The Easter Sunday Story

by Pastor Matthew Norville, Sr.

This is a narrative of what happened on the first “Easter Sunday.” It is compiled from the four gospels in the Bible. (It is understood that when Jesus rose from the dead in 29 A.D. it was not called “Easter,” nor was the first day of the week called “Sunday.”)

Remember that in Bible times in Israel, a “day” went from “sunset to sunset” (approximately 6:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.). So this narrative covers approximately the last twelve hours (about 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.) of the Jewish first day of the week (which was Nisan 18th), and first several hours (about 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.) of the Jewish second day of the week (which was Nisan 19th). On our modern-day Gregorian calendar where our days go from midnight to midnight (12:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M.), we would say that this narrative covers from Sunday morning at about 6:00 A.M. to about Sunday evening at about 9:00 P.M. (See Note 5 in “Passion Week” article.)

We start with Matthew's gospel, chapter 28, and add in any information from the other three gospels that is not included in Matthew's gospel.

Matthew's gospel is in black. Mark's gospel is in brown. Luke's gospel is in blue. John's gospel is in purple. Jesus' words are in red. [And my words, that are added for sentence continuity and clarification, are in black italics.]

  1 In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came the women which came with Him from Galilee23:55 [including] Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary the mother of James, and Salome,16:1 and Joanna,24:10 and certain others with them,24:1 to see the sepulcher, and that they might come and anoint Him with sweet spices16:1 and ointments23:56 that they had bought16:1 and prepared.23:56
And they said among themselves [as they were walking to the sepulcher], “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?”16:3
And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.16:4

  2 [(]And, behold, there was a great earthquake [about 3:00 P.M. the day before (Saturday afternoon) when Jesus rose from the dead]: for the angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
  3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
  4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.[)]

Notice that I have put parentheses around verses 2 through 4. This passage is really a parenthetical statement and should have parentheses around it because the great earthquake and the other things that are described therein all took place the day before. The great earthquake and these other things that happened did not occur on Sunday morning while the women were walking to the tomb.

Matthew is explaining to us what happened the day before so that we will understand why the stone was already moved away from the doorway of the tomb and why the angel of the Lord was there.

Because the Word of God says that Jesus was going to be dead and in Hell (Hades) for three days and three nights (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27; Matthew 12:40), we can infer from this that Jesus was not dead and in the flames of Hell for any longer than He had to be. Therefore, since we know that Jesus died on the cross on Wednesday, Nisan 14th (the day of Passover), at about 3:00 in the afternoon, He could not have risen from the dead on Sunday morning, as some say, because that would mean that He would have been dead and in Hell for three days and four nights.

And entering into the sepulcher,16:5 they[, the women,] found not the body of the Lord Jesus,24:3 [but] they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.16:5

The angel that was sitting on top of the big stone that he had rolled away from the door of the tomb the afternoon before, was now sitting inside the tomb.

Also, the keepers who were guarding the tomb were not there when the women arrived at dawn. If Jesus had just risen from the dead at dawn, as some say, the keepers, who “became as dead men” when Jesus rose from the dead, would still be there lying on the ground, and the angel would still have been sitting on top of the big stone that he had rolled away from the door of the tomb.

  5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus of Nazareth,16:6 which was crucified.
  6 He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
  7 And go quickly, and tell His disciples and Peter16:7 that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him as He said unto you:16:7 lo, I have told you.”
And they went out [of the sepulcher] quickly.16:8
And it came to pass, as they [were standing outside of the sepulcher and] were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:24:4
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?24:5
He is not here, but is risen: remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee,24:6
Saying, ‘The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”24:7

  8 And they remembered His words,24:8 and24:9 departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid16:8 and did run to bring His disciples word and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.24:9
It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James,24:10
and Salome,16:1 and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the24:10 eleven24:9 apostles24:10 and to all the rest.24:9
And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.24:11

The sepulcher was carved out of the rock. Since it was used for laying a dead body or bodies in it, there was no need for it to have a ceiling high enough for an adult person to be able to stand up in it. (A small child, of course, would have been able to stand up inside the sepulcher.) We see from the Scriptures (Luke 24:12; John 20:5, 11) that the various disciples had to “stoop down” to look into it or to go into it. We also see that when there were angels inside (who resemble and are the size of full grown adult men) that they were sitting down on the slab where Jesus' body had lain (Mark 16:5; John 20:12). Because of this, we know that the women were outside of the sepulcher when the two angels “stood by them in shining garments” (Luke 24:4). It also says that the women “bowed down their faces to the earth” (Luke 24:5). This means that at this point the women were outside of the sepulcher where the ground was and not inside the sepulcher where there was a stone floor.

When the Bible says, “the women told these things unto the eleven (apostles), and to all the rest”(Luke 24:9), “these things” is referring to the events and conversations that happened at the tomb when the women first got there, namely, the fact that the big stone had already been rolled away, that Jesus was not there, and the women's various conversations with the different angels that were there.

When it says, “the eleven (apostles) and to all the rest,” it is referring to the disciples of Jesus. However, it does not mean that all of the apostles and disciples of Jesus were gathered together in one place. The women had to go to the various places where the different disciples were, to tell all of them. Also, the women did not necessarily all stay together when they went to the various locations where the different disciples were.

[Mary Magdalene] runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, [John,] whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him.”20:2
Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher.20:3
So they ran both together
[with Mary Magdalene running behind them]: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher.20:4
And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.20:5
Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and20:6
stooping down24:12 went into the sepulcher, and seeth the linen clothes lie20:6 by themselves,24:12
And the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.20:7
Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed.20:8
For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.20:9
Then the disciples
[, Peter and John,] went away again unto their own home,20:10 [with John believing, and] Peter wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.24:12

The fact that the Bible says that Peter and John “went away again unto their own home” means that they came from home and then went back home after they visited the tomb. But Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb after Peter and John left, and she was crying.

Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.16:9 [And on this wise He appeared to her:]
But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher,20:11
And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.20:12

Just a short time ago, the tomb was empty, because Peter and John had both stooped down and gone into it. There were no angels in there. But now, two angels have appeared and are sitting on the inside.

And they say unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” She saith unto them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.”20:13
And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.20:14
Jesus saith unto her,
“Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, saith unto Him, “Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.”20:15
Jesus saith unto her,
“Mary.” She turned herself, and saith unto Him, “Rabboni”; which is to say, “Master.”20:16
Jesus saith unto her,
“Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”20:17
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples,20:18
[other than Peter and John because they had gone home,] as they mourned and wept,16:10 that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things unto her.20:18
And they, when they had heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.16:11

  9 And as they, [the women other than Mary Magdalene,] went to tell His disciples, [what had transpired at the tomb that morning,] behold, Jesus met them, saying, “All hail.” And they came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.

It is obvious here that Jesus had gone to Heaven and had come back to earth since His encounter with Mary Magdalene, because it was now O.K. to touch Him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, “Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.”
11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,
13 Saying, “Say ye, ‘His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept.’
14 And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.”
15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

Even though the great earthquake, the angel of the Lord descending from Heaven and rolling back the stone from the door of the tomb and sitting upon it, and for fear of the angel the keepers (the watchers, the soldiers, the guards) did shake and became as dead men, and Jesus rising from the dead all took place the afternoon before (Matthew 28:2–4), the soldiers guarding the tomb did not go into the city and talk to the chief priests and elders until the next morning, about 15 hours later.

It's not hard to figure out why. In the first place, after the soldiers were able to get up, they had to discuss with each other and come to a decision as to what they were going to do. By letting Jesus get away, they could all be executed. By the time they figured out what their best course of action was, it was late afternoon or evening and the chief priests and elders were at home for the night. So the soldiers waited until the chief priests and elders came in to work in the morning.

After that He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.16:12
And, behold, two of them went that same day [Sunday] to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs [12 kilometers].24:13
And they talked together of all these things which had happened.24:14
And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them.24:15
But their eyes were holden that they should not know Him.24:16
And He said unto them,
“What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?”24:17
And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto Him, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?”24:18
And He said unto them,
“What things?”24:19

Notice how Jesus did not answer their question, but instead, asked another question. Jesus never lies, so in order for Him to keep the conversation going without lying, He asked them to explain what they were talking about (even though He already knew what they were talking about). If He would have answered their question, He would have had to say that He was not a stranger in Jerusalem and that He knew exactly what they were talking about. We can learn from this that we are not obligated to answer every question that every single person puts to us.

And they said unto Him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:24:19
And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him.24:20
But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.24:21
Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulcher;24:22
And when they found not His body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that He was alive.24:23
And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulcher, and found it even so as the women had said: but Him they saw not.”24:24
Then He said unto them,
“O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:24:25
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”24:26
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.24:27
And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and He made as though He would have gone further.24:28
But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to tarry with them.24:29
And it came to pass, as He sat at meat with them, He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.24:30
And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and He vanished out of their sight.24:31
And they said one to another, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?”24:32
And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,24:33
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,20:19

This is now Sunday evening. The eleven apostles are now all gathered together along with some of the other disciples of the Lord.

Saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.”24:34
And they told what things were done in the way, and how He was known of them in breaking of bread:24:35
neither believed they them.16:13

Somewhere around this point, Thomas must have left, because Luke 24:33 says that all eleven apostles were there when Cleopas and the other disciple arrived from Emmaus, and John 20:24 says that Thomas was not with them when Jesus appeared to the disciples.

By taking all the information we have about Thomas, it is easy to see why he would have left at this point. Thomas was very upset about Jesus being killed, and the fact that all these people kept saying that He was now alive was making him even more upset. We can clearly see this from what he said in John 20:25:

“Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After hearing different stories from various people all day long about Jesus being alive, he was tired of hearing it. He could have said something like, “That's it. I've had enough. I'm not going to listen to any more of this. I'm out of here.” And then he would have walked (or stormed) out.

And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, “Peace be unto you.”24:36
But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.24:37
And He said unto them,
“Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?24:38
Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”24:39
And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet24:40
and His side.20:20
And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, “Have ye here any meat?”24:41
And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.24:42
And He took it, and did eat before them.24:43

Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.20:20
And He said unto them, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me.”24:44
Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures,24:45
And said unto them,
“Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:24:46
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.24:47
And ye are witnesses of these things.24:48
Then said Jesus to them again, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”20:21
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them,
“Receive ye the Holy Ghost:20:22
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”20:23
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.20:24
The other disciples therefore said unto him
[when he had come back], “We have seen the Lord.” But he said unto them, “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.”20:25

Note: For an explanation as to why Cleopas and the other disciple said, “…today is the third day since these things were done,” see “Today is the Third Day Since These Things were Done” (Luke 24:21).

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This page last updated December 23, 2023.