunday Afternoon

Clopas and companion

Luke 24:13-33, Mark 16:12-13

5

Sunday Evening

Clopas, companion, Disciples excl. Thomas

Mark 16:13-14, LUke 24:36-49, John 20:19-22

6

8 days later

Disciples incl. Thomas

John 20:24-29

1 Corinthians 15:5 "The Twelve"

2

7

40 days

7 Disciples fishing

John 21:1-24

8

40 days

Disciples and 500 brothers and sisters in Galilee

Matthew 28:16-20

1 Corinthians 15:6

3

9

40 days

James, brother of Jesus

1 Corinthians 15:7

4

10

40 days

To all the apostles

1 Corinthians 15:7

5

11

Day 40

Jesus at Mount of Olives, ascends to heaven

Mark 16:15-19

Luke 24:49-53

Acts 1:3-11

12

Later

Paul on road to Damascus

1 Corinthians 15:8

6