Who Saw Jesus First?

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1.  Jesus’ Meeting with the Women

Matthew tells us that the women ran to bring word to the disciples, and that en route they were met by Jesus, who greeted them, and they held his feet and worshipped him (Mt. 28:8-9). Mark comments that they fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone on account of their fear (Mk 16:6-8). Luke says that they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and all the others, who frankly disbelieved them (Lk 24:9-11).

Although there is seeming contradiction between accounts, these are not difficult to reconcile. Mark clearly does not mean that they never told anyone ever. He is, after all, relating their story: and he has just told us that they were commanded to go and tell the disciples (v.7). So what he is probably indicating is that they ran off in a state of shocked silence, telling no-one they met on route. We will not attempt to draw any further conclusions from Mark’s account as to what happened next, as this is where the oldest copies end.
2.  Mary Fetches Peter and John
John’s account, however, is radically different. As mentioned before, his account tells us only what happened to Mary Magdalene. He relates that Mary ran and found Peter and ‘the other disciple,’ John, and told them, not that Jesus was risen; but that the body had been taken. He then relates how Peter and John raced each other to the tomb. John got there first, and saw the empty graveclothes; but did not go inside. Peter arrives, goes in, and notices that the headpiece is not lying with the other items but folded by itself. John then goes in himself, sees this evidence and apparently concludes that a miracle has occurred. Both then leave the scene.
3.  Mary’s Encounter in the Garden
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb, weeping, still believing the body has been taken. Looking into the tomb she now sees two angels, who speak briefly to her. Then, turning away, she sees Jesus, who, like the angels, asks why she is weeping and she, thinking he’s a gardener, asks him to tell her where the body is.
Mary had not seen any angel initially and so knew only that the body had gone, until she met Jesus. As noted before, even seeing the angels just before that meeting didn’t make her suspect a supernatural explanation, as she assumed they were men. Her failure to recognise Jesus seems strange if this is supposed to be a story concocted to ‘prove’ the resurrection (though it does make sense if she, as most folk would have been, was convinced Jesus was dead, and had her eyes full of tears).
Only when Jesus speaks her name does she recognise him: but he will not let her touch him, saying that he has not yet ascended to his Father.
4.  So Who Saw Jesus First?
This last detail seems to be a direct contradiction of Matthew’s account: for he says that Jesus meets the women while they are going to find the disciples and apparently allows them to handle him. How could Jesus refuse to let Mary touch him, saying he had not ascended, yet allow the other women to do just that, seemingly before his meeting with Mary? But the key to its resolution lies in the earlier comparison of the details concerning the disciple’s whereabouts.
It is likely that Peter and John were not with the other disciples, but staying in Jerusalem itself; whereas the others were outside Jerusalem, possibly at Bethany, some distance away. It appears that the women split up, with Mary running to find John and Peter (who had apparently joined up again after Peter left the High Priest’s house) and the rest going to find the other disciples.
John and Peter would probably have only been minutes away (there would be no crowds that early in the morning), so they would have been back at the tomb within minutes also, with Mary not far behind. Consequently, Mary’s encounter with Jesus (the first that resurrection morning) would have taken place within about ten minutes of the women’s first arrival at the tomb, while the other women were still on their way to find the other disciples.
This implies that Jesus’ initial ascension to the Father occurred sometime between these two meetings.

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Page creation by Kevin King

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