Let’s dive right into the gospel accounts of Luke and Matthew and read what they say happened after Jesus’ resurrection. Afterwords, we’ll try putting them together to see if there are any problems that cannot be harmonized. To save time, I’ve condensed the events of each gospel in a summarized list below, but feel free to click on the links and read the accounts in full.
- After going to the tomb, two men appear to the women and say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” (1-8)
- The women tell the Disciples and “all the others” but they don’t believe. (9-12)
- That same day, Jesus appears to two men as they are traveling to a nearby village called Emmaus. They don’t recognize him until they reach the village and sit down to eat, after which Jesus disappears and the men run back to Jerusalem and tell the 11 Disciples what had happened. (13-35)
- While they were still talking, Jesus appears to all of them in Jerusalem, startling them and showing his hands and feet. (36-40)
- They all begin eating, and Jesus explains how he was suppose to die in accordance with the scriptures. (41-48)
- Jesus then instructs them to not leave Jerusalem until they receive the holy spirit, saying, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (49)
- Jesus leads them out near the city’s borders (to the vicinity of Bethany) and ascends to heaven. (50-51)
- The disciples return to Jerusalem. (52-53)
Pretty straightforward if you ask me! The author of Luke continues his story with Acts 1, which starts by telling us that before Jesus took the disciples out for his ascension, he stayed with them for forty days. Then, in the beginning of Acts 2, we are given the account of the Disciples receiving the holy spirit, which comes on the day of the Pentecost – 10 days after Jesus ascended to heaven (Pentecost is always celebrated 50 days after Passover).
Before we read Matthew’s account, remember: according to Luke, Jesus appears to the Disciples for the first time in Jerusalem, they are told to stay there until the Pentecost, and after staying with them for forty days, Jesus ascends just outside Jerusalem and the Disciples continue to stay in the city until they receive the holy spirit.
- After going to the tomb, an angel appears to the women and tells them to tell the disciples: “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (1-7)
- On their way to tell the disciples, Jesus appears to the women and also instructs them to tell the Disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see him. (8-10)
- The guards of the tomb are bribed to say that Jesus’ body was stolen. (11-15)
- The eleven Disciples go to a mountain in Galilee, where they see him and worship him, but some doubted. The end. (16-20)
“Oh please…Matthew just didn’t mention the other angel. He doesn’t deny that there was a second one.”
This reasoning is just silly. Both gospels also don’t explicitly deny an infinite number of other things you could come up with. If Matthew believed there were actually two angels present, why wouldn’t he say so? The way he tells the story is exactly what you’d expect if he only believed there to be only one angel. And without reading the other gospels, you would be left believing there was only one. The claim that it was two angels is one that neither gospels makes.
Now for the more fundamental problem: did Jesus appear to the Disciples for the first time in Jerusalem as Luke says, or on a mountain in Galilee as Matthew says? Without reading the accounts in detail, the common attempt to reconcile this is to say that the Disciples first went to Galilee as instructed and then back to Jerusalem where Jesus appeared to them for a second time. After all, Matthew ends his narrative in Galilee, leaving the reader to fill in the gap of what happened afterwords. The problem with this reasoning however is that in Luke, Jesus’ appearance before the Disciples in Jerusalem is clearly the first time they see him: they were “startled,” and Jesus showed them his wounds. And if you go back and look, the author never even mentions a trip to Galilee! The only thing the author has the angels say about Galilee is that the Disciples should remember what Jesus told them “while he was still with you in Galilee,” not that they must go there to see him like in Matthew.
“Ok…then Jesus first appeared to them in Jerusalem and then went to Galilee. After all, Acts does say that Jesus was with them for 40 days. Why couldn’t they have gone to Galilee during this period of time?”
If you don’t already know the answer to this question, quickly scroll back up and re-read my summary of Luke’s account starting at number six. Even if we forget the fact that in Matthew there is no appearance in Jerusalem, and therefore we are left with the safe assumption that the Disciples immediately go to Galilee to see him for the first time, there is another reason why these two accounts cannot be splashed together: In Luke, Jesus tells the Disciples during his first appearance that they must stay in Jerusalem until they receive the holy spirit, which doesn’t come until the day of the Pentecost – 10 days after Jesus ascends to heaven. How on earth could they have met up with Jesus in Galilee?
This is worth recapping one final time: in Matthew’s account the disciples are instructed to leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee, where they’ll meet up with Jesus for the first time since his resurrection. They do so, and meet him there, where he gives his final instructions to them. In Luke’s account, they are instructed – quite explicitly – not to leave Jerusalem until they “receive the power from on high” (i.e. the Holy Spirit, who was to come to them 50 days later on the Day of the Pentecost, in Acts 2). And so, they only go “as far as” Bethany where Jesus then gives them his final instructions before ascending into heaven.
And so the contradiction remains: did the Disciples go to Galilee and see Jesus on a mountain for the first time as instructed in Matthew? Or did they see him for the first time in Jerusalem and stay in the city the whole time as instructed in Luke? You cannot have it both ways.