18-7 Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus

The Chronology Of The Resurrection Of Christ

Not without some hesitation do I add to the various chronologies that have been worked out. I only do so because some important- in my view- devotional lessons arise from reflection upon what actually happened. And further, there are some simple Biblical facts which I find stubbornly refuse to fit into the existing chronologies which have been suggested:

- Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the risen Jesus (Mk. 16:9)

- Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, didn’t find the body of Jesus, went to tell Peter, and then returned to the tomb and saw Jesus (Jn. 21) 

Without wishing to expose the further difficulties of other chronologies, here is what I suggest: 

The Women


Mary Magdalene

Bought  spices to annoint the body of Jesus (Mk. 16:1)


Bought  spices to annoint the body of Jesus (Mk. 16:1)

1. There is an earthquake and the Lord resurrects

2. Mary Magdalene is alerted by the earthquake and goes to the tomb alone “when it was yet dark” (Jn. 20:1), and finds the stone rolled away and the body missing.

3. The women go to the grave as the day breaks; they find there is no body there (Lk. 24:3)


3. Mary then goes to tell Peter and John (Jn. 20:2)

4. They are confused (Lk. 24:4)

5. Love’s intuition leads them to go and have another look in the sepulchre; they then see Angels (Mt. 28:5; Mk. 16:5; Lk. 24:4)


4. Mary, Peter and John rush to the tomb (Jn. 20:3)

6. The Angels tell them that Jesus has risen, and they are told to quickly go away and tell the disciples (Mt. 28:7)

7. They run away, very fearful


Peter and John go into the tomb but see only the empty tomb; they return home (Jn. 20:10)

8. They leave, in obedience to the Angelic command to go and tell others. But they do not, initially, go and tell the disciples; they say nothing to anybody (Mk. 16:8). Presumably they stood or sat down somewhere along the way, overcome with fear.


Mary remains, meets two Angels, and  then meets Jesus (Jn. 20:11-17)

9. Jesus meets them (Mt. 28:9)

10. They tell everything to the elevn  “and all the rest” (Lk. 24:9)


Mary returns to Jerusalem and tells the apostles what had happened (Lk. 24:10; Jn. 20:18)

The only ‘problem’ with this chronology of the resurrection is that whilst it satisfactorily solves all the problems which the other chronologies leave outstanding, the resurrection records are introduced by passages which appear to state that all the women, including Mary Magdalene, came to the tomb and had their experiences together. I submit that this ‘problem’ arises because we are not reading the records with Semitic eyes, nor with consideration as to how God’s word records and presents facts and chronologies. The European linear view of time is simply not something which we find in Scripture. We expect to be given a clear timeline, with it made clear as to who did what. In both sciences and the written arts, this is how we Europeans (and our diaspora) have been trained to think, read literature and perceive life. But it’s just not there in Scripture. Many of the difficulties Europeans face in interpretting the Biblical record are rooted in this fact. This is why, e.g., the Old Testament prophecies appear to ‘jump around all over the place’; one moment they are speaking of events just before the Lord’s return, then back to their own contemporary situation, then on to events after His return. And likewise, characters aren’t clearly defined and introduced to us at the start of a narrative, in the way that we are accustomed to. The problem is we read in a linear fashion and process in a logical fashion, whereas the inspired authors tend to write in a chiastic fashion, with the main point in the middle or X / ‘chi’. The Gospel records in Matthew, Mark and John each speak as if only certain women were involved- John implies only Mary Magdalene, Matthew speaks of “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”, Mark speaks of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome. But Luke tells us that “the women” were those “which came with him from Galilee”. There’s no absolute reason to think that “the women” all had their experience at the same time. Indeed, John’s Gospel, written after the other three, appears to be perhaps correcting this impression by explaining in detail the unique experience of Mary Magdalene.  

When you read some of the records, it would appear that the risen Lord appeared first to Peter (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5). Indeed, the record in 1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t even mention the crucial appearances to the women. The appearances are listed there as firstly to Peter, then to the “twelve” [although there were only eleven- another example of a different use of language], then to 500 brethren, then James, then “the apostles”, and finally to Paul (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Quite simply, we have to put all the records together, and realize that each of them gives only an aspect of the historical picture. But we believe that the records don’t contradict each other, they were all inspired and are infallible. The structure of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are similar, in that they all begin with some definition of the women involved, upon whom the writer wishes to place the spotlight. But there is no ipse facto reason to think that all the women had the same experiences together, at the same time- even though this is how a Western reader might read the records.  

Practical Insights

If the above chronology is in fact correct, we find a number of inspirational insights arising from what happened. Firstly, after a “great earthquake”, most people are distraught, frightened, worried, fixated on the immediacy of what’s happened, and tend to remain where they are or with others whom they know. But love of the Lord Jesus and an incipient belief and hope, however tiny, in His resurrection, led Mary to do what was counter-instinctive. In the night, in the darkest hours before Dawn, she ran through the rubble of houses and cracked streets to a tomb guarded by aggressive soldiers. This is what love of the Lord Jesus, even when we have such little understanding of Him, inspires us to do. No wonder she was rewarded with the priceless honour of being the first human being to see the risen Lord. The woman who sought the Lord early, at night, picking her way through the rubble of an earthquake, breaking the Sabbath, casting away all her legalism, the worldview with which she’d grown up…found Him.  

Of course she was scared. But note the contrast with the soldiers guarding the tomb. They were so scared by the sight of the Angel that they lost consciousness (Mt. 28:4). The women saw the same Angel, were scared, but not to the same extent. They looked at His face- for it was presumably they who told Matthew what the Angel’s face looked like: “like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (Mt. 28:3). Their love for their Lord, their searching for Him, the very deep, unarticulated, vague hope they had in Him… drove away the worst part of their fear, whereas the unbelieving soldiers simply passed out from fright. Indeed, it appears that Mary was so distracted by the deep grief that only comes from love, that she perhaps didn’t even notice the Angel’s glory, or at least, didn’t pay too much attention to the two Angels sitting where the head and feet of the Lord had been. They ask her why she’s crying, and she simply turns away from them, muttering ‘Because they’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put Him’. That was how deep her grief and distraction was; for that was how deeply she loved Him. Again and again one salutes the decision of the Father, in chosing Mary to be the first one of us to see His risen Son.  

Mary comes over as not being anywhere near as fearful as the other women. Not once do we read of fear being her dominant emotion. Instead, we read of her love, her weeping, her eager, desperate clinging hold of the risen Lord. The other women and the disciples are characterized by fear; fear of the Angelic appearance, fear at the appearance of Jesus, fear stifling their sharing the good news with others. And it is fear, in all its multiple forms, which is the very antithesis of faith and love; it is fear which stifles our love for the Lord, the expression of joyful, uninhibited service. Fear of our own unworthiness, fear He may not accept us, fear we might say and do the wrong thing, fear we may look foolish or get ourselves in trouble in the eyes of others... But let Mary be our heroine, an example of how love in its maturity, in its ultimate end, casts out fear. For we, with all our fears, misunderstandings, doubts, uncertainties, confusions… have been given the very same commission to go tell others which those early men and women were. For the great witnessing commission given to us all follows on seamlessly from the command of both Angels and the Lord Himself to those early witnesses of the resurrection to spread the news to others. And it can only be fear that holds us back, locks us up within the complexes which are so easily part of our personhood, and stifles our witness to others. 

We’ve given reasons elsewhere for thinking that Mark’s Gospel record was actually the words of Peter transcribed by Mark. Significantly, it is Peter who makes the point that the Lord appeared first to Mary (Mk. 16:9). And yet according to Lk. 24:34 and 1 Cor. 15:5, Peter is framed as the first to see the Lord. Yet with characteristic humility, his version of the Gospel makes the point that actually, it was Mary. And he goes straight on in Mk. 16:14 to record how the Lord “upbraided” [a strong Greek word] the male disciples for not believing the women. The Lord was mad about this. They had failed to believe the women, probably because they were in the first century mindset of not accepting the legal testimony of a woman. And so Peter tries to make that good by pointing out en passant that it was actually Mary, not him, who first saw the risen Lord. Like John in his Gospel, Peter is drawing out the supremacy of Mary over himself. And we should likewise respect her. And it is apparent from the chronology presented above that the other women didn’t immediately fulfil the commission to go tell others about the Lord’s resurrection. They initially don’t tell anyone (Mk. 16:8); even though they were told to go and inform others “quickly”. Indeed, the above chronology of events means that in order for Mary to have met the Lord alone, the women can’t have stayed long at the grave. They went away quickly, but they delayed in telling others what had happened. In contrast, Mary doesn’t delay. She goes straight away, according to John’s account, and tells the others. And Mary is very convinced as to what she had witnessed; she goes and tells the others that she has actually seen the Lord in person, and that He spoke words to her which she was now telling them (Jn. 20:18). By contrast, the other women spoke in more abstract terms of having seen “a vision of Angels” (Lk. 24:23), rather than saying how they actually met Angels; and likewise the disciples understood the Lord’s appearance to them as them having “seen a spirit” (Lk. 24:37). But Mary is far more concrete; she was immediately convinced of the actual, personal, bodily resurrection of the Lord. To ‘spiritualize’ is so often really an excuse for lack of faith. And so many, from ivory tower theologians to JWs, have fallen into this error. Faith in the end is about concrete, actual things which defy all the ‘laws’ of our worldviews. And it was this faith which Mary showed.

previous chapter previous page table of contents next page next chapter