Did They Tarry in the City?
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We have referred the reader often to our material on harmonization, and to related material on the Christian ThinkTank. Here's a place to put some of that effort into practice.

The subject: "...an alleged post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee." The verse of concern first is Matthew 28:16:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.

The problem, supposedly?

Considered in the context of all four gospel accounts of the resurrection...this meeting in Galilee poses tremendous credibility problems, because Luke said in his gospel that Jesus told his disciples on the night of his resurrection that they were to stay in Jerusalem until they were "clothed with power from on high" (24:49). According to the same writer (Luke), this power came to them about fifty days later when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:3-5; 2:1-4), but by then Jesus had already ascended back to heaven, because he had remained on earth only forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). So if Luke was right and Jesus did tell his disciples on the night of his resurrection not to leave Jerusalem until they received "power from on high" and if this power from on high did not come to them until fifty days later and if Jesus remained on earth for only forty days after his resurrection and if the disciples obeyed Jesus's command not to leave Jerusalem until they had received power from on high, how could they have possibly met him on a mountain in Galilee as Matthew claimed?

The answer to this one is pretty standard, and our Skeptic knows it: it is that the events of Luke 24:49 took place much later, with the events of Matthew 28 being chronologically in between. Here's our Skeptic's answer: He quotes Luke 24:48-9:

Ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city, until ye be clothed with power from on high.

And we also agree that the "clothing" was the clothing of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1. So the problem? Here it is:

Luke very clearly indicated that Jesus on the night of his resurrection charged the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they were "clothed with power from on high" (baptized in the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:4-5), so that leaves no room for a postresurrection appearance to the apostles on a mountain in Galilee. As I said earlier, IF Jesus did tell his disciples on the night of his resurrection not to leave Jerusalem until they received "power from on high" and IF this power from on high did not come to them until some fifty days later and IF Jesus remained on earth for only forty days after his resurrection and IF the disciples obeyed Jesus's command not to leave Jerusalem until they had received power from on high, they couldn't have possibly met him on a mountain in Galilee as Matthew claimed.

Problem? We do agree that the Galilee appearance can't be fit in before the meeting at which Jesus ate -- that's not a necessary conclusion. So what do we have, supposedly?

There is just no way to reconcile Matthew's story with Luke's. If Matthew was right about a postresurrection appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee, then Luke was wrong in at least some details of his description of a postresurrection appearance in Jerusalem the night of the resurrection. If Luke was right in all the details he described, then Matthew erred. One of them had to be wrong. Either that or believers in the resurrection will have to say that the apostles disobeyed Jesus's command to stay in Jerusalem until they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Actually, the answer to this lies in Luke himself, and it seems strange that our Skeptic doesn't simply criticize Luke alone for making what he would usually see as an enormous error in other contexts. For if we want to read with wooden literalism, Luke also seems to indicate "clearly" that the ascension occurred on the same night, or right after, the fish-eating meal (Luke 24:42-50):

And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. 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. [45]Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.

So, I'm somewhat surprised that our Skeptic doesn't see this as contradictory to Acts 1:3-5:

To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

If the episodes of John and Luke paralleled above are "clearly" the same, then this is just as "clearly" a reference to what is found at the end of Luke -- a command to stay in Jerusalem until Pentecost. The verbiage is different, but the intent is the same. The command to tarry, if we are to believe Acts, didn't take place until 40 days after the resurrection.

Now perhaps not even our Skeptic would suppose and argue that Luke so openly and blatantly contradicted himself. And I don't think he did, either. What I do think happened is that the 40-day gap fits at the end of Luke between verses 24:44 and 24:45. The appearance in Galilee lies somewhere between those two verses and is one of the "many proofs" Jesus offered of his resurrection.

We can, of course, hear the reply already: "But Luke doesn't say anything about a gap!" Well, he does have one -- he doesn't mention in his Gospel the 40 days that he "clearly" says passed by in Acts, so either way, Luke is telescoping for the sake of brevity.

Why? Maybe because he was close to the end of his scroll -- the Gospel of Luke is at the right length for that, and the easy slowness of the Cleopas episode giving way to Luke's fast-paced ending suggestings such practical considerations at work. More likely is that Luke has arranged things this way in order to emphasize Jerusalem as Jesus' destination, and in Acts, as the center for the spreading of the Gospel (Acts follows a pattern in which the Gospel is spread from Jerusalem in ever-wider geographical circles, even as people return to that city; cf. Acts 11:2, 12:15, 15:2, 18:21, 19:1 and 21, 20:16).

Either way, we have ancient literary issues at work -- and an error only in the wooden readings of modern persons. (For some related issues, see here.)

-JPH