EASTER SUNDAY: Putting the Easter Sunday Puzzle Together

Dr. Jerry A. Collins


The Bible specifically says that on Easter Sunday Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, the women that came to Jesus tomb (Mary the Mother of James, Salome, and Joanna…), Peter, and two disciples on the Emmaus road. He then appeared to the remainder of the Twelve Disciples with Thomas absent.


The Bible also says that Jesus made a number of post resurrection appearances to a number of people over a forty-day period. Later, he appeared to the disciples with Thomas present. There was an appearance to seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee. On another occasion he appeared to over five hundred people at the same time. There is also an appearance to James. Finally, Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus - the man who became the Apostle Paul. These appearances convinced His disciples, beyond any doubt, that He had risen from the dead.


The main reason the disciples believed in the resurrection of Jesus is that they saw Him alive after He was dead. Thus we see them testifying, time and time again, to the fact they were eyewitnesses of His resurrection. This firsthand evidence of the disciples is a powerful argument for the resurrection of Christ. The disciples knew that He had risen because they saw Him after His resurrection with their own eyes. This eyewitness testimony began with four appearances on Easter Sunday morning.


On that Easter Sunday morning, many women were eyewitnesses to the empty tomb as evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles (Luke 24:10).


PT—It can sometimes be difficult to remember or even sort through who all of these women were. It doesn’t help that four of them (!) have them name Mary (Μαρία), and two of the Mary’s have sons with the same names (James and Joseph/Joses). This illustrates the commonality of certain names in first-century Galilee. The name Mary, in particular, was exceedingly common in first-century Palestine, hence the need to distinguish them by way of their hometown (Mary Magdalene) or in association with their husband (Mary of Clopas) or sons (Mary mother of James and Joses).


·         Mary Magdalene

She was a Galilean, probably from the town of Magdala (on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee).

Jesus delivered her from seven demons (Luke 8:2Mark 16:9).

She became a follower of Jesus (Matt. 27:57).

She was a witness to the crucifixion and burial (Matt. 27:61; 28:1Mark 15:40, 47John 19:25).

She was among the women who went to the tomb on Sunday (Mark 16:1John 20:1).

She was the first person to see Jesus alive (Mark 16:9). Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.

She told the other disciples about his resurrection (Luke 24:10John 20:18).


·         Joanna (wife of Chuza)

She was among the first women to discover the empty tomb (Luke 24:10)

Her husband was Chuza, the household manager or steward of King Herod Antipas (Luke 8:3).

She was a follower of Jesus and helped to provide financially for Jesus’s ministry, along with Susanna and many others (Luke 8:3). And Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.


·         Mary (mother of James and Joses/Joseph)

She was a witness of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection appearances.

Her sons were named James the Younger (hence her husband must have been named James) and Joses/Joseph (Matthew 27:61 and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave; 27:56Mark 15:40, 47).


also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. Possibly refer to:


·         Mary (wife of Clopas)

She was a Galilean witness of Jesus’s crucifixion.

In John 19:25, but standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. It seems most likely that the grammar indicates “his mother’s sister” = “Mary the wife of Clopas,” rather than two separate women being referenced (“his mother’s sister” + “Mary the wife of Clopas”). According to Hegesippus, as quoted by the historian Eusebius, her husband Clopas was the brother of Joseph of Nazareth (Hist. Eccl.3.11; 3.32.6; 4.22.4). If so, Jesus was Mary and Clopas’s nephew.


·         Salome (mother of James and John)

She was one of Jesus’s followers in Galilee.

She witnessed the crucifixion and went to the tomb on Sunday (Mark 15:40; 16:1). There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.

She is likely the mother of the sons of Zebedee (i.e., James and John).


·         Mary (mother of Jesus, widow of Joseph of Nazareth)

She gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, and eventually moved to Nazareth where they raised him.

She was also present at Jesus’s execution and burial.

From the cross Jesus entrusted his (apparently) widowed mother to John’s care, and she went to live in his home (John 19:25-27)—perhaps because Mary’s other sons were not yet believers (John 7:5; For not even His brothers were believing in Him… see also Matthew 13:57; Mark 3:21, 31; 6:4). When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

Mary had at least six other children (Matt. 13:55Mark 6:2-3Acts 1:141 Cor. 9:4-5Gal. 1:19), including four sons—James (author of the biblical book of James), Joseph/Joses, Simon, Judas/Jude (author of the biblical book of Jude)—and least two daughters (Mark 6:3).



First, notice all that happened at the tomb on Sunday morning before Mary Magdalene became the first person to actually see Jesus. The group of women (Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women) were the first inside the tomb but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus (Luke 24:3). They were also the first to receive revelation from God through angels why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again v 5-7. The point the angels made was that one should take Jesus words of prophesy literally as actually describing what will literally happen in the real world. This is heavenly testimony and confirmation of the earthly physical bodily resurrection. Don’t doubt or paraphrase the word of God.


Second, the women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them [the apostles] as nonsense, and they would not believe them v 10-11. What a huge difference between the apostles here and any time after Acts 2 when they (a) witnessed the resurrected Christ and could trust that evidence as a basis for their faith [notice in verse 12 how they marvel at what they see, their faith began with the evidence.] But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened, and (b) their faith and courage changed when they were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

NB: A literal resurrection is the basis of Christianity. Without a resurrection there is no Christianity. The OT and NT validate the necessity of the resurrection in order to have an eternal hope.


The first Easter Sunday Appearance of Jesus was to Mary Magdalene.

Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him, 'Rabboni!' (which is to say, Teacher) (John 20:14-16).

This appearance was totally unexpected.


It was totally unexpected due to the prevention against the resurrection

·         Once entombed extraordinary procedures were undertaken to make certain the body could not be moved or stolen and they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone (Matt 27:62-66).

·         To safeguard the Romans and Jews interests a massive stone rolled front of it placing an official seal on it and securing a Roman guard next to the tomb. The outcome made it …


Impossible to steal the body. Give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead… (Matthew 27:64).

Stone prevented deception. Seal prevented tampering. Guard prevented removal. And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone (Matthew 27:66). Everything that could humanly be done to prevent a hoax of some kind was done.


However, on that Easter morning the first thing that impressed people who approached the tomb was the unusual position of the stone that had been lodged in front of doorway. Every gospel writer mentions it. Who would have moved this stone? Enemies would not since they sealed it to ensure no removal. Disciples did not since it was guarded. Women did not since they were hoping it could be removed Mark 16:3.

·         It’s described as having been taken away from the tomb. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb (John 20:1).

·         The stone was removed and lifted away from the tomb. It was in such a position that it looked as if it had been picked up and carried away. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large (Mark 16:2-4).

·         It’s described as having been rolled away from the tomb (Mt 28:2; Mk 16:4; Lk 24:2). A severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.

PT—It was not removed so Christ could get out since He could pass through walls, but so that witnesses could get in and view the remainder of the evidence.


Mary was shocked when she saw the empty tomb 

This is Mary Magdalene whose devotion to Jesus, living or dead, was based on her gratitude for His delivering her from demonic possession. Mary, along with a group of women saw that the stone had been rolled away. Her immediate reaction was that thieves or the Jews had stolen the body. She ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him" (John 20:2). Obviously, whatever happened, it was unexpected. Mary and the women expected to come to a closed tomb even though it was the third day, the day Jesus had many times explained that He would raise from the dead.


The Second Easter Sunday Appearance of Jesus was to Peter

Peter is the first person mentioned in Paul's list of witnesses, and is the first of the apostles to see the risen Christ. And that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:4-5). This seems to be a private appearance to reassure him, since he had just denied his Lord. The gospels are completely silent as to the details of this meeting. Luke merely wrote: The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon! (Luke 24:34).


Peter was puzzled when he saw the empty tomb

While the others dismissed the report of the women, Peter got up and ran to the tomb. John beat Peter and stooped to peer into the tomb. But when Peter arrived he went straight in and ‘looked attentively at the grave clothes and the separate burial cloth. Peter is trying to figure it out. First, he observes the linen wrappings lying undisturbed. Second, he noticed the face napkin rolled up separately. This obviously would raise questions about the implications of an empty tomb.

PT—When God is at work it may be confusing and puzzling. He rarely works things out the way we think He should. He rarely works in ways we can figure out.


The Third Easter Sunday Appearance of Jesus was the Two Disciples On the Emmaus Road

Later on Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were conversing with each other about all these things which had taken place. And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus himself approached, and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him (Luke 24:13-16).

As was true with the women, these two disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise. In fact, they were leaving Jerusalem because they had lost hope in Him.


Jesus appeared to two of His disciples. One is named Cleopas (verse 18), the other may have been his

wife (since Mary the wife of Cleopas is among the women at the cross – John 19:25). Jesus approached

them but their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him v 16. Cleopas revealed 3 things about the trial and crucifixion:

1. Everyone in Jerusalem knew about Jesus and His crucifixion, that it was a public objectively verifiable event v 18-20.

2. Jesus’s followers were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. That is, they saw Him as starting the kingdom, they had no expectation of the church age v 21.

3. They had researched and confirmed that the tomb was empty v 22-23. There are also three miracles here. (1) When their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him v 16; (2) When then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him v 31 and (3) When He vanished from their sight v 31.

NB: So Christianity is based both in the historically observable as well as the supernatural which was also historically verifiable. Christianity has a supernatural basis that is grounded in historically observable evidence. So we can expect Jesus supernatural return to earth to reign 1000 years. 


The only instruction Jesus gives the two on the road is in v 25-26. The statement is a reprimand for not believing the Old Testament scripture and taking their fulfillment literally (such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22). After Jesus disappeared they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” v 33-35. This is the only place this is mentioned in the gospels but Paul referred to it in 1 Corinthians 15:5.


So What?

Don’t try to understand what God has not said. Luke told us that on the road to Emmaus Jesus explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures, but Luke does not tell us what those things were. So apparently we don’t need to know. Therefore, we should not guess. Types of Christ are only certain when identified as such.

The resurrection is not a myth but an historical observable evidential reality. The Word of God is to be understood from an historical grammatical view of reality. Our faith is rooted in observable evidence not mythical figures of fictitious nature. These are real people experiencing real situations grounded in real history conveyed in grammatical nature.


The Fourth Easter Sunday Appearance of Jesus was to the Disciples - Thomas Absent

This is the last of the five appearances of Jesus on Easter Sunday. It took place in the evening, probably in the upper room in which Jesus had instituted the Lord's Supper. It is recorded in both Luke's and John's gospel, giving us two independent accounts as to what happened.

John wrote:

When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. . . But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came (John 20:19, 20, 24).


Verse 19—The disciples were in a secret room, hiding from the Jews, and Jesus stood in their midst (with the doors shut) and said, “Peace be with you.”

NB: Peace is certainly what they needed. Peace of mind and thought as they were still grappling with the idea of Jesus resurrection. Luke wants us to see that they are still adjusting to the reality of the resurrection. Luke will stress the appearance of the physical features of Christ in order to provide witness that the resurrection is indeed a real event.

Verse 20—Jesus showed the disciples the wounds in His hands and His side, the scars of His suffering. He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 

So in addition to their eyes they are to use their sense of touch. They are to handle Jesus. Interesting that the Evangelists go out of their way to authenticate the actual, literal, and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. The record is consistent throughout Acts and the Epistles. John even writes nearly 40 years later in 1 John 1:1 what was from the beginning what we (apostles) have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life.

Verse 21He told them, Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you (disciples are followers, apostles are sent ones). In Luke 24:41-43 Jesus asked have you anything here to eat?" They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them. Here Jesus removes all doubt amongst them and frees them from their sense of terror. A meal shows that it is not a phantom but a real person, resurrected, and able to eat. All along Jesus works to convince them and persuade them and remove their anxiety. And he took it ate it in front of them. [So the empirical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection is stated very simply: He appears to them, speaks with them, and eats before them. Truly he is raised from the dead. Jesus enjoyed a meal in front of the disciples; he really is in their midst.

Verses 22-23—He breathed on them, and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. It was a special empowering of the Holy Spirit to begin the church. They have the power to forgive sins. So wherever the Gospel was taken, that’s where the Gospel will go. This authority to forgive sins—it is not in the Bible that this authority passed down to anyone else (priests or popes). The apostles do not make a case for it. It was unique to the apostles to start the church.

Verses 24-26—We learn that Thomas wasn’t there. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. Evidently the disciples told him they had seen the scars. He said he would not believe unless he also saw the scars.


Lessons from the Resurrection Puzzle

·         If you were going to make up a story but wanted to make it credible, you wouldn’t choose women as the first public witnesses. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that even the witness of multiple women was not acceptable “because of the levity and boldness of their sex.” Mary Magdalene is always noted first in the appearance lists in the gospels. It is unusual that the first appearance would involve women as in this culture their role as witnesses would not be well accepted. It is a sign of the veracity of the account because if an ancient were to create such a story he would never have it start with women. Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a “hysterical female . . . deluded by . . . sorcery.” The fact that the Gospels describe women as discovering the empty tomb is a pointer to their historicity. Again, if this was an apocryphal legend, they would not have invented women as the first witnesses and responsible for telling the men.

·         Think about how Jesus goes out of His way to convince the disciples of His resurrection. When it comes to the truth, we should be willing to reason, persuade and give evidence. Paul did so in Acts as he witnessed of Jesus resurrection to unbelievers in Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus (Acts 17-19). We should be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us.

·         Our proclamation is based on physical evidence and historical reality. Our faith is not in faith. Jesus provides the physical evidence that is consistent testimony throughout the New Testament. The disciples handled him and He ate with them. All of this is eyewitness testimony that Jesus truly was physically dead and resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a literal fact. He is alive today as was continually witnessed of by the apostles. Jesus himself told us He would return one day since he is resurrected and alive. So we can anticipate a return appearance just as He said.

·         Man cannot stop what God plans to do.