The Gospels are records from four either personal witnesses, or information taken from personal witnesses. Therefore they will take different viewpoints of the same events.
Also the Gospel writers do not set out to be completely exhaustive accounts of what happened. However they are very consistent with the central truths and only differ on smaller details. But you would expect witnesses to see things from different angles and so report smaller differences while reporting the same essential truths which do not contradict each other. Therefore even if the resurrection accounts cannot be perfectly harmonised, that does not make them untrustworthy. So, if the resurrection accounts may seem to be somewhat inconsistent, they cannot be proved to be contradictory.
Here is a possible harmony of the accounts of Christ’s resurrection and His subsequent appearances, in chronological order:
The Lord Jesus Christ is buried by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, as some women watch (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42).
The tomb is sealed and a Roman guard is set to stop the disciples from stealing the Jesus’ body (Matthew 27:62-66).
At least three women, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought and prepared spices and go towards the tomb questioning among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1).
Before the women arrive there is a great earthquake because an angel descends from heaven, rolls the stone away, and sits on it and the guards shake with fear and faint (Matthew 28:2-4).
The women arrive at the tomb and find the stone rolled away from the tomb which was empty (Mark 16:4-5a; Luke 24:2-3).
Mary Magdalene leaves the other women there and runs to tell Peter and John (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:1-2).
The other women still at the tomb see two angels who tell them that the Jesus Christ is risen and who instruct them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:4-7; Luke 24:3-8).
The women leave the tomb to bring the news to the disciples (Matthew 28:8; Mark 16:8).
As the women were going the guards wake up from their faint, go and report the empty tomb to the authorities, who bribe them to say that the body was stolen (Matthew 28:11-15).
Mary the mother of James and the other women, on their way to find the disciples, see*(see the note at the end), worship and hear Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:9-10).
The women tell what they have seen and heard to the disciples who do not believe them (Luke 24:9-11).
Peter and John run to the tomb, find that Jesus Christ is not there but His grave clothes are, and go home in a thoughtful mood (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-10).
Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb. She sees the angels, and then she sees* Jesus Christ (John 20:11-18).
Later the same day, Jesus Christ appears* to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).
Also on the same day and towards the evening, Jesus Christ drew near to Cleopas and another disciple* on their way to Emmaus and then in their house He vanishes from their sight (Mark 15:12-13; Luke 24:13-31).
That evening, Cleopas and the other disciple return to Jerusalem report their meeting with the Lord Jesus to the disciples and those that were with them (Luke 24:32-35).
As Cleopas, and the other disciple, speak Jesus Christ appears to the disciples*, shews them His hands and His feet and eats fish and honey before them but Thomas is missing. His first appearance to the disciples. (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25).
After eight days Jesus Christ appears to all the eleven disciples* including Thomas. His second appearance to the disciples. (John 20:26-31; 1 Corinthians 15:3).
Jesus Christ appears to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee* and restores Peter to service. His third appearance to the disciples. (John 21:1-25).
On the appointed mountain in Galilee Jesus was seen of above five hundred brethren at once* (Matthew 28:16-17; 1 Corinthians 5:6), apart from any women and children that were also probably there (see Matthew 14:21; 15:38). As the ten and then the eleven disciples had already seen the Lord two times (1st Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25; 2nd John 20:26-31) and seven disciples a 3rd time (John 20:1-25) there could be no doubt in their mind that the Lord Jesus was risen. However Matthew 28:17 says “… but some doubted” and so these would be part of the five hundred brethren and probable relatives. Matthew 28:18 “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying …” and the words of v20 (see below) show that v16-17 is a separate occasion to v18-20.
Jesus Christ appears to His half-brother James* (1 Corinthians 15:7a).
The Lord Jesus shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of the disciples/apostles* forty days and teaching them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
The Lord Jesus teaches the disciples* and promises to send the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7b).
Jesus leads them to Bethany (Luke 24:50-53)/Mount of Olives (Acts 6:1-12) and commissions His disciples/apostles (1 Corinthians 15:7b) to make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe all that the Lord Jesus had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18), a cloud received Him and He ascended into heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-10).
As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:6-12) and not from the Galilean mountain and as He was with the disciples for forty days why would He have needed to have said “… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matthew 28:20)? Consequently the circumstances and those words show that the Lord Jesus Christ must have said Matthew 28:18-20 on the Mount of Olives.
*If anyone reading this article does not believe that it was Jesus Christ who was crucified and died, please note that on each of these occasions the resurrected Lord Jesus was recognised for Who He was.
The evidence that it was Jesus Christ Who actually died is seen in: Evidence from the Bible of the Death of Jesus Christ