Clearing Contradictions on Christ’s Ascension

Did Jesus met His eleven disciples after His resurrection in Galilee as per Matthew and Mark or in Jerusalem as per Luke and John? Did Jesus first appeared to His eleven disciples on the day of His resurrection as per Luke and John? or after the day of resurrection as per Matthew and Mark? This post will investigate the differences to identify what really happened.

The gospel of Matthew

Matt 26:32 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Matt 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” … (16) Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. … (18-20) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matt 28:9-10 And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

According to Matthew, the meeting of resurrected Jesus with His disciples was in Galilee. However, Jesus first met the women in Jerusalem.

The gospel of Mark

Mark 14:28 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Mark 16:7 “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.”

According to Mark, similar to the gospel of Matthew, there was no meeting of resurrected Jesus with any of His disciples in Jerusalem but in Galilee. But the gospel of Mark abruptly ended in verse 8, with some tradition of Mark being killed for faith in Christ before he could finish the gospel and the gospel from verse 9-20 were later added to make the book complete.

The gospel of Luke

Luke 24:13 Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. … (33-36) So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”

Jesus appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem on the same day of His resurrection according to the gospel of Luke.

Luke 24:49 “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

 

Luke 24:50-51 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.

The Holy Spirit was implied to be given days after Christ’s resurrection according to the gospel of Luke. Jesus ascended to Heaven from Bethany.

Luke 24:18 Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” …(34) saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”

Jesus first appeared to Cleopas and Simon on the road to Emmaus.

The gospel of John

John 20:2 Then 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.” … (6) Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, …. (18-22) Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.  Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

John, however, mentions about the Holy Spirit given on the day of resurrection of Jesus (since it is the same day when Mary Magdalene came and told His disciples about the empty tomb) and not on the day of Pentecost and in Jerusalem since Peter and the other disciple were able to run to the empty tomb on the day of resurrection.

John 20:14-15 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. … (17-18) Jesus said to her, “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.’  Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

It was Mary Magdalene who saw the resurrected Jesus first.

Acts of the Apostles

It is traditionally believed that the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by Luke. However, for the purpose of clarity, we will mention the events recorded in the first 2 chapters separately.

Acts 1:4-5 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” … (11-12) who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.

The verse implies that Jesus appeared to the eleven in Jerusalem and ascended to Heaven from the Mount of Olives. It is important to note Acts does not mention if Jesus appeared on the day of His resurrection since Acts does not explain the events in detail but summarises it. Hence, lack of an event is not a proof it doesn’t happen.

Acts 2:1-2 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. … (5) And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.

The Holy Spirit given on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, that is fifty days later Christ’s resurrection according to Luke as we read in the book of Luke and Acts.

Inspite of all these differences in the details of the event, all the gospels and the book of Acts agree that Christ rose again from the dead. It is also important to note in all these gospels, that the distance between Jerusalem and Galilee is 120 miles (193 km)1.

Summary Tabulation

The reason for the differences is simply because of the details went into each gospel. The events after the resurrection of Jesus comprises of:

  • Matthew – 20 verses
  • Mark – 8 verses (excluding the long ending)
  • Luke – 53 verses,  (in addition to Acts ~10 verses)
  • John –  56 verses

This information clearly reveals that Luke and John contains more details but Matthew and Mark gives the highlights and summary of the important events.

Matt 28:17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

For example, the above one verse was expanded into 7 verses (Luke 24:36-43) in the gospel of Luke and further expanded into 10 verses (John 20:19-29) in the gospel of John where Jesus appeared twice, explaining Thomas’s doubts.

John 21:1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself:

For example, John wrote in his gospel that Jesus met His eleven disciples first in Jerusalem. He also mentions about meeting His disciples later at the Sea of Galilee, also known as Sea of Tiberias. Based on this information, we can understand that certain events happened first and the other events later, which were the cause for the difference.

Below is a tabulation of what we saw in the previous section. This helps to visually differentiate the differences and identify the events that happened first. The tick mark represents the answer to the question and the cross mark is a contradiction that cannot be harmonised.

Question? Matthew Mark Luke & Acts John
Where did the Jesus meet His eleven disciples after His resurrection? Galilee Galilee Jerusalem

Jerusalem

When did the Jesus first appeared to His eleven disciples after His resurrection? After the day of resurrection After the day of resurrection (inferred) On the day of resurrection

On the day of resurrection

Who did Jesus first appeared to first? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary

His eleven disciples (inferred) Cleopas and Simon on the road to Emmaus Mary Magdalene

From where did Jesus ascended into heaven? Not recorded Not recorded Bethany, near Jerusalem (Mount of Olives according to Acts)

Not recorded
Who was at the tomb of Jesus? An angel (also Jesus who met the women on their way)

A young man clothed in a long white (inferred as an angel)

Two men in shining garments (inferred as angels)

Jesus
When was the Holy Spirit given? Not recorded Not recorded After Christ’s ascension (On the day of Pentecost according to Acts)

On the day of resurrection

Where was the Holy Spirit given to His disciples? Not recorded Not recorded Jerusalem

Jerusalem

How was the Holy Spirit given to His disciples? Not recorded Not recorded According to Acts, a sound from heaven (as of a rushing mighty wind)

Jesus Himself breathed upon His disciples

If the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost, He cannot breathe it on the day of resurrection. We had discussed the inaccuracy of this particular event in the post, When was the Holy Spirit given?

Conclusion

The gospel of Matthew contains 20 verses and the gospel of Mark contains 8 verses compared to the gospel of Luke and John which has more than 50 verses. The supposed contradictions on Christ’s Ascension are not really contradictions but the details of each event went into separate gospels, what the author felt as important to them. E.g., Jesus did meet His disciples first in Jerusalem but also in Galilee where He ascended and asked them to wait in Jerusalem.


1 “Cari Haus” “How far did Jesus Walk? | I Luv Walking.” Web.archive.org, 28 Feb. 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20101005044755/www.iluvwalking.com/blog/2009/02/28/how-far-did-jesus-walk/. Accessed 4 Nov. 2017.