After countless hours of reading and rereading the Gospel accounts, this is the chronological sequence of events which took place on that first Easter morning nearly two thousand years ago!
*The following information is taken from: Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-29
Recap of Events
Thursday Night – Jesus was arrested.
Friday Morning – Jesus was crucified.
Saturday – Jesus was in the tomb.
Sunday Morning – Jesus rose from the grave.
Here’s What Happened on Resurrection Sunday
These are the events which took place early Sunday morning (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), just after sunrise (Mark 16:2), while it was still dark (John 20:1).
An angel came down from Heaven, caused a violent earthquake, rolled the stone away from the tomb, and sat down on top of the rock. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards that Pilate had appointed to secure the tomb during the night (Matt. 27:62-66) were terrified when they saw the angel (Matt. 28:2-4) and they ended up running to their employers, telling them what had occurred, and being paid to keep quiet (Matt. 28:11-15).
Just after the guards were so terrified that they ran away (and probably questioned their career choice), some women [Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome (Mark 16:1), Joanna (Luke 24:10), and others] came with spices to anoint the body of Jesus (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).
On the way there they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:3).
However, when the women arrived they found that the stone had already been removed and set aside (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1).
Upon seeing this, and that Christ’s body was not in the tomb, Mary Magdalene ran as fast as she could to get help (John 20:2).
After Mary Magdalene had left to get help, the other women who had stayed entered the tomb and saw an angel, appearing like a man, dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were afraid (Mark 16:5).
The angel told them to not fear but to be encouraged because of the good news – that Jesus had risen! He told them to go and tell the disciples what they had seen and heard, and that Jesus was going before them into Galilee (Matt. 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7).
While the women were still in the tomb listening to the angel, two more angels, who also resembled men, suddenly appeared standing next to them. In fear, they all bowed their faces to the ground as the angels continued to proclaim Christ’s resurrection by reminding them of His words to them (Luke 24:3-8).
Mostly afraid and very confused, the women ran out of the tomb and said nothing to anyone (Mark 16:8).
When Mary Magdalene finally found Peter and John she said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!” (John 20:2).
Upon hearing Mary Magdalene’s report, the three of them [Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene] made a bee-line to the tomb. John was the first to arrive but was hesitant to go inside. Peter, on the other hand, ran in head first. They found the tomb to be completely empty. The only thing left in the grave were the cloths that had been wrapped around Christ’s body (John 20:3-7). After Peter had quickly entered the tomb, John mustered up the courage to enter in as well. At that moment, John believed, though they still did not completely understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead. At this point, Peter and John left to go back home (John 20:8-10)…
…but Mary Magdalene remained outside the tomb and wept. While she was there, she bent over to look inside the tomb and she saw two angels, who likely resembled men, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and one at the foot (John 20:11-12).
The angels asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying. With tears streaming down her face, she said she was crying because someone had stolen the body of her Lord and she wasn’t sure where they had taken Him. Upon turning around, she noticed that there was a Man behind her. Due to the early morning darkness, tears in her eyes, and depending upon the distance between Him and her, she mistook Him to be a gardener. The Man behind her asked why she was crying and for whom she was looking. Mary Magdalene then questioned the man by asking if He took the Lord’s body. She said she was willing to go get His body herself if He would only tell her where she could find Him. Then, Jesus [the Gardener] called her by name and, at that moment, Mary realized who He was. Jesus then told her to go and tell His disciples the good news (John 20:13-17). Mary Magdalene was the first one to see the resurrected Christ (Mark 16:9).
At about the same time, the group of women, who earlier had left the tomb in fear because of the angels, still had not said anything because they were afraid and confused (Mark 16:8). However, it seems that after some time of reflection, the joy in these women grew stronger than their fear and, mustering up the courage, they went to inform the disciples what the angels had told them (Matt. 28:8).
On their way to find the disciples, Jesus met them. Thus, the entire group of women fell on the ground before Him and grabbed His feet to worship Him. Jesus told them to not be afraid but to go and tell His disciples that they will all see Him in Galilee (Matt. 28:9-10).
Mary Magdalene had met up with the other women on the way (Luke 24:9-10) and went to the disciples with the news, saying, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her (John 20:18).
After the women had told the disciples and those who had been with Jesus during His earthly ministry what had happened, they did not believe them (Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:11).
Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb a second time. This time he did not run straight in but bent at the entrance to gain a glimpse inside. Yet he still only saw the cloths lying by themselves in the darkness of the tomb, so he went away, wondering to himself (Luke 24:12).
Afterward, two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus and Jesus came alongside them. He spoke with them, explained the Scriptures and broke bread with them but, as soon as the disciples recognized that it was Jesus, He vanished. They ran seven miles back to Jerusalem and told the disciples what had happened, but they did not believe them (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35).
Finally, as the disciples were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them and rebuked them for their unbelief (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23). Thomas, however, was absent and did not believe the report of the other disciples. It was then that he stated that he would not believe unless he touched where the nails had pierced His hands and where the spear had been driven into His side (John 20:24-29).
Eight days later Jesus appeared again to the disciples. This time “Doubting Thomas” was there to witness the resurrected King and he believed (John 20:24-29).
The Apostle Paul, upon discussing the order of men that Jesus was revealed to, stated: Peter was first (Luke 24:34), the disciples followed, then over 500 people, next was James and, last but not least, Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-11).
Last Minute Information
It is important to remember that, apart from scaring the guards in the wee hours of the morning, the angels almost always presented themselves at first glance as resembling men. The second thing to note is that Mary Magdalene was still looking for the body of Jesus because she was not with the other women at the time the angels first revealed themselves. Thus, she had not heard the good news yet. Finally, in John 20:2, “…the other disciple, the one Jesus loved…” is referring to John (cf. John 13:23).
Why do the four Gospel accounts seem to be jumbled up at the end? It is because each of the authors had a different purpose for writing and were choosing to emphasize different portions of the same account. I recognize that the chronology of that first Easter morning can be extremely difficult to maneuver through, and that I myself may not have everything perfectly aligned, but this is a breakdown of how it all flows chronologically according to each passage and a tool for you to use in your own studies. Remember, God’s Word is Truth and it is worth us spending our time and energy to know it more. Again, the chronology of the Gospels can be tricky to navigate, but if you put in the effort to lay out the chronology, then you will find that all of the pieces fit together in perfect harmony.