A Chronological Sequence of the Resurrection Appearances

This Blog post is a follow-up from yesterday’s blog.

When we encounter the resurrection accounts in the New Testament we face a challenge  in putting all the pieces together in a way that the sequence of the events flow in logical order. This is due to the fact that no one Gospel presents all, or even most of the data. Some of the data also seems to conflict. I tried to show in yesterday’s blog that these apparent conflicts are not true conflicts. Another problem with putting all the facts together in a coherent and reasonably complete manner is that the time line of the events is often unclear in some of the accounts. Luke and John are the clearest as to the time frame of the events they describe but Matthew and Luke given us very few parameters. Both Acts and Paul also supply data wherein the time frame is not always clear.

Nevertheless I want to propose to you a possible, even likely, sequence of the Resurrection events. The work is my own and I make no claim that this scenario is certain or backed up by recognized ancient authority. It is simply the fruit of 20+ years of praying over and pondering the events of those forty days between the Lord’s resurrection and ascension. My reflections are based as solidly as possible on the actual biblical data with a small sprinkling of speculation. I realize that my attempt to do this will irritate some modern biblical scholars who, for reasons unclear to me, seem to insist it is wrong to attempt any synthesis of the texts. Nevertheless I boldly press on figuring that the average believer will benefit from it and find such a synthesis interesting. Take it for what it is, the work of an obscure pastor who has prayed and carefully sought to follow the sequence of the forty days. You may wish to offer correction or alternative interpretation and are encouraged to do so in the comments. I have posted a PDF of this Document that is easier to read here: Resurrection Chronological Sequence

  • I. The Morning of Day One
    • A. Very early in the morning a group of several women, including Mary Magdalene, approach the tomb to complete burial customs on behalf of Jesus (Matt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Jn 20:1).
    • B. They behold the tomb opened and are alarmed.
    • C. Mary Magdalene runs to Peter and John with distressing news of likely grave robbers (John 20:2)
    • D. The women who remain encounter an angel who declared to them that Jesus had risen and that they should tell this to the brethren (Mk 16:5; Lk 24:4; Matt 28:5).
    • E. They are filled with fear at first and depart from the tomb afraid to speak (Mk 16:8)
    • F. Recovering their courage they decide to go to the Apostles. (Luke 24:9; Matt 28:8)
    • G. Meanwhile Peter and John have gone out to the tomb to investigate Mary’s claim. Mary Magdalene followed them back out to the tomb arriving before they left. Peter and  John discover the tomb empty though they encounter no angel. John believes in the resurrection. Peter’s conclusion is not recorded.
    • H. The other women have reported what the angels say to the Apostles. Peter and John have not yet returned and these remaining apostles  are dismissive of the women’s story at first (Lk 24:9-11). 
    • I. Mary, lingering at the tomb weeps and is fearful. Peering into the tomb she sees this time two angels who wonder why she weeps. Jesus then approaches her from behind. Not looking directly at Jesus, she supposes him to be the gardener. Then he calls her by name, and Mary, recognizing his voice, turns and sees him. Filled with joy she clings to him. (APPEARANCE 1) (Jn 20:16)
    • J. Jesus sends her back to the apostles with the news to prepare them for his appearance later that day. (Jn 20:17)
    • K. The other women have departed the apostles and are on their way possibly back home. Jesus then appears to them (Mat 28:9) after he had dispatched Mary. He also sends them back to the apostles  with the news that he had risen and that he would see them. (APPEARANCE 2)
  • II. The Afternoon and evening of day one.
    • A. Later that Day, two disciples on their way to Emmaus are pondering what they have heard about rumors of his resurrection. Jesus comes up behind them but they are prevented from recognizing him. First Jesus breaks open the word for them, then sits at table with them and celebrates the Eucharist whereupon their eyes are opened and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. (APPEARANCE 3) (Luke 24:13-30)
    • B. The two disciples returned that evening to Jerusalem and went to the Eleven. At first the eleven disbelieved them just as they had the women (Mk 16:13). Nevertheless they continue to relate what they had experienced. At some point Peter drew apart from the others (perhaps for a walk?) And the Lord appeared to Peter (APPEARANCE 4)(Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5) who informed the other ten who then believed. Thus the disciples from Emmaus (still lingering with the apostles) were now told (perhaps by way of apology) that it was in indeed true that Jesus had risen (Lk 24:34).
    • C. Almost at the same moment Jesus appears to the small gathering of apostles and the two disciples from Emmaus. (APPEARANCE 5)  Thomas was absent (although the Lucan text describes the appearance as to “the eleven” this is probably just a euphemism for “the apostles” as a group)  They are startled but Jesus reassures them and opens the scriptures to them (Lk 24:36ff).
    • D. There is some debate as to whether he appeared to them a second time that night. The Johannine account has significantly different data about the appearance on the first Sunday evening from the Lucan account. Is it merely different data about the same account or is it a wholly separate appearance? It is not possible to say. Nevertheless since the data is so different we can call it (APPEARANCE 6) (John 20:19ff) though it is likely synonymous with appearance 5.
  • III. Interlude –
    • A. There is no biblical data that Jesus appeared to them during the week that followed. The next account of the resurrection says, “Eight days later” namely the following Sunday.
    • B. We do know that the apostles surely exclaimed to Thomas that they had seen the Lord but he refused to believe it. (Jn 20:24-26)
    • C. Were the apostles nervous that Jesus had not appeared again each day? Again we do not know, the data is simply silent as to what happened during this interlude.
  • IV. One week later, Sunday two.
    • A. Jesus appears once again (APPEARANCE 7) to the apostles gathered. This time Thomas is with them. He calls Thomas to faith who now confesses Jesus to be Lord and God. (John 20:24-29)
  • V. Interlude 2
    • A. The apostles received some instructions to return to Galilee (Mat 28:10; Mk 16:7) where they would see Jesus. Thus they spent some of the week journeying 60 miles to the north. This would have taken some time. We can imagine them making the trek north during the intervening days.
  • VI. Some time later –
    • A.  The time frame of the next appearance is somewhat vague. John merely says “After this.” Likely it is a matter of days or a week at best. The scene is at the Sea of Galilee. Not all the Twelve are present. They have gone fishing and Jesus summons them from the lakeside. They come to shore and see him (APPEARANCE 8 )  . Peter has a poignant discussion with Jesus in this appearance and is commissioned to tend the flock of Christ (John 21).
    • B. The Appearance to the 500. Of all the appearances you might think that this one would have been recorded in some detail since it was the most widely experienced appearance. Many accounts it seems would have existed and at least one would have made its way into the scriptures. Yet there is no account of it other than it did in fact happen. Paul records the fact of this appearance: 1Corinithians 15:6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (APPEARANCE 9) Where did this take place. What was it like. What was the reaction? We simply do not know. Proof once again that the Bible is not a history book in the conventional sense. Rather it is a highly selective telling of what took place, not a complete account.   The Bible makes no pretenses to be something it is not. It is quite clear that it is a selective book: (John 20:30).
    • C. The Appearance to James.  Here again we do not have a description of this appearance only a remark by Paul that it did in fact happen: 1Cor 15:7  Then he appeared to James. (APPEARANCE 10)  The time frame is not clear. Only that it happened after the appearance to the five hundred and before the final appearance to the apostles.
  • VII. The rest of the forty days.
    • A. Jesus certainly had other on-going appearances with the disciples. Luke attests to this in Acts when he writes: Acts 1: 3  To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. 
    • B. During this time there is perhaps the one appearance we can attribute to this time period as recorded by Matthew (28:16ff) and Mark (16:14ff). It takes place an “a mountaintop in Galilee.” Mark adds that they were reclining at table. For these notes this appearance (time frame uncertain) is referred to as  (APPEARANCE 11) It is here that he give the great commission. Although Mark’s text may seem to imply that Jesus was taken up from this mountain, such a conclusion is rash since Mark only indicates that Jesus ascended only “after he had spoken to them” (Mk 16:19).
    •  Evidently Jesus had also summoned them back to Jerusalem at least toward the end of the period of the forty days. There they would be present for the feast of Pentecost. We can imagine frequent appearances with on-going instruction for Luke records that Jesus “stayed with them.” Most of these appearances and discourses are not recorded. Luke writes in Acts: And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4)
  • VIII. The final appearance and ascension:
    • A. After forty days of appearances and instructions we have a final account of the last appearance  (APPEARANCE 12)  wherein he led them out to a place near Bethany, gave them final instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was sent. And then he was taken up to heaven in their very sight. (Luke 24:50-53;  Acts 1).

So here is a possible and, if I do say so myself, likely chronological sequence of the resurrection appearances. It is a kind of synthesis that attempts to collect all the data and present it in a logical order. There are limits to what we can expect of the Scriptural account, and fitting perfectly into a time frame and logical sequence is not what the texts primarily propose to do. Yet such a chronological sequence can prove helpful and it is in that spirit that I present this.

This video is a collection of the Johannine appearances that I stitched together and set to the Music of Mozart’s Regina Caeli.

23 Replies to “A Chronological Sequence of the Resurrection Appearances”

  1. This is really fantastic. No wonder it has taken you 20 years to do. Seems to me that it would more than satisfy almost everyone except the theologians and skeptics. Your blog is the one I look for daily. Missed you last week. Perhaps New Advent could put your name in the little summary. Generally look for a catchy phrase. Your blogs have been a terrific evangelizing tool for me.
    God Bless you.

  2. Thank you very much. The timeline is very informative & seems right, and the wee video clip makes a great Eastertide meditation. A good reconstruction of why Mary Magdalen didn’t recognise Him!

    1. Thanks The time line especially the first few hours is hard to make work perfectly but It’s about the best I can do. I agree the video reconstructs well a possible scenario of the non-recognition

  3. In Hebrew numerology, 40 means sufficient time. Is the 40 days in this account not literal too?

  4. I feel people place too much significance on the material resurrection of Christ’s physical body. I was 22 yrs old in 1973 when I sat to attempt meditation for the first time and prayed as though Jesus were present to hear my mental conversation to seek God’s intercession concerning a situation involving a girl who had moved away and was sending me letters which only created separation anxiety for someone who’s life was somewhere else and moving in new circles. In that meditation I experienced a transcendtal metaphysical experience that went through several stages withdrawing from phycial sensations with an experience akin to what the disciples described as tongues of fire descending upon them which led to a level of intuitive revelation in a suspension of florescent luminescent white light without any physical body sensation . It was there an intuitive Wisdom revealed a series of situations that had happened when I was five and had totally forgottent for sixteen years. It was a recollection of events, of which my kindergarden teacher had related was possibly my guardian angel, which she said might sometimes talk to us, when she was exlaining a story she had read from the Bilbe about an angel appearing to a man and telling him what God wanted him to do. When she told us this, it struck home with me and led to an encounter with the voice that had spoken to me on two previous occasions, at which on the third and final encounter some time after my teacher’s explaination of the story, I attempted to talk to. What was revealed from the meditational experience at 22 years of age was that my mother who had died when I was 15 months old, had been staying around our family watching over us for some four years after her death. I, not rembering anything about her began to ask my older siblings about what she was like as I became more curious around the age of five.The third time I heard the voice some time after our teacher’s explaination, it pleaded in a sorrowful voice “Oh Bobby please help me.” when I attempted to talk to it by responding, “I’ll help you guardian angel. Where are you?'” the vioce called out my name “Oh Bobby!, Oh Bobby!” and faded away. I went and asked my older brother who was nine, if his guardian angel ever talked to him. When I explained to him she had just spoken to me in the front yard, my brother became very angry and said, “You’re always asking about Momma and we don’t like talking about her. If you don’t stop, I’m going to run away and never come back.” That literally sent terror to my core and I never asked about my mother again. In the revelation at 22 years of age while mediating, it became clear that the voice was that of my mother and the emotional attachment and separation I was not able to feel for her since I never remembered my mother, was enough in my siblings that for a brief period, she was able to speak to me and I could hear her, but was bewildered by the first two encounters and never attempted to speak back because I could not see her. I also realized that when I stopped asking my sibling about my mother, I never heard the voice again.The point I make is this. Christ rose from the dead and appeared to those most close and loving to him. I personally could care less if His physical body rose up, or the Romans made off with it in an attempt to prevent His followers from making a shrine out of His corpse or grave, not unlike some religions I know. The point is He overcame death and appeared to his bretheran and apostles, those most close and loving to and of Him. My mother was able to speak and be present when she had been buried for four years in a grave 182 miles away and Christ was able to reveal all this to me while I pleaded with Him one evening while mediating for the first time over the loss of a relationship with someone I felt a strong attachment to but was caught in a hopeless situation trying to deal with separation anxieties through letters when our lives had become involved in separate places and people. Christ didn’t need His old physical body to appear and speak and comfort his most cherished followers, and He surely didn’t ascend into heaven on the fortieth day in a flesh corpse. The Light shines among the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

    1. Robert,
      Your position seems to depart from the Dogma of the resurrection. As Catholics we must affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the self-same body that arose, though truly transformed it was also truly his body for he shows his wounds. The risen body has continuity with the resurrected body, it is the same body. I will not not doubt your personal experiences with prayer except to say that we must always square what ever personal expereinces and reveleation we have with the revealed truth taught by the Church ans the scriptures that came forth from her.

      1. All due sincere respect, I don’t see your point. I don’t feel less Catholic inspite of that. I’m open to clarification. It all seems a matter of semantics and splitting hairs.

      2. With sincere due respect, I don’t feel any less Catholic. I’m open to clarification but it all seems a matter of semantics and splitting hairs. Somewhere back while driving down the highway of life, my karma ran over my dogma and beliefs became experiential truth. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not yet seen.I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I die daily.

      3. Robert,

        The bodily resurrection of Jesus is not “splitting hairs” it is the essential point of the most central dogma of the Chirstian faith. Everything else flows from it. Now resurrection of course pertains to the body since the soul is immortal. Hence there is no resurrection other than bodily (or as you say, material) resurrection for it is the body that is cast down adn rises again. One day too our bodies will rise in the general resurrection of the dead. Now since resurrection pertains to the body, then to say that people place too much emphasis on the material (bodily) resurrection of Chirst is to say that they place too much emphasis on the resurrection. But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is that on which all else depends as Paul says:

        But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15 13-20)

        Hence we are not dealing with semanitcs but rather the central claim of the Christian faith upon which all else depends, the sine qua non.

  5. forgive me Msgr however, I believe the entire point of Robert’s message lies in the truth of Our Lord’s guidance toward His truth which clearly made a most blessed impression upon him. He does live and the actual format He exists in or presented Himself to the Apostle’s and multitude’s in is truly not of importance. What is of importance is that He lives! We sometimes can get overly obsessed w/detail which rob the Truth of its miraculous reality. We cannot deem to understand every minute detail. We can however, rejoice in His Omnipotence knowing that 2000+ yrs after His resurrection, He Lives and is there for all who believe in His truth; even in this most turmultuous time. In Faithful prayer, anyone can be guided sharing in the miracle of His resurrection daily. I also have found that once you have heard His voice or seen His Will, the actual format or how’s and why’s aren’t a factor. It is through Faith that we rejoice in His Truth and bare witness to His Omnipotent Wisdom. I am grateful that you have responded to Robert’s message w/only concern for the Church’s doctrine and not judgement for his prayerful experience. God Bless you Msgr as you guide us along the path of Faith…

  6. I really enjoyed your article…but there is a idea forming in the minds of the members in our Bible Study. that maybe you can answer or give some clarification.

    During these 12 appearances how many times did JESUS enter into heaven before the ‘Ascension’ recorded in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1?

  7. Sheen makes a point of saying Christ appeared to Peter before Emmaus. This he said was evident from the fact that later on the disciples would say He appeared to Peter(Lk24:34) (as well as the more convincing events of Emmaus), so this assumes it must have happened first; it was prior knowledge.

    1. Certainly possible. I place it afterward only because Mark indicates that the Disciples from Emmaus were first disbelieved. Luke does not mention this but cuts right to the announcement that He was truly since since he had appeared to Peter. So, in trying to stitch the accounts together, I presume as I say that Peter slipped away perhaps for a walk after the report from the Emmaus disciples. Peter then saw the risen Lord and returns with the news. Anyway, there is a speculative dimension to all this and I would surely be open to a correction from the great Archbishop Sheen. Is there a place where he sets forth his chronology. I seem to recall reading a book called the The Life of Chirst. Perhaps it is there?

      1. Yes Father, it was the “Life of Christ”. I just finished it today. He didn’t lay out the whole chronology, but he mentions the ordering for those two specific events in Chapter 54[The Earths Most Serious Wound-An Empty Tomb] The page number is probably formatting dependent, but it was 405 in my edition.

  8. Thank you Monsignor. This was an absolutely wonderful thing you did here. It will be a help in meditating on the forty days after our Lord’s resurection. And thank you on the clarification on the “Resurection of the Body” It IS our belief and we say so every time we say the Credo.

  9. This blog was just revealed to me through a wonderful eParish to which I am joyfully subscribed. One body, many parts, we are all called to Christ to prophesy and be good examples. Certainly no shortage on this blogsite. Yours in Christ Msr…vivat Jesus!

  10. Monsignor,
    thank you for confirming the Church’s teaching. Many of us have insights, revelations and powerful experiences showing God’s great love and filling our souls with His communications. Always, these extraodinary
    events must be measured by the Gospel teachings of the Church, otherwise we may each come to our own conclusions and become a “divided house”.

  11. I have seen it written that Peter, being the one given the keys to the Kingdom, would naturally, be the one to first see Jesus after His Mother.

  12. I find this very interesting and has me pondering,and am eager to read more of Chronological Sequence of the Resurrection. It commendable that the time was taken to research and put this together.

  13. Msgr. Pope,

    I was working out my chronology based on the Gospels, and as it turns out, it’s almost identical to yours! Clearly you must be on to something! :_)

    God bless.

  14. This is a good review. However, I have a shocking sequence. Both Matt and Mark end with the angel saying, “You’ll see him in Galilee as he said.” Also after going to the tomb in John and Luke, it says “They went home.” Home is Galilee. So the apostles go home to Galilee. Then comes the great catch of fish at the end of John which Luke retrojected in his gospel. That’s why in Luke Peter says, “Lord” and “Depart from me I am a sinful man” after his denials.

    Also, on the road to Emmaus (going home like the apostles) Jesus wants to go farther (to Galilee). Thomas was part of John’s fishing story’s crew. So he wasn’t there the first Sunday (as the other apostles weren’t there). Then Jesus says, “Stay in Jersualem,” unlike before when you went to Galilee.

  15. What about the soldiers? What is the sequence with them? In Matthew it appears as if the women are there along with the soldiers when the angel appears, and they see the stone rolled away. Then the angel invites them in to see the empty tomb.

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