A lot happened on that first Easter Sunday morning. Unfortunately, it takes a ton of spade work in Bible study in order to piece together a chronological list of it all. So, I thought it would be helpful if I devoted a blog post to providing such a list. Here we go.
#1: Jesus resurrects.
#2: Just before dawn on Sunday morning, an angel descends from heaven, causing a great earthquake at Christ’s tomb, and rolls the massive circular stone away from the entrance to the cave-like tomb. The angel’s face shines like lightning and his clothes are as white as snow. After rolling the stone away, the angel then takes a seat on the stone. The whole event causes the Roman guards who are guarding the tomb to faint from fear. (Matthew 28:2-4)
#3: Since the Jewish Sabbath has ended at sundown on Saturday afternoon, sometime around dawn on Sunday morning a group of women make their way out to the tomb. They have prepared spices for Christ’s corpse in order to further anoint it for proper burial. The group consists of Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, Mary (the mother of the apostle known as James the Less), and other unnamed women. Their great worry that morning is how they will roll the massive stone away from the entrance to the tomb in order to go inside the tomb and perform the anointing. They have no way of knowing that the angel has already rolled the stone away. (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1,10; John 20:1)
#4: Arriving at the tomb, the women find that the stone has been removed from the tomb’s entrance. As for the Roman guards, they have recovered from their fainting and have fled the scene to report to the Jewish chief priests. (Matthew 28:11-15; Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1)
#5: While the rest of the women proceed on toward the tomb, Mary Magdalene dispatches herself to find Peter and John and tell them that Christ’s body has either been relocated or stolen. She finds them and says to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter and John then immediately race out together toward the tomb. (John 20:1-3)
#6: Meanwhile, back at the tomb site, after Mary Magdalene leaves the group to find Peter and John, the rest of the women continue on toward the tomb and actually go inside it to investigate. Once inside, they see two angels who have the appearance of young men dressed in shining garments (long white robes). Presumably, one of angels is the same one who rolled the stone away and terrified the Roman guards. By now, however, he has taken upon himself the appearance of a young man in order not to frighten the women into fainting the way the Roman guards had done. Nevertheless, a wave of fear comes over the women and they bow their faces to the ground. To ease their fears, one of angels says to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:4-7)
#7: The women immediately leave the site in order to do what the angel has told them to do, and not long afterward Peter and John get there. John, having outrun Peter and arrived there first, cautiously stops at the tomb’s entrance and peers inside. He doesn’t go in, but he does see two linen cloths (Christ’s burial cloths) lying in one part of the tomb. He also sees the cloth that had been wrapped around Christ’s head to cover His face. That cloth is neatly folded and lying in another part of the tomb. When Peter arrives at the entrance both men step inside the tomb. After having become eyewitnesses to the emptiness of the tomb, the two men return to their dwelling places. At this point, John believes that Jesus has risen from the dead, but evidently Peter is still trying to figure out just exactly what has happened (John 20:4-10).
#8: Sometime after Peter and John’s departure from the tomb, Mary Magdalene, having been left behind by John and Peter’s running, returns to the site herself. She still doesn’t know what has happened to Christ’s body and so she stands at the tomb’s entrance crying and peering inside it. In there she sees two angels clothed in white (obviously the same two the group of women had seen earlier). One of the angels is positioned where Christ’s head had lain, and the other one is positioned where His feet had lain. The angels ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She answers, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Then she turns around and sees Jesus standing not far from her. But she doesn’t recognize Him even when He asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Assuming Him to be the gardener/groundskeeper, she says, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” At that point, Jesus says to her, “Mary!” and she realizes who He is. She says, “Rabboni” (“Teacher”), and in response Jesus says, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'” These words may or may not mean that Mary actually touched Jesus at that time (as in clinging to Him tightly in order to not be separated from Him again). Whatever the exact details were, Mary becomes the first person to literally see the resurrected Jesus. She then leaves the tomb site in order to go tell the other disciples (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-17).
#9: Following His appearance to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears to the group of women of whom she was originally a member. These were the women who came to the tomb, found it empty, went inside it, saw the two angels, and were told by one of the angels to go and report to the disciples. The women are making their way to carry out that assignment when suddenly Jesus appears to them. He says to them, “Rejoice!” to which they respond by falling at His feet, grabbing hold of His feet, and worshiping Him. Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Different theories have been offered for why Jesus allowed these women to grab hold of His feet after He had just told Mary Magdalene to stop clinging to Him. For example, it’s possible that whereas Mary Magdalene was refusing to let Him go, thus keeping Him from His plans that morning, these other women weren’t preventing Him from leaving them if He wanted to do so.
#10: The resurrected Jesus appears to Peter at some unnamed point and time. While there is no mention of this appearance in any of the gospel accounts, 1 Corinthians 15:5 teaches that Jesus was seen by Cephas (Peter) prior to Him being seen by the rest of the disciples. And since John 20:19-23 records the story of Jesus appearing to the other apostles on the Sunday evening of His resurrection day, it stands to reason that the personal appearance to Peter took place either sometime that Sunday morning or at the latest sometime early that Sunday afternoon. Most commentators place the appearance on Sunday morning sometime after Christ’s appearance to the group of women.
Well, as you can see, that first Easter morning was certainly a busy one. Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t get so bogged down in all the minutia of details that you miss the main event: JESUS AROSE!!! Christians, we serve a RISEN Savior, and one day we too will get to see Him face to face in all His resurrected, glorified grandeur. I myself am looking forward to that day and I trust that you are as well.