“A plausible harmony of the accounts and sequence of events” of the resurrection

From Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels, p. 413:

(1) A group of women come to the tomb near dawn, with Mary Magdalene possibly arriving first (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

(2) Mary and the other women are met by two young men who in reality are angels, one of whom acts as the spokesman and announces Jesus’ resurrection (Matt 28: 2-7; Mark 16: 4-7; Luke 24: 2-7).

(3) The women leave the garden with a mixture of fear and joy, at first unwilling to say anything but then resolving to report to the Eleven remaining apostles (Matt 28: 8; Mark 16: 8). Mary Magdalene may have dashed on ahead, telling Peter and John in advance of the arrival of the other women (John 20: 2).

(4) Jesus meets the remaining women en route and confirms their commission to tell the disciples, with the reminder of his promise of meeting them in Galilee. The women obey (Matt 28: 9-10; Luke 24:8-11).

(5) Peter and John meanwhile have returned to the tomb, having heard the report by Mary Magdalene, and discover it to be empty (John 20: 3-10; Luke 24: 12).

(6) Mary also returns to the tomb after Peter and John have left. She sees the angels and then Jesus, although at first supposing him to be a gardener (John 20: 11-18).

(7) Later that afternoon, Jesus appears to Cleopas and his unnamed companion on the road to Emmaus and, in a separate incident, to Peter (Luke 24: 13-35).

(8) That same Sunday evening, Jesus appears to the Ten (the Eleven minus Thomas) behind locked doors in Jerusalem (Luke 24: 36-43; John 20: 19-23).

(9) A week later he appears to the eleven at the same venue, with Thomas now present (John 20: 24-29).

(10) Further appearances take place over a forty-day period, including in Galilee, with over five hundred seeing him altogether (Acts 1: 3; John 21; 1 Cor 15: 6).

(11) A climactic commissioning in Galilee instructs the disciples to spread the news throughout the world (Matt 28: 16-20).

(12) Perhaps only shortly thereafter, Jesus gives his parting instructions to await the coming Holy Spirit and ascends into heaven (Luke 24: 44-53; Acts 1: 4-11).

Keys to harmonizing the resurrection accounts (my thoughts, not Blomberg’s).

  • Mary Magdalene separates from other women at some point. Either on the way to the tomb, or at the tomb (before the angels are encountered), or on the way to tell the disciples (before Jesus appears to the women).
  • Matthew 28:2-4 is a flashback. The earth quakes and angel descends earlier in the morning, frightening the guards. By the time the women arrive, an angel is inside the tomb. It is from within that he says, “See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6).
  • The women initially don’t tell anyone (Mark 16:8), but then decide to (Luke 24:10).
  • Parts of the story are simplified or consolidated. Simplification: one angel is noted instead of two otherwise specified. Consolidation: the women “told these things to the apostles” (Luke 24:10). This consolidates Mary Magdalene reporting to Peter and John, and the other women reporting to the rest of the disciples.
  • “The sun had risen” (Mark 16:2) could anciently mean essentially: at dawn.

Glorious Distinction: Justification Secures Transformation But Is Not Itself Transformative

In Romans 3-8,10, the justification spoken of is a singular legal and forensic event. Believers are counted righteous, imputed with the righteousness of Christ, reckoned with the one act of Christ’s righteousness. God looks them in the eye and says, “I love you, and I have counted your sin to Christ, and counted his perfect righteousness to you.” Even though Christ is sinless, he is counted as a sinner on my behalf. Even though I am not righteous, he counts me as righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). While Paul looks backward to this event of justification, and continuously and progressively revels in it, it is an already complete, permanent legal state of grace. It is something we stand on, and since it is the righteousness of Christ we are legally being credited with, it is not something that we get more of (because Christ’s righteousness is already complete). We have received the “completely not guilty” and “completely righteous” verdict, once and for all. I am not counted less guilty the next day or more legally righteous the next week. In this sense, I am equally justified with all believers in Christ, and equally so throughout all my post-conversion days.

In Romans 2:13 I would argue that the term “justified” is referring to vindication at final judgment. This also is a legal declaration, but in this case really is pointing to moral transformation that has happened within me. I think this is more of the sense that we see in James 2:21-26 as well. Declarative vindication of inward transformation. On a related note, I personally reject the popular Protestant wholesale hypothetical reading of Romans 2. I don’t think it is necessary for preserving the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works in subsequent chapters.

What is interesting is that neither of these usages of “justified” entail any kind of transformation in the act of justification itself. There is no doubt transformation by the Spirit, i.e. circumcision of the heart, in a justified person, but just as the “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict in a courtroom doesn’t behaviorally transform one into a guilty or righteous person, so also justification itself is not an act of transformation. Hence the strong justification/sanctification distinction historic Protestants make. Inseparable but distinct.

These could be two of the most important paragraphs on the gospel I have ever written, so please read them closely:

The distinction is good news because it means Christ justifies the ungodly by faith, i.e. counts the ungodly as godly, counts sinners as sinless, counts the unrighteous as perfectly righteous. The inseparability is good news because it secures my verdict at final judgment where my heart-orientation and secret works will be courtroom evidence of who I am.

In the end, only those justified by faith apart from works of the law truly become doers of the heart of the law. It is one of the most life-or-death ironies in the universe, which some will celebrate forever in heaven, and others will curse forever in hell: If you work for forgiveness to preserve the necessity of holiness, Christ will neither forgive you nor make you holy. Yet if you stop working for forgiveness, and instead receive it as a free gift, God both forgives you and necessarily and inevitably makes you holy.

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8)

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,and whose sins are covered! Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'” (Romans 4:4-8)

Is this grace too good to be true? Can it be, Lord, can it really be?

Forgiving Grace: If I Can’t Have It Now, I’ll Never Have it

Read with How He Loves playing. To the God of the brokenhearted in Romans 4:5.

The grace I need is deeper than the grace they have
I can’t wait around to be forgiven
I need forgiveness today
Actually, this second

Don’t meet me at my weakness, and do the rest
No, go underneath it
To the bottom
And do it all

Don’t tell me to be what I never will be in this life
And then tell me that afterward it will be OK
No, I want more than “OK”
And I want it now

I need grace after all I can do to screw up
My opportunities
My relationships
My heart

Regard me as something that I’m not
Treat me like I’m already everything
You ever wanted me to be
And then change me

I don’t want the prospect of your forgiving love
I want the reality

The Gospel: The Fragrance of Life and the Stench of Death

The words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (ESV)

Check out how some paraphrase-ish translations put it:

“Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” -NLT

“In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death. No one really has what it takes to do this work.” -CEV

“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” -NIV

Eugene Peterson doesn’t pull any punches in his interpretative-translation:

“Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation–an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on?” -The Message

We are indeed a fragrance to those “who are being saved and among those who are perishing”, but as v. 16 shows, to those who are perishing, we are the fragrance (i.e. stench) from death to death. Of course, we are the fragrance of life and a stench of death via a life of God-exaltation, Christ-defined love, the exercising of a good heart, a pure conscience, and a sincere faith, and declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-28). An unbeliever has to be controlled by the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2) to find such beautiful things ugly!

“If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.” –Jonathan Edwards