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  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

Sequence of Resurrection Appearances

Updated: 7 days ago

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, Book One), 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


Early Sunday, Jerusalem

Appearance to Mary Magdalene in the garden

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


Early Sunday, Jerusalem

Appearance to Joanna, Susannah, Mariamne

Matthew 28:9-10, Luke 24:10


Sunday Afternoon, Judea

Simon Peter

Luke 24:34 1 Corinthians 15:5


Sunday Afternoon, Judea