Harmonizing Luke and John

Jesus Appears to the Disciples:  Comparing Luke’s and John’s Accounts


Comparing these two accounts of this one event gives us a better understanding of scripture.  Just as in many cases it is needful to harmonize the gospels in order to get the full and correct picture, it is more needful here.  In doing this we find some very interesting and exciting facts.  To quote John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things…”  Regardless of what we would like to think or what we would desire things to be, the facts that define a thing or circumstance are the only real and acceptable truths.

Luke is always quite detailed and usually presents events in a time sequence.  This is not so with other gospel writers.  John is the next best at keeping a time sequence, but is not one for details.  He will provide the facts in a condensed form and is sparing of dialogue in some areas.

To begin, I will set the stage of this discussion with Luke telling of Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus with two disciples.  To avoid spending too much time on the event, I will simply point out that after spending the afternoon with them, Jesus “opened” to them the scriptures, they recognized Him as the risen Jesus and they left immediately to tell the apostles.

Luke 24:33 (KJV)
And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,

Take note of the fact that when they returned to Jerusalem, they found the eleven gathered together.

At the same time that these two were telling the apostles and disciples of this happening, Jesus appeared to them all.  This is the event that I want to investigate between the gospel of Luke and the gospel of John.  Both are describing the exact same event from two perspectives and with two very different styles.  Following is a list of abbreviated topics Jesus stated that are common to each account although both of the writers present them in different order.  This does not make one right and the other wrong, but by combining the two we are able to get a more accurate account of the event, thereby illuminating the facts more clearly.

Luke 24:36-49

  1. Jesus says “Peace be with you.” Verse 36
  2. “He opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.” Verse 45
  3. He said “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Verse 47
  4. “And ye are witnesses to these things.” Verse 48
  5. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Promise of the Father, the Holy Ghost (Who can only be sent upon Jesus being glorified after the time of His resurrection).

John 20:19-23

  1. Jesus says “Peace be with you.” Verse 19
  2. He says, “as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Verse 21
  3. Jesus “breathed on” them. Verse 22 (the word “them” is italicized due to the fact of it not appearing in the original manuscripts)
  4. Jesus said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” Verse 22
  5. He said, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” Verse 23

The above five highlighted statements from both gospels are presented in each account, but are written in very different ways.  In fact, without combining the two and realizing that each of the statements directly corresponds to the statement of the other, some very serious and erroneous doctrines could be established.

As previously stated, Luke takes the most care in presenting the facts, those “stubborn things,” in the order in which they occurred.  John is more intent on giving the facts that he feels are important, but not necessarily in order and certainly, in many cases, without detail.

In examining the five agreeing facts, it is clearly seen that upon entering the room, Jesus greeted them with, “Peace be with you.”  Then using Luke as most reliable for sequence, it can be presumed that the order would be as follows, with a changing of the order of facts in John’s account of the event:

Luke John
1. “Peace be with you.”  “Peace be with you”
2. “He opened their understanding.”  “He breathed [on them]”
3. “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached…” “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them…”
4. “And ye are witnesses to these things.” “…as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”
5. “And, behold, I send the promise of my father upon you…” “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”

I have a feeling that this has rocked some doctrines and beliefs; but before you disconnect, examine the facts, the “stubborn things” that establish truth.  Just as Jesus said when being questioned by Pilate, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” therefore let us open our ears, and let the Spirit of God open our hearts so that when we voice the same statement that Pilate voiced, “What is truth?”; we can receive the answer from the facts contained within the Word of God, and not according to traditions that have manufactured suppositions to bridge imaginary contextual gaps that do not exist.

Consistently throughout the Gospel writings Jesus clearly explains that the Promise of the Father, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit would not and could not be sent until He (Jesus) was glorified.

John 7:37-39 (KJV)
37In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him [Jesus] should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

Without question, Jesus was saying that this “glory” that He was to receive before the Holy Ghost could be sent was some future event.  Then Jesus pin points that time of glorification when He makes the following statement:

John 17:4-5 (KJV)
4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

The glory that Jesus is speaking of is His glorification resulting from being back in the same place of existence that He was “in the beginning.”

John 14:28 (KJV)
28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. 

John 16:7 (KJV)
7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 

Jesus was making reference to a future point in time.  A time when He would not be present with them in His natural or glorified body.  It would be a time when He would be united again with the Father and seated in His heavenly kingdom.  This concept was foreign to the disciples, but Jesus gave them hope when He said: 

John 14:25-26 (KJV)
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Then the Bible points out a time that they began to understand all of what Jesus had taught them and it was after He was glorified. 

John 12:16 (KJV)
16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.

Now it may be supposed that the glorification of Jesus took place at His resurrection.  He did, in fact, obtain a glorified body but Jesus’ very own direction to the apostles and disciples indicates that there is a glorification that is to come even after His resurrection.

Acts 1:3-5 (KJV)
3 To whom also he shewed 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: 4 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. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

Since Jesus “commanded them” to stay in Jerusalem, and to wait for the “Promise of the Father;” then it becomes evident that the Promise, the Comforter, the Holy Ghost had not be given between the time of the resurrection and the ascension.  This appointed time is said to come, “not many days hence.”  Specifically, although not stated in this verse, on the day of Pentecost as shown in the following verse:

Acts 2:32-33 (KJV)
32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.

Notice that Peter said that Jesus is “by the right hand of God exalted…”  This is the glory to which Jesus was restored after His ascension.  This is what Jesus said must happen before the Holy Spirit could be sent.  He is now, “glorified” and able to send the Promise of the Father on Pentecost.

But what about the one and only verse that seems to indicate that at least a “portion” of the Holy Spirit was transmitted to them when Jesus “breathed on” when He appeared to them on resurrection day?  Was it possible to only receive part of the Holy Spirit?  Allow me to make a statement of truth and then to site a verse from John.

In the KJV of the Bible all italicized words were never in the original manuscripts.  They were only added by the translators to give clarity to what may seem to be an incomplete thought or sentence.  This makes these words not inspired by the Holy Spirit and could be omitted without subtracting from the inerrancy of the scriptures.

All scripture is given by God:

2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV)
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 

The scriptures in the Bible should be our only means of establishing doctrine rather than arriving at a belief by “supposition” because of an inability to hold context; not only the context between verses in one chapter, but even to the contextual connections between books and epistles.  So now look at the following verse in John:

John 3:34 (KJV)
34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. 

What a powerful verse.  But take note of the last two words that are italicized.  Since they were never intended to be included in the inspired manuscripts, should we insist on them being part of scripture?  What would be the intended message if we left them out? 

John 3:34 (KJV)
34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure. 

Without argument the context of the previous verses are referring to Jesus, but the statement made in connection to the context (without the italics) offers a truth that is consistent with the inspired Word of God, for as He is:  so are we today as His body.  This is the very Word that we must and can only use to form doctrines and beliefs.

But what about the fact that Jesus “opened their understanding.”  Does this not prove that the Holy Spirit was given them?  Firstly the phrase “opened their understanding” refers to expounding or explaining something that can be understood with the rational mind.  Secondly, in the same way that Jesus “opened the understanding of the scriptures” to the two travelers to Emmaus, He illuminated the scriptures to the eleven (Thomas was not with them on this day).  Exactly what scriptures (keeping in mind that the only scriptures that they had were the Law and the Prophets) we are not specifically told.  But in the two travelers it is said that their “hearts burned within them” when He explained all of the scriptures that concerned himself from the Law and the Prophets.

Luke 24:27 (KJV)
27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

In conclusion I submit that the writings of Luke and John regarding the appearance of Jesus on the day of the resurrection, being the very same occurrence, can and should be combined to get a full and accurate understanding.  Using only the account of John forces one to admit the existence of a gap in what was spoken regarding the “receiving of the Holy Spirit.”  With the acknowledgment of what we perceive as a “gap,” comes the deep inner desire to build a bridge.  A bridge usually begins as a theory and later becomes a doctrine.  The Word of God advises us to “rightly divide the word of truth” in 2 Tim 2:15.  We must also be open and able to rightly “connect” the word of truth using context.  In so doing many of what seems to be gaps in truth would be non-existent and would not require man made bridges to connect evident truths.

As a result of “rightly connecting” the word of truth, it becomes clear that the Holy Spirit is given by God in completeness and not by measure.  It becomes clear that the Promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit) would not be sent until Jesus was glorified.  It becomes clear that it was not until His ascension and sitting down at the right hand of the Father (when He was restored to the glory that He experienced “before the world was”) that He was glorified.  It becomes clear that the Promise, the Holy Spirit was not sent until Pentecost and that the immersion into His fullness, the finished work of Jesus’ cross, could only be a reality when the Promise actually arrived.

Today if you had the Spirit of Truth speak to you, do not harden your heart, but dare to move with Him where only He can guide you.  You are called to His fullness.  Follow Him.